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Managing Credit Cards While Living Overseas

My wife and I moved from Seattle to Thailand for work late last year. Other than preparing myself for lots of spicy food, tropical weather, and a 12-hour time difference with clients on the East Coast, I also wanted to make sure I was prepared to properly handle my credit cards while living overseas. I have always traveled internationally for work, and ever since my first trip abroad I quickly realized that credit cards were my lifeline. They could mean the difference between staying at the Hyatt, or sharing a hostel room with a talkative German named Franz.

That said, over the last seven months I have learned some valuable lessons - many the hard way- about managing my credit cards internationally. Hopefully some of these experiences will be of value to you wherever you happen to call home.

Know Your Card I use two credit cards, and my primary card is a Visa from Capital One . It has a pretty good rewards program, and I have found their customer service to be responsive. In addition, this card has a high credit line so I'm able to use it for all my business and travel expenses.

Best of all, Capital One is the one of the few credit issuers left that actually absorbs the 1 percent currency conversion fee charged by Visa/MasterCard so you pay no foreign transaction fees! If you're going to be living overseas or traveling internationally on a regular basis, you'll want a Capital One card in your wallet. My second card is a MasterCard from Citicards, and I use it primarily as a backup. While this credit card basically met my needs in the US, I am now getting hit with unacceptable international transaction fees every time I choose to use it abroad. For the most part, this card now rests peacefully in the back of my wallet for emergency use only.

Choosing a New Billing Address

Upon moving to Thailand, I opted to use my Seattle office address as my billing address instead of my home address in Bangkok. This has had mixed results. The main reason I wanted to keep a US billing address was that I wanted to avoid having my credit card and banking information sent through regular international mail. I also wanted to limit the possibility of one day checking my statement online and seeing a bill for $3,100 worth of Viagra purchased in Laos. This might make for an awkward conversation with the credit card fraud department, not to mention my wife. The other reason I wanted to maintain a US billing address was that it seemed easier when making online purchases. I dreaded the idea of having to try to enter my 7-line, 180-letter address in Thailand into the standard online billing address fields. So, with these thoughts in mind, I decided to use my office in Seattle as my billing address. I also setup paperless billing for all my accounts and have my office assistant FedEx me important documents.

The obvious downside of this choice is that now I have more lag time between receiving important documents. If there are time-sensitive documents, this becomes even more of a headache. The lesson learned is that if you have to use a different billing address than your home, make sure you have someone there is who is responsible and will promptly mail you what you need. You may also need to help them understand which documents are important and which are not. After all, international FedEx fees for mailing dozens of random “pre-approval” letters to Southeast Asia can add up.

Looking Like the Bad Guy

I realized that much of my purchasing profile was going to change when I moved to Thailand . The vast majority of my charges were now going to be overseas and would include electronics, plane tickets, household goods and anything else we needed to get settled in both personally and professionally. Unfortunately, to the credit card fraud departments, many of my purchases were going to catch their eye as high risk or potentially fraudulent activity. The last thing I wanted was for my accounts to constantly be frozen. So, I called my credit card companies and told them that I was going to be moving to Thailand and would be traveling frequently in the region. I also made a point of asking them to note this change in my file for future reference. Additionally, I always try to give advance warning to the credit card companies when I anticipate travel or purchases that might seem alerting. Finally, I made sure that the credit card companies had an updated means of contacting me via my cell phone and email so that any alerts on my accounts could be cleared up immediately.

Parting Thoughts

Now that I live overseas, the ability to check my statements and make payments online has become extremely important. When calls to the credit issuers are absolutely necessary, using Skype ensures that I do not pay international rates. Although managing my credit cards internationally has definitely presented some new challenges at times, I have actually found that most companies are quite used to working with international business travelers. So, if you're planning on moving to another country, make sure you first have credit cards that fit your international needs, and don't forget to think about what billing address you want to use. Next, remember that your purchasing profile will change ,and this could lead to card cancellations or other headaches if you don't alert your credit providers to the impending changes. Keep these tips in mind, and you'll be well on your way to managing credit responsibly while living overseas.

Safe travels, and happy spending!

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Joshua Heckathorn's picture

Joshua Heckathorn was President of Creditnet, is a credit expert and has been featured on CNNMoney, FOX Business, Yahoo Finance, The Street, and many other national publications during the past ten years.  He received a Bachelor of Science in Management (Finance) from Brigham Young University's Marriott School of Business and earned his MBA from Seattle University.

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Scott's picture

I never thought too much about the whole address issue when shopping online. Thanks for the tip...I'm prepping to move to Asia as well. Time to look for a good Cap One card.

Harrys's picture


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