Study: Credit Cards for International Travel 2017
Traveling abroad? Before you leave home, make sure your credit card is prepared for the trip.
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The best credit cards for international travel have no foreign transaction fees, chip technology and worldwide acceptance. Read this before you take off.
The 3 Big Factors to Consider
When looking for a credit card for international travel, we recommend focusing on three key factors to start:
- Foreign transaction fee: When you travel outside the country, paying by credit card gets a bit complicated. Many cards charge a foreign transaction fee that adds about 3% to every one of your purchases.
If you travel internationally often, these fees can really start to add up. Spending $1,000 while overseas could mean an additional $30 in fees with the wrong card.
You don't want to add 3% to your entire trip. With so many cards with no foreign transaction fees, there's no reason why you should pay them at all.
- Chip technology: A credit card with a smart chip helps out a lot with global acceptance.
There are two types of smart chips: chip-and-signature and chip-and-PIN. Most U.S. banks are issuing chip-and-signature these days while most European banks are issuing chip-and-PIN credit cards. Just like miles vs. kilometers, the U.S. just has to do things differently.
What does that mean for you? Well, while having a smart chip helps, there is still the occasional unmanned kiosk, like on a highway tollbooth, that will require a PIN. If you run into this problem, some machines will let you hit cancel to continue. Hitting cancel to continue doesn't make much sense, but sometimes, it works. However, sometimes you might just have to use another payment method.
- Worldwide acceptance: No foreign transaction fee and the right smart chip are two signs you have the right card, but it won't do you much good if the merchant doesn't accept the card's network. While American Express and Discover are popular in the United States, that might not be the case where you're going.
Generally speaking, we recommend that folks traveling abroad carry a Visa or MasterCard.
But that doesn't mean you have to leave your Discover card your home if you already have one. Discover doesn't have any foreign transaction fees and does have partnerships with other networks such as China UnionPay and JCB. China UnionPay is accepted widely across China, and JCB is accepted widely in Japan. So, bring the Discover card along, but it's probably a good idea to have a backup.Tip: Most travel credit cards are only for those with great credit score. If you have less than excellent credit, you may need to consider a credit card for fair credit.
Once you know the three most important factors, start to take a look at the travel benefits for individual cards. Some offer special perks, but you usually have to pay for them.
Top Credit Cards for International Travel
Redeeming miles toward flights and hotel stays always comes in handy for travelers. While there are many travel cards that offer these benefits, they usually limit you to one airline network or hotel chain.
In our opinion, these cards are the best travel companions to have around on your next trip.
Tip: Because Barclaycard Arrival Plus gives you 2x points on all purchases, you'll rack up the points faster than you would with the Chase Sapphire Preferred. But with Barclarcard, you don't have the option to transfer miles to frequent flyer programs. The card that's better for you all depends on how you like to play the air miles game. You can read our comparative review here.
The Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard earns 2x miles on all purchases and lets you redeem your miles for any travel purchase with any airline, hotel, or car rental agency. This gives you the flexibility you need to travel the world without blackout dates to worry about.
The Arrival Plus also boasts no foreign transaction fees, chip technology and worldwide MasterCard acceptance.Tip: Most US-based credit cards only support Chip or Signature. While the Barclaycard Arrival defaults to signature verification, it also supports PIN verification technology. That means you can use your PIN at the automated kiosks and unmanned gas pumps that you'll find in Europe.
Deal Alert: Spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days to earn 50,000 bonus miles. 50,000 bonus miles is enough to redeem a $500 travel statement credit.
Watch Out: The Barclaycard Arrival Plus does come with a price tag: an $89 annual fee.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred is another great international card with the following benefits:
- No foreign transaction fees
- A smart chip for enhanced security and wide acceptance
- It's Visa, so it's accepted in many places around the world.
Deal Alert: Right now, their promotion earns you 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, Chase's online travel portal.
You can earn 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases worldwide.
What else? If you're already into airline miles, you know how lucrative they can be. The Chase Sapphire Preferred lets you transfer points, on a 1:1 basis, to leading frequent travel programs, such as United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Marriott, Hyatt, and even the Ritz-Carlton.Related: Learn more about airline and hotel loyalty programs with our beginner's guide to airline miles and credit card points.
The card also has premium travel and purchase protection benefits, including trip cancellation, trip interruption insurance, and auto rental collision damage waiver.
Watch Out: Is there a catch? Yes. It has an annual fee (introductory annual fee of $0 the first year, then $95), so only serious travelers should consider this credit card. Otherwise, it will cost you more than it rewards you.
To learn more about the Chase Sapphire Preferred, read our review and analysis on whether the benefits are worth it for you.
- No foreign transaction fees
Other Cards to Consider
Tip: Do you have existing credit card debt? If so, instead of focusing on rewards, focus on low interest credit cards. You can do a balance transfer to help pay off credit card debt fast.
- Capital One Venture Rewards earns 2x miles per dollar but has an annual fee. The Capital One VentureOne Rewards card earns 1.25 miles per dollar but has no annual fee. Both cards have no foreign transaction fees.
- Don't like annual fees? Discover it Miles will match all the miles you've earned at the end of your first year. This offer is limited to new cardmembers only. This card earns 1.5x miles on all purchases and has no annual fee.
Plus, Discover will pay you back for your in-flight WiFi fees, up to $30 a year, through an automatic statement credit.
- Business Travelers: Ink Business Preferred lets you earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. 80,000 points is worth $1,000 toward travel when you redeem via Chase Ultimate Rewards. Earn 3 points per $1 on the first $150,000 spent in combined purchases on travel, shipping purchases, Internet, cable and phone services, advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines each account anniversary year. Earn 1 point per $1 on all other purchases—with no limit to the amount you can earn. There are no foreign transaction fees. There is a $95 annual fee.
Why It Matters
Imagine this: you are in Paris and you need to get on a train to London.
However, your credit card isn't working and you don't have enough cash for a ticket. You'll be helpless as you watch the train leave without you.
This happens to many Americans, all because they didn't have the right credit card for traveling abroad. Besides trying to deal with your credit card not working in a foreign country, you could also be charged a fee for every swipe. This could put a huge damper on your vacation when you get home and see the bill.
Before you take that next big trip, prepare for these very-avoidable travel mishaps by getting a credit card ideal for using out of the country.
Not only will this help your purchases go more smoothly while abroad, these cards offer many other travel benefits, including access to great deals on flights and hotels, rewards for everyday purchases, travel insurance, and more. In fact, it's smart to get started on applying for that new card before your next trip, as you can save hundreds of dollars on airfare with the lucrative sign-up bonuses.Tip: Have great credit? Many travel credit cards offer huge bonus points when you sign up and meet the spending requirement.
Before you go: Remember to notify your bank about your travel plans, especially if you plan to visit a place you have never been to. When banks see a bunch of unusual charges to your credit card, they might suspect fraud and start to decline transactions. For that reason, we always recommend you carry more than one type of payment just in case.
Check out our Beginner's Guide to Airline Miles and Points before you go. Once you learn how to navigate the miles and points system, you'll be racking up some serious rewards in no time.
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. This site may be compensated through the Advertiser's affiliate programs.
Disclaimer: The information for the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card, Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card, and Discover it® Miles have been collected independently by CreditDonkey. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
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