How can you travel without a credit card?
It can be done and it's getting easier.
For a variety of reasons, some people just 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.
Buy Travel Online, Without a Credit Card: Here are the Options
The online world has typically been a challenge for buyers without credit cards. However, it's getting easier as new payment systems enter the market and become more accepted. I find that booking sites like Skyscanner and Flightnetwork don't accept these options but many airlines do. Booking flights directly with the airline could get you around the need for a credit card. Likewise, it seems to be easier to book hotels without a credit card if you book with the hotel directly rather than with a service like Booking.com. Marriott Hotels accepts Visa Checkout as well as Visa and Mastercard debit cards. Booking.com's site says: “You'll need a valid credit card to guarantee your reservation with most hotels. However, we are offering an increasing number of hotels that will guarantee your booking without a credit card.” Booking.com is my go-to site but in this case it's hit and miss but mostly miss.
So what are these new payment systems and are they a good idea for you? Here's a run down.
- Visa Debit Card and Debit Mastercard. These cards work like your bank debit card. Payment comes directly from your bank account rather than a line of credit. Unlike regular debit cards that are not accepted online these are accepted. Apply for either the Visa or Mastercard debit cards through your bank. It's possible that your bank has made your debit card into one. I bank with TD and my debit card automatically became a Visa debit card.
- Masterpass and Visa Checkout are digital wallets. When you sign up you connect your wallet to your debit card (or credit card if you wish). When buying online, your debit card will be charged. The wallet can also hold other information such as your shipping address for online purchases.
- Interac® Online. If you bank online you can use Interac® Online whenever it's offered. Like the options above, you are paying with the funds in your bank account. The difference is that the Interac® Online button takes you to a list of financial institutions. You choose yours, enter into your account as you do normally and confirm the payment. You don't need to enter card numbers, passwords and other information into the website you're purchasing from.
Here's 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 debit card is functioning.
- 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 pin codes are more commonly accepted overseas than 5-digit codes so, to be safe, make your codes 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. Hints:
- Read Exchange Rates, Destinations and Saving as You Change Money
- 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.
- Get a prepaid Visa card. Most credit card brands have a prepaid card but given that Visa is best accepted overseas (and elsewhere) I'd recommend a Visa prepaid card. I did some research because not all prepaid cards are the same. Have a close look at the fee schedule and see which is best for you and how you expect to to be using the card.
- American Express Travelers Checks. This is an emergency backup. Travelers checks are definitely old school. They are like cash, but unlike cash they are useless if stolen and can be replaced. If your prepaid credit or debit cards don't work, you can take these to the bank. In fact, that's the only place you can take them. Way back in time they could be used in stores but no more. If you don't use them on your trip you can always cash them in at home, though unfortunately, you will have paid for the privilege of having them as security.
- 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
If you're on a tight budget (or even if you're not), don't miss our 32 Tips section. It helps make some of the world's most expensive cites affordable.