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FULL LIST OF EDITORIAL PICKS: BEST NO FOREIGN TRANSACTION FEE CREDIT CARDS
Click the card name to read our review. Before applying, confirm details on the issuer’s website.
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
Our pick for: Flat-rate travel rewards
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Our pick for: Bonus travel rewards
Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Our pick for: Simple travel rewards + no annual fee
One of the best no-annual-fee travel cards available, the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card gives you a solid rewards rate on every purchase, with points that can be redeemed for any travel purchase, without the restrictions of branded airline and hotel cards. Bank of America® has an expansive definition of “travel,” too, giving you additional flexibility in how you use your rewards. Read our review.
Wells Fargo Autograph℠ Card
Our pick for: Bonus rewards + no annual fee
Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card
Our pick for: Business travel
Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card
Our pick for: Flat-rate cash back
Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card
Our pick for: Bonus category cash back
Love the night life but dead-set against paying an annual fee? Consider the Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card. It pays a lower cash-back rate on dining and entertainment than the regular Savor card, but the rewards are nevertheless quite good. The sign-up bonus is smaller than on the annual-fee version, too, but it’s still solid. Read our review.
Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card
Our pick for: Average credit
This card for people with fair or “average” credit pays the same cash-back rate as the regular Quicksilver card, which targets people with excellent credit. The key difference is that this version charges an annual fee while the regular one does not. Read our review.
Capital One Quicksilver Student Cash Rewards Credit Card
What is a foreign transaction fee?
A credit card foreign transaction fee is a surcharge that a credit card issuer places on purchases made outside the United States. The typical foreign transaction fee is about 3%. So if you went to London with a card that had a 3% fee and used it to buy something that cost $140, you’d be charged a foreign transaction fee of $4.20. This fee typically shows up as a separate line item on your credit card statement.
Be aware that you can get hit with a foreign transaction fee even if you never leave the country. Foreign transaction fees are based on where a purchase is processed rather than your physical location when you make that purchase. Say that instead of going into a store in London and making a purchase, you ordered something from that store online while at home in the U.S. The transaction might be processed the same as the merchant’s in-store sales, and you’ll wind up paying a foreign transaction fee.
Some issuers, including Capital One, Discover and USAA, do not charge foreign transaction fees on any of their cards, and many issuers do not charge them on specific cards. Credit cards marketed to frequent travelers usually do not charge foreign transaction fees, even if the issuer has them on other cards.
Top credit card issuers’ foreign transaction fees
Here’s a look at the standard foreign transaction fees charged by major U.S. credit card issuers. It’s important to note that many of these issuers waive the foreign transaction fee (also called an international transaction fee) on certain cards. Further, some major issuers don’t charge foreign transaction fees on any of their cards.
What is American Express’ foreign transaction fee?
What is Bank of America’s foreign transaction fee?
What is Barclaycard’s foreign transaction fee?
What is Capital One’s foreign transaction fee?
What is Chase’s foreign transaction fee?
What is Citi’s foreign transaction fee?
What is Discover’s foreign transaction fee?
What is U.S. Bank’s foreign transaction fee?
What is Wells Fargo’s foreign transaction fee?
Using credit cards internationally
Which credit cards work worldwide?
Whether you’re in the U.S. or a foreign country, your ability to use a credit card at a merchant depends on whether the merchant accepts that card’s payment network. The four major U.S. networks — Visa, Mastercard, American Express or Discover — all have an international presence, although to varying degrees.
In the U.S., Visa and Mastercard are ubiquitous. If a merchant accepts credit cards, it almost always accepts Visa and Mastercard, although there are a few exceptions, such as Visa-only Costco. Discover is a close third, just a hair behind the leaders. American Express is widely accepted, just not as widely as the other three. Smaller merchants, in particular, are less likely to take AmEx. Even so, when traveling in the U.S., you should be able to get by with a card on any of the four networks.
Outside the U.S., Visa and Mastercard are also dominant worldwide networks. And while American Express has a strong presence overseas — it has more cardholders outside the U.S. than in — it doesn’t match the extent of Visa and Mastercard. Discover is a smaller player outside the U.S. If you’re planning to travel internationally and your primary card is American Express or Discover, it’s best to bring along a Visa or Mastercard as a backup.
