Traveling 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 and PIN” technology (also known as EMV) is more secure overseas. 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 we are seeing Chip and PIN slowly become more common on American cards).
No foreign currency transaction fee
Any time 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 at 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:
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 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!)
Look for rewards to put toward an upcoming trip? Here are some more great choices:
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in February 2015. It has been thoroughly updated for relevance and accuracy before republication.