Should You Use Traveler's Checks or a Credit Card? | CreditShout

Should You Use Traveler’s Checks or a Credit Card?

By Kevin / September 12, 2011


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Traveling abroad brings plenty of challenges. Reserving flights and hotel rooms, packing up, making sure you have the proper documentation and a host of other arrangements must be made prior to your trip. On top of that, you must be certain to have a means of payment once you arrive at your destination.

Carrying a wad of cash isn’t always safe so you may want to ditch that option if you’re planning a long trip. Instead, you’ll probably want to go with either travelers checks or a credit card. Which is better?

Traveler’s Checks

The use of traveler’s checks by Americans peaked in the mid 1990s and has declined ever since. Due to evolving payment technology, they are being accepted in less places, particularly in Europe. If you’re planning a trip to Europe in the future, make sure you contact you’re preferred retailers in advance to verify that they accept travelers checks. Here are some of pros and cons of using travelers checks:


  • Traveler’s checks are paid for in advance. If you prefer to minimize or avoid using credit cards, this is the closest way to spend as if you’re using cash without actually using cash.
  • If traveler’s checks are lost or stolen, you may be able to get a refund from the issuer.


  • Traveler’s checks typically come with a service fee.
  • You’ll probably have to pay for shipping if you order traveler’s checks online.
  • Traveler’s checks must be exchanged for the local currency at a bank or at the issuer’s office. You’ll have to schedule a trip to one of these sites during banking hours.
  • Some merchants charge fees for accepting traveler’s checks.
  • Some merchants do not accept traveler’s checks.
Credit Cards

It seems like most people have at least one credit card these days. It may seem like the clear choice just to use it and not have to worry about travelers checks. Is this the case? Let’s explore some of the pros and cons of using credit cards for making purchases abroad:


  • A credit card will fit into your wallet easily. You won’t have to carry a lot of cash or traveler’s checks.
  • A credit card can be replaced if it is lost or stolen.
  • A credit card account can be frozen if theft is suspected.
  • Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted worldwide.
  • Cash advances are available from ATMs. Note that you may have to pay a fee to do so.
  • Credit cards often come with travel rewards that give bonuses for travel purchases and provide insurance against auto theft or accidents if you rent a vehicle with the card and so on.
  • Some credit cards have no foreign transaction fees. Your use of the card will be as if you are spending cash – without the risk of facing a total loss if it is stolen.


  • You’ll be paying with plastic. Some people are better able to control their purchases when using cash or something close to it – like traveler’s checks.
  • Your credit card information can be stolen by a merchant or at an ATM.
  • Credit cards – although widely accepted – are not accepted everywhere. You’ll have to keep at least a small amount of cash on hand.
  • Your issuer must be notified in advance of your plans to travel abroad. Otherwise, there is a risk that you’ll face problems while abroad if your issuer thinks the card may have been stolen.
  • Interest will be charged on your purchases if you do not pay your bill on time.
  • Foreign transaction fees may be assessed on your purchases (depending on which card you have).

If you are averse to using credit cards, then traveler’s checks are the way to go. They are safer than cash and still offer a pay-as-you-go approach to spending instead of paying a bill all at once. You could also go with a debit card as long as you make sure that you have enough cash in your account. For most other people, a credit card is the best bet for spending abroad. Many will end up charging lower fees than you’d pay with travelers checks and you won’t have to go through as much hassle prior to your trip. Also, for the sake of convenience, a credit card is a much better option. Credit cards are more widely accepted than travelers checks. Additionally, savvy consumers can avoid foreign transaction fees altogether and obtain rewards for their purchases by finding a good card. Overall, unless you are against using a credit card, it is the best way to go when traveling abroad.

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone. Additionally, the opinions of the commenters are not necessarily the opinions of this site

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