Discover the best credit cards for international travel.
Most credit cards tack an extra charge onto purchases made outside the United States. If you're planning to travel abroad, you'll want to look out for these foreign transaction fees (sometimes called international transaction fees). They are assessed by your credit card issuer and are usually 1% to 3% of the purchase amount, with 3% being common. That amount might not seem like a big deal, but if you spent, say, $3,000 at a hotel, you could be looking at an additional $90 charge.
The best way to avoid foreign transaction fees is to get a travel credit card that doesn't charge them. Fortunately, any travel credit card worth its salt — including airline cards — will not charge foreign transaction fees, so you have plenty of options. Some major issuers — most notably Capital One and Discover — don't charge these fees on any of their cards.
Here are our favorite cards without the fee.
Note, some of our selections for the best no foreign transaction fee credit cards can be applied for through NerdWallet, and some cannot. Below, you'll find application links for the credit cards from our partners that are available through NerdWallet, followed by the full list of our picks.
Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for Bonus category cash back
Wells Fargo Autograph℠ Card: Best for Bonus rewards + no annual fee
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card: Best for Bonus travel rewards
Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card: Best for Simple travel rewards + no annual fee
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: Best for Flat-rate travel rewards
Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for Flat-rate cash back
Capital One Quicksilver Student Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for Students
Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for Average credit
Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card: Best for Business travel
|Annual fee||Rewards rate||Intro offer|
Whether you want to pay less interest or earn more rewards, the right card's out there. Just answer a few questions and we'll narrow the search for you.
Whether you want to pay less interest or earn more rewards, the right card's out there. Just answer a few questions and we'll narrow the search for you.
Click the card name to read our review. Before applying, confirm details on the issuer’s website.
Our pick for: Flat-rate travel rewards
The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is probably the best-known general-purpose travel credit card, thanks to its ubiquitous advertising. You earn 5 miles per dollar on hotels and car rentals booked through Capital One Travel and 2 miles per dollar on all other purchases. Miles can be redeemed at a value of 1 cent apiece for any travel purchase, without the blackout dates and other restrictions of branded hotel and airline cards. The card offers a great sign-up bonus and other worthwhile perks (see rates and fees). Read our review.
Our pick for: Bonus travel rewards
For a reasonable annual fee, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card earns bonus rewards (up to 5X) on travel, dining, select streaming services, and select online grocery purchases. Points are worth 25% more when you redeem them for travel booked through Chase, or you can transfer them to about a dozen airline and hotel partners. The sign-up bonus is stellar, too. Read our review.
Our pick for: Simple travel rewards + no annual fee
One of the best no-annual-fee travel cards available, the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card gives you a solid rewards rate on every purchase, with points that can be redeemed for any travel purchase, without the restrictions of branded airline and hotel cards. Bank of America® has an expansive definition of "travel," too, giving you additional flexibility in how you use your rewards. Read our review.
Our pick for: Bonus rewards + no annual fee
The Wells Fargo Autograph℠ Card offers so much value, it's hard to believe there's no annual fee. Start with a great bonus offer, then earn extra rewards in a host of common spending categories — restaurants, gas stations, transit, travel, streaming and more. Read our review.
Our pick for: Business travel
The Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card starts you off with one of the biggest sign-up bonuses of any credit card anywhere: Earn 100k bonus points after you spend $8,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 cash back or $1,250 toward travel when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. You also get bonus rewards on travel expenses and common business spending categories, like advertising, shipping and internet, cable and phone service. Points are worth 25% more when redeemed for travel booked through Chase, or you can transfer them to about a dozen airline and hotel partners. Learn more and apply.
Our pick for: Flat-rate cash back
The original 1.5% flat-rate cash-back card still holds its own in a now-crowded field. The Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card offers a compelling combination of a good rewards rate, redemption flexibility, sign-up bonus and introductory 0% APR period (see rates and fees). Read our review.
Our pick for: Bonus category cash back
Love the night life but dead-set against paying an annual fee? Consider the Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card. It pays a lower cash-back rate on dining and entertainment than the regular Savor card, but the rewards are nevertheless quite good (see rates and fees). The sign-up bonus is smaller than on the annual-fee version, too, but it's still solid (see rates and fees). Read our review.
Our pick for: Average credit
This card for people with fair or "average" credit pays the same cash-back rate as the regular Quicksilver card, which targets people with excellent credit. The key difference is that this version charges an annual fee while the regular one does not (see rates and fees). Read our review.
Our pick for: Students
The Capital One Quicksilver Student Cash Rewards Credit Card gets high marks for cards in its class, thanks to its $0 annual fee and its no-fuss rewards rate: 1.5% cash back on all purchases (see rates and fees). That's as good a combo as you'd find on even a lot of non-student cards. Read our review.
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By Erica Corbin, NerdWallet
A credit card foreign transaction fee is a surcharge that a credit card issuer places on purchases made outside the United States. The typical foreign transaction fee is about 3%. So if you went to London with a card that had a 3% fee and used it to buy something that cost $140, you'd be charged a foreign transaction fee of $4.20. This fee typically shows up as a separate line item on your credit card statement.
Be aware that you can get hit with a foreign transaction fee even if you never leave the country. Foreign transaction fees are based on where a purchase is processed rather than your physical location when you make that purchase. Say that instead of going into a store in London and making a purchase, you ordered something from that store online while at home in the U.S. The transaction might be processed the same as the merchant's in-store sales, and you'll wind up paying a foreign transaction fee.
Some issuers, including Capital One, Discover and USAA, do not charge foreign transaction fees on any of their cards, and many issuers do not charge them on specific cards. Credit cards marketed to frequent travelers usually do not charge foreign transaction fees, even if the issuer has them on other cards.
Here’s a look at the standard foreign transaction fees charged by major U.S. credit card issuers. It’s important to note that many of these issuers waive the foreign transaction fee (also called an international transaction fee) on certain cards. Further, some major issuers don’t charge foreign transaction fees on any of their cards.
The standard foreign transaction fee for Barclaycard is 3%.
The standard foreign transaction fee for all Capital One cards is 0%. So whether you have a travel credit card or secured credit card, you won’t pay any international transaction fees.
The standard foreign transaction fee for Chase is 3%. So, for the Chase Freedom card, for instance, the foreign transaction fee is 3%. However, if you have certain Chase credit cards, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve®, you won’t pay any international transaction fees.
The standard foreign transaction fee for Citi is 3%. If you’re looking for a Citi card that doesn’t charge these fees, however, there are some exceptions. For example, the Citi Premier® Card and the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard® do not charge foreign transaction fees.
The standard foreign transaction fee for U.S. Bank is 3%. But some U.S. Bank cards do not charge foreign transaction fees.
Whether you're in the U.S. or a foreign country, your ability to use a credit card at a merchant depends on whether the merchant accepts that card's payment network. The four major U.S. networks — Visa, Mastercard, American Express or Discover — all have an international presence, although to varying degrees.
In the U.S., Visa and Mastercard are ubiquitous. If a merchant accepts credit cards, it almost always accepts Visa and Mastercard, although there are a few exceptions, such as Visa-only Costco. Discover is a close third, just a hair behind the leaders. American Express is widely accepted, just not as widely as the other three. Smaller merchants, in particular, are less likely to take AmEx. Even so, when traveling in the U.S., you should be able to get by with a card on any of the four networks.
Outside the U.S., Visa and Mastercard are also dominant worldwide networks. And while American Express has a strong presence overseas — it has more cardholders outside the U.S. than in — it doesn't match the extent of Visa and Mastercard. Discover is a smaller player outside the U.S. If you're planning to travel internationally and your primary card is American Express or Discover, it's best to bring along a Visa or Mastercard as a backup.
When you buy something with a credit card in a foreign country, your receipt will show the cost in the local currency. When you get your statement, however, you'll see that the charge has been converted to dollars. Your payment network takes care of the conversion, and you can usually be confident that you're getting a fair exchange rate. (A 2016 NerdWallet study found that Visa and Mastercard tended to convert currency at near-market rates, which is about the best you can get.)
Sometimes when you're shopping overseas, merchants will ask if you want your purchases to be denominated in dollars rather than the local currency. This is known as "dynamic currency conversion." It seems attractive, as it allows you to see how much you're spending in terms you understand — say, $50 rather than 5,000 Japanese yen or 45 euros. But dynamic conversion is usually a bad deal. That's because the exchange rates are considerably worse than what you'd get if you made your purchase in the local currency and then let your credit card network handle the conversion.
One other thing about dynamic conversion: It won't get you out of paying foreign transaction fees. If your card charges a fee on overseas purchases, it doesn't matter if those purchases are in dollars, yen, euros, rubles or whatever. You'll still pay the fee.
Most credit cards issued in the U.S. are chip-and-signature cards. When you make a purchase at a store, the chip embedded in the card passes information to the merchant's computer system. Further, the chip protects that information with a one-time code so that if the data is stolen, it can't be used to make a counterfeit card. It's all very high-tech. But then you complete the transaction by verifying your identity in a decidedly low-tech way: You sign your name — and you might not even do that.
Cards issued in other countries have "chip-and-PIN" technology. You use the card the same way, but instead of signing your name to complete the transaction, you have to enter a four-digit code, or PIN. This adds a layer of security by making it harder for someone to use a stolen card.
When traveling abroad, you'll usually be able to use a U.S.-issued chip-and-signature card for in-person transactions. Among the places where you can't use one is at self-service kiosks and vending machines. These typically require chip-and-PIN.
Among major issuers in the U.S., Barclays offers chip-and-PIN on its cards. Some credit unions oriented toward military servicemembers who may be deployed overseas also offer chip-and-PIN functionality. If you don't have a chip-and-PIN card, it's not a crisis situation. You'll just have to plan ahead and keep in mind that if you need to buy something like train tickets, you'll have to go up to the window and buy from a live person rather than from a ticket machine.
Finally, be aware that simply having a PIN for your credit card does not make it a chip-and-PIN card. Many cards allow you to get cash advances for an ATM using a PIN. A PIN for accessing cash advances is not the same as one for verifying transactions though chip-and-PIN technology. If in doubt, ask your issuer.
Travelers checks have been mostly replaced in travelers' wallets by credit and debit cards, which also solve many of the security problems that travelers checks were created to address. So while you can still get travelers checks, most travelers would find them more trouble than they're worth.
Back before credit cards were as widely used and accepted as they are today, people who didn't want to risk carrying a lot of cash on a trip would rely on travelers checks. A traveler might go to a bank or travel agency in their hometown and buy, say, six $100 checks, which they would sign at the bank. At their destination, they'd use the checks at stores or restaurants that accepted them, or exchange them for cash at a hotel or bank. When they redeemed the check, they'd sign it again, and the recipient would compare the signatures to verify the check.
Among the advantage of travelers checks:
If they were lost or stolen, the issuer would replace them, so you didn't lose money. Nowadays, credit card issuers can cancel a lost or stolen card and expedite a replacement just as quickly.
You could exchange them for cash far from home. The wide acceptance of credit cards makes cash less critical to carry, and credit cards can provide cash in a pinch. And, of course, debit cards can get you cash, too.
You could use them in places that didn't accept out-of-town personal checks. Today, credit cards are accepted at millions more locations than travelers checks ever were.
Travelers checks still have their uses. But when you combine the dwindling number of places that accept travelers checks with the fees you have to pay to get them, most leisure travelers will be better off with the cards they already carry.
Last updated on December 6, 2023
NerdWallet's Credit Cards team selects the best credit cards with no foreign transaction fee based on overall consumer value, as evidenced by star ratings, as well as their suitability for specific kinds of consumers. Factors in our evaluation include annual fees, rewards rates and redemption options, introductory and ongoing interest rates, bonus offers for new cardholders, international acceptance of the card's payment network, and other noteworthy features such as travel perks. Learn how NerdWallet rates credit cards.
The typical foreign transaction fee is 3% of the purchase price. Charge a $1,000 hotel stay on a card that imposes such a fee, for example, and you'll pay an extra $30. However:
• Some issuers charge a lower rate. American Express has long charged 2.7%, for example.
• Some issuers have no foreign transaction fees on any of their cards. They include Capital One, Discover and USAA.
• Most credit cards specifically designed for frequent travelers do not charge foreign transaction fees, even when the issuing bank charges such fees on its other cards.
When a foreign transaction fee applies to a purchase, you won't see it until you receive your credit card statement. That's because the fee is charged by the credit card company, not by the merchant. If you charge a $1,000 hotel stay in another country, your receipt from the hotel will just say $1,000 (or the equivalent amount in the foreign currency); when your statement arrives, the charge for the purchase will total $1,030.
When you buy something in a foreign country, the merchant may give you the option of having the purchase converted to U.S. dollars so you can see how much it costs in a way you're more likely to understand. (See the question about dynamic currency conversion below.) But for the purpose of the foreign transaction fee, it usually doesn't matter whether a purchase is submitted to your credit card company in U.S. dollars or in the local currency. The fee applies based on where the transaction takes place, not how it is denominated.
The one exception among major issuers is U.S. Bank, which charges a 3% foreign transaction fee but knocks that down to 2% if the purchase is denominated in U.S. dollars.
Foreign transaction fees are independent of exchange rates. Currency exchange rates tell you how much a unit of foreign currency is worth in dollars. If you buy something in France for 100 euros, for example, the cost in dollars might be $105 or $110 or $112.37 or something else, based on the current exchange rate. Your credit card's payment network — Visa, Mastercard, Discover or American Express — converts foreign purchases to dollar amounts according to the current exchange rate. The foreign transaction fee is then applied to the converted dollar amount.
Dynamic currency conversion is a service offered by some merchants overseas, in which they convert your purchase to dollars so that you can better get a sense of what it costs. It might be easier for you to understand a price of, say, $35 compared with 500 South African rand. Using dynamic currency conversion will not affect your foreign transaction fee in most cases. (An exception is U.S. Bank, which reduces the fee to 2% when purchases are processed in U.S. dollars.)
In general, dynamic currency conversion is a costly convenience for U.S. travelers. A NerdWallet study of credit card currency conversion rates found that when you let your credit card company convert your purchase to dollars, it usually does so at the current market rate. But when you choose dynamic currency conversion, it typically costs you an extra 1% to 3% because the merchant uses a less favorable exchange rate and pockets the difference. In other words, rather than save you money, dynamic currency conversion could as much as double the surcharge on a foreign transaction.