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Best credit cards for international travel

Summary

The best credit cards for international travel can make traversing the globe a more comfortable and rewarding experience. Compare our top picks to see how they work for your travel style and goals.

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The best credit cards for international travel can make traversing the globe a more comfortable and rewarding experience. You can score valuable travel perks like airport lounge access and expedited airport security, and some cards even let you avoid unnecessary foreign transaction fees. The top travel cards in the market also let you earn points and miles you can redeem for free flights, hotel stays and more.

If you’re in the market for a credit card for international travel, you’ll want to compare all the top cards to see how they might work for your travel style and goals. Keep reading to learn about the best credit cards for travel overseas, what they offer in terms of perks and rewards, and how you can sign up.

See related:  Holiday shopping and credit card guide 2019

The best credit card for international travel

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Our rating: 4.6 out of 5
Score required: Excellent
Spending categories: Travel, dining

Our take: The Chase Sapphire Reserve is both a great travel companion and one of your best options for collecting points for free travel.

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  • 3x points on travel and dining (1x points on other purchases)
  • 50,000 points if you spend $4,000 in first 3 months
  • 50% bonus for travel redemptions through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Transfer miles 1:1 to 11 travel partners
  • $300 annual travel credit
  • Up to $100 credit for Global Entry/TSA PreCheck
  • Priority Pass lounge access
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $550 annual fee

 

The Chase Sapphire Reserve is frequently named the top travel credit card, for good reason. This card gives you 3x points on travel and dining purchases plus 1 point per $1 on everything else you buy. You can also earn 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 on your card within three months of account opening.

Redemption options are very flexible: You can redeem rewards as statement credits toward any travel purchase, or for travel through the Chase portal to get a 50 percent redemption bonus (making your points worth 1.5 cents apiece). Also, you can transfer your points at a 1:1: rate to 11 travel partners, including United MileagePlus and Southwest Rapid Rewards.

In exchange for the $550 annual fee, you’ll also receive excellent travel benefits like a TSA Precheck or Global Entry credit and a Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership. Furthermore, the card comes with some of the best travel protections around, including trip cancellation and interruption insurance and primary car rental insurance.

The card also offers a $300 annual travel credit that applies to most travel purchases. So, if you make at least $300 in travel purchases each year, you’ll cancel out most of the card’s fee.

Best credit card for international lounge access

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Our rating: 4.5 out of 5
Score required: Good to excellent
Spending categories: Airfare, hotels

Our take: The Amex Platinum card’s bevy of travel perks – including airport lounge access – can help you travel abroad in style.

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  • 5x points on airfare booked directly with airlines or through AmexTravel.com
  • 5x points on prepaid hotels booked through AmexTravel.com
  • 1x points on other purchases
  • 60,000 points if you spend $5,000 in first 3 months
  • $200 annual airline fee credit
  • Up to $200 in annual Uber credits
  • Airport lounge access
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $550 annual fee

Frequent travelers who want superior perks should also consider The Platinum Card from American Express. This card gives you 5x points on airfare booked with airlines or through AmexTravel.com as well as 5x points on prepaid hotels booked through AmexTravel.com. You also get 1 point per $1 on everything else you buy as well as 60,000 points when you use your card for $5,000 in purchases within three months.

While you may not want to go solo with the Platinum card due to its more limited acceptance in foreign countries, you’ll find that the card is a great choice for getting comfortably to your destination. The Platinum card is piled with perks, including access to one of the largest and lushest lounge networks in the world, encompassing Amex Centurion lounges, Delta SkyClub lounges and the Priority Pass network.

Furthermore, the card is laden with valuable travel credits, including a $200 airline fee credit, up to $200 in Uber credits each year, and a $100 hotel credit. The credits can be trickier to apply than the Sapphire Reserve’s travel credit (the airline fee credit, for instance, only applies to incidentals on one airline that you must designate at the start of each year). However, if you know how to use the Platinum card’s perks, you can easily outmatch the $550 annual fee.

