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Best Credit Cards for International Travel?

Written by Nickel - 14 Comments

Best Credit Cards for International Travel?

I’m not much of an international traveler, but I do find myself traveling outside the United States on occasion. In fact, I was out of the country just last week, and I was once again reminded that none of my credit cards are particularly good for international travel.

As a reminder, my main cards are the Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express and the Chase Freedom® card. I also have an Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express rewards card. The problem with these cards is that they charge foreign transaction fees.

In the case of American Express, there’s a 2.7% foreign transaction fee. For the Chase Freedom card, the foreign transaction fee is 3%. Neither is enough to make me shun my cards when traveling abroad, but it would be nice to have card with no transaction fee.

So which cards should I be looking at? The details vary from card to card, even within issuers. For example, while my American Express charges 2.7%, the Platinum Card from American Express has no foreign transaction fee. The same goes for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® card.

For their part, Capital One charges no foreign transaction fees on their cards, and Discover looks similarly attractive, having ditched foreign transaction fees last fall. Unfortunately, Discover cards aren’t nearly as widely accepted.

Another possible consideration is whether you’ll be able to use a traditional credit card with a plain old magnetic stripe. There has been a strong movement toward so-called “Chip and PIN” cards outside the United States.

While it’s just a matter of time until this technology is widely adopted in the United States, you currently have fairly limited choices when it comes to compliant cards.

Published on March 9th, 2012
Modified on March 11th, 2014 - 14 Comments
Filed under: Credit Cards,Travel

About the author: is the founder and editor-in-chief of this site. He's a thirty-something family man who has been writing about personal finance since 2005, and guess what? He's on Twitter!

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Comments (scroll down to add your own):

  1. I opened a Capital One Venture card for overseas travel. The lack of transaction fees was a huge factor for us. My wife has the card with her during an extended stay in the UK and so there are a fairly significant number of transactions. There is also 2% back (in terms of points) on all transactions (we pay an annual fee, waived for the first year but the no fee card was 1% I believe). However redemption rates are poor in terms of gift cards and cash back but you get the full 2% for any travel related (airfares and hotels). The Chip in Pin issue is becoming more of an issue (particularly in the UK) where many shops claim not to accept non-chip-in-pin cards. Locations used to dealing with travelers are a little more forgiving.

    Comment by Anonymous — Mar 9th 2012 @ 7:56 pm
  2. I like PenFed Premium Travel Rewards American Express Card.

    There’s no annual or foreign transaction fee. It gives 5 points on each airfare purchase. The exchange rate is good and the redemption options are also great.

    Vic

    Comment by Anonymous — Mar 9th 2012 @ 11:10 pm
  3. I’m a bit of a skeptical type, and I wonder about Capital One and others who promote no foreign transaction fee. You have to compare currency conversion rates too, no? A traveler might be worse off using a Capital One card vs. Card B with a foreign transaction fee but a more favorable exchange rate, it seems to me. And how would one go about comparing different cards’ exchange rate histories to try and judge the true, post-transaction fee, post-exchange cost of using the card overseas? Challenging…

    Comment by Anonymous — Mar 10th 2012 @ 11:21 am
  4. I have been living in Rome since last June and get paid in USD, so I am impacted by the conversion rate every day. Capital One Venture Card is the way to go, the conversion rate is great, there is no transaction fee, and the 2% cash back for travel expenses is extremely useful. They track all travel expenses and allow you to redeem points for any travel expenses incurred over the last two months. All hotels, transportation, tours, and even taxi’s. If you prefer you can just use the points to buy future travel via Travelocity also. Capital One also has a High Yield Savings account with an ATM card that also incurs no fees abroad when pulling cash. I know I sound like I work for them or something, but I don’t, their products are really good for travel overseas.

    Comment by Anonymous — Mar 10th 2012 @ 11:52 am
  5. Do you think it’s smart to pick up an extra credit card just because it has zero foreign transaction fees and use it only for travel rewards, if you’re only going overseas once in a great while?

    Those percentages aren’t much (I have Chase Freedom), but they still bother me. As long as I find a no annual fee card, I’d probably pick up something like the Capital One Venture.

    Comment by Anonymous — Mar 11th 2012 @ 8:12 pm
  6. I traveled to Sweden in September last year. It was my first time abroad, so I was VERY new to foreign transactions. I was unaware of the “Chip and PIN” cards, so the first few days I was in Sweden, it was very frustrating (and embarassing) to have my cards rejected due to not having the correct card type. On my 2nd to last day, one store clerk was very nice and explained that there was an option on their card machines for a signature (but you have to ask). FINALLY, I could buy things without stopping by the ATM (my regular debit card worked fine in their ATMs) or counting my Krona! Lesson Learned – ask and you shall receive! I also called my card companies before I left and USAA told me they do not charge transaction fees on their end, but that foreign stores or banks will charge a 1% fee. Since exchange rates are in flux and any fees weren’t a separate line item on my statement – it didn’t matter too much to me.

