How To Avoid Extra Credit Card Fees During International Travel

by joeheg

Going on an international trip is very exciting but it can also be very expensive. Using a credit card to pay for purchases when traveling internationally is often the best way to get a good exchange rate and the rate your bank gets will be better than the one you’ll get on your own if you exchange cash. Using a card also means that you don’t have to carry around a bunch of cash with you. However, many cards will add on a “foreign transaction fee” to any transactions made with anything except your home currency. Here’s an easy way to keep from paying that extra 2-3 percent on all of your purchases while away.

One thing to note is these charges will apply to any charges in a different currency, even if you’re still in your home country. Are you buying train tickets online to take the Eurostar train between London and Paris, or are you getting tickets to do Bridge Climb in Sydney during your trip to Australia?  If you are buying from a company outside the United States, that purchase will include a foreign transaction fee, EVEN if the price quoted to you is in dollars. The rule of thumb is if it’ll happen outside of your home country, use a card that avoids these fees.


If you go to Sydney, Australia, don’t miss out on Bridge Climb….. but make sure to use a card that doesn’t charge extra fees to pay for it.

Personal cards that don’t charge fees

I’ll try to break this list into categories to make it easier to look through and I’ll note the ones with no annual fees. This list is only for personal cards, not business cards. I’d also like to mention that while American Express and Discover have several cards on this list, their acceptance outside the US is limited. I’d suggest having a backup Visa or MasterCard just in case. This list is also not exhaustive as new cards are adding this benefit all the time.

Cards that earn transferable points:

Cards that earn airline miles:

Cards that earn hotel points:

Cards that earn points that can be used for travel expenses:

This is a hybrid category because these cards essentially earn cash but you can only spend the cash on travel expenses

  • Barclaycard Arrival Plus
  • Bank of America Travel Rewards (No annual fee)
  • Bank of America Premium Rewards
  • Discover it Miles (No annual fee)
  • PenFed Premium Travel Rewards
  • Wells Fargo Propel American Express (No annual fee) 

Cards that earn cashback

  • Amazon Rewards Visa (No annual fee)
  • Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards (No annual fee) 
  • Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards  (No annual fee) 
  • Costco Anywhere Visa (No annual fee w/ Costco membership)
  • Discover it Cashback Match (No annual fee)

This list is by no means complete and cards can change their policies at any time. I’m not going to be able to come back and update this every time they do so I’d appreciate it if you’d let me know if you discover any changes, or if there’s a card I left out.


There is no shortage of cards on this list, including several that have no annual fee, so it’s much easier to avoid these fees when traveling internationally. I personally use either the Citi Prestige or Chase Sapphire when I’m out of town, especially in another country. Both of these cards are accepted in most places and have international customer service if you have a problem. They’ll even overnight your card to you wherever you are if it’s lost or stolen.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


Biggie F August 12, 2017 - 9:53 pm

A few other things (mostly euro-centric):

2. Often when you are checking out of a hotel (maybe some other times, but not a typical question at a restaurant), you are asked, “Should we put that through for you in dollars or in euros?” Sometimes it’s phrased in such a way as to make you think that they are doing you a service in letting your charge go straight to dollars. It’s not. It’s a disservice. You should always opt for euros or whatever the local currency is. Exchange rate is better. Keep a heads up on this one — at least one time this summer I was handed a card-reader to okay with things already loaded up in dollars. Demur. Tell them euros. Or kopecks. Or whatever.

3. I have read that you might actually do better with a MC than a Visa. E.g., Citi Prestige rather than a Chase Visa. This recent article (just Googled it) suggests that this is possibly slightly true, but also makes the important point that the difference is so small relative to using a no-fee card and/or whatever the points values (to you) are of whatever card you are using that you can probably pretend that you never read this paragraph.

4. Take a lot of cards with you (but not your Amex Everyday and any other poisonous transaction-fee-abroad card), especially newer ones with chips, since you’ll occasionally run into places where generic U.S. cards don’t work. At a restaurant you can always sign in lieu of a pin number. But at, say, a kiosk for buying train tickets in France, you may have to scramble. What works is evolving. That’s why you want to bring your armamentarium (sp?) with you.

5. Which brings us to cash: Yeah, you may occasionally need some, like at a French train ticket machine, or in a market, or in Argentina, but in general you don’t. So don’t bring much and don’t buy much and don’t be that guy (or gal) going into those convenient currency exchange places. Better to just drop dollars or euros on the sidewalk. Do hit the ATM machines you see with your local ATM/debit card. If you are in a place for awhile, you may discover that some banks network with your home bank better, but the main point is act like you are at home: Only get cash when you need it, and get it from an ATM. If you go back to Europe a lot, then all the leftover currency from ignoring this advice won’t represent “breakage” that will dwarf the effect of whatever you have saved by using the right credit card to avoid foreign transaction fees, but then if you go to Europe a lot maybe you don’t need any of this unsolicited advice.

joeheg August 15, 2017 - 10:40 am

Thanks for such a thorough reply. I totally agree with all of what you said here. I wrote the article because we’ve had several readers ask us “What card should I use when traveling to XXXXX?”. Saving the 2-3% by avoiding the fees is the easiest way to save money. When it comes to avoiding dynamic currency conversion or the difference between exchange rates for MC or Visa is small potatoes in comparison. As for the Chip + PIN cards, I already wrote a post about that one. You can find it here. The main travel cards with Chip + PIN and no international fees are the Barclays Aviator Cards and the Arrival+ and I’d always suggest traveling with one of those cards when overseas.

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