Best flexible card for international travel

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

Our rating: 4.2 out of 5
Score required: Good to excellent
Type of card: Travel
Spending categories: Hotels, general

Our take: If you’re looking for the simplest way to earn a lot of miles for free travel, the Capital One Venture card is a good bet.

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  • 10x miles at hotels.com/venture through Jan. 2020
  • 2x miles on all purchases
  • 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 in first 3 months
  • Transfer miles 2:1.5 to 15 airline partners
  • Up to $100 credit for Global Entry/TSA PreCheck
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $95 annual fee; $0 first year

 

The Capital One Venture Rewards card offers an interesting rewards proposition and miles you can use in more than one way. Once you sign up, you’ll rack up a flat 2x miles for each dollar you spend and 10x miles on hotels booked and paid for through hotels.com/venture through Jan. 2020. The card also offers a very generous 50,000-mile bonus after you spend $3,000 within three months of account opening.

Redemption is simple and straightforward: You can redeem Capital One miles for any type of travel on your credit card statement at a rate of 1 cent per mile using the Capital One Purchase Eraser. Or, if you’re a bargain hunter and want to get a little extra value out of your miles, you can transfer them to 15 airline partners at a rate of 2 miles per 1.5 points.

The card also offers a couple features that make it a great choice for taking it abroad: It doesn’t charge any foreign transaction fees, and you’ll get up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck membership, which can help you get through customs and security much faster.

Best international credit card with no annual fee

Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card

Our rating: 3.4 out of 5
Score required: Good to excellent
Spending categories: Flat-rate card

Our take: If you want to avoid an annual fee, the Bank of America Travel Rewards card is one of your best options for traveling internationally.

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  • 1.5x points on every purchase
  • 25,000 points if you spend $1,000 in first 90 days
  • Up to 75% bonus rewards for Bank of America Preferred Rewards members
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Add a PIN for international travel
  • No annual fee

 

While we generally prefer premium travel cards over no-annual-fee travel cards, if you’re trying to avoid an annual fee, you should check out the Bank of America Travel Rewards card. For international trips, the Bank of America Travel card is a great choice – it doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, plus you can add a PIN number to your card.

A PIN number is a convenient option for foreign countries where chip and pin cards are standard – you can use your card in more places, including unattended terminals that require PIN numbers.

The Bank of America Travel card also offers a solid rewards program: You get 25,000 points when you spend $1,000 on your card within the first 90 days, plus an unlimited 1.5 points for each dollar that you spend. When it comes to redeeming your rewards, you can cash them in for travel purchases at a rate of 1 cent per point, or for gift cards, merchandise and more.

Best international credit card for students

Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students

Our rating: 3 out of 5
Score required: No credit history
Spending categories: Flat-rate card

Our take: The Bank of America Travel student card is a great choice for students traveling abroad thanks to its lack of foreign transaction fees.

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  • 1.5x points on every purchase
  • 25,000 points if you spend $1,000 in first 90 days
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • No annual fee

 

If you’re a student with no credit history trying to qualify for a travel card, you should check out the Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students. The card offers a couple of key advantages: It doesn’t charge an annual fee, and it doesn’t charge any foreign transaction fees, which means you can use it for international travel without racking up a ton of extra fees.

It also offers an exceptionally good rewards program for a student travel card. You get the same 25,000-point sign-up bonus as the regular Bank of America Travel card and the same 1.5-point earning rate, allowing you to rack up lots of points that you can use to fund your travels.

Redemption is just as easy and flexible as the regular Bank of America Travel card – you can redeem points as statement credits to cover any travel purchase.

Compare top credit cards for international travel

RewardsAnnual fee
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
  • 3x points on travel and dining
  • 1x points on other purchases
  • 50,000 points if you spend $4,000 in first 3 months
$550
The Platinum Card® from American Express
  • 5x points on airfare booked directly with airlines or through AmexTravel.com
  • 5x points on prepaid hotels booked through AmexTravel.com
  • 1x points on other purchases
  • 60,000 points if you spend $5,000 in first 3 months
$550
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
  • 10x miles at hotels.com/venture through Jan. 2020
  • 2x miles on other purchases
  • 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 in first 3 months
$95
Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
  • 1.5x points on every purchase
  • 25,000 points if you spend $1,000 in first 90 days
$0
Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students
  • 1.5x points on every purchase
  • 25,000 points if you spend $1,000 in first 90 days
$0

