Financial Travel Tip #60 – Renewing Credit Cards While Traveling

by Nora on December 22, 2012

In my recent financial travel tip about prepaid travel cards, a reader and fellow nomad brought up an interesting point about renewing cards while traveling:

He was unsure of his ability to renew his credit card after traveling for a few years, since he has no plans to return home, and his mailing address in Canada is that of a friend, who he surmised wouldn’t be able to help.

Concerns about the credit bureau being willing to renew at all given his time out of the country were also raised.

 

How do I arrange to get my renewal credit card?

There are two ways you can get your renewal credit card while traveling (I’ve used both):

 

Call the credit card company about 2 months prior to renewal and give them your current address abroad. Sometimes they’ll send it to you, sometimes they won’t.

If you do manage to get them to send it abroad, make sure you call them back as soon as you receive it and tell them to strike that address from their records, otherwise your next renewal card will be sent to that address as well…..which is problematic – trust me!

 

Have the renewal card sent to your Canadian address, and have your friend (or “designated representative”) forward it to you.

This works as long as the card isn’t mailed in such a way that it requires your signature on receipt. However you can get around that by giving your “designated representative” who receives your mail a Power of Attorney for Property, and this way they can act on your behalf. I’ve done this with my mum – er – “designated representative”, who can sign for special documents and do bank transactions for me, etc. Obviously you need to implicitly trust anybody you give Power of Attorney to (more on this in an upcoming financial travel tip).

 

 

Can you renew your credit card if you’ve been away for years?

Yes!

I’ve navigated a handful of credit card renewals (since I carry a few credit cards) in my 6+ years of traveling and living outside of my home country.

Because I charge the majority of my expenses to a credit card, (for a variety of reasons including frequent flyer mile accumulation), the credit bureau has lovely records of me paying off my balance in full each month, so I’m a star in their eyes.

And though the credit card company doesn’t particularly like prompt full payments (they don’t get to charge interest that way!), I’m still a good customer.

The only reason a credit card might not be renewed – or worse yet, cancelled out from under you – is if you haven’t been using it at all. (I learned that one the hard way, losing the use of a spare credit card the one time I needed it).

 

Does anybody else have tips for renewing credit cards from abroad?

 

 

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Morgalio December 22, 2012 at 2:40 pm

My (big) problem was that no express courier at home accepted to mail a credit card, even if deactivated. My friends and I enquired with several mailing companies and they all stated that a c.c. couldn’t absolutely be shipped – no way. Maybe I could have declared a fake package content (hoping everything would work). Actually I was lucky and I had the renewal credit card brought to me by a friend on a holiday trip!

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2 theprofessionalhobo December 23, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Hey Morgalio – Interesting….I hadn’t thought of problems with forwarding cards….then again I guess any cards I’ve had forwarded have been part of a package that had a number of other things in it, so declaration seemed irrelevant.

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3 Dyanne@TravelnLass December 22, 2012 at 8:55 pm

“Does anybody else have tips for renewing credit cards from abroad?”

Yes, simple. Just get yourself a virtual mail box and forward all your snail mail there. Indeed, it’s my most popular post at TravelnLass: http://www.travelnlass.com/2011/05/desperately-seeking-mail-forwarding.html

Before I moved to Vietnam, I set up an account with VPM and then changed all my bank contact addresses (and yes, yes – I strongly agree, to always travel with a few different credit cards – ideally from different banks should one bank decide to freeze ALL of your accounts) to the new virtual mail box address (note, not a P.O. but VPM offers a seemingly bonafide residential street address).

So all my snail mail (btw, I also recommend setting all your bank account statements, etc. to digital delivery so as to keep snail mail while traveling to a minimum) now goes to my California “street” address. For most snail mail I can then simply “read” it online (via a scan of the envelope, else for a few pennies have it opened and fully scanned).

And for PHYSICAL snail mail like a new chunk of plastic (i.e. renewed credit card), I can then have VPM forward it to me… at whatever physical address I happen to be here on the globe.

