Comparing Credit Card Offers with No Foreign Transaction Fee
Updated: June 4, 2018
You just got back from a pricey trip abroad 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?
Traveling is expensive enough. Save money with a credit card that has no foreign transaction fee. Whether you’re sampling local cuisine or shopping online abroad, these cards give you one less thing to worry about. And for even more travel perks, check out our list of travel cards from our partners.
Many credit cards charge a foreign transaction fee, but there are some that don’t. 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. To get to our top picks, we evaluated over 50 credit cards without a foreign transaction fee using the following criteria: other rates and fees, general rewards rates, sign-up bonuses, point values, redemption options, customer service and other miscellaneous travel benefits. Here are our results, along with helpful tips to help you make a decision on the right card.
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:
We not only explain what you need to know about foreign transaction fees, but also overseas travel and picking the right card. Take a look here.
At a Glance: The Best No Foreign Transaction Fee Credit Cards of 2018
|Card||Best For:||Annual Fee||Welcome Bonus||Bonus Spend Requirement|
|Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card||Best for hotel purchases||$0 intro for first year, then $95||50,000 Miles||$3,000 / 3 months|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||Best for flexible travel rewards||$0 intro for first year, then $95||50,000 Bonus Points||$4,000 / 3 months|
|Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card||Best for no annual fee||None||20,000 Miles||$1,000 / 3 months|
|Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card||Best for online bonus||None||20,000 Bonus Points||$1,000 / 90 days|
|Capital One® Quicksilver® Card||Best for flat-rate cash back||None||$150 Cash Bonus||$500 / 3 months|
|Discover it® Cash Back||Best for rotating bonus categories||None||Discover will match all the cash back earned at the end of your first year, automatically||Automatic|
|Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card||Best for foodies||None||$150 Cash Bonus||$500 / 3 months|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card||Best for airport lounge access||$450||50,000 Bonus Points||$4,000 / 3 months|
|Barclays Arrival® Premier World Elite Mastercard®||Best for heavy spenders||$150||75,000 Miles Each Year||$25,000 / year|
|Discover it® Miles||Best for flat-rate bonus miles||None||Match Mile For Mile: We'll match all the Miles you've earned at the end of your first year||Automatic|
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 percent 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.
Usually, foreign transaction fees are a percentage of the amount of each foreign currency purchase, with no minimum or maximum. The card issuing bank may choose to pass that fee along to consumers; most do, and some tack on their own fees.
Banks can add foreign transaction fees onto any credit card charge that’s processed outside of the United States. These aren’t foreign exchange fees, so you can find these charges on your credit card statement even when you make overseas purchases in US dollars. In fact, you don’t even have to leave the country to get hit with foreign transaction fees; if you so much as place an online order from a foreign company, including something as innocuous as booking an airline ticket from a carrier that doesn’t have a US-based website — you could find yourself with an additional 3 percent fee rolled into the total cost of your transaction.
The bottom line is that, like baggage and passports, foreign transaction fees have been a standard part of international travel for years. Banks can get away with these fees… so they do, both ways: Our international counterparts are also being charged these fees on their foreign credit cards whenever they make purchases from US companies and on American soil.
Fortunately, the average consumer has gotten more and more savvy to these hidden costs, and credit card companies are dropping their fees in response.
If you’d like to avoid paying these unnecessary fees on any potential foreign transactions you make (including buying a postcard stamp in Canada) – you’ll want to consider a no foreign transaction fee card similar to the ones we introduce below. Here are the ins and outs of this fee, and advice on avoiding extra charges when traveling abroad.
What our experts are saying
Credit card holders are typically charged foreign transaction fees when they purchase items while overseas or when they make purchases that use an overseas bank to process the transaction.
Why? “Because banks have to convert your money spent into U.S. dollars so they can charge your account,” said Victoria L. Fillet, a financial adviser with Blueprint Financial Planning in Hoboken, New Jersey. That conversion costs money, and some card-issuing banks pass that cost along to consumers in the form of foreign transaction fees.
According to Nessa Feddis, vice president and senior counsel for the American Bankers Association, foreign transaction fees also help banks offset the greater fraud risks associated with international transactions. "There are risks and costs associated with any money conversion,” she said.
This trend of disappearing foreign transaction fees is expected to continue, according to industry experts, which is good news for consumers.
“It’s called ‘competition,’” ABA’s Feddis said. “Cards without foreign transaction fees are widely available in a highly competitive market as banks fight to attract and keep customers. For people who don’t travel abroad it may not be important, but there are many for whom it might be very important. So you will see banks respond. It’s the customers who drive the credit card features and terms.”
Tips for spending internationally (before, during and after travel)
- Diversify. “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.” Some travel experts recommend that you carry 2 cards with different issuers and different networks.
- 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 much is the typical foreign transaction fee?
Most foreign transaction fees vary between 2 percent and 3 percent of the purchase. Often, the fee has 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, or 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.
Again, 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.
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. For example, she says, while 2 of the major card networks are less common outside of the U.S., Visa and Mastercard are more popular overseas.
- 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. “I also love that the card doesn’t require me to call [the issuer] or to log in online to notify them of upcoming travel before I take off,” McNish says.
- Chip and PIN or chip and signature? Most U.S.-based cards are chip and signature (for now), while in other parts of the world, such as Europe, they use chip and PIN. Both are designed for increased safety. (If your card is exclusively magnetic stripe, (the old, common system) that could be an issue for overseas travel – best to apply for a card that carries the chip technology, called EMV.) For the most part, chip and signature will work fine overseas, provided there is a cashier, but if this is an issue for you, check with your bank to see if your card uses a PIN.
- 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.
Want more information?
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!
In summary, here are our picks for the best credit cards for international travel with no foreign transaction fee:
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