Guide to “No Foreign Transaction Fee” Credit Cards
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When it comes to credit cards, most people know about the typical fees: annual fees, interest charges, etc. However, something that many may not know about until it matters is foreign transaction fees. While you may be able to use your credit card internationally — even if the currency isn’t in dollars — your card issuer may tack on an extra fee, often between 1% and 3% of your total purchase price. Therefore, if you plan on heading overseas (eventually), it can definitely be in your best interest to find a card that waives such penalties.
Luckily, there are several options that fit the bill. What’s more, not all of these options are built exclusively for hardcore travelers. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some popular “no foreign transaction fee” cards for occasional and frequent travelers as well as a few tips for using your credit card internationally.
For Occasional Travelers
Capital One SavorOne
- Annual fee: None
- Rewards: 3% back on dining and entertainment, 2% back at grocery stores, and 1% back on everything else
- Standard welcome bonus: $200 back when you spend $500 in your first three months
There’s a reason why I mention the Capital One SavorOne in several of these credit card guides — and that’s because it’s a solid card that I personally use. To me, this is a great card for travelers who prefer cashback to points or miles. Not only does it not charge foreign transaction fees but also rewards you with 3% back on dining and entertainment. Even better, this version of the card comes with no annual fee and has a current sign-up bonus worth $200 when you spend $500 in your first three months. Meanwhile, if you want even more, the Capital One Savor card ups the Dining and Entertainment category to 4% for an annual fee of just $95 a year.
Capital One Quicksilver
- Annual fee: None
- Rewards: 1.5% cash back on every purchase
- Standard welcome bonus: $200 back after you spend $500 in your first three months
For those who prefer a flat-rate cash back card to one with category-specific multipliers, another Capital One card may make sense for you: the Quicksilver. Like the SavorOne, the Quicksilver also carries no annual fee and currently has a sign-up bonus where you’ll earn $200 after you spend just $500 in your first three months. Other than that, this card is simple as it earns you 1.5% cashback on everything you buy. Plus, with no foreign transaction fees, you’ll be able to earn cash back while overseas instead of paying extra.
U.S. Bank Altitude Go Visa Signature Card
- Annual fee: None
- Rewards: 4x points on takeout, food delivery, and dining; 2x points at grocery stores and on grocery delivery, 2x points at gas stations, and 2x points on streaming services
- Standard welcome bonus: 20,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 in eligible purchases in your first 90 days.
Another potentially attractive option for those seeking a no foreign transaction fee (and no annual fee) card is the U.S. Bank Altitude Go Visa Signature Card. With this card, you’ll earn 4 points per dollar you spend on takeout, food delivery, or dining. Additionally, the 2x points categories include groceries, grocery delivery, gas, and streaming service purchases. What’s also great is that the intro bonus offers 20,000 bonus points (worth $200) when you spend $1,000 in your first 90 days. All in all, this lifestyle card could benefit frequent and occasional flyers alike.
For Frequent Travelers
Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority
- Annual fee: $149
- Rewards: 2x points on Southwest purchases or Rapid Reward hotel and car rental partner purchases, 1x points on everything else
- Standard welcome bonus: Earn Companion Pass through 2/28/2022 plus 30,000 points when you spend $5,000 on the card in your first three months
- Other benefits: Four upgraded boardings per year (when available), 7,500 bonus points every cardholder anniversary, 20% back on in-flight drink and WiFi, and more.
If you’re mainly a domestic traveler who occasionally heads internationally, then the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority card may be the best of both worlds. With this card, you’ll earn 2x points on Southwest purchases as well as on Rapid Reward hotel and rental car partner purchases in addition to 1 point per dollar spent on everything else. Other perks include up to four boarding upgrades per year (when available), 20% back on in-flight drinks as well as WiFi, and 7,500 bonus points each year you renew your card. Plus, for a limited time, new cardholders can earn Southwest’s famed Companion Pass (valid through 2/28/2022) as well as 30,000 points when they spend $5,000 on the card in their first three months. With Companion Pass, your friend can fly with you, paying only taxes and fees for their ticket. While the card does have a modest $149 annual fee, it does not charge foreign transaction fees — making it perfect for when you do head overseas.
