Travel Tips

How to pay in the US – cash or credit cards?

The journey all over the ocean is more than complicated. First of all, it is not around the corner and has its own specifics. One of them is the application for ESTA. Secondly, there can be some problems with the finances as well. I do not mean the money on your bank account, but the know-how of the basic principles which will come in handy.

It would be essential to prepare your trip to America well in advance. Given the fact that it is a distant country, it would be worth finding out how to handle all kind of payments. During my visits to the States, I have experienced several situations in which decisions needed to be taken immediately when it came to money issues. For this reason, I would strongly recommend splitting your finances in two groups:

The first group should be intended for the finances on your bank account which can be used for the payments made by debit or credit cards (details below).

The second one should be allocated to payments in cash. It is being said that the Americans belong to the ones famously obsessed with card payments as opposed to travelers from our end. Debit card is exceptionally popular. You can find a payment terminal basically at every corner and every street kiosk which prevents you from spending your dollars.

Cash would be more appropriate for paying low-priced goods. In any case, the payment by card is the most viable option. However, do not forget to use the right one to avoid problems designed to make your stay an unpleasant experience.

Payment by cards
My advice is simple – go and visit your bank before your departure to check out everything about the payment requirements in the USA. Even if the bank clerk seems to confirm the authencity of your card, do not rely on this claim too heavily. Provided that you are an owner of a credit card, you do not have to worry about anything. First, make sure that your card or cards are suitable for use in the US. However, if you own a regular credit card, you´d better prepare yourself for some trouble down there. It happened to me during a trip in Los Angeles after arriving at the hotel in which we had a reservation. My friend with whom we travelled presented her card to the receptionist, but nearly ended up spending the night outside the hotel. Even though the reservation was fine, the credit card was far from being applicable.

The problem was that she had general credit cards. Be careful about this. When you travel to the US, your only foreign exchange means is finances and cards. It is worth giving them some consideration.

Which one is the right one?
Make sure you have a card that complies with these rules below:

Debit or credit card – it would be a good idea to equip yourself with one of these cards prior to your departure.

Check it out – The card should have your name on the front and it should be engraved and not printed. Without such a card you will not get far.

(The hotel simply did not want to accept our regular credit card despite the fact that we tried everything to persuade the receptionist about the validity. We ended up just the same with our second card, so in the end we had to withdraw some cash from the second group of finances. During our stay only a few shops accepted our regular credit cards; the American terminals did not seem to fancy them for some reason.

Beware of the validity of your card – it should be valid during your stay in the US to avoid any kind of problems.

Cash is more appropriate for the unexpected situations – card loss, damage, malfunction and for regular payments. It represents certainty.

Cash provides you with some certainty, but when you decide to buy dollars at the bank, try to ask for notes of lower value. It may happen that the vendors in the US stores will stare at you in a strange way. Especially when you pull Benjamin Franklin out (one hundred dollars note). The best thing you can do is to have banknotes of lesser value on you, let’s say twenty and ten dollars. In fact, there is no problem having notes of fifty and one hundred either when you are paying for goods of higher value. (For example, you can use this kind of payment if you are staying at a hotel that offers valet parking, i.e. a parking of your car by the staff. It would be a good idea to have a dollar or two to give a tip while arriving at the hotel from a trip, a shopping tour or any other daily activity. Sometimes it is necessary to use the cash in the car rental service, because it is not possible to pay by debit cards in some of them. They prefer credit cards instead. I did not have a problem with my debit card in Hertz.)

Although the cash payment is not so popular in the US, it is also possible to use this method. Do not be mislead if anybody tells you otherwise. It is rather uncomfortable. Payment by card is much easier and safer. At least you do not have to show publicly how much money is on you.

If you opt for cash, please consider carrying only certain amount with you and put the rest in a safe that can be found in your room directly or at the reception desk. Do not forget your password combination while putting things int he safe to avoid further complications. You will feel much more relaxed without banknotes in your pockets.

I will provide you with the photos of US banknotes just for your information:

An unexpected call from your bank
It may happen that your cellphone starts ringing unexpectedly while you are in a museum or on the trip somewhere. You will be surprised to see that there is a phone number from your home country on the display and the one that is contacting you is the call center from your bank. For a moment your face turns red and curious at the same time. Why are they asking whether did I pay xy sum an hour ago? You will quickly realize that this is true. The reason for these kinds of calls is some unauthorized payments stemming from the fact that some stores use their terminals in such a way that they pull the magnetic part of your card over the terminal.

In this case the payment is carried out, however, it may not be authorized. It explains everything, and the operator is happy that he or she will be able to charge you a pretty high sum on your next invoice. Even if the call is subject to some payment, it can be viewed as a great expression of care from the bank’s perspective.

If you take your time and explain to the operator where you are situated, you will not be contacted again based on your explanation. And how to avoid further calls? It is quite simple – just ask the vendor when you pay in this way for authorization – a signature. You sign the cash receipt which will remain in the store.

Peter Fritz
Photos: Pixabay, Wikipedia