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Traveling Abroad? The Best Credit Cards For International Travel – March 2019

You can trust the integrity of our balanced, independent financial advice. We may, however, receive compensation from the issuers of some products mentioned in this article. Opinions are the author's alone, and this content has not been provided by, reviewed, approved or endorsed by any advertiser.

Plan to use a credit card overseas? You’ll save money—and headaches—by packing the right plastic. The best credit card for international travel is a chip-enabled Visa or Mastercard that does not charge foreign currency transaction fees.

Best-travel-credit-cards-MoneyUnder36Whether you’re simply crossing the border to Canada or Mexico, or heading to Europe, Asia or elsewhere around the globe, the best credit cards for international travel are accepted nearly everywhere and do not charge foreign currency transaction fees—sometimes called FX fees. Even better, some offer 24/7 international concierge service. Here are our picks—all require excellent credit:

Overview: Best credit cards for international travel

Credit CardBest For
Editor’s Choice, March 2019,

Chase Sapphire Preferred(R)
Large sign-up bonus
Capital One(R) Venture(R) Rewards Credit CardStrong rewards program
Wells Fargo Propel American Express(R) CardDining rewards and balance transfer
Bank of America(R) Travel Rewards credit cardBank of America customers
Capital One(R) VentureOne(R) Rewards Credit CardStraightforwards rewards with no annual fee

Details: Best credit cards for international travel – no foreign transaction fee

Editor’s Choice, March 2019:

Chase Sapphire Preferred(R)

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Credit Needed: Excellent Credit
  • 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®
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred named "Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption" - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, June 2018
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
Intro APR
Purchases
Intro Term
Purchases
Intro APR
Balance Transfers
Intro Term
Balance Transfers
Regular APRAnnual Fee
N/AN/AN/AN/A18.24% - 25.24% Variable$0 Intro for the First Year, then $95

If you have excellent credit, the Chase Sapphire Preferred(R) 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 our Chase Sapphire Preferred(R) review.

Learn more—get card details or apply online:

Capital One(R) Venture(R) Rewards Credit Card

Capital One(R) Venture(R) Rewards Credit Card

Credit Needed: Excellent/Good
  • Enjoy a one-time bonus of 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $500 in travel
  • Earn 2X miles on every purchase, every day. Plus earn 10X miles on thousands of hotels, through January 2020; learn more at hotels.com/venture
  • Named ‘The Best Travel Card' by CNBC, 2018
Intro APR
Purchases
Intro Term
Purchases
Intro APR
Balance Transfers
Intro Term
Balance Transfers
Regular APRAnnual Fee
N/AN/AN/AN/A17.99% - 25.24% (Variable)$0 intro for first year; $95 after that

For years, the Capital One(R) Venture(R) and VentureOne(R) 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.

The Capital One(R) Venture(R) Rewards Credit Card earns 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 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within three months of approval, equal to $500 in travel. The card has a $95 annual fee that’s waived the first year.

There’s also a no annual fee version, the Capital One(R) VentureOne(R) Rewards Credit Card that earns 1.25 miles on every purchase.

You can read our full review and comparison of the Venture and VentureOne Rewards cards, but most people will get far more miles by paying the fee and earning double miles. If you want a no-annual fee card for international travel or simply earning miles, the aforementioned Bank of America(R) Travel Rewards Credit Card has a better rewards rate than VentureOne.

Learn more–get card details or apply online:

Wells Fargo Propel American Express(R) Card

Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card

Credit Needed: Excellent/Good
  • Earn 30K bonus points when you spend $3,000 in purchases in the first 3 months - that's a $300 cash redemption value
  • Earn 3X points for eating out and ordering in
  • Earn 3X points for gas stations, rideshares and transit
Intro APR
Purchases
Intro Term
Purchases
Intro APR
Balance Transfers
Intro Term
Balance Transfers
Regular APRAnnual Fee
0%12 months0%12 months14.74%-27.24% (Variable)$0

In our full review of the Wells Fargo Propel American Express(R) Card, we called it the “godfather of credit cards”. And we stand by that statement.