    BTW – Love the blog!

    Comment by Anonymous — Mar 12th 2012 @ 7:28 am
  7. We kept our free Capital One accounts open for personal travel purposes. Our two primary cards are a Platinum Delta Amex and recently added a Chase Priority Club Visa. The Chase Visa does not appear to have charged a fee for recent international purchases so we may be able to ditch the Capital One. We too, had the issue with ‘no chip’ in the card while travelling in England. We have also had issues where the card proactively denied our international transactions even though we submitted travel plans ahead of time. It can be a real hassle so we always carry 3-4 cards each and plan on being able to pay cash as needed. In South Africa only one banks ATM’s could draw on our US account. There’s lots of nuisances! Cover your bases and always keep cash on hand… we are very used to using cards to pay for anything here from parking meters and tolls to McDonalds. It’s just not the case in many other countries.

    Comment by Anonymous — Mar 12th 2012 @ 7:46 am
  8. My credit union’s debit/ATM card only charges a 1% fee, which isn’t too bad. I travel outside the US somewhat regularly but that means twice a year for a total of about three weeks. It’s not quite worth it to me to get a credit card with a no foreign fee just for those three weeks; or maybe I’m just lazy. I currently have a Chase Sapphire card that I got for the bonus points, so I used that last trip, but I plan on canceling the card once the annual fee comes due.

    Personally I have never run into the Chip and PIN problem, or at least, I’ve always been able to work around it.

    @#3 Kurt – Visa and MasterCard got in trouble a few years ago (class action lawsuit) for hiding their fee in a poor exchange rate. Nowadays they put it out in the open. So, rest assured that if you use a credit card, you’ll get a good exchange rate plus a visible fee tacked on. In fact, my understanding is that Visa and MasterCard charge a fee (approximately 1%), and that cards with no fee are actually due to the issuing bank covering the fee themselves.

    Comment by Anonymous — Mar 12th 2012 @ 1:58 pm
  9. I haven’t been to Western Europe in the past couple of years, so I haven’t encountered the chip problem. But I have traveled to Japan, Thailand, and all over eastern europe in the past 5 years and all I took was 2 ATM cards and 2 credit card(visa/mastercard). I recall only one of my ATM cards was accepted everywhere, but a lot of countries don’t charge ATM fees like they do here, right?

    Comment by Anonymous — Mar 12th 2012 @ 2:33 pm
  10. Surprisingly, my local little credit union charges less than 1% international transaction fees. While my “big” Citibank card charges 3%. You can guess which one I use more often, though for more than just international transaction fees.

    Comment by Anonymous — Mar 12th 2012 @ 4:25 pm
  11. I second PenFed. They have 5 cards with no forex fee.

    Comment by Anonymous — Mar 12th 2012 @ 11:02 pm
  12. I appreciate, cause I discovered exactly what I used to be having a look for.

    You’ve ended my 4 day lengthy hunt! God Bless you man. Have a nice day.
    Bye

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 18th 2013 @ 1:14 am
  13. Great post. I was checking constantly this blog and I am impressed!

    Extremely useful information particularly the last part :
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    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 19th 2013 @ 2:21 am
  14. But even with a 3% processing fee it is still cheaper to use your card rather than use travelers checks or currency because the exchange rate that is charged when you purchase the currency is less than market and you have a fee, then if you have currency left over you have another fee to change it back! I always suggest to get minimal currency (say $50 max per day currency, for convenience of not dealing with a card, or for locations that won’t accept cards, or your card) Travelers checks would work if you can get them in the foreign currency and at market rate. (many times if you order a week or more in advance the rate is more in your favor) Most times even with the foreign processing fee because I got the market exchange rate on the day of purchase I ended out ahead of using currency. If you have a bank that doesn’t charge a fee, look out as they may not give you market exchange rate thus obscuring the exchange fee. It may not always be clear that the rate won’t be market rate of exchange and they may say words like the exchange rate charged will be the greater valuation of the time of the transaction or the finalization of the transaction by the foreign institution, transactional agent, or fiduciary. Which in my case meant they would charge whatever exchange rate (foreign worth more than us) would result in the larger USD charge starting with when the authorization was made and when the transaction was settled which for foreign transactions may be more than 2 weeks! Needless to say I no longer have that CC. Just be wary of any “woohoo we don’t charge foreign transaction fees!” because they may put the screws to you elsewhere.

    Comment by Anonymous — Jul 22nd 2015 @ 5:25 am

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