How to Compare Credit Cards with No Foreign Transaction Fee
Updated: December 4, 2019
You just got back from a pricey international trip and while reviewing your credit card statement, you noticed the expected airfare, lodging and food charges, but also “foreign transaction fee” charges. What's that all about?
Many credit cards charge a foreign transaction fee, but there are some that don't. In fact, the number of cards with a foreign transaction fee hit 52 out of 100 in 2018, down from 77 three years ago, according to the CreditCards.com card fee survey.
If you are a frequent traveler or shop online with overseas vendors, it might be worth your while to find a card without a foreign transaction fee. Here, we not only explain what you need to know about foreign transaction fees, but also how to plan for your overseas travel financial strategy, and pick the right card to accompany your travels. Take a look below:
Best no foreign transaction fee credit cards
Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card
Why it's the best no foreign transaction fee credit card for low interest
The VentureOne's regular APR is one of the lowest among travel credit cards at 13.74%-23.74% variable.
Miles don't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how much you can earn with the VentureOne. You also get Visa Signature benefits, such as extended warranty and complimentary concierge service.
The VentureOne Rewards card has a lukewarm 1.25X miles on all purchases and the sign-up bonus is better with the Bank of America Travel Rewards Visa credit card.
Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card
Why it's the best no foreign transaction fee credit card for flat-rate cash back
The Quicksilver competes head-on with other flat-rate rewards cards: It gets 1.5% back on all purchases and has a sign-up bonus of $150 for spending $500 in the first 3 months.
Perfect for the cardholder with a moderate balance to pay off, this card offers 0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers. It's 15.74%-25.74% variable APR after that.
While we give the Quicksilver top marks for rewards flexibility and features, the rewards value is a paltry 1.9 out of 5 stars.
Bank of America® Travel Rewards Visa® credit card
Why it's the best no foreign transaction fee credit card for flat rewards rate
The Bank of America Travel Rewards Visa credit card's 1.5X points on all purchases has the VentureOne Rewards beat, and there's no expiration on points, as long as your account remains open with active charging privileges.
The Travel Rewards' card's sign-up bonus is strong for a card with no annual fee, and you can earn up to 75% bonus as a Preferred Rewards customer.
While there's a special intro APR offer on purchases for 12 billing cycles, (16.49%-24.49% variable APR therefter), no such luck with balance transfers.
Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card
Why it's the best no foreign transaction fee credit card for dining
The SavorOne is a great choice for travel abroad – its 3% cash back on dining and entertainment can really shine if you take it with you on vacation domestically or overseas.
With its other features so prominent, you could almost miss the fact that the SavorOne comes with no foreign transaction fee, as well as no annual fee. It's 0% intro APR for 15 months with both purchases and balance transfers is also worth a look. It's 15.74%-25.74% variable after that.
While the SavorOne competes nicely in ongoing rewards with other cash back cards, you might do better when compared to a travel card, such as the Venture Rewards, if you are comfortable with an annual fee.
Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Why it's the best no foreign transaction fee credit card for no annual fee
Not only does the Propel feature excellent rewards that can be enjoyed both domestically and abroad, it offers no annual fee to boot.
The Propel's 3X points per dollar spent on travel and dining is a surefire way to rack up rewards on your business trip or vacation. If you know you'll be making a major international trip soon, you'll want to take advantage of its 30,000-point sign-up bonus for spending $3,000 in the first 3 months – that is a $300 cash redemption value.
While there are boosted travel categories galore with this card, other categories such as Amazon.com and home improvement stores are slim.
Discover it® Cash Back
Why it's the best no foreign transaction fee credit card for rotating bonus categories
The Discover it Cash Back is one of the few cards out there that offers 5% back on up to $1,500 in spend each quarter that you activate on rotating categories such as restaurants, wholesale clubs and even Amazon.com.
With Discover's famous Cashback Match, this card's rewards are tough to beat. After activating, you can earn up to $300 for the year if you use the 5% rotating categories to the maximum of $1,500 a quarter (then 1%, then another $300 back the end of your first year due to the Cashback Match.
Discover cards are accepted at fewer international locations than a credit card in the Visa or Mastercard network. If you have upcoming trips to a specific destination in mind, it's a good idea to do some research on how commonly accepted Discover is in that region.
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
Why it's the best no foreign transaction fee credit card for sign-up bonus
The Venture Rewards' sign-up bonus is straightforward and plentiful – earn 50,000 miles after spending $3,000 within the first 3 months of card membership.
Convenient features of the Venture Rewards include a credit up to $100 for Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check and the ability to transfer miles to a multitude of airline partners.