With no annual fee, a rewards program that has a far-reaching earn net, and a 0 percent APR introductory offer on purchases and balance transfers for 12 months, the card is a standout all-purpose credit card. But when it comes to international travel, it really soars.

You can earn 3x rewards points (two bonus points + one standard rewards point) for every dollar you spend on travel. And Wells Fargo has defined that category broadly – it includes: airline tickets, hotels, rental cars, cruises, travel agencies, travel sites, and campground purchases.

The Wells Fargo Propel American Express(R) Card comes with a lot of additional travel benefits. You’ll get important emergency assistance, auto rental collision damage insurance, and $1,000 in lost luggage insurance. Suffice it to say, you’re covered if you travel with this card.

Learn more—get card details or apply online:

Bank of America(R) Travel Rewards credit card

Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card

Credit Needed: Excellent/Good
  • Earn unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases, with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees and your points don't expire
  • 25,000 online bonus points if you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening - that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases
  • Use your card to book your trip how and where you want – you’re not limited to specific websites with blackout dates or restrictions
Intro APR
Purchases
Intro Term
Purchases
Intro APR
Balance Transfers
Intro Term
Balance Transfers
Regular APRAnnual Fee
0% Introductory APR on purchases12 billing cyclesN/AN/A17.24% - 25.24% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers$0

The Bank of America(R) 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 25,000 online bonus points if you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days. That’s worth $250 as a statement credit toward travel.

Although not as valuable as the 50,000 points Chase offers, the $250 sign-up bonus is one of the highest I’ve seen from a card with no annual fee.

The Bank of America(R) Travel Rewards credit card is a good option for any traveller, but it’s especially rewarding if you use other Bank of America(R) products. You can get an additional 10 percent customer points bonus on every purchase when you have an active Bank of America(R) checking or savings account. Preferred Rewards clients can earn even more.

Learn more—get card details or apply online:

Capital One(R) VentureOne(R) Rewards Credit Card

Capital One(R) VentureOne(R) Rewards Credit Card

Credit Needed: Excellent/Good
  • Enjoy a one-time bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $1,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $200 in travel
  • Earn 1.25X miles on every purchase, every day and pay no annual fee. Plus earn 10X miles on thousands of hotels, through January 2020; learn more at hotels.com/venture
  • Transfer your miles to over 12 leading travel loyalty programs
Intro APR
Purchases
Intro Term
Purchases
Intro APR
Balance Transfers
Intro Term
Balance Transfers
Regular APRAnnual Fee
0%for 12 monthsN/AN/A14.24% - 24.24% (Variable)$0

The Capital One(R) VentureOne(R) Rewards Credit Card earns rewards at a lower rate than other cards on this list, but it remains a decent choice for someone looking for a travel rewards credit card with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees. If you’re not a big spender, you might want to opt for a card like the Capital One(R) VentureOne(R) Rewards Credit Card instead of a card with a large annual fee you’ll struggle to justify.

The card’s reward structure is simple, unlike some other cards’, which might force the user to keep track of quarterly rewards category. You’ll also get a healthy sign-up bonus of 20,000 miles when you spend $1,000 on purchases within 3 months of opening the account, which is a $200 value.

With the Capital One(R) VentureOne(R) Rewards Credit Card you’ll get additional travel perks like the ability to earn 10x miles through hotels.com.

Learn more—get card details or apply online:

Summary: Best credit cards for international travel

CardFeatures
Editor’s Choice, March 2019
Chase Sapphire Preferred(R)
No foreign transaction fees. Global concierge service. 50,000 sign-up bonus points (worth up to $625 in travel). $95 annual fee, waived the first year.
Capital One(R) Venture(R)No foreign transaction fees. 50,000 miles (worth $500 in travel) sign-up bonus. Double miles on every purchase. $95 annual fee, waived the first year.
Wells Fargo Propel American Express(R) CardNo foreign transaction fees. 30,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 in the first three months (worth up to $300 cash redemption value). No annual fee.
Bank of America(R) Travel Rewards credit cardNo foreign transaction fees. 25,000 bonus point (worth $250 in travel) sign-up bonus after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days. Unlimited 1.5 points per dollar spent. No annual fee.
Capital One(R) VentureOne(R)No foreign transaction fees. 20,000 miles (worth $200 in travel) sign-up bonus. No annual fee

Which credit cards are accepted worldwide?

