If you want the best credit card for worldwide acceptance, your choice is quite simple…
Here in the USA, it is true that many merchants accept the big four: MasterCard, Visa – and to a lesser extent – American Express and Discover. But what about internationally?
Per MasterCard’s global website:
“MasterCard Worldwide is a leading global payments solutions company that provides a family of well-known, widely-accepted payment card brands including MasterCard®, Maestro® and Cirrus® and serves consumers, financial institutions, and businesses in more than 210 countries and territories worldwide,” according to MasterCard’s website.
Meanwhile, Visa’s annual report for 2015 states that Visa is accepted in “more than 200 countries and territories” worldwide.
While we don’t have any numbers for number of merchants worldwide accepting each cards, we can say that, as far as worldwide acceptance goes, these brands are on equal footing. If you have a Visa or MasterCard card in your wallet, you can expect them to be equally accepted during your travels — or not accepted (many merchants abroad still prefer cash).
What about in the United States?
Even though MasterCard and Visa have comparable acceptance in the United States, there are a few places where you need a Visa. Costco, for example, accepts only Visa.
But of course, what you’re much more likely to encounter are retailers that refuse to accept American Express or Discover. Even in large cities you will find restaurants and bars that won’t accept Amex. Not to mention, some dry cleaners and other mom ‘n pop businesses who sometimes refuse it. So unless you want to get stuck high and dry it’s best to have another payment form. American Express charges the highest merchant interchange fees, so many merchants simply refuse to accept their cards and hope patrons have another way to pay.
You also need to account for EMV
Nearly all major credit cards in the U.S. are now issued with an EMV chip. However, the U.S. implementation of EMV (chip and signature) is different from the norm in other countries (chip and PIN). Fortunately, you can still use your U.S.-issued EMV card in most situations abroad.
Because most issuers have already re-issued most of their card portfolios as EMV cards, you won’t find a huge difference between Visa, MasterCard, etc., as far as being EMV-capable.
This article was written or last updated November 2016