Travelling abroad? Make sure you have the right plastic. The best credit cards for international travel don’t charge excessive foreign currency credit card fees, are accepted worldwide, and offer concierge-level service to help with your travels.
Credit cards accepted internationally
The most important is that 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. And while Discover Cards offer some of the lowest foreign currency exchange rates, they are not widely accepted outside the United States.
Using a card with ‘Chip and PIN’ technology is more secure overseas. Long since the 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. So far, only a few U.S. credit cards offer this, and you can use cards without the technology just fine overseas, but you can expect to see Chip and PIN begin to become more common on American cards.
No foreign currency transaction fee
Anytime 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.
Many credit cards do this with foreign currency transaction fees of two or three percent. So let’s say you live abroad for a while and charge $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
So say you’re traveling internationally and you lose your card. How easy it will 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 guaranteeing live operators and concierges that can help you figure out local travel or make dinner reservations.
Our picks: Best credit cards for international travel
A few of the best cards to carry abroad — in my opinion — are the Barclaycard Arrival MasterCard, the Citi ThankYou® Premier Card and the Capital One Venture Card or Capital One VentureOne Card. Here’s why:
Barclaycard Arrival Card
The Barclaycard Arrival MasterCard has been named a best travel rewards credit card by numerous travel bloggers and “Best for Travel Rewards” by MONEY Magazine in Oct. 2013 for a simple reason: The rewards go further. This no-annual fee card features no foreign transaction fees and pays 2x points on travel and dining and 1x points on everything else. Better yet, you get 10 percent of your miles back when redeemed for travel, making these miles longer than average.
Great For: Earning double miles on travel and dining
Credit Needed: Excellent
Average Approved Score: 730*
Lowest Approved Score: 678*
- Start by earning 20,000 bonus miles when you make $1,000 or more in purchases in the first 90 days from account opening. 20,000 bonus miles equates to $200 off your next trip!
- 0% introductory APR on purchases for the first 12 months after account opening. After that, variable APR, currently 14.99% or 18.99% base upon your creditworthiness.
- Earn 2X miles on travel and dining purchases
- Earn 1X miles on all other purchases
- No mileage caps or foreign transaction fees
- Get 10% miles back when you redeem for travel (i.e. redeem 25,000 miles for travel and get 2,500 miles back)
- Use miles for a statement credit toward any airline purchase to any destination with no seat restrictions and no blackout dates
- Easily redeem your miles for statement credits toward flights, cruises, car rentals, hotels and more
- Complimentary one year subscription of TripIt Pro mobile travel organizer – a $49 value
- Complimentary FICO® Scores as a benefit to active cardmembers. Opt-in to have instant and convenient access to FICO® Scores from your Barclaycard online account.
|Intro APR||Balance Transfer APR||Regular APR||Annual Fee|
|0% for 12 Months||N/A for N/A||14.99% or 18.99%* Variable||$0|
There is also an $89 annual fee version of the Arrival card that pays 2x miles on every purchase.
Citi ThankYou® Premier Card
The Citi ThankYou® Premier Card provides a 3-2-1 rewards structure; you earn 3 points on dining and entertainment, 2 points on airfare and hotels, and 1 point on everything else. It features chip-and-pin technology for more complete worldwide acceptance. The downside? A $125 annual fee.
Great For: Travel rewards with no foreign transactions fees on purchases.
Credit Needed: Excellent
Average Approved Score: 0*
Lowest Approved Score: 0*
- Earn up to 50,000 bonus ThankYou® Points. Bonus points are redeemable for up to $500 in gift cards, up to $625 for airfare or other great rewards
- Earn 20,000 points after $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
- Earn an additional 30,000 points after another $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of your second year of being a cardmember
- Earn 3 ThankYou Points for every $1 spent on purchases for dining at restaurants and entertainment
- Earn 2 ThankYou Points for every $1 spent on purchases for airfare and hotels
- Earn 1 ThankYou Point per $1 spent on other purchases
- Points do not expire and earn unlimited Thank You Points
- Travel with ease and enjoy chip based technology
|Intro APRPurchases||Intro TermPurchases||Intro APRBalance Transfers||Intro TermBalance Transfers||Regular APR||Annual Fee|
|N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||13.99% – 22.99%* Variable||$125; fee waived for the first 12 months*|
Capital One Venture Card and VentureOne cards
The Venture Cards also have no foreign transaction fees and come coupled with better-than-average rewards like 2 miles per dollar on the $59-annual fee Venture Card and 1.25 miles per dollar on the VentureOne.
To learn more about how these two cards differ, read our full review of the Capital One Venture cards here.
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 just 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!)
Disclaimer: One way I’m able to support my blogging is to link to products that pay a referral commission. I only link to products I trust. That said, you should know that apply for and are approved for any of these cards, I may be paid for that. If you choose to support Money Under 30 in that way, thanks!
*Credit Karma users have received approvals with these TransUnion New Account credit scores. These approval metrics are only guidelines and approval is not guaranteed.