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Avoid Credit Card Foreign Currency Transaction Fees

American credit cards—Visa and MasterCard in particular—are increasingly accepted all over the world. Although these credit cards can be a convenient way to pay while traveling aboard, be prepared to pay foreign currency transaction fees of up to a four percent for every dollar you spend overseas.

AVOID FOREIGN CURRENCY EXCHANGE FEES

Although credit cards may provide a better currency exchange rate than a money-changing shop in a tourist neighborhood, your U.S. credit card may also change a foreign currency transaction fee. These foreign transaction fees, often as much as four percent, can add up quickly.

All American Visa and MasterCard credit cards assess cardholders a one percent foreign currency exchange fee for any transaction outside the U.S. But your issuing bank may charge a fee on top of that one percent.

For example, Bank of America, Chase, and Citi all charge three percent for foreign currency transactions (for a total fee of four percent). At the time of writing this article, a meal that costs 100 Euro will cost you about $132 plus a $5.28 foreign currency transaction fee.

BEST CREDIT CARDS FOR FOREIGN TRAVEL

Some credit cards are better for using abroad than others. Check out these best credit cards for international travel. These cards don’t charge a foreign currency transaction fee, and many come with other perks appealing to frequent world travellers.

In general, American Express cards are slightly better than average with a two percent fee. Unfortunately, they may not be as widely accepted overseas as Visa or MasterCard. Discover credit cards do not charge a fee but are virtually unheard of outside of the United States.

A good strategy? Carry an Amex card and us it wherever you can, and use cash or a Visa or MasterCard debit card when you can’t, or pick one of these cards that do not charge the extra foreign currency transaction fee.

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by American Express. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of American Express, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by American Express. This site may be compensated through American Express Affiliate Program.

About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. 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

  1. Dylan Hrncir says:

    I’ve seen praise for Capital One a few times, and as a military person living overseas, I obtained a card and gave it a shot. To my surprise I found that the exchange rate that I was paying is about 1% higher than the current exchange rate given by the WSJ.

    When I dug really deep into the terms and agreements for Capital One, I found this: “For international transactions, MasterCard’s currency conversion procedure includes use of either a government mandated exchange rate, or a wholesale exchange rate selected by MasterCard for the processing cycle in which the transaction is processed, increased by an adjustment factor established from time to time by MasterCard. The currency conversion rate used by MasterCard on the processing date may differ from the rate that would have been used on the purchase date or cardholder statement posting date.”

    I’m guessing that the “adjustment factor” is about one percent. It’s defiantly a worse rate that other cards that I have that carry a 1% transaction fee.

  2. You definitely raise a good point about the conversion rate—I’m not surprised Capital One charges a higher one if they waive the fee. The tricky thing is you never know conversion will be used anytime you use your credit card—or debit card—overseas.

    I’ll bet there are a lot of cards out there that charge a full 4% fee and have a crumby conversion rate. All the more reason to really pay attention to the credit card fees you pay.

  3. Capital One Canada charges a 2.5% foreign exchange conversion fee
    I just applied online for one and I decided to read the disclosure agreement before I submitted my application and I saw 2.5% foreign exchange conversion fee for foreign transactions. Maybe US capital one is the only one that dont charge foreign exchange conversion fee

  4. I live in a foreign country on US Currency, British Virgin Islands. It is the only currency we have. For 8 years, I’ve charged food, gas, electric, phone, etc. on my Citibank card. They have now begun charging me 3%, even though the transactions are all in US Dollars to start with. They tried to tell me it was ALL visa and mastercard, but that is not true. So far, I have not found another credit card charging this 3%. Maybe because Citigroup is the only one (so far) who has gone up to Washington asking for a handout of taxpayer dollars! However, if I wanted to transfer a $20,000 credit card balance to them, the rate would be 0%. They are INTENTIONALLY going after the bad credit, and punishing people like me, who pay my bill in full each month. They should never have been allowed to make their business on finance charges on bad creditors. They were supposed to be happy with the 2.5% from vendors!! How did we get in such a mess? CONGRESS!

  5. Mister Ed says:

    Growing Greed Among Credit Card Companies:
    In 2008, Bank of America and other banks started charging their credit card customers fees for making certain internet purchases. For example, a 3% foreign currency fee is charged if the transaction is processed through a foreign bank, even if the transaction involves only US dollars. This is just plain greedy. But that’s not all. On the customer’s statement, the retailer’s name is printed next to the fee, as if the retailer (or “merchant”) charged the fee, not the bank. This makes it look like the retailer is charging the customer twice – once for the correct amount, and again for the bank fee, which is not identified as such. Consequently, our customers have been phoning us to complain. All we can do is tell them that Bank of America is responsible for this scam, not us. According to one article I found on the internet, the Bank of America’s practices are illegal. (The Truth in Lending Act – Regulation E and Regulation Z – and the Truth in Savings Act require banks and financial institutions to disclose when such fees are passed on to debit card and credit cardholders.)

  6. I just purchased something from UK using Capital One, and I can say that their exchange rate is fair enough. The GBP USD rate on that day is between 1.375-1.385. I got charged with rate ~1.386. That’s better than I expected.

  7. So what if I am on a website outside US borders and the transaction is in USD. I can understand if the transaction is in British Pounds or Euros, but why should I have to pay a foreign conversion fee if the transaction is made in USD regardless of the site location?

  8. Sick_of_US_deregulation says:

    Chase just charged a “Foreign Transaction Fee” of $25 on a $850 transaction. 2.94%
    Got items from a UK website.

    Bet you I didn’t get the transaction at the current exchange rate either – There is always a 1-2% margin built into a currency buy/sell price.

    Ready to move all my business to my credit union. Screw the big banks.

  9. Capital One cards don’t charge any fees. It’s the only credit card that doesn’t now. Fort checking, Charles Schwab gass no fees. I travel all the time and this works for me.

  10. I ALWAYS CHECK RATES AND CAPITAL ONE HAS GOOD ONES FOR ME. PLUS I GET CASHBACK. ALSO, IT’S A VISA, NOT A MASTERCARD NOW.

  11. I use Capital one and American express while travel in China on the same day. I am surprised to find out Capital One, although claiming no foreign transaction fee, uses a much worse exchange rate than AMX. It is %5-10% worse. Now I understand why it offers no foreign transaction fee. It is a trap!! The %1 rebate does not even worth it!!