If there was one thing my mom taught me about traveling outside the U.S., it was to get a card with no foreign transaction fees. She had a card from Capital One back in the day. It was one of the first card issuers to abandon these pesky fees.
Nowadays, there are so many more cards for international travelers to choose from — my card comes with airport lounge access and travel credits and allows me to earn rewards toward free flights.
So if you’re getting ready to explore foreign lands, keep reading. We’ve selected the six best credit card offers for travel abroad.
Many travel rewards cards require strong credit scores. Before you get any further, review your credit reports and scores to estimate your chances of qualifying.
6 Best Credit Cards for International Travel
|Chase Sapphire Reserve® Credit Card
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
|No Annual Fee
|Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card
|Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
|U.S. Bank Altitude® Go Visa Signature® Card
|Schwab Bank Visa® Platinum Debit Card
Best for serious travelers
- Chase Sapphire Reserve®
The Reserve® card is the best card for foreign travel.
It earns generous rewards – more than many co-branded cards – and has a slew of travel perks. While the $550 annual fee is eye-popping, avid road warriors will quickly make up for it with the $300 annual credit on travel purchases, which effectively reduces the annual fee to $250.
Check out the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card for an interesting new travel card. It comes with access to Capital One Travel airport lounges and has a hefty travel credit and other handy perks.
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Best for occasional travelers
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
If you’re not a hardcore traveler who needs all the bells and whistles of the Reserve® Card, the Preferred® is a fantastic alternative.
It earns solid rewards and has great travel and car rental insurance. For $95, its fee is much easier to swallow, making it a good choice for people who travel less frequently.
Both Chase cards earn Ultimate Rewards® points, which can be transferred at a 1:1 ratio to more than a dozen hotel and airline partners. For more details, jump to the rewards section below.
Best for no annual fee
- Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card
Unless you’re traveling several times a year, you probably don’t need a travel rewards card like the Chase cards. You’d be better off getting a card with a lower annual fee.
Cash-back cards are one consideration. But if you plan to travel abroad regularly (let’s say once a year), it’s worth getting a card with no foreign transaction fees.
We like this Capital One card because it has no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees.
- Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card
- Capital One Quicksilver Rewards Credit Card
Best for flat-rate rewards
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Want to get out and see the world, but don’t currently spend that much money on travel and dining? This card earns 2X miles everywhere you spend (think: gas stations, grocery stores, pharmacies, etc.), making it a smart choice for aspiring globetrotters.
Once you’ve racked up your miles – which won’t be too hard because of the welcome bonus – you can transfer them to more than a dozen airline partners.
Best for foodies
- U.S. Bank Altitude® Go Visa Signature® Card
If you’re looking for a no-fee credit card that also earns rewards on the best activity in the world: eating – then look no further and bon appétit!
This card earns rewards on dining, grocery delivery and other expenses and has no foreign transaction fees. You’ll also get a nice, long 0% introductory rate on purchases and balance transfers.
Best debit card
- Schwab Bank Visa® Platinum Debit Card
Okay, okay, this isn’t a credit card, but it deserves a slot in your wallet anyway. No matter where you go, you’ll need a little bit of cash. Money exchange booths don’t offer great rates, and travelers’ checks have gone the way of the dodo. So the best place to get cash is at an ATM.
By the way, you should never use a credit card at an ATM because of the high fees associated with transactions and withdrawals. You should use a travel-friendly debit card instead.
In our opinion, this debit card reigns supreme – and here’s why: It doesn’t charge ATM fees. You never have to worry about whether an ATM is your network. And it refunds the fees charged by other ATMs. It also has zero monthly fees and excellent customer service.
Use your debit card at ATMs and use your credit card for store purchases and restaurants. In case of fraud or theft, your credit card will offer better liability protections.
What About Co-Branded or Cash-Back Cards?
As you can see, we only included general travel rewards cards in the list above. Because these cards earn points or miles that can be redeemed with a variety of partners, they’re the most flexible and useful for the everyday traveler.
If you’re loyal to a hotel or airline, you might find better value with a co-branded card that offers points that are accepted at the particular chain. Not only do these cards have high-earning capability, but they have special travel perks.
With airline credit cards, you’ll usually get free checked bags and priority boarding. With hotel cards, you might get free nights or elite status in hotel loyalty programs. Some good examples include the Hilton, United and Southwest credit cards.
If you aren’t going to travel overseas, you might fare better with a cash-back card that has lower fees and earns straightforward cash back on every purchase you can redeem for statement credits.
9 Qualities of the Best Credit Cards for International Travel
Here are nine things you should look for when you’re planning on using a credit card internationally:
1. No foreign transaction fees
Most credit cards charge foreign transaction fees, which are around 3% of any purchase made in a currency other than U.S. dollars.
For example, if you charged a €3,000 purchase to your card, you’d pay €90 in fees. If your card had no foreign transaction fees (like the options mentioned above), you could have used that €90 on another fabulous dinner at another fabulous restaurant.
It’s a good idea to have a contactless chip and PIN card. There’s a decent selection of PIN-enabled cards today, and many have contactless tech.
