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USA travel: Credit card required?

When the first travel to the USA is imminent, many people ask, “Do I need a credit card in the USA?

The answer is definitely yes!

It is possible to travel without a credit card throughout the USA – especially if you have booked and paid for a guided tour already in Germany. However, this article is not addressed to minimalists, but to people, who want to save money or time (in the best case both)!

USA travel: Credit card

Proven solution strategy ⇒ more on this subject in the course of this article!

You necessarily need a credit card for:

  • the reservation of hotels
  • deposit payments in hotels
  • renting a car, also deposit payment
  • generally for the deposit payment of rentals

Did you know that foreign transaction fees may apply?

There are people, who have a credit card especially for deposit payments, however, pay the bill with cash. This way, they save the usual fees when using the credit card in the (foreign currency) abroad – the so-called foreign transaction fees.

If you have not exchanged enough cash in Germany prior to your travel – which, of course, also costs fees – or have a bank account in the USA (article in German language), you need a good solution in order to supply yourself with cash in the USA.

Nowadays in Germany, there are quite some banks that grant free cash withdrawals abroad. Usually, these offers have an asterisk and the associated fine print states that foreign fees may apply. These are then to be borne by the customer.

Foreign fees at cash withdrawals regularly apply in the USA. The ATM service fee varies depending on the ATM between USD 2.75 to USD 15 per withdrawal.

As you are reading this article, I assume that you are one of the smart bank customers, who prepare for a trip to the USA optimally and are willing to get better credit cards. Especially, if they are absolutely free of charge!

Let’s take a look at the recommendable providers in detail!

On my last trip to the USA, I recorded this video clip for you. It introduces you to the topic and presents an ideal combination of credit cards for a stay in the USA:

Recommendation #1 Number26 MasterCard ► (free of charge)
Recommendation #2 DKB VisaCard ► (free of charge)
Subscribe to our YouTube channel and receive further tips per video ✔

How to use the credit cards particularly clever (overview)

As mentioned in the video, the MasterCard of Number26 complements the Visa credit card of the DKB ideally. This overview shows you, which credit card you should use best for what:

  Number26 MasterCard
DKB Visa Card
Deposit payments
  • partially suitable
    Balance on the current account would get blocked. Moreover it is not sure whether it is accepted everywhere, as it is not a “true” credit card in principle (debit card)
  • especially suitable
    Only blocks a part of your credit limit on the credit card account, no effect on the current account
Card payments
  • ideal
    US-Dollar is exchanged without surcharges directly using the MasterCard exchange rate
  • avoid
    Foreign transaction fee of 1.75 % applies
Cash withdrawals
  • free, but …
    … if possible only at ATMs with the note “no surcharge”
  • free, and …
    … one can get a refund of the local ATM fees
Note on the account opening
  • sent within 2 days
    no creditworthiness check, Schufa-free (credit investigation company), credit limit = account balance (prepaid account), Smartphone required
  • sent within 10–14 days
    creditworthiness check, amount of the credit limit depends on the creditworthiness and can be increased through salary payments or depositing of money
Start the account opening Link to the bank Link to the bank

Details on the use of the recommended credit cards

DKB Visa Card

1. Deposit payments

A deposit payment is a kind of safety payment. As no money flows, there are no fees. Only if damage occurs and you do not solve it in another manner, it may be that the deposit taker makes use of the deposit and withdraws it from your credit card.

Example: You return the rental car without having it fully fuelled, although it was agreed otherwise in the rental terms. The car rental company withdraws the fee for the refuelling from the deposit-giving credit card.

In this case, also the foreign transaction fee at the DKB Visa credit card would apply. Nevertheless, I recommend to use the DKB credit card for deposits, because

  • deposits are only rarely withdrawn (it is mainly due to your behaviour)
  • only the potential credit limit of the credit card will decrease and not the actual balance on the current account.

It is not a problem to use one card for the deposit payment and another for paying the bill!

DKB Visa credit card for deposit payments

Tip: If you still have enough time before your departure, then arrange that your salary payment is transferred to the DKB account. This way, you will automatically receive a credit limit in the double amount of the salary. This also applies to pension payments. On request, the credit line can be increased up to 3 times the amount.

Alternatively, you can transfer your balance to the DKB credit card. This also increases your credit limit. There is no limit for the transfer amount. There are DKB-customers, who have more than 1 million Euros on the credit card, because the balance there earns interest.

N26 MasterCard

2. Card payments

If you pay with credit card, you should use the MasterCard of Number26 at best, because no currency exchange fees incur between the US-Dollar and the Euro. The exchange rate of MasterCard is applied without surcharges. Moreover, there is no international service fee either.