That said, not sure about any bank/credit cardsmailed out requiring a signature. None of my banks do. Yes, of course you must make a telephone call to activate the new card, but that can be done from anywhere in the world.

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4 theprofessionalhobo December 23, 2012 at 4:06 pm

Hey Dyanne – If my mum weren’t a willing-and-able candidate, I’d most certainly have a Virtual Private Mailbox…what service do you use? And how much does it cost? Although the service is well worth its weight in salt, it’s still money well-saved IF it can be saved.

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5 Dyanne@TravelnLass December 23, 2012 at 8:04 pm

As I (so blatantly self-servingly) mentioned in the TravelnLass post link within my original comment… 😉

But seriously, as I said, I did a ton of research but eventually settled on Virtual Post Mail (www.virtualpostmail.com) First I culled down my snail mail (set all bank statements, etc. to online delivery), and am now able to get by just fine with VPM’s $10/month plan. That includes up to 10 mailings per month and 5 free scans (up to 10 pgs. each). Extra mailings are .50 (though I’ve never had need for such as I’ve never had but 4 or 5 mailings per month in the year+ that I’ve been over here in Vietnam) and extra scans .99 each (again, incl. up to 10 pages scanned). They also can forward mail/packages (i.e. if I shop online – many won’t mail to Vietnam, but I simply have whatever shipped to my virtual U.S. address), as well as deposit checks that might come in (I dabble in freelance website design).

More importantly, the owner of VPM (Joel) is super conscientious – available by phone and/or responds to my emails swiftly. Indeed, much like your mum – I feel like I have an UNCLE there in the states shuffling my snail mail for me. 😉

LOTS of virtual mail services/sites to choose from. A good bit confusing to sort them all out/compare apples and oranges. But leastwise my “Desperately Seeking a Mail Forwarding Service” post outlines the questions to ask/things to consider.

In short, for but 10 bucks a month, I don’t have to bother my family/friends with fiddling with my personal mail, and it’s great to simply view all incoming snail mail via VPM’s nifty interface scans.

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6 theprofessionalhobo December 24, 2012 at 12:52 pm

Dyanne – Ha ha – MY BAD! I saw the link but wasn’t able to access it at the time, so I went ahead and responded without doing the proper research. Your well-placed blatantly-self-serving links are welcome! 🙂

And thank you for reiterating your strategies here. I remember being unable to find a reasonably-priced Canadian equivalent when I last looked (it was more than $30/month), but if I can find something like VPM in Canada, I might just save my Mum the hassle too!

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7 Sylvain December 22, 2012 at 8:59 pm

I guess one could also call their company a few months before the expiration of the card and report it loss or something. Most companies will be able to send you a replacement card wherever you are within a few days… and it will most likely be a renewed one (with a new number) for another 4-5 years, just like they do in case of fraud.

Of course, that should be a last ressort… that probably wouldn’t work twice with the same company 🙂

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8 theprofessionalhobo December 23, 2012 at 4:09 pm

Hi Sylvain – Now there’s some creative thinking! Although as you say, I wouldn’t rely on it as a fool-proof option, but if the credit card company isn’t being cooperative about sending a new card to your current location, this could be a solution. Sneaky! 🙂

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9 Morgalio December 24, 2012 at 5:07 am

I just tried this way, but it wasn’t a great option. According to what they declared, my credit card company could actually ship a replacement card (and/or a cash advance) to me abroad, but:
– I could ask for it only with a proper official police report (of loss or robbery) and after blocking the existing card (which anyway left me without the card for a while);
– it would have been a temporary emergency solution and not a full-operating c.c. (not useful for online shopping or car rental, for instance – it would have been a card without embossed digits).
The full-operating replacement card would be mailed only to my registered address at the homecountry, in any case.

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10 Sylvain December 24, 2012 at 5:35 am

What card was that? VISA, MC, Amex?