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 cards are accepted in a lot of places, you will find a lot of merchants that do not accept Amex outside of the United States. You’ll be able to use your American Express cards almost anywhere in the world at large hotel chains and other international travel providers, but don’t expect to use an Amex at a local restaurant or store.

And though Discover cards offer great benefits and some of the lowest foreign currency exchange rates, Discover cards are not widely accepted outside the United States, period.

Do you need to use a chip-enabled credit card to travel overseas?

Yes. Although here in the U.S. we’re still getting used to credit cards with “chips” (also known as EMV technology), these chip-enabled cards have been standard in Europe and other parts of the world for years.

In the unlikely situation that you still have a credit card without a chip, consider picking up another card to carry overseas—or call your credit card issuer and ask if they’ll send you a new version of your card. If you try to use a credit card without a chip overseas, the best case scenario is that it will work, but you’ll get a lot of funny looks. Worst case, the merchant won’t be able to accept the card.

What are foreign currency transaction fees?

Many American credit cards charge foreign currency transaction fees of 2 or 3 percent on every purchase you make that is not in U.S. dollars. 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 3 percent transaction fee, that’s an extra $150. The best cards for international travel do not charge this fee.

Which credit cards offer the best international 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(R) Card, offers such a concierge service that’s designed to help with whatever travel needs you may have—wherever you are in the world.

Should you get a travel credit card?

Not sure you want a travel credit card? Finding the right credit card for you is much simpler if you know your credit score, and can narrow your search to only the cards you know you’ll get approved for. We’ve made it easy for you. If you don’t already know your score, use our quick and free Credit Score Estimator tool – then find the perfect card for you!

Summary

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!)

Read more:

Look for rewards to put toward an upcoming trip? Here are some more of the best credit cards of 2019.

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About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 36. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.

Comments

User Generated Content Disclosure: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

  1. Peter says:

    Hi, thanks for the article!
    I was wondering if these cards, in addition to not having foreign currency transaction fees, also guarantee the “real” exchange rate when you make a purchase (that is, the exchange rate you would see if you looked at google in the same instance you make the purchase). If not, then just “not having fees” might not be enough if they have a very bad (for us, good for them) exchange rate.

    Cheers!

  2. Jasmine Thomas says:

    Your Discover card will work at the ATM at the Pankow station in Berlin. There may be a few others that one I know for sure works. It accepts Diners Club International and allows you to draw euros for your travel experience in Germany/Europe.

  3. John williams says:

    I need a visa card drawn on a non-us bank and I’m a US citizen. Anyone know how this can be arranged?
    Thanks

  4. Bruno Mendes says:

    Got problems with fraud protection with Capital One.
    All cards I used so far (including the ones who advertise no foreign transaction fees) shave off some amount of money in the exchange rates.
    With my Sapphire,I even get different exchange rates for transactions done the same day.

    • kk says:

      Hi! There’s something else going on when you are purchasing internationally. When you swipe your card in another country or even online for a purchase in another currency, you are at the vendors’ mercy. Your credit or even debit card may not charge you a fee for foreign transactions, but they aren’t exchanging the rate for you either. So one shop may say the currency rate from Euro to USD is $1.67 while another may say $1.25. The really crazy part is that even though that’s what they are charging as vendors to convert your money, the exchange rate could be closer to $1.07 that day. Best to pay with cash.

    • dio says:

      3rd time CapitalOne-Venture rejected card while traveling international. Called the 1st and 2nd time and told me its fixed.. but apparently not. Totally unreadable in my hands. I understand the need for security but all that becomes pointless if the card is unusable.

  5. Kimberly says:

    I got the Capital One card when I traveled to a Caribbean country that uses US dollars. That worked out GREAT. (If I had used my Chase Freedom, which I used daily domestically, I would have been charged a transaction fee despite requiring no currency exchange.) No problems using it abroad or after I returned.

