Shuchong, another PF blogger, is headed to China for the summer in a few weeks. She wrote a post about two of the most important things you should do before traveling internationally with credit cards- tell your credit card companies and learn about international fees. Basically, you want your bank to know charges from Timbuktu doesn't mean your card has been stolen. You also want to know if you'll get charged additional fees for international transactions*.
There is one thing I think is more important though- having card contact information. A lost (or malfunctioning) card can cause panic when you're at home. When you're across an ocean this feeling multiplies. Finding the contact number for a lost card is no longer as easy as thumbing through your financial files.
I think the best way to avoid an emergency is to be prepared. Having the information to cancel a card or call if you're having issues can save you a lot of hassle. So before I leave the country I:
-Call the companies for any card's I'm taking with me.
-Let them know I'll be gone and to mark my account appropriately
-Inquire about fees
-Ask if there is a toll free line for the country I'm in or if there is a number that will help me avoid being on hold forever**
-Write the information in a few places
I like to take 2 copies of my passport (the page with your picture) with me when I travel. In the event that your passport gets lost getting a replacement is much easier with the info on this page. On the back of this page is where I usually write the phone numbers and any other important info***. I don't put my actual credit card number down. Most companies can pull you up using other information. I put the pages in two separate places that feel safe, based on my mode of travel. Usually this info also makes its way into my email and also gets left with my mom. The version of info my mom gets has the actual credit card numbers.
That may seem like overkill but I learned the hard way. One summer when I was in Europe I went to a store to buy a gift. I hand over the card, they swipe, it's declined. We try again. I had the actual card, but had issues getting the international call to connect. After 1 day of trying (and tons of worrying) I finally got through. During the $15 call I learned that the account was improperly marked, but otherwise ok. I also learned that the company has a toll free number from my location which would have worked easier, not cost me $15, and day of worry. Personally I've never lost a credit card overseas, but I've helped friends get credit cards canceled and passports replaced. Neither is a fun experience, especially without the numbers and information you need as a starting place.
I don't know that I'll be heading out of the country (or anywhere) any time soon. For everyone who is safe travels.
*On the flip side sometimes the best exchange rates happen with plastic
**Because who wants to be on hold for 30 minutes internationally
***Local emergency contacts, the consulate, etc