How to Compare Credit Cards with No Foreign Transaction Fee
Updated: June 17, 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. 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:
Compare the best credit cards with no foreign transaction fee:
|Card Name||Best For:||Foreign Transaction Fee||Issuer's Regular Foreign Fee||Annual Fee|
|Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card||Easy travel redemption||0%||None||$0|
|Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card||Sign-up bonus||0%||3%||$0|
|Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card||Flat-rate cash back||0%||None||$0|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||Flexible travel rewards||0%||3%||$95|
|Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card||No annual fee||0%||3%||$0|
|HSBC Cash Rewards Mastercard® credit card||Anniversary bonus||0%||3%||$0|
|Discover it® Cash Back||Rotating bonus categories||0%||None||$0|
|Capital One® SavorOneSM Cash Rewards Credit Card||Dining rewards||0%||None||$0|
|The Platinum Card® from American Express||International travelers||0%||2.7%||$550|
|Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card||Large sign-up bonus||0%||None||$95, $0 for first year|
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
Editor's notes on our top no foreign transaction fee cards
Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card
With its hotels.com/venture offer through January 2020, this card pulls ahead of the pack. Miles don't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how much you can earn. 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 credit card.
Bottom line: If you are looking for a flat-rate travel card with boosted benefits on hotel stays, the VentureOne is for you.
Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
The Bank of America Travel Rewards' 1.5X points on all purchases has the VentureOne Rewards beat, and ditto for the sign-up bonus. There's no expiration on points and you can earn up to 75% bonus as a Preferred Rewards customer.
While there's a 0% intro APR offer on purchases for 12 billing cycles (then a variable APR of 17.24% - 25.24%), no such luck with balance transfers.
Bottom line: If you like the idea of redemptions on a multitude of travel purchases, no loyalty necessary, this is a good option.
Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card
This card from Capital One is competing head-on with 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.
While we give the Quicksilver top marks for rewards flexibility and features, the rewards value is a paltry 1.9 out of 5 stars.
Bottom line: Among flat-rate rewards cards, the Capital One Quicksilver offers competitive ongoing rewards and sign-up bonus, making it a respectable cash back product.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
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. 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.
Bottom line: This card is considered in the industry to be one of the best travel cards, and for good reason. With a boost in points for using the Ultimate Rewards program for travel and other travel benefits, this card is a keeper.
Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card
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.
While there are boosted travel categories galore with this card, other categories such as Amazon.com and home improvement stores are slim.
Bottom line: By selecting this card over competing options, you could save a great deal long-term as the Propel offers all of these benefits with no annual fee.
HSBC Cash Rewards Mastercard® credit card
This card features a non-traditional welcome offer where the first $10,000 worth of purchases made within the first year earns a 3% cash back rate (1.5% thereafter). Along with this sign-up bonus, what makes this card stand out from the others is the 10% anniversary bonus on all cash rewards each year. There are also numerous travel and shopping benefits, including travel accident insurance and price protection refunds.
With the 0% intro APR lasing only 12 months (15.24% - 25.24% thereafter), you can find a better 0% intro APR offer on purchases and balance transfers elsewhere.
Bottom line: For a card with no annual fee, the introductory offer is superior and the ongoing rewards offer is competitive.
Discover it® Cash Back
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.
Bottom line: If you enjoy maximizing your earnings, the Discover it Cash Back can be a great card in your wallet, although even with the no annual fee, it may not be a good choice for overseas travel.
Capital One® SavorOne℠ Cash Rewards Credit Card
With its other features so prominent, you could almost miss the fact that the SavorOne comes with no foreign transaction fee. Indeed, 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.
While the Quicksilver 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.
Bottom line: It's also great as a daily driver in addition to international trips and 2% back at grocery stores is nothing to scoff at. Its cash sign-up bonus is also solid.
The Platinum Card® from American Express
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.
Bottom line: There are many exclusive features that can make The Platinum worth the cost. With Uber VIP status, a $200 airline fee credit and up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue after enrolling, this card has quite a bit of "Ooo La La."
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
The Venture Rewards' greatest asset is the 10X miles earned on hotels booked and paid through hotels.com/venture. Convenient features of the card include a credit up to $100 for Global Entry or 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.
Bottom line: This card has a sign-up bonus of 50,000 miles after a $3,000 spend in the first 3 months of card membership, as well as 2X miles on all purchases. But it's the Venture Rewards' hotel rewards feature that puts it in its very own class.
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. Many issuers have cards that are exceptions to their standard foreign transaction fee.
|Card Issuer||Foreign Transaction Fee|
|Bank of America||3%|
|U.S. Bank||3%; 2% for U.S. dollar transactions|
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 2017 data, which has been reported throughout 2018. The big exceptions to the Visa/Mastercard dominance are Asia, where UnionPay makes up 76% 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 email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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