For many American college students, studying abroad is a rite of passage. By living in another country, rather than just visiting, students can earn a deeper understanding and gain a lifetime appreciation for another language and culture.
And for most students, studying abroad will be their first exposure to solo international travel. Of all the things that students will pack on their trip, the right credit card will be one of the most important.
Here are the best credit cards for study abroad.
What Makes A Good Credit Card For Students Living Abroad?
The best credit cards for students living in a foreign country will have low fees. In particular, their credit card should have no foreign transaction fees. These are fees imposed by most credit cards on all transactions processed outside of the United States. These fees can apply when paying in US dollars, and can even be imposed on foreign purchases made from home.
For example, if you purchase airfare or a tour online from a foreign company, you might end up with an unwelcome fee on your bill. Typically, foreign transaction fees are three percent of the amount charged, but there are a growing number of credit cards that no longer have this expensive, and unnecessary fee.
Other features to look for are travel emergency assistance services, which can be helpful when students encounter the unexpected.
Finally, students will want a card that they can be approved for, as most are young adults with a limited credit history.
Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Already have excellent credit? The Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card is one of MU30’s most recommended cards for international travel.
This card checks off all the boxes that travelers abroad should be looking for. First, it has $0 annual fee and no foreign transaction fee. And as a Visa Card, it also comes with 24/7 travel emergency assistance services.
Yet this card is also a very competitive rewards card. New applicants receive 25,000 bonus points after making $1,000 in new purchases within 90 days of account opening. These rewards can be redeemed for a $250 statement credit towards travel purchases.
You also earn 1.5 points per dollar spent on all purchases, with no limits. Points are worth one cent each as statement credits towards any travel expenses charged to the card.
The only catch is that this is a prime credit card, meaning you’ll need excellent credit to get approved. Fortunately, however, there’s also a student version of this card if you’re a full-time college student.
What we like:
1% cash back on all purchases and pay on time to get a boost to 1.25% cash back
Be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as 6 months
No annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
We’ve long recommended Capital One’s travel rewards credit cards for travel abroad thanks to their widespread acceptance and lack of foreign currency transaction fees.
The Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® is designed for students, so most young adults with limited credit won’t have a problem being approved.
This card offers one percent cash back on all purchases, and will increase that amount to 1.25 percent each month that you pay your bill on-time.
Students will start off with a modest line of credit, but will receive access to a higher credit line after five months of on-time payments with its Credit Steps program. It also comes with 24-hour travel assistance services that can help you in case of an emergency while traveling.
Discover it® Student Chrome
All Discover cards have no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees, making them an economical choice. The Discover it® Student chrome also offers two percent cash back at restaurants and gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. You also get one percent cash back on all other purchases.
It also offers new cardholders see terms of intro APR financing on new purchases. After that, the standard rate of See Terms applies.
The one drawback is that Discover cards are not widely accepted in all countries. That may be OK if you plan to do most of your spending with cash or a debit card and just want a credit card for emergencies. But you can also find out in advance if Discover accepted at a particular destination by looking at this web page. And while the Discover it® Student chrome does include emergency card replacement, it doesn’t come with travel emergency assistance services.
Alternatives to credit cards for study abroad
If you didn’t find the perfect credit card for studying abroad, check out the other cards we feature. Search based on your credit score (if you don’t know your score, use our quick and free Credit Score Estimator tool.)
- Best credit cards for a credit score over 750
- Best credit cards for a credit score between 700 – 749
- Best credit cards for a credit score between 650 – 699
- Best credit cards for a credit score between 600 – 649
- Best credit cards for a credit score under 599
Traveling abroad for the first time can be scary, so the last thing you want to worry about is whether you have enough cash on hand. That’s why you should opt for a credit card, even if you only use it for emergencies.
The best credit cards for study abroad won’t charge extra fees every time you use them outside the country. But you’ll also want your card to have a decent line of credit in case you need, for example, to leave a country quickly via an expensive last-minute plane ticket.
If a student card doesn’t meet that need, a parent can easily add their college student to an existing credit card as an authorized user. The student will have full use of the card abroad, but the parent remains responsible for repayment. In some cases, the parent’s timely payments will also be reflected on the student’s credit history, helping to build good credit.