Study: Credit Cards for International Travel
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 folks focus on 3 important factors:
- Foreign transaction fee: When you travel outside of 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 really start to add up. $1,000 in expenses while overseas with the wrong card means an additional $30 in fees.
You don't want to be nickel-and-dimed 3% throughout your entire trip. There are many cards with no foreign transaction fees so there’s no reason why you should pay for these unnecessary fees at all.
- Chip technology: You want a credit card with a smart chip that helps 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, while most European banks are issuing chip-and-PIN credit cards. Just like miles vs. kilometers, the U.S. is doing things their way.
What does that mean for you? While having a smart chip helps, there is still the occasional unmanned kiosk, such as highway tollbooths, that require a PIN. You'll either have to use a different lane, or some machines will let you hit cancel to continue. Hitting cancel to continue doesn't make the most sense — that’s like hitting "start" on your computer to shut down. It must have made sense to some engineer out there.
Minimize the confusion by choosing your next card wisely.
- Credit card acceptance: Having no foreign transaction fee and a smart chip are two signs you have the right card, but they are no use to you if the merchant doesn't accept its network. While American Express and Discover are popular in the United States, that might not be the case where you're going.
Visa International Travel: Generally speaking, we usually recommend to folks traveling abroad that they carry a Visa or MasterCard.
But that's not to say leave your Discover your home if you already have one. Discover has no foreign transaction fee and has partnerships with other networks such as China UnionPay and JCB. China UnionPay is accepted widely in China, and JCB is accepted widely in Japan. So bring it along but 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 consider a credit card for fair credit.
Once you narrow down the 3 important factors, take a look at the travel benefits. Some cards offer special perks you usually have to pay for — such as trip interruption insurance.
Top Credit Cards for International Travel
In our opinion, by using one of these cards below, you’ll be in great shape for your next trip.
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.
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 you don’t have the option to transfer miles to frequent flyer programs. Which card is better for you depends on how much you like to play the air miles game.
The Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard doesn’t have these restrictions. This card 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 with no blackout dates to worry about.
The Arrival Plus has no foreign transaction fee, chip technology and worldwide MasterCard acceptance.Tip: Most US-based credit cards only support Chip and Signature. While the Barclaycard Arrival defaults to your signature verification, it also supports PIN verification technology. That means you can use your PIN at automated kiosks and unmanned gas pumps, like you'll find in Europe.
Deal Alert: Spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days and you'll earn 50,000 bonus miles. 50,000 bonus miles is enough to redeem for a $500 travel statement credit.
Watch Out: But the Barclaycard Arrival Plus comes with a price tag: an $89 annual fee.
Consider: the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
- It has $0 foreign transaction fee.
- It has a smart chip for enhanced security and wider acceptance.
- It’s a Visa card, so it's accepted widely.
Deal Alert: There's a promotion right now. Earn 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 guide to airline miles and credit card points.
But that's not all. It 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).
On the bright side, there is an introductory annual fee for the first year.
To learn more about the Chase Sapphire Preferred, read our review and analysis on whether the benefits are worth it.
- It has $0 foreign transaction fee.
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. While the Capital One VentureOne Rewards 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 that train to London.
But your credit card isn’t working and you don’t have enough cash for a ticket. You’re helpless as the train leaves without you.
This happens to many Americans. All because they didn’t have the right credit card for traveling abroad. Besides 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.
So before you take that next big trip, prepare for these avoidable travel mishaps by getting a credit card ideal for using out of the country.
Not only will purchases go smoothly while abroad, these cards offer many other travel benefits, including access to great deals on flights and hotel stays, 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.
Credit cards are extremely handy to have when you are traveling abroad. The right card can not only help you pay for trips, but it can also help you earn cash back, give you access to perks such as car rental insurance and travel accident insurance, or even help you earn free travel.Tip: When traveling abroad, Visa Signature and World MasterCard credit cards are the way to go. Both are designed for international travel and include complimentary concierge service.
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 — then, if your primary card doesn't work, you still have a backup.
Tip: Check out the Beginner's Guide to Airline Miles and Points. Once you learn how to navigate the miles and points system, you will 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, 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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