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Traveling Abroad? The Best Credit Cards for International Travel (And Some You Should Absolutely Leave At Home)

Planning on taking a credit card overseas? Make sure you pack the right plastic. Some cards tack on hefty fees for foreign charges and aren’t as widely accepted. We explain why having the right card matters and offer a few suggestions.

Best-travel-credit-cards-MoneyUnder30Traveling 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

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 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” technology (also known as EMV) is more secure overseas. 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. This became a standard in the United States in October 2015, so nearly all new credit cards will feature this chip (even if many merchants don’t yet require them).

No foreign currency transaction fee

Any time you spend money in another country you’re going to pay something for converting US 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 a total of $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

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 picks: Best credit cards for international travel

Capital One Venture & VentureOne

For years, the Capital One VentureOne credit card has been our go-to recommendation for young travelers looking for a credit card to take abroad.

Capital One was among the first card issuers to eliminate foreign currency transaction fees on certain cards. In addition to no foreign currency transaction fee, the VentureOne card has a straightforward rewards program in which you earn 1.25 miles for every eligible dollar spent on purchases. There are no caps to how many miles you can earn and you can redeem them for travel at any time, on any airline, as well as on hotels and other travel expenses. Read our comparison of the Capital One Venture and VentureOne credit cards here.

Learn more–get card details or apply online:

Chase Sapphire Preferred

The Chase Sapphire Preferred card is a must-have card for any serious traveler. It has an annual fee of $95 (waived the first year) that’s well worth it if you’ll do a bit of spending on the card. It has no foreign currency transaction fee and a points-based travel rewards program that can quickly add up. You’ll earn two points on travel and dining at restaurants plus one point per dollar spent on all other purchases. When redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards, these points can be traded on a 1:1 basis for most major airline and hotel frequent-flier programs. 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 when 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 more in our review of the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.

Learn more—get card details or apply online:

Barclaycard Arrival & Arrival Plus

The Arrival and Arrival Plus credit cards are also excellent picks. Both offer no foreign currency transaction fee and generous miles rewards programs. The Arrival card has no annual fee and pays 2x miles on travel and dining purchases and 1x miles on everything else. The Arrival Plus card has an annual fee but pays 2x miles on all purchases.

Learn more–get card details or apply online:

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 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 great choices:

Credit Needed: Excellent

  • Earn 50,000 bonus points when 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®
  • Named a 'Best Credit Card' for Travel Rewards by MONEY Magazine
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • $0 foreign transaction fees, plus chip-enabled for enhanced security and wider acceptance when used at a chip card reader
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading frequent travel programs at full value - that means 1,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points equal 1,000 partner miles/points
  • Travel and shop with confidence with premium Travel and Purchase Protection Benefits, including Trip Cancellation/Trip Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Purchase Protection and more
  • Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95
  • See additional Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card details
Intro APR
Intro Term
Intro APR
Balance Transfers
Intro Term
Balance Transfers
Regular APR Annual Fee
N/AN/A N/AN/A 16.24%-23.24% Variable Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95

Published or updated on November 8, 2015

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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.


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. 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?

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. 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?

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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

  9. 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.


          • 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!!

  10. 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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