There is no cheaper possibility of paying cashless in the USA as with the N26-Mastercard! This is also proven by our test: card payments in the USA (article in German language).

Number26 MasterCard for card payments

DKB Visa Card

3. Cash withdrawals

Although both cards do not charge fees for cash withdrawals at ATMs abroad, it is advisable to use the DKB Visa credit card. It is common except for very few exceptions in the USA that there is an ATM service fee. This fee is directly charged to the customer at the withdrawal.

No Surcharge Wawa

If you see such a “No-Surcharge” sign, you can withdraw free of charge with your N26-MasterCard.

This is the point, where banks most often say, “Withdraw cash free of charge abroad, unless there are foreign fees”. These foreign fees are the norm in the USA.

The DKB even refunds those foreign fees on request, because it wants to keep its advertising promise and be a bank without “asterisks”. How to ask for the refund, you can learn here.

DKB Visa credit card for cash withdrawals

4. Apply for the credit card

Apply for your credit cards on time in order to set them up and possibly test them in Germany first.

N26 MasterCard

4.1. MasterCard of Number26

The necessary preparation time is extremely low, because the credit card goes into production immediately after the online application. Specifically, as soon as you have confirmed your e-mail address. That is the reason, why the MasterCard is already in your mailbox on the 2nd day after your application.

In the meantime, you can take your time to make the legitimating. You have two possibilities:

  • Video call
  • PostIdent.

As you get your new account number with the online application, you can really immediately start transferring money from your previous current account, so that the credit card is completely ready for use on the 2nd day. You can read further details in the article “Last minute credit card”.

Further information about Number26 ⇒ Link of the provider

DKB Visa Card

4.2. Visa credit card of the DKB

At the DKB, a little more preparation (time) is necessary, because it is a “true” credit card and therefore, the bank carries out a creditworthiness check. So more details on occupation and income are required in the account application.

The credit card production and delivery start only after the successful account opening. Additionally, the access data for online banking and the PINs are sent in a separate letter. That is the reason that the first credit card use is only possible after about 2 weeks.

This effort is rewarded with more options, such as setting up a credit line, which is particularly helpful for deposit payments. Thanks to the credit line, no balance is blocked through deposit payments.

Additionally, the DKB account can be opened as a joint account. However, it is also possible in the single account to get issued a credit card for the partner for free. Furthermore, U18 accounts can be set up by the parents; so also minors can benefit from a free credit card for their USA journeys.

Further information about the DKB account ⇒ Link to the provider

“Open the accounts and order the cards now”

… with this credit card combination, you are good to go on your USA travel!

How to remain financially capable in an emergency!

Someone once said, “90 per cent of the things I fear, never occur”, and yet it is a good and relaxing feeling, when you know that you receive professional support of the own bank in an emergency.

I admit: Not many banks do it, but the DKB – which has specialized itself since many years to provide the best possible credit card for travellers – helps in time of need! It does that especially with:

  • telephone customer service that is available around the clock (24/7)
  • and the delivery of a Visa emergency card within 48 hours.

In addition to the emergency card, which does not have all the features of the DKB Visa credit card (because it has no PIN), you can get sent a replacement card via courier to the abroad residence. The delivery of the replacement card takes between 6-10 days. Instead, one gets a new wholesome credit card!

Addition: Credit card already required for ESTA!

If you do not book a package holiday, you will be faced already in the preparations for the trip to the USA by requesting your credit card data, namely when booking the flight through an online comparison.

Although there are alternative forms of payment for German suppliers, there is no other possibility at the ESTA application. We Germans can stay up to 90 days at a time in the USA without a visa, however, we have to apply online for the ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization). Since many years, the fee is US-Dollars 14 and can only be paid by credit card!

Additional advice: Make sure that you only make your application via the official website of the “Department of Homeland Security”. There is a number of agencies that offer you a simple application for a higher fee – even with money-back guarantee. However, you will never know what these intermediary agencies exactly do with your personal data!

Note for other countries:

The ideas and examples presented here can be applied to other countries too!

“Open the accounts and order the cards now”

… both credit cards are absolutely free of charge, so you can only win!


Questions about the use of credit cards of Number26 and DKB in the USA, as well as their successful application are welcome via the comments feature at the end of the page.

Please feel free to make additions to this article by posting your own experiences and tips for the benefit of all readers … and perhaps you can even recommend it? Thank you for your commitment!

Further pages about the subject USA travel and money:

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Who writes here?

Someone who gained experience with more than 100 banks in more than 20 countries during the past 15 years. My name is Gregor and if you click to continue you can find out why I am here and what this site is for ⇒ continue.

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