2. Global acceptance
When it comes to going abroad, not all cards are created equally. Certain credit card companies are more widely accepted than others.
For example, a Discover card in Europe is nothing more than wallet art; few shops accept it. On the other hand, you can go pretty much anywhere in the world with a Visa or Mastercard.
Visa is a leader in global transactions, followed by UnionPay and Mastercard. Amex and Discover are less accepted, with American Express taking the lead over Discover.
3. Good exchange rates
If you purchase something in Thai Baht, it’ll show up on your credit card statement in U.S. dollars because your payment network (Visa, Mastercard, Amex or Discover) did the currency conversion for you.
While it won’t make a huge difference, some sources say Mastercard usually offers a slightly better exchange rate. There aren’t a ton of great Mastercard travel cards, but if this is something you care about, you can check out Capital One and Citi for some pretty good options.
If a point-of-sale machine asks you to charge your purchase in dollars instead of the local currency, you should always decline. This practice, known as dynamic currency conversion, is a total rip-off. It could cost you several percentage points on each purchase.
4. High earning rate and sign-up bonus
Besides having something in your wallet you can swipe while you’re abroad, one of the main reasons to get a travel credit card is to earn rewards.
Credit cards generally earn rewards in two ways: a welcome bonus when you apply and spend a certain amount and ongoing rewards when you spend money in specific categories.
For instance, several cards above earn a boatload of bonus points or miles when you spend several thousand dollars in the first 3 months. That’s enough for almost a week’s worth of free hotel stays or a free round-trip economy flight to most places.
Besides a big sign-up bonus, you should also look for a travel card that earns rewards in categories you frequently spend money in, including airfare, dining, gas or groceries. That will help you rack up more points and miles for your next trip.
5. Valuable travel rewards program
Those rewards won’t do you any good unless you can quickly redeem them for travel. That’s why you must consider what type of points or miles you’ll earn with each card.
We looked for cards that let you transfer points and miles at a 1:1 ratio to airline or hotel partners because that’ll get you the most bang for your buck. For example, if you transfer 30,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards® points to United, you’ll receive 30,000 United miles. You can redeem your points for a free United flight, paying only taxes and fees.
See your hometown airline on one of those lists? That could be a reason to choose one card over another.
6. Airport lounge access
Dreaming of the luxurious lounge life? Many people consider lounge access the number one reason to get a credit card.
You’ll get free food and drinks, dedicated WiFi and comfy seating every time you fly. And certain credit cards offer those perks for free.
7. Global entry fee reimbursement
Another way to travel in style is to become a Global Entry member. This trusted traveler program from the U.S. government allows you to bypass security lines when you’re traveling domestically and immigration lines when you’re returning from a trip abroad.
The application costs $100 for 4 years. Select travel cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and Capital One Venture will reimburse the fee.
This perk is often listed as a “Global Entry/TSA PreCheck” credit. That’s because it’ll cover either program. But if you plan to travel internationally, you’ll want to go for Global Entry. It affords the same benefits as TSA PreCheck and allows you to skip the lines at immigration.
8. Travel insurance
Since hitting the road always has its ups and downs, many credit cards come with travel insurance, too.
This can encompass a range of features, including:
- Trip cancellation: Reimburses prepaid travel expenses when you need to cancel a trip
- Trip delay: Pays for food and lodging when your trip is delayed by 6 hours or more
- Lost baggage: Reimburses you for clothing or toiletries when your luggage is delayed or lost
- Travel accident or emergency evacuation: Covers evacuation during medical emergencies or payouts if you die or lose a limb
From the list above, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and Preferred® Card are the best credit cards for travel insurance.
9. Rental car insurance
Many travel credit cards will have your back when renting a car.
Look for primary coverage, which means you won’t need to bother your regular car insurance company if you get into an accident and can file a claim with your credit card.
From the list above, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and Preferred® Card are the best credit cards for car rental insurance.
Which Credit Card for International Travel Should You Apply For?
Pack your sunglasses, passport and international credit card while you’re getting ready for your big trip overseas. These must-haves will prepare you for anything that comes your way.
Our picks for the best travel credit cards available include:
- Best for serious travelers: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
- Best for occasional travelers: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
- Best for no annual fee: Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card
- Best for flat-rate rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
- Best for foodies: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
- Best for debit cards: Schwab Bank Visa® Platinum Debit Card
P.S. Set a travel notice before going abroad so your credit card issuer doesn’t decline any charges because they look suspicious.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I use my credit card in a foreign country?
Usually, the answer is yes. The four major credit card networks — Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Discover — are accepted worldwide. You can safely assume that many big businesses in most countries will accept cards on all four networks.
However, it’s more common for merchants to accept Visa and Mastercard than American Express or Discover. You may be better off with a Visa or Mastercard credit card if you’re a hardcore international traveler.
And remember, just because you can use your card doesn’t mean you won’t be charged a fee. Choose a travel-specific credit card to avoid foreign transaction fees.
Are there cards with no foreign transaction fees?
Yes! Few travel credit cards charge a foreign transaction fee because it’s counterintuitive. Even outside the travel rewards world, plenty of credit cards won’t charge you for foreign transactions (options include consumer cards and business credit cards).