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Which Card to Use When Buying Expensive Items Abroad

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Today, TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig had to make a large purchase while traveling in Australia. Here’s how he decided which credit card to use.

This month, a product I’ve had my eye on for quite some time finally started shipping. It’s a wide-angle lens from Olympus that’ll make review photos — particularly those shot in tight quarters on airplanes — look exceptional. (Photo geeks: It’s the 7-14mm f/2.8; a mighty fine lens.)

I ordered this lens and expected it to arrive in the US before I departed for my current trip to Australia. Long story short, it didn’t make it. And today I arrived in Sydney without the lens. With quite a few activities planned over the next two weeks that could really benefit from some wide-angle photography, I decided to track down the 7-14 in Sydney. It cost $1,549 AUD (about $1,140) including tax, which, while no small sum, is considerably less than the $1,299 plus tax it commands back in the US, not even factoring in the 10% in taxes I’ll get back at the airport.

A photo I captured with my new wide-angle lens in Sydney. Zero buyer's remorse here.
A photo I captured with my new wide-angle lens in Sydney. Zero buyer’s remorse here.

With a big overseas purchase looming, I researched which card to use and settled on the Chase Ink Plus, thanks to the fact that I’m an authorized user on TPG’s business account and my purchase would be covered against damage or theft for 120 days. The card covers claims up to $10,000, and also extends US product warranties by an extra year (the latter likely wouldn’t apply with a lens purchased in Australia).

Sadly, the charge was declined, since this isn’t a card I often use internationally. Not to worry; I had a back-up plan. I pulled out my Enhanced Business Platinum Card from American Express OPEN, and the transaction went through without a hitch. The coverage length isn’t quite as generous, but the lens is still protected against damage, theft or loss for 90 days, with the same $10,000 claim limit.

The American Express Platinum Card offers protection against damage and loss.
The American Express Platinum Card offers protection against damage and loss.

Be sure to consider the following when making a large purchase abroad:

1. Use a card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees
2. Confirm damage and loss protection before making a purchase
3. Worry less about category bonuses — few products purchased abroad are eligible
4. Keep an eye on your credit limit to ensure you have enough to cover future expenses
5. Ask the merchant to process the transaction in the local currency

What’s your strategy when it comes to making large international purchases?

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Intro APR Regular APR Annual Fee Foreign Transaction Fee Credit Rating
N/A 16.24%-23.24% Variable Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95 0% Excellent Credit