How to choose an international travel card

When choosing a card for international travel, you’ll want to look for rewards and benefits that match your travel plans and preferences. Most importantly – you need a card that you can use where you’re planning to travel. Here are the most important features to consider:

  • Global acceptance – Visa and Mastercard are most likely to be accepted around the globe, although American Express is also widely accepted in some parts of the world. Make sure you select a card that will be accepted where you travel the most.
  • No foreign transaction fees – Choosing a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees will save you from paying an additional 3 percent or more on purchases you make abroad.
  • Chip and PIN technology – Chip and PIN technology is immensely helpful when you travel abroad, but not all travel credit cards offer this perk. See which cards have chip and PIN technology before you choose a card.
  • Good exchange rates – One big benefit of using a credit card with no foreign transaction fees is that the currency you pay with will be converted to your home currency with no fees required on your part. Mastercard typically offers slightly better rates than its competitors.
  • Earning categories – The best credit cards for international travel tend to offer bonuses on certain categories of spend. Search for cards with category bonuses that match your spending patterns.
  • Good redemption options – The top cards in this realm let you redeem for travel directly or transfer points to airline and hotel partners at a good value (generally, more than 1 cent per point or mile). The more options you have and the more value you get on your points and miles, the better off you’ll be.
  • Travel insurance benefits – The best travel credit cards offer free travel insurance like trip cancellation/interruption coverage, auto rental coverage, lost baggage insurance, baggage delay coverage and travel accident insurance.
  • Airport lounge access – Look for cards that let you enter a range of airport lounges at airports around the globe, but specifically in destinations you travel to often.
  • Global Entry/TSA Precheck – Also look for credit cards that offer a Global Entry or TSA Precheck credit. Both these benefits let you enjoy expedited airport security, saving you time and stress when you travel.
  • Hotel or airline preferences – If you travel frequently with certain hotels or airlines, you’ll find that certain cards are a better fit for you. On the other hand, if you aren’t loyal to any hotel or airline program, you may be better off with a more flexible travel card.
  • Origin/destination of travel – Make sure that the card’s rewards and benefits fit with your travel plans. For instance, some cards may offer better lounge options along your route, or you may find that certain rewards cards don’t offer good redemption options where you’re planning to travel.
  • Customer service – Having a card with excellent customer service could come in handy in case of an emergency. According to J.D. Power’s 2019 U.S. Credit Card Satisfaction Study, Discover and American Express received the highest marks for customer service satisfaction this year, followed by Capital One.

Tips for using credit cards while traveling internationally

  • Notify your card issuer that you will be out of the country to reduce the chance of them freezing your account at an inconvenient time.
  • Bring multiple credit cards (preferably from different payment networks) in case a merchant doesn’t accept your main card, or your card gets declined.
  • Rotate your cards to get better rewards on certain purchases.
  • Have plenty of cash on hand for situations where you can’t use your credit cards.
  • If you are traveling to a country with chip and PIN cards, see if your issuer will allow you to add a PIN to your card.
  • Have your card information and your issuer’s emergency card services phone number on hand in case your card gets lost or stolen.
  • Opt to put your charges in the local currency to avoid paying more for the currency conversion.
  • Use your credit cards instead of cash where you can – as long as you are charging in the foreign currency, you can get a better exchange rate.
  • Avoid using your cards for cash advances, unless it’s an absolute emergency.
  • Use your credit card instead of a debit card to make purchases – not only can you avoid foreign transaction fees, but your purchases are more secure.

See related: 10 credit and money tips for travel abroad

Bottom line

Picking a credit card for foreign travel can be an especially complicated choice. While you may have your eye out for a card with a large sign-up bonus and lots of points, you should have some travel goals in mind before you choose a card. If you know where and how you intend to travel, you’re more likely to find a card that can take you far in your journeys.

The Bank of America content was last updated on March 3, 2020. 

Editorial Disclaimer

The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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