Experiencing the beauty of the Taj Mahal in India, learning firsthand the history of the Coliseum in Rome, witnessing the grandeur of pyramids in Egypt; those are the moments you want to remember after your international traveling adventure- not feelings of frustration or anxiety from difficulties accessing your money internationally.
Traveling internationally (for pleasure or on deployment) presents enough challenges (language barriers, detailed transportation planning, and if you are anything like me, reading the map) to worry about accessing your funds abroad. This concern is particularly important to me as we prepare for my husband’s upcoming deployment. How can we be prepared and make sure he has access to our funds while in port internationally?
My go-to first step is to reach out to some of the most knowledgeable people I know, fellow Navy military spouses. I asked, “How have you used your USAA Visa successfully internationally?”
Danielle (Living in Italy): “My biggest suggestion when using USAA Visa cards in Europe is to always put a travel notification on your cards when outside of your "base" region. This ensures that you can use your cards while traveling as well as creates monitoring for any unusual activity. Use discretion when deciding to use debit vs. credit as one is directly linked to your checking account and can take time to recover if the card is compromised…
One other thing, many of the countries we have visited (not Italy though) have given us the option to make card transactions in USD or local currency. This is great because you know exactly what you are charging, no calculating exchange rates!”
Eve: “We used our USAA Visa credit card last summer on a trip to England. No fees, and accepted everywhere. Be sure to know your PIN for your credit card as some places do require it. We were so happy to be able to use our credit card and not have international fees. We didn't have to carry much cash, which is so much safer when traveling in Europe.”
Sandy (Stationed in Japan): “Just make sure USAA knows they’re going to be in the country. Some places in Japan don’t use cards though, they're more Yen friendly. Though more of the bigger stores were going to cards the smaller ones still only take Yen.”
Elizabeth: "I have traveled (but never lived) overseas with mine. My biggest advice is that the chip is the first step but overseas they usually need a pin too (chip and pin rather than chip and sign). You have to request the PIN and it is different than your debit card pin (another mistake people make sometimes). I guess I have been lucky but never had any issues with them declining the card if I gave travel notification- except for twice, and both times it was an easy call/text and I was back up and running."
Doug (Military Guide): “We used our USAA Visa in Barcelona to pay a large fee on a rental apartment. We used the USAA card because another card was declined, even though (at the time) the USAA Visa carried a transaction fee. We tried to use our USAA Visa to buy tickets on Italian trains, but it only worked at the ticket counter and not the kiosk. When I brought up the question with USAA, they helped Visa fix their European transaction network. (I doubt I would've been able to do that on my own.) Now the USAA Visa works at most kiosks too*. My USAA Visa worked flawlessly in Bangkok, a city known by its preference for cash transactions. And in Tokyo. I could go on, but you probably get the point: military retirees can travel the globe on a trusted credit card which now has no foreign currency transaction fees.”
Next, following some of the advice given above, I notified our banks that my spouse will be deployed and to expect account activity from overseas locations. You can let USAA know online (step by step process here) or call 1-800-531-8722.
Lastly, I reached out to Chelsea Campbell, a professional from Product Management at USAA, and she provided three final tips:
Be on the lookout – sometimes merchants and ATM networks in overseas locations don’t update their systems as quickly as we’d like, and this can prevent members’ cards from being accepted. If you experience this while traveling, you can try another ATM in a different ATM network or bank, or you can initiate a cash advance from your credit card (which can be subject to additional interest and fees).
Take Cash: It is always prudent to have a backup plan and have cash in case there is any trouble using an international ATM
What happens if there is an issue?
We want our members to be able to use their cards whenever and wherever needed. If you run into a problem using your USAA Visa, please send us [the last four digits of the card, the merchant’s name, the name of the financial institution listed on the ATM if applicable, and the transaction date/time and dollar amount] so we can help.
While I am not particularly looking forward to my spouse’s deployment, I feel better knowing we have a plan for him to access money on his potential port stops overseas and know the steps to take if he runs into any issues.
Have you lived or traveled overseas? Please share your tips and experiences in accessing your accounts and using foreign ATMs in the comments!
*There was a delay in updating the card network’s software responsible for recognizing our chip cards. Industrywide, this has been an issue with kiosks such as the ones located in European railway stations because they don’t transfer information to the card network in real time. We worked with the card network to address the delay, and we have been monitoring transactions to ensure we’re seeing approved card transactions at these types of kiosks.If a member experiences this type of decline with their USAA Visa card, we encourage them to let us know so we can research and resolve the matter
About the Blogger: Briana Hartzell is a Navy spouse, mother to two beautiful girls (3 years and 10 months), a former full time USAA employee and a graduate of Texas A&M University. Briana writes at Being Briana, a blog focused on the joys that military life and parenthood can bring.
Credit cards issued by USAA Savings Bank, other bank products by USAA Federal Savings Bank, both Member FDIC.
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