Here are a few ways you can guard against paying a premium when using credit cards abroad.
Before You Leave
* Telephone the financial institutions that issue your credit cards and ask about fees for foreign transactions. The issuing institutions may pass along the fees imposed by Visa or MasterCard, as well as tacking on fees of their own -- whether transactions are in foreign currency or DCC (dynamic currency conversion) dollars. Customer service reps are not always well-informed on this topic, so if you don't get a clear answer, ask to speak with a supervisor.
* Negotiate. Robert D. Manning, professor of finance at Rochester Institute of Technology and author of the book "Credit Card Nation," says, "If the bank highly values you, they're going to give you a better deal."
* Look for a bank that treats you better. Two places to start looking: Consumer Action (www.consumer-action.org), an advocacy group, publishes an annual survey covering a broad range of credit cards and their fees; and the Web site Bankrate.com has a chart detailing the overseas fees charged by the major bank issuers for ATM, debit and credit cards at www.bankrate.com/brm/news/cc/20050624b1.asp.
* Stay on top of the situation. Fees change often, so don't assume they're the same as the last time you traveled -- or even the same as surveys or Web sites report.
At Your Destination
* Ask whether your card will be charged in the local currency or dollars. DCC is prevalent in some countries, such as Ireland, but is just starting to show up in others. If you think you'd be better off paying in the local currency, specify that to the clerk before you hand over your credit card.
* Be persistent if the clerk doesn't know how to override a DCC system. Request that the charge be voided and rerun in the local currency, or ask to speak to the manager or owner.
* Consider paying in cash, with local currency obtained at ATMs using your regular bank's ATM card; you may come out ahead in terms of fees (check before you leave home). But weigh the potential savings against the benefits of using a credit card in the event you have to dispute a charge.
Upon Your Return
* Check your credit card bill. If you opted to have your overseas transactions processed in dollars -- say, because you wanted to fill out a business expense report in dollars without waiting for your credit card statement -- look for additional fees imposed by the bank that issues your card. They'll be listed in separate, additional line items on the bill.
* Consider disputing the charge. If you feel that you've gotten a raw deal in a DCC transaction, take it up with your credit card company. -- Gayle Keck
and R. Paul Herman