While the Venture Rewards' ongoing rewards has its advantages over the Sapphire Preferred, the Chase card's sign-up bonus is superior, as are its travel and dining options.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Why it's the best no foreign transaction fee credit card for travel rewards
The best no foreign transaction fee credit card is hands down the Sapphire Preferred; it also happens to be the best for travel rewards. The 2X points back on worldwide travel and dining out are some of the best travel rewards out there. And because of the Sapphire Preferred's unique position as a Chase Ultimate Rewards card, you can earn a 25% bonus when redeeming points for travel on the Ultimate Rewards portal.
With some of the best travel and shopping benefits on the market, there's a little-known benefit of the Sapphire Preferred – you can get primary rental car waiver damage, which means this insurance is used even before your personal auto insurance.
As great as the Chase Ultimate Rewards program is, this card only gives boosted rewards for travel and dining, while other travel cards, such as the Venture Rewards, reward at a higher rate for other types of spending.
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Why it's the best no foreign transaction fee credit card for international travelers
With 3X points on international travel after your $300 travel credit and 3X points on international dining, the Sapphire Reserve rewards mightily for these types of international spending, as well as domestically.
There are 2 features with this card that make it worthy of your attention – the $300 annual travel credit and the boosted rewards when you redeem your points through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.
The annual fee can be a bit of a shocker. Also, the sign-up bonus (50,000 points) is actually lower than the Sapphire Preferred (60,000 points), even with the same parameters of a $4,000 spend within the first 3 months, although it's true that the Reserve's Ultimate Rewards boost is higher than that of the Preferred.
The Platinum Card® from American Express
Why it's the best no foreign transaction fee credit card for lounge access
It's hard to find a better card than The Platinum Card for international travel when you are searching for lounge access. Enjoy access to the Global Lounge Collection, which Amex says is the only credit card airport lounge access program that includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
This high-end card offers flexibility while traveling, with 5X points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel and on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com. The introductory bonus of 60,000 points after a $5,000 spend within the first 3 months is also worth a second look.
The Platinum Card from American Express' annual fee is a pricey $550, enough to give any cardholder pause.
Compare the best credit cards with no foreign transaction fee:
|Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card
|Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card
||Flat-rate cash back
|Bank of America® Travel Rewards Visa® credit card
||Flat rewards rate
|Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card
|Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
||No annual fee
|Discover it® Cash Back
||Rotating bonus categories
|Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
||$95, $0 for first year
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
|Chase Sapphire Reserve®
|The Platinum Card® from American Express
Our Research Methodology
No foreign transaction fee credit cards analyzed: 938
Criteria used: Rates and fees, rewards rates, rewards categories, sign-up bonuses, point values, redemption options, redemption flexibility, credit needed, travel benefits, transfer partners, international customer service, security, ease of application
What is a foreign transaction fee?
Foreign transaction fees are charges – usually around 3% of the total amount – that many credit card issuers and payment networks place on purchases made in a foreign currency or on purchases that involve a foreign bank.
A foreign transaction can be a purchase processed through a foreign bank (such as when you buy something from a non-U.S. retailer website), or when you travel overseas, including when you use an ATM. Note that there can actually be multiple fees at a foreign ATM, including a flat-rate international ATM surcharge as well as an ATM access fee.
The bottom line is that, like baggage and passports, foreign transaction fees have been a standard part of international travel for years. Fortunately, the average consumer has gotten more and more savvy to these hidden costs, and credit card companies are dropping their fees in response. Today, many of the travel credit cards and airline credit cards come with no foreign transaction fees.
How much is the typical foreign transaction fee?
Often, the foreign transaction fees have two parts: one charged by the payment network, such as Visa and Mastercard, and one charged by the card issuer, which can be anything from a bank like Chase to a brand like Hilton.
Networks Visa and Mastercard typically charge a 1 percent fee for each foreign transaction. Issuers might tack on an additional 1 to 2 percent. American Express, which doesn't use Visa or Mastercard's payment system, often tacks on a foreign transaction fee of 2.7 percent onto its cards.
Foreign transaction fees by card issuer
Below are the standard foreign transaction fees for top issuers. Some issuers, like Capital One and Discover, elect not to charge a foreign transaction fee on any of their credit cards. Of course, even different cards from the same brand can vary in their fees.
||Foreign Transaction Fee
|Bank of America
||3%; 2% for U.S. dollar transactions
Though most card issuers have a standard foreign transaction fee, many also offer cards that are exceptions to their fee:
American Express credit cards with no foreign transaction fees
Bank of America credit cards with no foreign transaction fees
Capital One credit cards with no foreign transaction fees
Chase credit cards with no foreign transaction fees
Citi credit cards with no foreign transaction fees
Discover credit cards with no foreign transaction fees
Wells Fargo credit cards with no foreign transaction fees
Which credit cards are the most internationally accepted?
