This is how you should use your US Discover card overseas

TransferWise content team
27.10.17
9 minute read

Travelling abroad is expensive, wherever you’re headed. It’s a good idea to think in advance about how to pay for your trip because different methods of payment have different pros and cons. Using a card to buy the things you need while you’re away, for example, means you don’t have to be walking around with a pocketful of unfamiliar cash.

However, even though using debit or credit cards abroad is often the most convenient and safe option, there are fees and charges you need to know about before you go. If you’re planning on using your Discover card abroad it’s also essential you do some advance planning, because the card network isn’t accepted everywhere. Not only do some retailers not allow payments using a Discover card, there are entire countries which have no coverage at all. Doing your homework in advance can help you avoid any nasty surprises.

Read this guide to find out:

  • How and where you can use your U.S. Discover card abroad
  • The potential cost of using your card
  • How to stay safe when using your U.S. Discover card while overseas

Can I use my American Discover credit or debit card abroad?

You can use your U.S. Discover card in many countries abroad to make purchases or withdraw cash. However, Discover cards aren’t universally accepted, so it’s a good idea to check before you go, if your destination is covered by this network. Discover publish a map of international coverage online. In general terms, you can use your Discover card wherever you see the Discover or Diners Club International symbols displayed. However, in Asia, you can also use your card in outlets which show the Union Pay or JCB sign. Don’t forget though, even if there’s coverage in a specific country, you’ll find that not all retailers will take payment using a Discover card. It’s more likely to be accepted in outlets used to dealing with tourists.

Before you travel, you’ll need to know your four digit PIN number, used to withdraw cash from an ATM. Most credit and debit cards used in Europe, Canada and Australia will also have ‘chip and PIN’ technology, with a magnetic payment chip embedded into the card. Discover have started issuing these to members in the U.S., and you’ll find everyday transactions easier if your card has this already.

If you still have an older style magnetic stripe card, then outlets can process your transaction by swiping the strip, and taking a signature instead of a PIN. Be warned though, chip and PIN technology is well established in some areas, and staff might not be familiar with taking a payment using the magnetic stripe. If you come across a member of staff in a store displaying the Discover symbol who doesn’t think your card will work, you should ask them to try it. The payment terminal will then take them through, step by step, how to take payment.

The only place you’re likely to hit an issue with a magnetic stripe card, is when using vending machines and automatic payment services for things like travel tickets or gas. These won’t work with a magnetic stripe card, so you’ll need to find a staff member to process your transaction.

One quirk you might run into, especially if you’re in Europe, is that restaurant wait staff will bring a card terminal directly to you at your table. They’ll then charge the entire transaction in your presence. Because of the risk of fraud, it would be considered inappropriate to take the card out of your sight.

Another difference you might see, is that contactless ‘tap and go’ payment technology is very popular in Europe, Canada and Australia. It hasn’t really caught on in much of the U.S., but most likely you’ll be seeing it more and more in the future because of the convenience it offers customers. If you happen to have a contactless card already, then you can use it just like at home.

If you’re going to use your Discover card abroad, you must remember that there may be additional fees to pay when you use your card overseas. You’ll also find some places which do not accept cards in the Discover network at all, so taking a second form of payment, and a small amount of local cash with you is a sensible idea.

How much does it cost to use my US Discover card abroad?

Whether you choose to spend abroad using your debit or credit card, you’re going to incur some fees.

Fee 1: Foreign exchange rate mark-ups

Firstly, the cost of your purchase will be changed into USD using the daily exchange rate set by Discover. Discover don’t publish their exchange rates, but usually you’ll find that they’re slightly less favourable than the real exchange rate you find on Google. However, this only applies if you’re charged using the local currency. If you choose to pay for your transaction in USD under something called Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC), it’ll cost you way more. But we’ll cover DCC - and how to avoid it - in detail later.

Fee 2: ATM fees

If you’re taking cash out of an ATM, there may also be charges to pay. This might mean a further percentage added onto the fees you’ve already paid, or a fixed amount per withdrawal. However, you can reduce or avoid these charges by choosing an ATM from the Discover network. If you’re taking a cash advance using a credit card, you can expect the fees to be very high.

It doesn’t stop there, though - you still have to look over the fine print, as some individual banks or ATM providers might levy their own fees on top of your bank charges.

Fee 3: Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC)

Wherever you are in the world, you might also be asked if you want your purchase to be processed in USD instead of the local currency. This is known as Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC). It sounds like it offers a service to customers, but don’t be fooled. DCC should always be avoided.

If possible, choose to pay in the local currency. Even if it might be simpler to see the costs in dollars, you can be sure that the foreign currency exchange rates applied are pretty poor - meaning you get a worse deal overall. By using DCC you’re basically giving the local company or ATM machine permission to use its own rate to make the conversion on the spot. While your bank wants to keep you happy because you’re a valued customer, a foreign provider has no such obligation. They’ll see a quick buck, and have no problem marking up the exchange rate and pocketing the difference.

