Americans are expected to spend more than $64 billion traveling abroad this year. While most people have begun planning this year’s vacation, many don’t think about how to protect their travel dollars. For example, shopping overseas is a highlight for many travelers abroad, but it can also be fraught with pitfalls. American Express has several helpful hints on how to safeguard your money.
Consumer Rights Overseas
Every consumer should be aware that overseas refund and exchange policies can differ significantly from U.S. policies. For example, in some countries, merchants may have a strict “all sales final” policy. If a merchant says it will give refunds or allow exchanges, you may want to get the policy in writing. Also, make sure to get a receipt and keep it in a safe place. If you need to have the items mailed home, take copies of the shipping documentation with you.
Beware of counterfeit merchandise and prices that seem “too good to be true.” Consider getting a professional, independent appraisal in writing before you buy fine jewelry, artwork or other expensive items. Also, familiarize yourself with U.S. and local customs policies regarding prohibited and restricted items, which may be confiscated and/or subject to a fine.
The U.S. Fair Credit Billing Act, a U.S. law that offers procedures for handling credit card purchase problems, does apply to overseas transactions. Under this law, consumers have the right to dispute a charge and temporarily withhold payment for the charge while the card company investigates. However, this law does not guarantee you a refund every time you have a problem. For example, it does not cover cases where you: change your mind about a purchase and the merchant has a “no refund” policy or local law does not require giving a refund, or the merchandise you buy turns out to be worth less than you thought it was, or less than you paid.
It’s a good idea to use credit cards for overseas shopping because you will have a record of your purchases. In addition, some cards offer extended protection against accidental damage and theft for items purchased on the card such as American Express’ Purchase Protection Plan.
Currency Exchange, Taxes and Fees
Familiarize yourself with local currency and its U.S. value before you buy anything. Shop around before converting large amounts of money because exchange rates and conversion fees can vary dramatically at local exchange bureaus, airports and hotels. Most credit card companies provide attractive exchange rates — usually the interbank rate + 1% conversion fee — so putting purchases on your card can be a competitive way to shop.
Also, find out what taxes, shipping and customs fees may apply to your purchases. In some countries, especially in Europe, you can get a refund on the Value Added Tax (VAT), a sales tax which can run up to and more than 20%.
Carrying Money: Cash, Travelers Cheques, Credit Cards and Phone Cards
Carry a mixture of credit cards, travelers cheques and cash to use when traveling away from home. Cash in small denominations is necessary for tips and other incidental expenses. But once stolen, cash is gone for good, so only carry what you need and store additional funds in the hotel safe. It’s a good idea to carry two major credit cards while traveling overseas … and carry them separately, so if one is lost or stolen, you’ll still have the other (but leave local department store cards at home). Credit cards will provide you with a record of your purchases and you won’t have to carry as much cash. Many cards, such as those from American Express, provide other benefits and services as well, such as emergency assistance, legal referrals, travel accident insurance and car-rental insurance. (For specific tips on car- rental insurance see attached; for additional information call Monica Beaupre at 212-640-2653; mbeaup@AOL.com).
Travelers cheques are a very safe form of money since they are fully refundable if lost or stolen. Sign each cheque in the upper left hand corner immediately upon purchasing them. When you are ready to use them, countersign them in the lower left hand corner in front of a witness. Keep travelers cheques purchase record and refund information in a separate place, so you’ll have documentation and phone numbers in the event they are lost or stolen.
Also, many destinations around the world now have ATMs that will provide local currency on your U.S. credit or ATM card. But be aware that ATM fee policies vary widely, ranging from free to several dollars per transaction.
For a free brochure entitled Have A Safe Trip, created by American Express, write to: American Express Company, 200 Vesey Street, New York, NY 10285-4815.
American Express Company is a diversified worldwide travel and financial services company founded in 1850. It is a leader in charge and credit cards, Travelers Cheques, travel, financial planning, investment products, insurance and international banking.
American Express Consumer Tips
Understanding Credit Cards and Car Rental Insurance
When you rent a car in the United States, liability insurance can sometimes be included but collision insurance is not. Some charge cards automatically provide collision damage insurance, which covers damage to or theft of rental cars … but policies can vary card-by-card and country-by- country. American Express offers these tips on understanding credit cards and car rental insurance at home and abroad:
Are You Already Insured? If you do not have car insurance or if your policy does not cover rental cars, you may be covered by your credit or charge card. If so, rent the car using the card providing the insurance and decline the car rental company’s collision damage waiver (CDW), which can cost more than $15 per day.
Call your card issuer first to make sure you will be covered when you rent a car. American Express provides Car Rental Loss and Damage Insurance on most American Express Personal, Gold and Platinum charge cards as well as on the Delta Skymiles Card, the Hilton Card, the Sheraton Card and the Golf Card. For detailed coverage and exclusion information call American Express at 1-800-338-1670.
Renting A Car Overseas. Rules and regulations on car rental insurance vary by country and by company. Some countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, mandate that insurance be included in the car rental fee. Some car rental companies abroad may also require the renter to purchase their insurance. Also, some credit cards do not provide coverage in certain countries due to unusually high costs in those destinations. In all of these cases, you can be covered by the car-rental company’s particular policy and are subject to their regulations. If traveling overseas, call the car rental company in advance to find out about their policy.
Limitations Of Coverage. Credit card car rental coverage usually contains restrictions on expensive, antique and commercial automobiles, as well as on larger vehicles, such as trucks, full-sized vans and full-sized sport utility vehicles. In addition, most credit cards have limits on the length of coverage ranging from 15-to-30 days. Other possible restrictions may include vehicle damage while being driven off-road, losses involving use by an unauthorized driver, driving outside authorized rental territory, illegal activity, being under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and intentional damage.
If You Have An Accident … Make sure you keep your initial and final (if applicable) rental agreement and receipt in a safe place because you will need them if you have to file a claim. Other required documentation for claims may include personal insurance information, itemized repair bills, photos of the damaged vehicle, a police report (if applicable), and a copy of your driver’s license.