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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.

The best credit cards for international travel.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 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.

Barclaycard Arrival™ World MasterCard®

Great For: Earning double miles on travel and dining

Credit Needed: Excellent

Average Approved Score: 730*

Lowest Approved Score: 678*

  • Earn 20,000 bonus miles when you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days - that's enough to redeem for a $200 travel statement credit
  • 0% intro APR on balance transfers and purchases for the first 12 months after account opening. After that, variable APR, currently 14.99% or 18.99%, based upon your creditworthiness.
  • Earn 2X miles on travel and dining and 1X miles on all other purchases
  • Miles don't expire as long as your account is open, active and in good standing
  • Book the travel you want - airfare, hotels, cruises and more and earn miles on your purchase
  • Get 10% miles back to use toward your next redemption every time you redeem for travel statement credits
  • No foreign transaction fees on anything you buy while in another country
  • Complimentary online FICO® Score access for Barclaycard Arrival cardmembers
Intro APR Balance Transfer APR Regular APR Annual Fee
0% for 12 Months 0% for 12 Months 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.

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.

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. If you have AMEX Costco card you get 2% cashback for travel charges…so really it cancels out the fee.

  2. 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.

      • Every review says that Capital One aborbs the 1% fee that VISA/MASTERCARD charge, so not sure what you mean.

        • 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.

          • 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.

            Lee, abendinthearrow.com

          • 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!!

  3. 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.

    • 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.

  4. 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.

    • 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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?

  7. 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!

  8. 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.