Best Credit Cards for Foreign Travel – Asia

Ten years ago if you were traveling in Asia, whether you were in China, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia or India you may have had real problems finding many merchants willing to take your foreign credit card or even taking them at all. The period between 2005 and 2010 was something of a credit card boom time for the citizens of the countries of Asia themselves – credit, debit, charge and other payment cards — surged 158% to $1.8 trillion during that time and now when you travel in Asia it is far easier to use your plastic when traveling on the continent.

Credit Cards Are City Things in Asia

There really isn’t a country in the world that does not boast built up metropolises and then smaller rural areas. If you take a trip to Ireland for example using your plastic is easy in Dublin but once you reach the smaller villages you may get very hungry and thirsty before you find a pub willing to accept your credit card in return for a pint and bite to eat and paying for lodging may prove even harder.

The same applies in Asia but to a greater degree. In China if you happen to be in Beijing or Shanghai you are in one of two of the most vibrant cities in Asia if not the world and no one will really have a problem taking your credit card as payment as the locals have at least two or three of their own too and cash is becoming as passe as it is in many parts of the West. Go even a little outside these cities though and it will become hard to find an ATM, let alone someone willing to take a credit card as payment for anything.

Credit card use in Hong Kong is very widespread and very mobile. Most Hong Kong residents link their credit and debit cards to their smart phones so they can pay for everything quickly and easily including their coffee and train fare. Using your credit card here should not be a problem at all!

In India the businesspeople have quickly figured out just how much more they can get foreign tourists to spend if they take credit cards so often you can even find street merchants who will be happy to take cash or a credit card payment.

In Japan the locals actually having credit cards themselves has been slow to take off because of a cultural aversion to debt in any way but debit card use is widespread so as long as your have a Visa or MasterCard branded credit card you should still be able to find plenty of places willing to accept it as a form of payment.

Which Credit Cards Are Better Accepted in Asia?

As is the case throughout most of the rest of world Visa and MasterCard credit card holders are likely to have more luck than others at finding that there credit card is accepted as payment at more places. American express is also fairly popular but you may find yourself subject to minimum charges because Amex’s foreign merchant fees do tend to be higher and business owners need to keep their overheads in that respect in check.

Discover cards are not very widely accepted outside the US in general and are basically unheard of in Asia so that should not be the only kind of plastic you have in your wallet when traveling in Asia!

Watching Out for Fees

Any time you make a purchase away from your home US soil you may face a rather hefty foreign transaction fee as this is something levied by the majority of credit card lenders. For a long time the only major US credit card company that did not charge these fees was Capital One and none of their credit card offerings charged a fee if the card was used outside a person’s home country (Capital One also now operate in Europe) but a few more lenders, perhaps most notably Citi and Chase, have now begun to offer certain credit cards that come with no foreign transaction fee.

Dealing with Cash

Even if you are the proud owner of a great travel rewards credit card that offers no foreign transaction fees and lots of points or miles every time you use it if you are traveling in Asia you will need at least some cash – or access to some cash – in order to survive in certain areas. Travelers checks do still exist, even though they are basically dinosaurs in the 21st Century in the Western world but may be worth considering even though with there is a high level of debit card use in Asia and therefore usually plenty of ATMs available the fees for using them with either your US credit or debit card can be very steep. Normally you will have the fee charged by the ATM owner, the usual ATM your own bank charges you and quite probably foreign transaction fees (yes debit cards have foreign transaction fees attached to them as well) so you may be looking at adding about $10 to the total every time you use an ATM to get cash.

You should however avoid using those currency change booths at airports, either at home or abroad. As a general rule you do not get the best exchange rates at all (mainly because you are a “captive audience”). Instead pay a visit to your own local bank before you leave and purchase travelers checks or local currency for the country you are traveling to there. You will still pay a fee but it should be a little more reasonable.