Fee 4: Credit card interest rates

If you’re using a credit card, the process to calculate the costs applied will be similar. However, you might also incur interest charges if you don’t pay your bill at the end of the month. Check the specific details for your card type, as some cards come with rewards and cash back, which can make them a reasonable deal overall, so long as you do the math and understand the interest charges.

The exact fees for your card will be detailed online or on the back of your card statements. However as an example, here are the standard fees you’ll likely be charged to use your U.S. Discover card while you’re away:

Discover Credit Cards Discover Debit Cards
Standard foreign transaction fee 0% 0%
ATM Usage Foreign Cash Fee/ Cash Fee $10 or 5%, whichever is greater. Withdrawals from the Discover ATM network have lower fees, or may have fees waived entirely. Outside of the network, the ATM provider might also add additional fees. Withdrawals from the Discover ATM network fee free. Outside of the network, the ATM provider might add additional fees.

If you’re using your Discover card to pay for your travels, it’s good to know that they’ve eliminated all foreign transaction fees on their cards. These charges are where many card providers deduct a cut for themselves - usually a percentage of the amount you spent.

Be wary, however, because it’s possible for card issuers to make their profit by rolling their cut into a poor exchange rate instead. As Discover don’t publish transparent daily rates, it’s impossible to be sure that the rate they apply is fair. Keep an eye on the amount you’re charged using your Discover card, to check you’re not being fleeced on the exchange rate.

What if my US Discover card gets lost or stolen while I’m overseas?

Being on vacation with no money is a bit of a nightmare situation. If you lose your card, or it gets stolen, you need to have a plan.

Whatever has happened, you’ll have to contact your card issuer to report the loss. They’ll cancel the card and order a new one for you.

You’ll find the form needed to report a lost card, by logging into online banking - or you can get the number to call on your statement, online or on the back of your card. It’s a good plan to make a note of the contact details, and keep it separate to your card during your travels.

You can find contact numbers and forms to report your lost or stolen Discover card here:

  • Call Discover to report your loss 24/7: 1-800-347-2683
  • FAQs and forms relating to lost and stolen Discover cards

You also have the option of getting card protection insurance, which could give you additional help if your card is lost or stolen while you’re away. However, this is an optional service and you’ll have to pay for it. Card protection is usually available from your bank or an insurance company.

Is it better to use debit or credit cards abroad?

There’s no clear winner when it comes to the question of whether it’s best to use a debit or credit card abroad. A lot depends on the deal you’ve got on your preferred card. Either way, because Discover might not be accepted wherever you’re travelling to, it’s a smart idea to have another card on you, which uses a different payment system like Visa or Mastercard.

Using a debit card is often better if you intend to take cash from ATMs in your card’s network. In this case you can benefit from reduced fees, or even no fees at all if you use specific ATMs. However, if you use an ATM from outside of the network, you’ll be hit by hefty costs.

If you need to spread the cost of your trip, a credit card might suit better. Many Discover cards also give cash-back or rewards to help you travel more in future. When you’re deciding which is best value, though, don’t forget to take into account the fact that you’ll incur additional interest costs if you don’t pay your bills immediately. Taking cash advances on a credit card isn’t a good idea. The fees are typically very steep compared to using a debit card.

An advantage of spending on a credit card over spending cash, is that it can provide greater security. Whichever card you choose to use, your purchases are monitored and you should be able to get help if you’re the victim of fraud. Discover say that you’ll not be held liable for costs associated with fraud if you should fall victim. To get the most out of this, keep all your receipts and check your card statements thoroughly when you get back from vacation.

What are some good tips for using my US Discover card abroad?

Discover recommends you tell them, or your card issuer if different, if you’re travelling abroad. You can easily update Discover of your plans, by logging into online banking and entering the details there.

The reason you have to do this is to make sure the bank does not block your account when they see unusual activity. All transactions are monitored for fraud, and spending in a new location might show up as suspicious if the bank isn’t aware of your travel plans. In this case, the bank will try to call you to check everything is okay. It’s essential therefore, to make sure your bank has your correct contact details.

Check the phone number the bank has, by calling into a branch or logging into your account online. And don’t forget - even if they have the correct details, it won’t help if you’ve got your phone turned off while you’re travelling.

It’s a common sense precaution to have a secondary bank card just in case there’s a problem with your usual card. Pick a Visa, Mastercard or Amex as your second card to be safe, and remember that keeping a small amount of local money is also smart. Cash is still king in many places.

One problem many travellers run into is accidentally overspending after losing track of the costs in another currency. To avoid this, log onto online banking regularly to monitor the outgoings on your account, or try an app to monitor and manage your cash flow while you’re away. It can also help to decide in advance a daily spending limit in the local currency, to make sure you don’t have any nasty surprises once your vacation is over.

Don’t spend your trip worrying about money. Just use these tips to stay safe while you’re abroad, and make sure you know what fees and charges you need to plan for. Then you can relax and enjoy!

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