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Foreign transaction fees: How to save when using a credit card internationally

Using the wrong credit card when traveling could cost you.

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Woman using a credit card while traveling.

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If you're planning on using a credit card while traveling internationally, it pays to be conscientious about foreign transaction fees. When you make a purchase on a card in a foreign currency, the issuer may charge a fee -- either a flat rate or a percentage of the transaction amount -- when the charge is processed outside of the US. These fees can add up as you pay for plane tickets, hotels and meals. 

That noted, credit cards make it convenient to pay for goods and services in any currency. Instead of having to exchange and handle a variety of currencies, card companies handle all of that for you. And they usually offer a more favorable exchange rate than a currency exchange at the airport or city you're visiting. The trade-off: You may be charged a foreign transaction fee. Here's everything you need to know about foreign transaction fees -- and how to avoid them. 

What are foreign transaction fees? How do they work? 

A foreign transaction fee is charged when you make a purchase in a currency other than the US dollar. You'll typically face the fee when you're outside of the US -- but not always. You can get hit with a foreign transaction fee if you buy something online and the transaction is processed in a foreign currency.

Foreign transaction fees typically range between 2% and 5% of the purchase amount (3% is standard). If you're using a card overseas to pay for the occasional souvenir, that charge may not be a big deal. But if you're paying for most of a trip's cost with your credit card, it can add up.

Can I avoid foreign transaction fees?

Yes: Not all credit cards charge a foreign transaction fee. The best way to avoid foreign transaction fees is to get a credit card that doesn't charge them. 

To find out if a credit card charges a foreign transaction fee, take a look at the card issuer's website and search for "pricing and terms" or "important rates and disclosures." The foreign transaction fee is typically listed in the "fees" section below the card's APR disclosures. If there is no mention of a foreign transaction fee there, your card does not charge one and you can rest easy knowing your international purchases won't get an extra fee tacked on.

If your primary credit card does charge a foreign transaction fee, you may want to add a card to your wallet that doesn't, especially if international travel is in your future. 

Credit cards with no foreign transaction fees

Many travel rewards cards do not charge foreign transaction fees. It's also possible to find credit cards of all types (including secured and cash-back cards) that don't charge this fee. When shopping around for credit cards with no foreign currency fees, consider the following cards:

American Express

A few American Express cards don't charge a foreign transaction fee. They include:

Capital One

Capital One credit cards don't have foreign transaction fees. Some of the most popular cards for travel include:

  • Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card
  • Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card
  • Capital One Spark Miles for Business
  • Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card
  • Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Chase

Chase offers some of the most popular travel rewards cards with high rewards-earning potential and no foreign transaction fees. They are:

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve®
  • Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card

Discover

Though Discover isn't widely accepted internationally, the company's cards do not charge foreign transaction fees. Discover cards that may be best for travel are:

  • Discover it® Cash Back
  • Discover it® Miles

FAQs

Is it better to use cash, debit cards or credit cards abroad?

Many places have readily adopted credit cards and cashless payments, and a credit card can reduce how much cash you need to carry in case of theft. But there are countries whose businesses still conduct most of their transactions in cash. Travel around parts of Europe and you may find many restaurants and small businesses require a minimum amount (usually the equivalent of $10 or more) before they'll accept a credit card. That's why it's a good idea to have a debit card on hand as well.

Remember that exchanging money yourself is usually far more expensive and time-consuming than withdrawing the funds using a debit card. Many currency exchanges charge fees to exchange your dollars and give you a less favorable rate. When you use your debit card to withdraw the cash at a foreign ATM, you'll get the bank's wholesale rate -- as long as you decline any currency conversions the ATM offers to make for you. 

However, there may be international ATM fees you need to keep an eye on. Before you travel, ask your bank about what fees you'll be charged on withdrawals. 

Which types of credit cards are accepted internationally?

If you're planning on traveling abroad more often, some cards are more widely accepted outside of the United States than others. The logo of the card you carry while traveling abroad is important -- but so is the type of card. 

Chip credit cards

Magnetic stripe cards you "swipe" are rarely accepted anymore in most countries in Europe and other parts of the world. Credit cards with chips or with contactless payment tech are the standard. They're also safer -- a chip card with a PIN (instead of signing a credit card slip) will significantly lower your risk of fraud and unauthorized charges. 

If you don't have a chip card yet, contact your card issuer or bank and request one; the majority of card companies have switched to chip-and-pin or chip-and-signature credit cards.

Discover

Discover cards don't charge foreign transaction fees, but they're one of the least accepted of the major credit cards. According to the company's interactive card acceptance tool, Discover hasn't made its way to most of Africa and the Middle East yet. Bolivia and Ukraine are other countries where it's not accepted. 

Visa and Mastercard

Visa and Mastercard are the two most prominent payment processors and the most popular cards globally. Typically if credit cards are accepted, either of them will work. 

American Express

American Express is the third most common card accepted overseas. However, it's typically only accepted at larger merchants or companies with an international presence. Smaller businesses and "mom-and-pop shops" will likely prefer payments in cash, Mastercard or Visa. 

For rates and fees of the American Express Gold Card, click here

For rates and fees of The Platinum Card from American Express, click here

For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card, click here