If you’ve been following my blog very long, you might be surprised that I’m writing this post about getting a credit card and searching online for credit card low apr deals. After all, we have been working hard for well over a year to reduce our family’s financial debts. I’ve been writing about that a lot!

When we got serious about managing our debt, we put all our credit cards into a jar of peanut butter, so that we would not be tempted to use any of them – and that trick worked! I wrote about that in my post, “Six Weeks in our Life Without Credit Cards.” And, of course, I am a big fan of the “Debt Snowflake Challenge” to knock out the rest of my student loan debt.

So, why am I writing about getting a credit card now? Because a friend of mine will be sending their son overseas to attend college in Portugal, and they have been trying to figure out how to help him budget and manage his money overseas. Which led me to investigating the cost of living in Portugal and what other American students do for money if they are attending college in another country.

First, I checked out the university web site and read everything they had about student expenses. For example, they posted a sample list of common expenses that the student can budget for, like the cost of meals in the student cafeteria, a monthly pass for bus transportation, and the advice that both cell phones and wi-fi are provided free for students while enrolled. And they recommend using ATMs, which they call “cash machines “ over there, to withdraw Euros from the student’s existing U.S. bank account.

Then I did a little research for tips on using ATMs in Europe and what kind of fees for use or problems might arise. Is a debit card enough or should the student also have a credit card? After checking several sites, it looks like the safest way to send your son or daughter overseas is with both a debit card and a credit card. The debit card needs to be on an American checking account – NOT on a savings account. There are many banks in the U.S. that have special low fee or no fee accounts for students that include use of a debit card.

But just in case you are out and about and you have a problem using your debit card, they strongly recommend that you have a credit card for emergency backup. And they had a very good tip about NOT using the credit card for a cash advance. Almost every credit card charges a higher interest rate on cash advances, and once you have a cash advance on the account the only way to pay off that part of your bill is to pay the ENTIRE balance – both cash advance AND your regular charge activity.

Another tip they shared is that some credit cards charge extra for international transactions, so you have to call in advance and check out what your credit card policy is for international activity. And be sure to notify the credit card company of your travel plans in advance, so that unusual activity does not flag your account and end up being frozen for suspicion of identity theft or fraud.

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