Which international card is the best for me?
I want a card that maximizes my travel rewards, whether I’m traveling in the U.S. or overseas.
We suggest the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
I want a hotel card for frequent travelers that also lets me transfer airline points.
We suggest the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
I want a travel card that will match my rewards point for point.
I want a travel card that I can transfer rewards to.
I’m not a frequent traveler, but I’m planning a once-in-a-lifetime overseas trip.
We suggest the Discover it® Cashback Match™
I want flexible travel redemption.
We suggest the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
I don’t travel that much, but I do make a lot of international purchases online.
We suggest the Discover it® Cashback Match™
I want an international rewards card with no annual fee.
We suggest the Discover it® Miles
Foreign transaction fees starting to fade
Over the past several years, an industry trend has seen more credit card issuers gradually moving away from foreign transaction fees.
What are foreign transaction fees? Many credit cards charge them for purchases made overseas, usually amounting to 1% to 3% of the total purchase. The fee covers the cost of converting foreign currency to U.S. dollars.
The fee has long been standard, and the majority of credit cards still charge it. In recent years, however, the fee has started to trend downward.
The 2016 Credit Card Fee Survey found that out of 100 widely used credit cards, the number that charge foreign transaction fees had fallen from 77 the previous year to 61. Some of the cards that still charge the fee have opted to reduce it.
As to why more banks and credit card companies have chosen to bear that cost themselves, industry observers have a few theories:
- Financial institutions have grown less reliant on these types of processing and service fees, thanks to the economic recovery from the Great Recession.
- Issuers have learned to process foreign transactions more efficiently.
- It’s a show of goodwill toward customers who are seen as high-value.
Whatever the reason, consumers who no longer have to pay the fee can agree that — unlike a sumptuous meal purchased at a Paris bistro — the memory won’t be a fond one.
Directory of All Card Issuers and their Foreign Transaction Fees
If you’re interested in learning more about cards that don’t charge any type of foreign transaction fee, this directory can help. Listed below are all of the top credit card issuers, the respective foreign transaction fees they charge, and the cards they offer that don’t charge this fee. As you’ll probably notice, Discover and Capital One don’t charge foreign transaction fees on any of their cards.
|Card Issuer||Standard Foreign Transaction Fee||Exceptions|
|American Express||2.7%||Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card, Platinum, Centurion, and Delta cards|
|Bank of America||3%||Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card; several American Express cards offered through Bank of America (Accolades American Express, Accelerated Rewards and Cash Rewards American Express cards, Virgin Atlantic American Express, and Asiana Airlines American Express) also charge only a 1% fee|
|Capital One||None||None (all Capital One cards have no foreign transaction fee)|
|Chase||3%||Chase Priority Club Select Visa, Ink Bold, Ink Plus, Chase Sapphire Preferred, J.P. Morgan Select, J.P. Morgan Palladium, Marriott Rewards Premier, British Airways Visa Signature, Fairmont Visa Signature, Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier, United Mileage Plus Club, United Mileage Plus Explorer, and Hyatt credit cards|
|Citi||3%||Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve, Citi Prestige, Citi ThankYou Premier, and Citi Executive AAdvantage card|
|Discover||None||None (all Discover cards have no foreign transaction fee)|
|Wells Fargo||3%||Wells Fargo Propel 365 and Propel World American Express cards|
Have a plan B (and possibly C and D)
Travel can be unpredictable, and something could go wrong with your international credit card. Plan to have one or more backups ready before you leave. The options include:
Another credit card
As with tips 1 through 3 above, contact this card’s issuer beforehand to avoid false-alarm fraud alerts. You should also check to see whether your backup credit card charges a foreign transaction fee, which could range from 1% to 3% on every international purchase.
You can get it from your bank, through an online service or at the airport. Although you’re likely to encounter fees any with any method of exchanging currency, your bank may be the option with the most favorable exchange rate. Keep on-hand cash somewhere discreet, and put the rest in a secure spot, even if you intend to use an international card as your primary source of spending. And plan ahead! The way to get the best exchange rate is to examine your options beforehand, so don’t wait until you’re at the airport.
Contact your bank beforehand to notify them of your trip, check the availability of in-network ATMs at your destination, and ask about fees (which may well be inevitable). If you have to use your ATM card in a pinch, consider withdrawing enough local currency for a day’s worth of purchases rather than using the card for individual transactions. That way, you can minimize the number of times you incur a fee.
Yes, travelers checks still exist. The problem is, a dwindling number of businesses and hotels accept them these days. You would likely have to cash them in at a bank. As a credit card backup, consider travelers checks a last resort.
Foreign transaction fees and dynamic currency conversion fees: What’s the difference?
If you’re putting together finances for an overseas trip, chances are you’ve come across both foreign transaction fees and dynamic currency conversion. And you might have been told that both were necessary to safe spending abroad.