While Visa is number one in most parts of the world, Mastercard is usually second, according to The Nilson Report's 2018 data, which was reported throughout 2019. The big exceptions to the Visa/Mastercard dominance are Asia, where UnionPay makes up about 80% of all card spending, and Canada, where Interac comes in second with 30% of the market there.
The general rule is to have two types of cards in your wallet, just in case your favorite card isn't accepted. That means different issuers and different card networks.
“My biggest tip for spending overseas is to diversify; always carry both cash and credit,” says Lyn Alden, world traveler and founder of Lyn Alden Investment Strategy. “Credit cards are safer, more convenient and give better rewards, so I use them as my primary spending method. But when you're outside of your country, it's critical to have backups, and to have alternate ways to spend.”
Generally, you will find that major hotels, restaurants and other locations that tourists frequent are accustomed to accepting credit cards. It gets tricky when you go off the beaten path. That's why it's a good idea to have cash on hand if you plan to "experience like the locals."
Tips for spending internationally (before, during and after travel)
- Know your card terms. If you can't readily find information about foreign transaction fees, pick up the phone and call the number on the back of your card. It should also be displayed with your “rates and fees” clause. Note that terms of cards from the same issuer can vary. If you travel often, it may make sense to apply for a credit card that does not charge foreign transaction fees.
- Research your overseas bank network. Check if your bank is part of a global ATM network that you can use to access cash overseas for free – or at least at a lower cost.
- Always pay in the local currency. Sometimes, foreign merchants will offer to convert your purchase to U.S. dollars before you pay with your card. Decline so that you avoid dynamic currency conversion costs that you'll have to shoulder. “So many places try to say ‘convenience,' but the rate is not favorable to the traveler,” says travel blogger Suzanne Wolko of PhilaTravelGirl.com.
- About those traveler's checks. “Don't bother; they are too much of a hassle,” says Wolko.
- Call your bank. Make sure they are aware that you may use your ATM card in the country you will be traveling to, says Wolko.
- Use only credit abroad. Some travel experts actually advise that you not use a debit card in a foreign country. That's because you are protected when there is an unauthorized charge on your credit card, and you might be protected if a product isn't delivered as promised. A debit card, with your PIN, can mean free money for the bad guys, if your bank doesn't have protections in place for you. Check with your financial institution.
- Try local apps. Wolko advises that you use apps tied to your credit card to avoid dealing with cash or credit cards, such as Uber, Lyft or MyTaxi.
How to choose the right credit card with no foreign transaction fee
- Does the card fit your lifestyle? OneSavvyDollar.com founder Ogechi Igbokwe says he knew that once he graduated from grad school, he planned to travel overseas, so a card with no foreign transaction fee made sense.
- Does it come with an annual fee? Says Igbokwe: “Golden rule when making a purchase: The cost of getting a thing must never outweigh the benefit.” So, make sure you will recoup on the annual fee or that the card has an advantage that makes the fee worthwhile.
- Is it widely accepted? “A no foreign transaction fee card is only good if it is accepted everywhere you go,” says Natasha Rachel Smith of TopCashback.com.
- Any rewards? Because there is such a wide range of cards offering no foreign transaction fee, you'll want to look at rewards that are offered. However, “Prior to applying for any card, check the terms and conditions to make sure the card allows you to receive rewards on international purchases,” says Smith.
- What other features are there? Krista Canfield McNish, of travel website and blog FoodWaterShoes.com, has a card that covers up to $1,500 in trip cancellation/trip interruption insurance per trip for nonrefundable expenses due to personal or family injury, illness, or death if you booked your trip with your card, which she says is a handy bonus.
- Have you done your research? “Keep in mind that not every country is U.S. credit card-friendly (for example, European cards are more likely to work in countries like Cuba than U.S. credit cards), so it's a good idea to do your homework before you take off,” says McNish.
More information on travel rewards
Once you narrow your choice down to a few products, you can find product-specific reviews for travel cards, hotel cards and airline cards. Use these reviews to help make your final application decisions!
Robin Ratcliff is the managing editor for reviews on CreditCards.com. Before CreditCards.com, she worked as a analyst and editor, and still brings that same analytical rigor to her card recommendations today. You can reach Robin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tracy Brackman is a credit card news editor at CreditCards.com, writing breaking news stories on card updates and new card launches. You can reach Tracy at email@example.com.
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