Travel without a credit card can be done. It just takes a little extra planning.
For a variety of reasons, some people don't get along with credit card companies. While cards are really convenient, they don't suit everyone's needs.
A reader recently asked, “What strategies for managing funds would you recommend to a traveler who only has a debit card and does not have good enough credit to get a credit card?”
Without a traditional credit card, what's the best way to manage money as you travel?
Good question. Here are some tips to help.
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How to Book Travel Without a Credit Card
Here are three ways of buying travel online without a credit card. Some may be better for you than others so read through the list carefully.
- Pay from your bank account with Paypal. It costs nothing to have a Paypal account. Set it up, connect your bank account and you can pay for things online directly from that bank account at no charge to you. When I buy online I usually use Paypal because there is a dispute mechanism should the purchase not be what was expected.
- Visa Debit Card and Debit Mastercard. Visa or Mastercard Debit cards are another way to make online purchases directly from your checking account. Ensure that you have the funds in your checking account before buying and that your purchase will not exceed your daily transaction limit. You can check with your bank to learn whether your bank debit card is also a Visa or Mastercard debit card. Mine became so without an application. If not, you can apply for one through your bank.
- Uplift. Uplift is an payment option for travel that is being offered on more sites. Basically, it is a loan and you pay off the cost of your travel with interest over a series of months. From my reading, the interest rate from Uplift depends on your credit rating but can go much higher than a traditional credit card. It has terrible reviews online so it is one to approach with caution.
How to Travel without a Credit Card: Tips for the Road
The information above will help you book your travel without a credit card in advance of leaving. Now I have suggestions for managing your money as you travel.
- Get cash before you leave. Normally, I would just use the ATM on my arrival, however, if traveling without a credit card, I recommend that you have some of the local currency on hand. Order the currency of your destination before you leave either from a major bank or a service like Travelex which lets you buy your cash online and have it delivered to your door (signature required). You'll pay a bit of a premium on the exchange rate but you will also be sure that you have access to money upon arrival. How much you'll need will depend on how expensive your destination is. I'd recommend taking enough money for the first two days so that you have time to confirm that your prepaid credit card or debit card is functioning.
- Prepaid credit card. This is a card that acts like a credit card but only has available the funds that you added to it. Funds can be added online. It's available to all with a bank account and you will not incur any interest. You can use a prepaid credit card for purchases and to withdraw cash from an ATM. Not all prepaid cards are the same. Have a close look at the fee schedule and see which is best for you based on how you expect to to be using the card. For example, if you're only planning to use it overseas, you may want one that holds multiple currencies and has a strong network of ATMs that won't charge you a transaction fee.
- Have a bank debit card that's ready for international travel.
- Many countries only accept debit cards with chips. Make sure your card has a chip. (Note that temporary cards do not have chips so don't head out of the country with one.)
- 4-digit PINs (personal identification numbers) are more commonly accepted overseas than 5-digit codes, so, to be safe, when you travel without a credit card, make sure your debit card PINs are 4 digits.
- The international ATM networks are Plus, run by Visa, and Cirrus, run by MasterCard—both have online ATM locators. Verify that there's one at your destination before you leave (www.visa.com for Plus, www.mastercard.com for Cirrus).
- Be aware that you will be charged every time you withdraw cash from an ATM. You need to balance the amount of cash you're willing to carry at one time with the additional costs of an ATM withdrawal which can be up to $5.00. Hint: If you need cash, buy something at a store that will give you cash back. This will save you the ATM fee that these cards have.
- Digital Wallets. ApplePay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay, and Paypal are all apps you can download onto your phone that will hold onto your payment information. You enter and store your credit card, debit card, or bank account information on the app. Your phone communicates with the payment terminal to transfer the funds.
A Few More Tips
- Whenever you are using your phone or other device to perform any financial transactions, be sure to activate your VPN to ensure the security of your information. Here are our recommendations: Best VPN for Travel: What, Why, How & New Recommendations.
- Starbucks card. This, again, can live in your phone and can simply track your purchases for points or can be used as a pre-paid credit card at Starbucks. With a credit on your account you are almost assured of a snack in an airport on the way home even if you have spent all your local currency.
- Protect yourself from pickpockets. If you're carrying cash, debit, and prepaid cards you will have more difficulty replacing your access to money if they go missing. Be especially careful with them all. Read 10 Ways to Protect Yourself from Pickpockets.
Here are some more posts you may find helpful before or while you travel without a credit card: