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Updated April 14, 2022

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. But what's the right travel card for you?

Here are the best cards with no foreign transaction fees:

Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's over $750 when you redeem through Chase Travel℠.

$0 foreign transaction fee, Smart chip, Visa worldwide acceptance

Imagine you're vacationing in Paris and want to hop the train to London. But you're short on cash and the ticket machines won't take your credit card.

Or maybe your card does work but you're being charged a foreign transaction fee for every swipe. That'll make for an unpleasant surprise when you get home and check out your bill.

We've used our American credit cards plenty overseas in the past year. London is great because they use touchless pay terminals everywhere, which means we can use Apple Pay. China is the worst, as it can be hard to find places that accept American cards even though credit card payment is common there.

In many countries, like Colombia and Cambodia, you're best off just going with cash, as credit card is rarely accepted.
Ken @ Mouse Hacking

Before you take that next big trip, prepare for these very-avoidable mishaps by getting a credit card ideal for international travel. Find the right card and you'll also enjoy other travel benefits like:

  • Access to great deals on flights and hotels
  • Rewards for everyday purchases
  • Travel insurance and more.

Better yet, by applying for that new card BEFORE your next trip, you might save hundreds of dollars on airfare with the right lucrative sign-up bonus.

Top Credit Cards for International Travel

Redeeming miles toward flights and hotel stays always comes in handy for travelers. Many travel cards offer these benefits, but they usually limit you to one airline network or hotel chain. We've chosen cards that offer flexible ways to redeem.

These are the best credit cards for international travel. Keep reading for our top recommended picks and best deals.

Best Travel Rewards: Chase Sapphire Preferred

Chase Sapphire Preferred is a favorite credit card for international travel. It has the following benefits:

Deal Alert: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's over $750 when you redeem through Chase Travel℠.

The real worth of the Chase Sapphire Preferred card lays in its valuable travel redemptions. Your points are worth 25% more value when redeeming for travel through the Chase Travel℠ portal. This means 10,000 points will be worth $125 (instead of the normal $100 cash back).

Even better - if you're already into airline miles, you can get even greater value.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred lets you transfer points 1:1 to leading frequent travel programs. Chase has a strong lineup of airline and hotel partners, such as United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, JetBlue, Marriott, and Hyatt.

The card also has premium travel and purchase protection benefits, such as trip cancellation/interruption insurance, lost baggage reimbursement, and auto rental collision damage waiver.

Related: Learn more about airline and hotel loyalty programs with our beginner's guide to airline miles and credit card points.

However, this card has a $95 annual fee (not waived the first year). So it's best for people who spend a lot on eating out and travel. You also need an excellent credit score to qualify.

To learn more about Chase Sapphire Preferred, see our review and analysis on whether the benefits are worth it.

It's important to keep all receipts. Do not let them get wet or altered in anyway as this is your last resource for corroboration of claims on your behalf and a record of your transaction. Also ask about the interchange and foreign exchange rate assessed to your credit or debit card use. Opt to pay in U.S. dollars, or if the euro is stronger, you can charge in that currency and see lower cost centers charged to your account."

Jim Angleton, President of AEGIS FinServ Corp

Frequent Travelers: Chase Sapphire Reserve

The Chase Sapphire Reserve is the premium version of the Sapphire Preferred. You earn 3x points on travel and dining purchases worldwide, so you can rack up points faster.

The travel redemption value is a little stronger too. Your points are worth 50% more value when redeeming for travel through the Chase Travel℠ portal (10,000 points = $150). They can also be transferred 1:1 to airline and hotel partners.

You can also redeem points for cash in the form of statement credit or direct deposit into your bank account. However, the value will be less at 1 point = 1 cent (10,000 = $100).

Other travel benefits include:

  • Get a yearly $300 travel credit that can be used towards any travel-related purchases.

  • Get airport lounge access to over 1,000 lounges around the world via Priority Pass membership.

  • Receive up to $100 application fee credit every 4 years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®.

The Sapphire Reserve card has a much higher annual fee of $550. It makes more sense for very frequent international travelers who can earn enough rewards to justify the annual fee.

2x On Purchases: Capital One Venture Rewards

The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card offers an excellent rewards rate and flexibility for a relatively low $95 annual fee. You get:

  • Earn 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening, plus receive a one-time $250 Capital One Travel credit in your first cardholder year – that's equal to $1,000 in travel

  • Unlimited 2x miles per dollar on all purchases - no matter the category.

  • Up to $100 Global Entry or TSA Pre✓® application fee credit every 4 years.

  • Ability to transfer to airline partners, including Air Canada and Air France. Most transfers are 2:1.5 (though a couple are 2:1).

Because Capital One Venture gives you 2x miles on every purchase, you'll rack up the points faster than you would with the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

The better card for you depends on how you like redeem. Capital One Venture may be better if you like simple redemptions for statement credit. If you like to transfer points, personally, we think Chase has a stronger lineup of transfer partners. For more details, check out our comparative review here.

We like that Capital One Venture gives you more flexible redemption options.

If you're more of a casual traveler and just want something easy to use, you can use this card to redeem against recent travel purchases. Just book your trip and then use your miles as statement credits. You can book on any airline or hotel, at any time, with no blackout dates or restrictions.

If you like maximizing rewards, you can also transfer your miles to partner airlines. However, miles don't transfer at 1:1 ratio, so you'll have to do some math to see if the redemption value is worth it. And it doesn't partner with any of the major US airlines.

There is also a baby version of this card with no annual fee. The Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card card earns 1.25 miles per dollar. Both cards have no foreign transaction fees and can transfer to airline partners.

Reward Points: Citi Premier

Citi Premier earns 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 within the first 3 months of account opening. This card earns 3 points per $1 spent at gas stations, air travel, and hotels, 3 points per $1 spent at restaurants and supermarkets, and 1 point per $1 spent on other purchases. There is a $95 annual fee.

Your points are worth 25% more when redeemed for airfare through ThankYou Travel Center. Or you can transfer 1:1 to airline partners, including JetBlue and Virgin Atlantic.

This card is a good choice if you spend a lot on travel, gas, dining out, and supermarkets. It has the potential to earn a lot of points, and along with the flexible ways to redeem, you can get a lot of value.

The Citi Premier also directly competes against the Chase Sapphire Preferred. While the Premier has a better rewards program, the Sapphire Preferred still has the edge when it comes to transfer partners. The better one for you depends on what you value more.

Premium Travel Perks: AMEX Platinum

The Platinum Card® from American Express, a CreditDonkey partner, has long been the best travel rewards card for luxury travel perks. For those who like to travel in style, you'll find that the benefits more than justify the hefty $695 annual fee (See Rates & Fees). Terms Apply.

For a full list of AMEX Platinum benefits, see our detailed guide.

HOWEVER, the Platinum card operates on the American Express payment network. So it may not be accepted by some overseas merchants. This is an excellent card to use to book your international travel, but we suggest to also bring a Visa or Mastercard on your trip.

This card competes with the Sapphire Reserve. We'd say that the Platinum card offers more benefits and discounts. However, keep in mind that the airline credit is not as flexible as the Reserve's $300 annual travel credit. And many of the discounts offered by the Platinum are geared towards booking premium travel.

No Annual Fee: Bank of America Travel Rewards

Bank of America Travel Rewards offers 25,000 bonus points if you spend at least $1,000 on purchases within the first 90 days of account opening. 25,000 points is worth a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases. This is one of the largest bonuses for a no-annual-fee card.

This card earns an unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases everywhere. You simply book travel and then redeem points for a statement credits against recent travel purchases, such as flights, hotels, vacation packages, cruises, rental cars, or baggage fees.

There are no foreign transaction fees and no annual fee, so it's ideal for casual travelers looking for a simple international credit card.

Bank of America Preferred Rewards customers get an extra 25% to 75% bonus rewards based on your tier. You must have an active consumer checking, savings, or individual retirement account with Bank of America, and/or a Merrill investment account.

China and Japan Travel: Discover It Miles

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.

You can redeem your miles for statement credit against recent travel-related purchases to pay for flights, hotels, car rentals, travel agents, online travel sites and commuter transportation.

Discover It Miles also offers a 0% intro APR on purchases for a period of 14 months (after that, a 18.24% - 28.24% Variable APR). If you're planning to book a large trip soon, you'll get some breathing room to pay it off interest-free.

Keep in mind that Discover may not be accepted everywhere. If you plan to visit China, know that most US credit cards are not accepted there, since China uses the UnionPay payment network. Discover partners with other networks like China UnionPay and JCB in Japan. So you'll be able to use your Discover card wherever you see the China UnionPay logo in Mainland China.

According to The Nilson Report, an industry leader in global card payment analysis, "UnionPay debit cards were the most popular payment product based on [global] purchase volume, followed by Visa credit cards."

Business Travelers: Chase Ink Business Preferred

Ink Business Preferred
Apply for Ink Business Preferred Credit Card
Ink Business Preferred lets you earn 120k bonus points after you spend $8,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 cash back or $1,500 toward travel when redeemed through Chase Travel℠. 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. There are no foreign transaction fees. There is a $95 annual fee.

Three Must-Have Features for International Travel

If you're traveling abroad, your credit card must be suitable for international travel. Start with these must-have elements.

Tip: Avoid exchanging money when you travel. You're likely to get better exchange rates for purchases with a no foreign transaction fee credit card

1. No foreign transaction fee (FTF)
When you travel outside the country, paying by credit card gets a bit pricey. Many cards charge foreign transaction fees. Usually, this adds an extra 3% to every purchase.

Spending $1,000 while overseas could mean an additional $30 in fees with the wrong card.

These fees can really add up if you're a frequent traveler, especially when you factor in what you may already be paying due to the exchange rate.

With so many cards with no foreign transaction fees, there's no reason to pay any extra.

2. Chip technology
A credit card with a smart chip can make life a lot easier when you're traveling internationally. There are two types of smart chips: 1) chip-and-signature and 2) 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, you may find the occasional unmanned kiosk (like a highway tollbooth) that requires a PIN.

If you run into this problem, some machines will let you hit cancel to continue—doesn't make sense but it sometimes works. Otherwise, you'll have to use another payment method.

3. Worldwide acceptance
Make sure you choose a card that can be used internationally. Most merchants abroad will accept Visa and MasterCard. Some popular U.S. cards like Amex and Discover may not work where you're going.

But consider bringing your Discover card along as a backup. Discover doesn't charge foreign transaction fees and partners with other networks like China UnionPay and JCB.

Tip: Most travel credit cards require great credit. If you have less than excellent credit, you may need to consider a credit card for fair credit.

Once you've narrowed your choices using these three key factors, start looking at the benefits and bonuses each card offers.

But remember: some cards have annual fees for special perks. An annual fee could be worth it if you travel a lot and will make use of the benefits.

Tips for Using a Credit Card Abroad

Always choose the local currency
Sometimes when using your card abroad, you'll be asked if you want to pay in the local currency or in US dollars. You may be tempted to choose dollars, but it's always wiser to pay in the country's currency, as you'll get a more favorable exchange rate.

Avoid cash advances
If you need cash while abroad, we don't recommend taking out a cash advance with your credit card. The fees are quite high and plus, interest starts accruing right away. It's best to use a debit card that reimburses ATM fees. Or get the money at your bank before your trip.

Notify your bank
Remember to notify your bank about your travel plans before you leave--especially when visiting a place you've never been.

When banks see a bunch of unusual charges on your card, they might suspect fraud and decline transactions. That's why we always recommend carrying more than one type of payment just in case.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which credit card is best for foreign transaction?
Generally, travel rewards cards don't carry foreign transaction fees, so they make excellent choices for traveling abroad. Our top cards are Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire Reserve, and Capital One Venture.

Also, all Discover and Capital One credit cards never charge a foreign transaction fee.

How do I avoid foreign transaction fees on my credit card?
The easiest way is to apply for a credit card with no foreign transaction fee. This is the cheapest method for making payments abroad. There are many cards on the market that does not charge a FTF, including many no-annual-fee options.

Is it cheaper to withdraw cash abroad?
Generally, withdrawing cash abroad will incur foreign ATM fees, and maybe even a currency conversion fee. Even if you have a credit card with no FTF, it's also not a good idea to withdraw cash with it. That will be subjected to a cash advance fee and interest starts accruing right away.

If you must need cash, use a no-foreign-fee debit card that reimburses ATM fees, such as the one from Charles Schwab.

Is Amex good for international travel?
While American Express issues some of the best travel rewards cards. it's not accepted everywhere. So we suggest to also bring along a Visa or Mastercard on your trip.

Bottom Line

International travel can be exciting—and stressful. But the right credit card can make your life easier and save you money. Find the best one before you leave to take advantage of bonus points. Hopefully one of the cards listed here will be the right one for you.

You can also check out our Beginner's Guide to Airline Miles and Points . Learn how to navigate the miles and points system, and you'll be racking up serious rewards in no time.

Note: This website is made possible through financial relationships with some of the products and services mentioned on this site. We may receive compensation if you shop through links in our content. You do not have to use our links, but you help support CreditDonkey if you do.

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.

For rates and fees of the American Express Platinum card, please click here.

Disclaimer: The information for the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card, Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card, Citi Premier℠ Card, and Discover it® Miles has 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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Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed on this page are those of the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.

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CreditDonkey does not know your individual circumstances and provides information for general educational purposes only. CreditDonkey is not a substitute for, and should not be used as, professional legal, credit or financial advice. You should consult your own professional advisors for such advice.

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