I brought the issue with my VISA card issuer (Desjardins) a few months ago, and they said they’d be sending me another card wherever I am through courier service and I’d get it in a few days. They didn’t mention anything about a reduced capacity card.

I’ll renew my cards before leaving… so I’ll be good for 4-5 years. The easy way to renew a card is to pick up another product in the line-up of your current issuer. The cards I’m using now suit my current needs, but not the new life I’m about to embark. Also, I prefer to carry around non-Gold and non-Platinum cards… which might attract unwanted attention on the road, opposed to a regular plain card.

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11 theprofessionalhobo December 24, 2012 at 1:03 pm

Sylvain – You bring up two interesting points:

1) “Renewing” by applying for another card with the same issuer: in my experience, the new card doesn’t replace the old card; it’s an additional card. And having too many unused credit cards can be problematic with credit ratings and future loan applications. Have your new cards been automatic replacements for the old ones?

2) Staying away from Gold and Platinum cards to abate risk of being targeted: Great point. I figure that most cards are some shiny colour these days anyway, so I don’t give it much thought, but then again maybe I should.
The problem is, it’s the gold and platinum cards that offer the juicy frequent flyer bonuses and insurance/travel perks. I’m not sure I’d be willing to give that up!

12 Sylvain December 24, 2012 at 2:05 pm

Just to provide complement of info…

Yes, I will get other cards from my issuers… but I will also cancel my current ones once I get the new cards. They have too high limits anyway… since all gold and platinum cards have a minimum limit. I want to reduce my limits below this threshold. I will then have to switch cards.

Beyond the limits issue, my point was that applying for a new card is an option instead of renewing if you’re not near the end of the validity period of your current card… and don’t ant to explain your credit card that you’ll be leaving the country for many many years. So, you get a “newly born” card with a long period of validity ahead of you when you leave… without having to bother with renewals on the short term.

Same logic applies for passport renewal.

I understand your point regarding flyer miles, etc… in my case that’s not a factor… so the choice is simple.

13 Morgalio December 25, 2012 at 4:59 am

It was a VISA.

14 theprofessionalhobo December 24, 2012 at 12:55 pm

Morgalio – Aha; so maybe not such a great strategy after all! I’ve had replacement cards sent to me in “emergencies” by the theft and fraud department, but it was always after the card had been compromised and they already had proof on their end. And the cards were fully operating credit cards with new numbers (but the same expiry date).

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15 mikevallano December 28, 2012 at 7:42 am

Very good tips! I’ve been traveling to places where I can’t get any mail, so I will have to plan ahead to be back at my friend’s address to renew the card.

What I did prior to leaving was just call the CC company and ask them to issue a new card with a longer expiration date, which buys 3-4 years. So I’ll just make sure to get back to order up a new one to get the new buffer.

You also reminded me to check my cards, one of which expires in 6 months, so I will head to the bank when I’m back in Denver next month.

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16 theprofessionalhobo December 28, 2012 at 3:50 pm

Hi Mike,
Glad this post was useful to you! I find it interesting that they renewed your credit cards mid-cycle at your request. I must try this…..

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17 mikevallano December 28, 2012 at 4:08 pm

Well I can’t vouch for all of them (it’s a lot to remember and I don’t use a few of the cards anyway), but I just called my bank today to get a new bank card to pick up in Denver when I’m there and it was no problem at all. They’ll call me when it arrives at the branch, so I don’t have to have my friend (whose address I’m using) worry about it. 🙂

I also have a couple other bank accounts (personal and business) and they said I can simply cancel the cards since I don’t use them, but still keep the accounts open for depositing and transferring, etc.

Thanks so much for the reminder! This would have been a hassle had I not realized the expiration date until I was in South America.

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18 theprofessionalhobo December 30, 2012 at 7:57 am

Hey Mike – Awesome! Thanks for sharing your strategy. I trust it will help me – and others – in their credit-card-renewing-travels!

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