Foreign transaction fees can make a trip even more expensive. In addition to what you’re already spending on souvenirs and meals out, you’re paying an extra 2 percent or 3 percent to your bank every time you swipe your card – and more than canceling out any rewards you’d get.
But if you have a card in your arsenal that doesn’t charge these fees, you don’t have to worry when you leave the country. These days, there are plenty of options – read on for a selection of good cards for travelers that waive foreign transaction fees (as of February 2014).
Note: If you’re going abroad, having a card with EMV smart chip technology can make life easier. Cards with this type of chip are the norm in many other countries, and, if your card doesn’t have one, you might not be able to use it at certain retailers and kiosks. Many point-of-sale terminals abroad (especially those in large tourist destinations) are compatible with magnetic stripes — although you might need to know enough of the language to explain to a confused cashier what to do. You’d think that cards designed for travel (especially those that go so far as to waive foreign transaction fees) would come equipped with these chips – but some don’t.
Capital One® Venture® Rewards
Out of all the major players in the credit card world, Capital One is the only issuer that hasn’t ever succumbed to charging foreign transaction fees. None of their cards charge foreign transaction fees, but, for travelers, the best option is the Venture (available in two versions). Go here to compare the Venture cards side by side. The only problem? Cap One doesn’t yet provide cards with EMV chips.
Chase Sapphire Preferred
In addition to this card having no foreign transaction fees, there are other reasons it’s good for travelers. You earn an unlimited 2 points per dollar on travel expenses, 2 points on dining and 1 point on all other purchases. You can redeem your points for almost anything (including cash back). However the best way to use your points is for air or hotel expenses because Chase gives you 25 percent more value that way. For example 10,000 points = $100 cash back — or $125 towards airfares and hotel rooms when you book through Ultimate Rewards. The bonus offer right now is ridiculously lucrative.
A year ago Discover decided to drop the foreign transaction fee on all of their credit cards. Their international acceptance is poor in Europe (and the cards don’t have EMV chips), but they’re an excellent (actually, the best) choice for the following countries:
- China: Because they’re accepted everywhere China UnionPay is, Discover is actually the most widely accepted credit card in China.
- Japan: Can be used anywhere that takes JCB (which is the largest card network in Japan)
- South Korea: Use anywhere that takes BC card (South Korea’s largest card network)
Even though Diners Club is now a dud in the United States, they’re still quite popular in some South American and European countries. Since Discover bought Diners Clubs’ international payment network about five years ago, you can now use your Discover card at any foreign merchant that accepts Diners Club.
Check out this review of Discover’s 5 percent cash back program.
American Express Platinum
If you want a high-end travel credit card with no foreign transaction fees, then AmEx Platinum is in a class of its own. If you don’t travel much, it won’t be worth it because of the $450 membership fee. However, even for the occasional traveler, the value of the benefits can trump the fee many times over. For example, you get more than $450 worth of benefits every time you stay at 700+ high-end hotels across the globe (get free room upgrades, food/drink/spa credits, etc.). This is why it’s a favorite not only for foreign travel, but also domestic. Here is our detailed review of the American Express Platinum.
Keep in mind: If you go with any AmEx card besides this one, the Delta Gold, the Delta Platinum, the Delta Reserve or the invite-only Centurion, expect to pay a foreign transaction fee of 2.7 percent.
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Marriott Rewards Premier
A couple years ago, Chase and Marriott decided to improve the credit card program, and now it’s one of the best out there if you regularly or even occasionally stay at Marriott properties. You earn 5 points per dollar at 3,800 Marriott locations; 2 points on airline ticket purchases directly with airlines, car rental agencies and restaurants; and 1 point elsewhere. Plus, the card has an EMV chip. The annual fee is $85, waived the first year.
Use this link to earn 50,000 bonus points (awarded after you spend $1,000 in your first 3 months from account opening).
United MileagePlus Explorer
Chase has waived foreign transaction fees across the entire suite of United MileagePlus cards, although none of them have EMV chips yet. The MileagePlus Explorer, which has the lowest annual fee ($95, waived the first year), gets you 2 miles per dollar spent with United, 1 mile per dollar everywhere else and a bunch of travel perks, including waived baggage fees (for the first bag), priority boarding and two free tickets to the United Club lounge each year.
Right now, you can get 30,000 bonus miles (after spending $1,000 in the first three months) if you snag this offer.