  6. Mitch says:

    Just one piece of partial contention about your Sapphire post. While you are correct that the sign up bonus would get you $500 in travel…there is a much more lucrative aspect to that sign-up bonus. The beauty of the Ultimate Rewards program is in the ability to transfer points 1:1 to frequent flyer/hotel programs for an extremely higher $ value. For example. 100,000 UR points would get you $1000 in travel using the Chase travel portal…OR…you could transfer those 100,000 points to 100,000 United Miles and book a round-trip business class ticket to Europe…this ticket would be valued at between $5,000 and $10,000…a much higher payout!

  7. Nichole says:

    We are traveling to Japan in February for 4 years. Most of our spending will be on a US Air Base. Would the foreign transaction fees apply still?

  8. joseph says:

    Under The Citi ThankYou Premier Card you refer to it as being a Visa. This card is actually a Citi Amex card or at least it is for me.

  9. Drew says:

    PenFed (Pentagon Federal Credit Union) has the Promise Visa with no Fees, including no Foreign Transaction Fees. It works really well and has no annual fee, but you have to be a member or pay the 15$ entrance fee. I also take along an AmEx just in case I need their services. However, the last time I called to tell them I was leaving the country, AmEx told me I no longer had to inform them I would be using the card outside the country. I think I find this a little more disconcerting than convenient.

    • Rebecca says:

      AmEx told me this, too….and the next time I traveled out of the country and tried to use it, it was declined. I had to call them and get them to lift the fraud freeze on the account.

  10. Katie says:

    I can understand a fee for transferring from pesos to dollars but we bought a timeshare in Mexico in dollars and we were still charged a transaction fee.
    What is this for? This was a simple on-line transaction. BofA would not back down on waiving this so we are going to Capital One.

    • Kimberly says:

      A lot of cards charge a fee for all transactions abroad, regardless of currency. That’s why I got a card with specific travel benefits.

      • Marta Heflin says:

        Which card? I got a Capital ONe card because they said it had no fee, but I don’t trust that company. They have no customer service and a record of tongue-lashing customers. My card is NOT a chip card, and the company won’t issue one.
        It is NOT a Venture card, so I expect to be charged a hefty fee.

        I am looking for suggestions. I have had my two other cards for 30 years and they are rock-solid, but they exact a fee
        internationally.

  11. Trish says:

    I would caution anyone using a capital one card for foreign travel…they may not charge a foreign transaction fee, but, if you need to access their investigative solutions for any financial disputes abroad, they are non-existent. We had an issue in Mexico that they have repeatedly avoided assisting us on. They use what should be considered exploitive customer service tactics for a service they tout as “protection abroad”.

    • Jonathan says:

      Thanks for the word of caution.

      I also want to add another word of caution on Capital One’s “no foreign transaction fees.” I just got back from Belize and used my Captial One Visa while there. I noticed the conversion was about 1% more than the actual cost.

      So, Capital One does have an unofficial 1% foreign transaction fee.

      • Mike says:

        Every review says that Capital One aborbs the 1% fee that VISA/MASTERCARD charge, so not sure what you mean.

        • Jonathan says:

          Technically, they do. But their conversion rate turns out to be 1% higher than the actual conversion. So your purchase will be 1% more expensive paying with the credit card rather than paying with cash.

          I’ve read the same holds true for Charles Schwab’s debit card that has no foreign transaction fee.

          • Lee says:

            Would you mind posting any of your transaction history showing this? I’m looking at my transactions for the Chase Sapphire and trying to unravel all the hidden charges. I’d love to have a link as proof as to what the real cost of the Capital One cards are.

            Lee, abendinthearrow.com

          • Jonathan says:

            Lee, I’m just going by my statement, from what the cost should have been, to what I was billed. There was a transaction that was supposed to be $10, and I was charged $10.09, which is almost 1%.

            Also, I just compared the exchange rate for that date and compared it to the exchange rate that was listed for that $10 item. Capital One’s exchange rate for that day was $1.98321 vs. $1.99149 actual exchange rate. My calculations show that’s a .5% mark-up.

            OK– so after I typed the above, I saw another transaction from Belize that shows the correct exchange rate, so apparently, this whole thing is a YMMV!!

  12. Genie says:

    If you have AMEX Costco card you get 2% cashback for travel charges…so really it cancels out the fee.

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