Here’s why that’s not true: foreign transaction fees, or fx fees, are small surcharges (anywhere from 1-3%), that credit card companies tack onto any purchase made outside the cardholder’s home country. If you’re making a purchase abroad and your credit card requires FX fees, you’ll have to pay the surcharge in addition to the cost.
Dynamic currency conversion (DCC) is a point-of-sale currency exchange rate. DCC gives overseas consumers the opportunity to make purchases using their home currency. An American travelling in Europe using DCC would convert the original cost of an item (in Euros), into U.S. dollars when they make a purchase.
DCC rates tend to favor merchants over consumers, and foreign transaction fees are added on top of that.
The good news? You can avoid both fees. By picking an international card with no transaction fees and (politely) declining DCC, you’ll be able to make the most of your savings during your travels.
ATMs abroad: what to watch out for once you’re FX free
Even after you’ve selected a card with zero Foreign Transaction Fees and declined Dynamic Currency Conversion, there’s still a few pitfalls to watch out for.
While you’re abroad, only use ATMs in case of an emergency. According to travel guru Rick Steve, using an out-of-network ATM in Europe places a $2-5 fee on every transaction. And although banks are slashing out-of-network ATM fees, they can still be a drain on your wallet.
Instead, set some cash aside and keep an eye on the exchange rate. Xe.com’s currency converter offers a comprehensive and current guide to any global exchange rate.
Or, research your international network. Your credit card may already grant access to multiple ATMs, no matter where you travel. But be sure to do your homework!
Here’s just a few of the many international ATM locators:
Pro-tip: Mobile wallets are a globetrotter’s best friend
The mobile wallet is one of the fastest growing financial technologies in the world. Earlier this year, Business Insider released a report predicting that in-store mobile payments in the United States would grow from $75 to $503 billion between 2015 and 2020. That’s a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 80%.
Despite the impressive numbers, the U.S. is the slowest global market to adopt mobile wallets. Asia-Pacific leads the charge, with an expected total worth of $165.1 billion in 2020. At 45.9%, the CAGR is smaller than that of the U.S. but builds on existing value. All of which is to say: The future of the mobile wallet is incredibly bright, and if you’re looking to travel outside the U.S., it’s a reliably safe way to spend.
For the uninitiated, mobile wallets are virtual wallets that can carry credit or debit card information on a mobile device. The three big mobile wallets – Android Pay, Apple Pay, and Samsung Pay – empower customers to make quick and secure purchases both digitally via mobile apps, or in-store via Near Field Communication (NFC) technology. So if you’re concerned about identity theft, the loss of your physical card while overseas, or about acceptance in general, you might want to consider adding your card to a mobile wallet before you head to the airport.
Here’s a quick list of major credit card providers and the mobile wallets that accept them:
|Card provider||Mobile wallets|
|JPMorgan | Chase|
Note: This list applies to participating providers within the US only. If you’re outside the U.S., be sure to check out your country’s list of participating banks.
But how does all this help travelers? There’s a few ways:
Your card’s benefits remain the same
First off, if you’re on this page then you’re looking for a credit card with a wide, reliable global presence and no foreign transaction fees. Mobile wallets don’t override already existing rewards programs, annual fees, or foreign transaction fee (FTF) rates.
So if you’re a Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card holder, you’ll still be able to earn 2X points on travel and dining across the world, all without swiping a physical card. Because you are utilizing a smartphone, data charges and international fees may apply, so be sure to discuss that with your wireless provider before you leave.
It’s safer than swiping or chipping
Credit card skimming isn’t just a stateside problem, and when you’re visiting a new country, your mind may be so occupied by other things that you miss telltale signs. That’s exactly how it should be: no matter where you travel you should be focused on exploring the culture and making memories with loved ones, not identity theft.
Mobile wallets utilize a two-, sometimes three-step token-based transaction system. When you sign up with a mobile wallet and register your card(s), the information is stored in a vault managed by the service provider (such as Apple, Samsung, or Android).
When you make a purchase, your mobile wallet generates a token – a random 15-16-digit number – instead of utilizing personal information. The number is generated specifically for that transaction, and has nothing to do with your personal credit card number, and it’s useless if stolen.
There are no transaction fees
Neither Android Pay, Apple Pay, or Samsung Pay will charge any transaction fee. And that’s in addition to the already existing 0% foreign transaction fee present on our list of favorite international cards.
If you’re a Discover it® Cashback Match™ cardholder, that means you’ll be able to earn 1% cashback on all purchases, without a FTF or transaction fee eating away at your rewards.
That’s a win-win for everybody.
Exact spending is more helpful than you think
Making cash purchases with an unfamiliar currency can be tricky. You want to be sure that you’ve received the correct amount of change, but that can be anywhere from inconvenient to overwhelming, especially in a new culture. On the other hand, you may have bills that are simply too big for the transaction, that you don’t want to break.
Mobile wallets don’t just empower you to spend instantly, they also empower you to spend only what you need, ensuring that every purchase creates as few headaches as possible.