British Airways Visa Signature
Considering this card is affiliated with an international carrier, it should come as no surprise that it waives foreign transaction fees and comes with an EMV chip. You get 2.5 Avios for every dollar spent with British Airways and 1.25 Avios per dollar spent elsewhere. You can use your points stateside, too, as you can redeem your Avios to book reward travel on American Airlines. The annual fee is $95.
If you apply now, there’s an offer for 50,000 bonus Avios after you spend $2,000 on purchases within three months of opening your account.
BankAmericard Travel rewards
This card has no annual fee and allows you to earn 1.5 points per dollar spent (or 3 points per dollar spent on BofA’s Travel Rewards Center). Those points are worth 1 cent each when redeemed to offset the full or partial cost of travel purchases made with the card. It has an embedded EMV chip and a sign-up bonus of 10,000 points after you make $500 in purchases in the first 90 days after account opening. You can get that bonus by applying here.
Hilton HHonors Reserve
With this card, you’ll earn 10 points per dollar spent on Hilton hotel stays and 5 points per dollar spent on airfares and rental cars. On all other purchases, you’ll earn 3 points. The card gets you complimentary gold status (which means you get a 25 percent bonus on all points you earn and upgrades at certain properties). Each year you manage to spend $10,000 on the card, you get one free weekend night. The card has an EMV chip and has an annual fee of $95.
Apply using this link for two free bonus weekend nights after you spend $2,500 in the first four months.
Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card
While Southwest is just beginning to broach international travel (it recently announced plans to expand service to Aruba, Jamaica and Mexico), it already waives foreign transaction fees on its Rapid Rewards Premier card. You’ll earn 2 points per dollar spent with Southwest and AirTran, as well as with Southwest’s hotel and car rental partners — and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Each year the account stays open, you’ll get an anniversary gift of 6,000 points. The card carries an annual fee of $99 and does not have an EMV chip.
Right now, there’s an offer of 25,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in the first three months after opening your card. You can apply for it here.
Hawaiian Airlines World Elite MasterCard
With its pretty generous companion discounts, this card can cut the cost of a trip to Hawaii (or from Hawaii to the continental U.S.). You’ll earn 2 miles per dollar spent on Hawaiian Airlines purchases, 1 mile per dollar on other purchases and up to 10 miles per dollar with the program’s partners. There’s a business version of the card, too, and both versions have EMV chips.
The card currently has a sign-up offer of 35,000 miles after you spend $1,000 on the card in the first 90 days. You can apply for that offer here.
Delta SkyMiles American Express cards
American Express is now waiving foreign transaction fees on its Delta co-branded Gold, Platinum and Reserve cards. All three cards give you 2 SkyMiles per dollar on Delta purchases, but each has different benefits, sign-up bonuses and annual fees.
Wells Fargo Propel 365 and Propel World
Both of these cards (which debuted May 2014) waive foreign transaction fees. Only the World version has an EMV chip, however. Each of the cards has its own unique bonus structure and benefits. You can learn more about them by reading our review.
PenFed Travel Rewards card
Not just the Travel Rewards card waives foreign transaction fees — all of PenFed’s credit cards do. This one, however, gets you 5 points on airfare purchases (if you buy tickets directly from the airline) and 1 point on otherpurchases. Strangely enough, although this card is designed for travelers, it doesn’t have an EMV chip, even though several of PenFed’s other card offerings do.
PenFed, being a credit union, also has some membership requirements. If you aren’t in the United States Military and Uniformed Services (or another qualifying organization), you have to make a small donation to join either the National Military Family Association or Voices for America’s troops. Read our PenFed Travel Rewards card review for more pros and cons.
Other cards’ foreign transaction fees
Most credit cards charge between 1 percent and 3 percent for foreign transactions. But just to give you an idea of how they compare, here’s a list — ranging from the highest to lowest – of what each issuer normally charges for the majority of their cards (obviously the above cards are exemptions):
3 percent fee for most Bank of America Visa & MasterCards, Citi, Chase, HSBC, US Bank, Wells Fargo, Fifth-Third Bank, Barclaycard
2.7 percent fee for all American Express cards that don’t waive foreign transaction fees
2 percent fee for Comerica, Bank of America AAA Member Rewards
1 percent fee for USAA, Navy Federal, Bank of America Asiana AmEx, Bank of America Virgin Atlantic MasterCard
Written or last updated June 30, 2014