Back in May I advised any prospective visitors to Ireland that they should use their debit and credit cards rather than come with the traditional traveler's checks. That advice still stands, but it may have to be revised if the fears of NY Times columnist Ron Lieber are realized.
Lieber says that bank charges on foreign credit card transactions could rise following a change in American law that has restricted credit cards from charging/raising other fees. Lieber says that 2009 Credit Card Act, which only came into effect last month, stops banks from charging a fee when customers exceed their credit limit. The new law also restricts any application or annual fees the banks levy on customers with "poor credit histories."
One area untouched by the new rules is foreign currency exchanges. Currently these charges can be as high as 3% on top of every foreign purchase, but, Lieber says, there is no reason that banks couldn't raise those charges even further.
Lieber recommends (as do I) that customers should shop around for a credit card before they travel. Some big banks - Capital One, for example - and many smaller banks and credit unions are only adding the 1% Visa/MasterCard charge on foreign purchases.
I don't know if or how this new law might affect debit/bank card withdrawals. Although it depends on how much money you need and what your bank charges for using ATMs, using the machines is probably the best way to change your money in Ireland. Irish banks don't charge people with American bank cards for using their ATMs.
Of course, there's one more consideration before you choose that credit card for your trip to Ireland. If you're planning to rent a car, you should look for a card that covers the insurance on your rental car.
That's easier said than done because very few cards will cover renting a car in Ireland. However, the cost of the insurance can be astronomical - around $20-25 per day. Therefore, spending time researching, seeing if you can find a card that allows you to waive the rental company's CDW is a good idea.
Shop around. Get a good card for your car rental. Get a good card for all your other foreign currency transactions. Use your debit card. There is no good reason to make your Irish vacation more expensive than it has to be.
Originally published March 02, 2010