You still need your physical wallet
Although global acceptance of mobile wallets is expanding at a rapid pace, it’s still a good idea to keep cash and credit cards on your person. Not all merchants accept credit cards, much less digital payments, so it’s important to have plenty of cash on hand. Your wallet can also hold personal information, such as a driver’s license or passport. And of course, if you’re concerned about your phone’s battery life it’s always best to keep physical money handy.
TSD strategies: Using your credit card for group travel
Traveling alone can be a wonderful experience – you’ll be able to set your own itinerary, experiencing the best of a new city or country while finding both lodging and airfare on the cheap. But solo trips can be an isolating experience.
Group travel – whether with family, colleagues, friends, or as part of an organized tour – can help create memories and relationships that last long beyond the return trip home. Whether you’re the one organizing the trip, or you’re simply taking part in a pre-arranged tour, the cards on our list of the Best International Credit Cards can help you earn and redeem rewards to cut a serious chunk off of the travel price.
Step 1: Plan as far ahead as possible
When it comes to traveling overseas, the ones who plan ahead are the ones who get the lowest price, in both lodging and airfare. In fact, Conde Nast Traveler suggests booking a flight two months in advance. So if you’re planning a group trip around a specific event – say, spending New Year’s Eve in Paris — now’s the best time to start the planning process.
That goes double for your international credit cards. In fact, we recommend that you start earning miles with your cards as soon as possible and bank your rewards for future trips.
Discover’s international cards shine when it comes to rewards rate. The Discover it® Cashback Match™ card earns 5% cash back in rotating categories (currently members earn 5% cash back at restaurants through the end of September 2017 and the categories rotate to Amazon.com & Target in October).
Planning your expenses and utilizing your Discover it® Cashback Match™ card to gain the most value can set up a sizable nest egg for your next trip. And with Discover’s First-year Cashback Match™, you’ll be able to earn a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year of card ownership.
If you’ve got travel on the brain year-round, the Discover it® Miles card lets you earn rewards without adjusting your spending habits to match rotating categories. You’ll earn 1.5X Miles on every purchase, and you’ll receive a first-year mile-for-mile match. There’s no limit to how many miles you can earn, and miles are redeemable as travel statement credits for airline tickets, hotel rooms, car rentals, online travel sites, and more.
Step 2: Consolidate your rewards
If you’re organizing travel for an entire group, your rewards simply won’t go as far as they normally would. Ask if there are any members of your group with their own international credit cards that they could pair with other cards in their wallets to reduce travel costs.
For Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card holders, it’s easy to combine rewards between multiple accounts:
- Sign into your Chase Ultimate Rewards® account
- Select “Go to Ultimate Rewards” on the right-hand menu
- Hover the cursor over “Point Balance”
- Select “Combine Points”
From there, you’ll be able to transfer points to another account, as long as it belongs to you, your spouse, or your domestic partner.
Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express cardholders can transfer Starpoints® between family members via SPG.com. However, in order to transfer points, both SPG accounts must be registered to the same address.
Provided that they share the same address, it’s incredibly easy to transfer Starpoints®:
- Go to www.starwoodhotels.com/preferredguest/
- Click “Redeem Starpoints”, under “Find and Book” at the bottom of the page
- Select “More Options”
- Choose “Give Starpoints®”, and enter in the required information.
That’s all it takes!
Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express cardholders can transfer their Starpoints® to Marriott® Rewards at a 1:3 ratio – that’s 3 Marriott Rewards for every Starpoint®. You must be the sole account owner of both programs in order to transfer rewards.
However, Marriott® Rewards allows members to transfer a maximum of 50,000 points per year to another member. So while you can only transfer Starpoints® to an account registered to the same address, if a colleague or friend is a holder, it’s possible to transfer points with a few extra steps.
Step 3: Consider your provider’s marketplace
If you’ve been able to plan ahead and pool rewards, then all that’s left is to reduce costs. Almost all credit card providers – including the ones featured on our Best International Credit Cards list – offer more value for rewards if you purchase directly through their marketplace. That includes lower travel expenses and access to cardholder exclusive events.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card holders gain 25% more value per point when redeeming through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, redeeming for hotel and travel statements with any one of Chase’s transfer partners. Sapphire members also gain VIP access to Chase Ultimate Experiences, which include sporting events, film festivals, private dinners with acclaimed chefs, and more.
Discover it® Cashback Match™ and Discover it® Miles card holders can earn exclusive discounts and coupons through Discover Deals. They’ll be able to save on car rentals, hotel costs, flights, and more, as long as they make their purchase with their Discover card. Discover members can also enjoy 5% extra cash back (on top of what they already earn) by using their Discover card with Walmart.com.
Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express cardholders enjoy access to a variety of exclusive events through SPG Moments, which gives members the opportunity to attend private concerts, VIP food festivals, red carpet movie premieres, skills clinics with their favorite sports stars, and more. Members can choose between events that have a fixed price and others that are up for auction. Play your cards right, and your group might be able to attend a show overseas for cheaper than the ticket price.