Traveling abroad? Make sure you have the right plastic. Whether you’re simply crossing the border to Canada or Mexico, or hopping the pond to Europe, Asia or elsewhere, the best credit cards for international travel do not charge foreign currency transaction fees, are accepted worldwide, and offer concierge-level service to help with your travels. Updated for 2016!
Credit cards accepted internationally
Most importantly, you want any credit card for international travel to be accepted everywhere you go. That means a Visa or MasterCard.
Although American Express has fairly widespread acceptance these days, they’re not everywhere overseas. And though Discover cards offer great benefits and some of the lowest foreign currency exchange rates, they still are not widely accepted outside the United States.
Using a card with “chip” technology (also known as EMV) is more secure overseas. Standard in Europe and elsewhere, these credit cards feature an embedded microchip and require you to use a PIN each time you pay — much like debit cards here in the United States. This became a standard in the United States in October 2015, so nearly all new credit cards will feature this chip (even if many merchants don’t yet require them).
No foreign currency transaction fee
Many credit cards charge foreign currency transaction fees of two or three percent. This is what you want to avoid.
Any time you spend money in another country you’re going to pay something for converting U.S. dollars into the local currency. This is true whether you exchange cash at a money changer, withdraw local currency at an ATM, or make purchases with your credit card. Sometimes, you don’t even realize it because the bank simply gives you a less favorable exchange rate and pockets the difference. Other times, they charge you a percentage of the money changed in addition to the hidden profit they earn on the exchange rate.
Generally, making purchases on your credit card gives you a better exchange rate than using a money changing service. But if — and only if — the card doesn’t charge a transaction fee.
These fees add up. As an example, let’s say you live abroad for a while and charge a total of $5,000. On a card with a three percent transaction fee, that’s an extra $150. The best cards for international travel do not charge this fee.
International credit-card customer service
Say you’re traveling internationally and you lose your card. How easy will it be to get help from your credit card company?
All cards have customer service numbers you can call from abroad, but some cater to international travelers with a slightly higher level of service—offering things like guaranteed live operators and concierges that can help you figure out local travel or make dinner reservations. Our number one pick, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, offers such a service.
Our picks: Best credit cards for international travel
If you have excellent credit, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® card is the must-have card for any serious traveler and also an excellent choice for anyone heading abroad. It has an introductory annual fee of $0 the first year, then $95—still well worth it if you’ll do a bit of spending on the card. It has no foreign transaction fees, plus chip-enabled for enhanced security and wider acceptance when used at a chip card reader.
Best yet, Sapphire’s points-based travel rewards program quickly earns you free travel. You’ll earn 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases. When redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards, these points can be traded via 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs. Or, you can get 25 percent more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel.
This card also has an award-winning 24/7 dedicated customer service line that can come in handy while you’re traveling.
There’s also a generous bonus for new cardmembers: Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $625 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards. Read more in our review of the Chase Sapphire Preferred® card.
Learn more—get card details or apply online:
The BankAmericard® Travel Rewards Credit Card has no foreign transaction fees and no annual fee. You’ll earn 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases and your points don’t expire. There’s also a sign-up bonus—you can earn 20,000 online bonus points if you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days. That’s worth $200 as a statement credit toward travel.
Although not as valuable as the 50,000 points Chase offers, the $200 sign-up bonus is one of the highest I’ve seen from a card with no annual fee.
The BankAmericard® Travel Rewards Credit Card is a good option for any traveller, but it’s especially rewarding if you use other Bank of America products. You can get an additional 10 percent customer points bonus on every purchase when you have an active Bank of America® checking or savings account. Preferred Rewards clients can earn even more.
Learn more—get card details or apply online:
For years, the Capital One® Venture® and VentureOne® credit cards have been our go-to recommendation for young travelers looking for a credit card to take abroad that offers no foreign transaction fees and a straightforward rewards program. Capital One was among the first card issuers to eliminate foreign currency transaction fees on certain cards.
The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card pays 2x miles on all purchases that can be redeemed for any travel at any time. Miles don’t expire and there’s no limit to how much you can earn. As a new cardmember, you can earn 40,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within three months of approval, equal to $400 in travel. The card has a $59 annual fee that’s waived the first year.
There’s also a no annual fee version, the Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card that pays 1.25 miles on every purchase.
You can read our full comparison of the Capital One Venture and VentureOne Rewards credit cards, but most people will get far more miles by paying the $59 a year and earning double miles. If you want a no-annual fee card for international travel or simply earning miles, the aforementioned BankAmericard® Travel Rewards Credit Card has a better rewards rate than VentureOne.
Learn more–get card details or apply online:
The Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® has been named Money Magazine’s best credit card for frequent fliers four years in a row. Like all the other cards here, the Arrival Plus card offers no foreign currency transaction fee and generous miles rewards programs.
The Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® has an annual fee after the first year, but it pays 2x miles on all purchases plus a 5 percent mile bonus every time you redeem miles. There’s also an opportunity to earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days—enough to redeem for a $400 travel statement credit.
Learn more–get card details or apply online:
Before you go…
Even if you don’t get a new credit card before you leave the country, do check with your existing credit card companies and bank to learn their fees on foreign transactions before you go, and try to stick with the cheapest method. Typically, withdrawing cash at an ATM or using your credit card will be less costly than using money changers.
It can also be helpful to call your credit card companies before you travel to let them know you’ll be out of the country; this way it’s less likely they’ll put a hold on your card after you use it in Bangkok. (For this reason, it’s also a good idea to have more than one credit card with you in case this happens … or at least some cash as backup!)
Look for rewards to put toward an upcoming trip? Here are some more of the best credit cards of 2016:
- Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- Named a 'Best Credit Card' for Travel Rewards by MONEY Magazine
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
- No foreign transaction fees
- 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
- No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards
- See additional Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card details
|Regular APR||Annual Fee|
|N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||16.24%-23.24% Variable||Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95|
Traveling Abroad? The Best Credit Cards for International Travel (And Some You Should Absolutely Leave At Home) appeared first on Money Under 30. © Moneyblogs, LLC.