Should I use dynamic currency conversion?
When you buy something with a credit card in a foreign country, your receipt will show the cost in the local currency. When you get your statement, however, you’ll see that the charge has been converted to dollars. Your payment network takes care of the conversion, and you can usually be confident that you’re getting a fair exchange rate. (A 2016 NerdWallet study found that Visa and Mastercard tended to convert currency at near-market rates, which is about the best you can get.)
Sometimes when you’re shopping overseas, merchants will ask if you want your purchases to be denominated in dollars rather than the local currency. This is known as “dynamic currency conversion.” It seems attractive, as it allows you to see how much you’re spending in terms you understand — say, $50 rather than 5,000 Japanese yen or 45 euros. But dynamic conversion is usually a bad deal. That’s because the exchange rates are considerably worse than what you’d get if you made your purchase in the local currency and then let your credit card network handle the conversion.
One other thing about dynamic conversion: It won’t get you out of paying foreign transaction fees. If your card charges a fee on overseas purchases, it doesn’t matter if those purchases are in dollars, yen, euros, rubles or whatever. You’ll still pay the fee.
Do I need a chip-and-PIN card?
Most credit cards issued in the U.S. are chip-and-signature cards. When you make a purchase at a store, the chip embedded in the card passes information to the merchant’s computer system. Further, the chip protects that information with a one-time code so that if the data is stolen, it can’t be used to make a counterfeit card. It’s all very high-tech. But then you complete the transaction by verifying your identity in a decidedly low-tech way: You sign your name — and you might not even do that.
Cards issued in other countries have “chip-and-PIN” technology. You use the card the same way, but instead of signing your name to complete the transaction, you have to enter a four-digit code, or PIN. This adds a layer of security by making it harder for someone to use a stolen card.
When traveling abroad, you’ll usually be able to use a U.S.-issued chip-and-signature card for in-person transactions. Among the places where you can’t use one is at self-service kiosks and vending machines. These typically require chip-and-PIN.
Among major issuers in the U.S., Barclays offers chip-and-PIN on its cards. Some credit unions oriented toward military servicemembers who may be deployed overseas also offer chip-and-PIN functionality. If you don’t have a chip-and-PIN card, it’s not a crisis situation. You’ll just have to plan ahead and keep in mind that if you need to buy something like train tickets, you’ll have to go up to the window and buy from a live person rather than from a ticket machine.
Finally, be aware that simply having a PIN for your credit card does not make it a chip-and-PIN card. Many cards allow you to get cash advances for an ATM using a PIN. A PIN for accessing cash advances is not the same as one for verifying transactions though chip-and-PIN technology. If in doubt, ask your issuer.
Credit cards or travelers checks?
Travelers checks have been mostly replaced in travelers’ wallets by credit and debit cards, which also solve many of the security problems that travelers checks were created to address. So while you can still get travelers checks, most travelers would find them more trouble than they’re worth.
Back before credit cards were as widely used and accepted as they are today, people who didn’t want to risk carrying a lot of cash on a trip would rely on travelers checks. A traveler might go to a bank or travel agency in their hometown and buy, say, six $100 checks, which they would sign at the bank. At their destination, they’d use the checks at stores or restaurants that accepted them, or exchange them for cash at a hotel or bank. When they redeemed the check, they’d sign it again, and the recipient would compare the signatures to verify the check.
Among the advantage of travelers checks:
If they were lost or stolen, the issuer would replace them, so you didn’t lose money. Nowadays, credit card issuers can cancel a lost or stolen card and expedite a replacement just as quickly.
You could exchange them for cash far from home. The wide acceptance of credit cards makes cash less critical to carry, and credit cards can provide cash in a pinch. And, of course, debit cards can get you cash, too.
You could use them in places that didn’t accept out-of-town personal checks. Today, credit cards are accepted at millions more locations than travelers checks ever were.
Travelers checks still have their uses. But when you combine the dwindling number of places that accept travelers checks with the fees you have to pay to get them, most leisure travelers will be better off with the cards they already carry.