The bank for a changing world

How do Europeans pay for purchases when they travel?

  • 01.12.2015

Credit and debit card purchases continue to rise in Europe, both in terms of the total number of transactions and overall spending. But strangely, when European tourists leave their home countries, they are much less likely to pay by card. And the farther they travel, the more they rely on cash.

Credit and debit cards preferred in Europe…

Credit and debit cards continue to enjoy widespread use across Europe. In fact, the latest numbers published last October by the European Central Bank (ECB) counted 766 million payment cards in the European Union in 2014. That’s almost 1.5 payment cards per resident! Meanwhile, the number of transactions paid for by card has gone up by 8.8%, reaching 47.5 billion transactions. All that comes out to a total of 2.4 trillion euros of purchases paid for by card in the EU in 2014.

Further confirming these figures is a study by Visa Europe from August 2015 conducted across 16 countries in Europe (1): the survey showed that 69% of Europeans prefer to pay by card for purchases made within their home countries.

…but less popular with European tourists!

Strangely, once they cross the border, many European tourists change their habits: 64% of them never use their credit or debit cards abroad.

Their reasons for preferring cash over cards are often misguided.
For example, 48% of European tourists think it costs more to withdraw money while abroad than to convert cash at the airport. Yet a previous study conducted by the Forward Thinking institute, proved contrary.

And since 85% prefer to use cash while abroad instead of other payment methods, that means they have to travel with all the cash they will need during their trip.

What’s motivating them?

  • A fear that they will not be able to pay for their purchases if they do not have any cash. And yet, credit and debit cards are accepted in 200 countries, by more than 38 million retailers.
  • 51% of European tourists believe that it is safer to pay by cash than by card. And yet, lost or stolen credit or debit cards can be canceled and replaced, unlike cash!

When distance distorts perception…

Fears vary depending on the destination. Most European tourists feel confident that their cards will be accepted in Western Europe – particularly in Germany (97%) and the United Kingdom (95%).
But they are convinced their cards will not work in Cambodia (86% of European tourists), Morocco (65%) or Argentina (53%).
Even more peculiar, they think they will have more luck with their credit or debit cards in countries that share the same native language. For example, Spanish tourists easily assume their payment cards will work in Argentina.

Credit and debit cards: perfect for travel

  • All European Union countries have adopted chip cards as their common standard, which makes using credit or debit cards just as secure as in France. But even in countries where you sign a receipt rather than enter a PIN code, you benefit from the same anti-fraud protections through the guarantees provided by your card.
  • Throughout the entire euro zone, no fees are charged for credit or debit card payments.
  • Also throughout the euro zone, 5.4 million retailers accept credit and debit card payments.
  • In the European Union, 490,000 automated teller machines (ATMs) are available for cash withdrawal!

(1) Survey of 2,000 people in 16 European countries (United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, Austria, Czech Republic, Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Finland, Switzerland) conducted by the Populus institute on behalf of Visa Europe.