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Trip tips: Using your card south of the border

By ATB Financial 26 November 2018 3 min read

Got a trip to the United States on your calendar this year? Once you’ve booked your plane ticket and accommodations you’ll want to put some thought into how you’ll pay for the things you need (and want) while you’re there.

Travellers’ cheques or cash are options, but most people prefer the convenience of their credit card. But there are some things you should know about using it–things that could save you money and prevent potentially stressful situations.


  • Know your fees

    Are you familiar with something called a foreign exchange fee? You’ll see it on your credit card statement when you use your card for purchases outside of Canada. Typically it’s 2.5 per cent of the purchase price. That means when you’re paying with your credit card, you’ll need to factor in the exchange rate (typically set daily by your card provider) and that pesky foreign exchange fee. Suddenly an item that seemed like a good deal, isn’t worth it.

    There is a good way to get around foreign exchange fees for U.S. travel (or online shopping). Consider a credit card that uses American currency. The ATB US Dollar Mastercard® is a simple solution. The savings realized from even one trip south of the border will likely offset what’s already a low annual fee.

    That USD (U.S. dollar) credit card will also help you avoid foreign exchange fees when you are online shopping. Handy to have if you want to avoid extra costs on sites that quote prices in USD.

    You may also consider a US chequing account, especially if you are spending a considerable amount of time in the states. It will make it more convenient to pay off your US dollar credit card and allow you to write cheques and complete transactions in American funds.

  • Take a credit card selfie

    Quick quiz—you’ve lost your credit card, what do you do? Simply call the number on the back of the card…that you no longer have. If you’ve ever been caught in this situation, you may recall feeling a little helpless. The number is easy enough to look up on a mobile device, but for those trying not to use data while they’re away, having the number on your phone could be the solution. Put the number in your contacts, or maybe snap a picture of the back of the card. We won’t remind you to make sure you’re phone is locked, because we’re sure it is!

    Don’t forget, if your Mastercard is stolen you are protected by Zero Liability Protection which means you are not on the hook for any fraudulent transactions.

    At the end of the day, using a credit or debit card while you travel is still a more secure option than carrying cash or travellers’ cheques.

  • Learn the “secret” to gassing up

    When paying at the pump, most gas stations in the US will prompt you for a ZIP code. This can be a puzzling moment for many Canadians. Here’s how you crack the code:

    Enter the three digits in your postal code, then add two zeros to the end. For example, if your postal code is A2B 3C4 enter 23400 for a ZIP code.

  • Max out the benefits of your card

    Many credit cards have savings that aren’t just limited to Canada. For example, that ATB US Dollar Mastercard® we mentioned earlier offers up to 25 per cent off car rental rates at Avis® and Budget®. Your card may also include additional car rental insurance, warranties on purchases, and travel insurance.


The best tactic if you’re looking to save money and avoid surprises on your credit card statement is to reacquaint yourself with your credit card agreement before you travel. Bon Voyage!

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