American Express Platinum
- Annual fee: $550
- Rewards: 5x points on airfare booked directly with the airline or via Amex Travel, 5x points on prepaid hotel bookings made through Amex Travel, 1x points on everything else.
- Standard welcome bonus: 75,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend $5,000 in your first six months + 10x points at U.S. gas stations and U.S. supermarkets (up to $15,000 in combined spending across both categories) for your first six months of card membership
- Other benefits: $200 in Uber credits per year, $100 in Saks Fifth Avenue credits per year, $200 in airline incidental credits per year, Priority Pass Select, access to Centurion Lounges, access to Delta SkyClubs when flying Delta, and more
While the annual fee may be steep, the American Express Platinum has a lot to offer serious travelers. With 5x points on airfare and on prepaid hotels (when you book through Amex Travel), there’s potential to rack up Membership Rewards points that can then be transferred to numerous travel partners. Additionally, between the Priority Pass Select, Centurion Lounges, and access to Delta SkyClubs when you’re flying Delta, you’ll be able to enjoy some respite from the gate area during your travels.
Meanwhile, the annual fee is also made up for by the numerous credits the card offers, including $200 for Uber, $100 for Saks, $200 in airline incidental credits, and more (although these credits are awarded in different increments and schedules). As a result, I was able to get more than $2,000 in value during my first year thanks to the credits, benefits, and points. Oh, and of course this card doesn’t charge any foreign transaction fees, making it a great choice for frequent jetsetters.
Chase Sapphire Reserve
- Annual fee: $550
- Rewards: 3x points on travel, 3x points on dining, and 1x points on everything else
- Standard weclome bonus: 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in your first three months.
- Other benefits: $300 in annual travel credits, Priority Pass Select, one year of complimentary Lyft Pink, complimentary DashPass subscription from DoorDash (after activating by December 21st, 2021), 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards, and more
The Chase Sapphire Reserve is among the most revered travel cards of the past several years. That’s thanks in large part to its great credits — including $300 statement credits for travel purchases each year — Priority Pass Select lounge access, 3x points on travel and dining, and more. Even better, when you redeem, your Chase Ultimate Rewards Points through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, you’ll be able to enjoy 50% more in value. Naturally, the Chase Sapphire Reserve doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, but it does carry a $550 annual fee. However, that expense can be partially offset by the travel credit, other perks, and the 50,000 points sign-up bonus you’ll earn after spending $4,000 in your first three months.
Tips for Using Your Credit Card Overseas
Always pay in the local currency
When you pay via credit card at some foreign merchants, you may be offered the choice to pay in U.S. dollars instead of the local currency. While paying in dollars might seem like a logical choice, the truth is that the conversion rates used for this option are typically not very favorable. That’s actually the beauty of having a card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees — the ability to pay in local currencies, get a real conversion rate, and not pay anything extra. Just remember: if you have one of these cards, skip the dollar options and pay local.
Alert your issuer of travel (and have a backup)
If having your credit card declined while at home is embarrassing and annoying, having it happen while traveling internationally could be devastating. However, it can happen if your overseas purchases trigger your card issuer’s fraud alerts. To help prevent this, it’s always a good idea to file a travel notice with your issuer (although some do not require this). Regardless, if possible, you may want to have a backup card you can use if needed or even carry some local cash just in case.
Be aware of credit card acceptance at your destination
Speaking of having a backup, the necessity to carry cash or multiple types of credit cards may depend on where you’re visiting. Although credit card acceptance in many countries is in line with what you’ll find in America, other cultures may be more cash-based. On top of that, certain card networks may not be as widely used as they are here at home. Thus, it may be a good idea to hold cards from multiple networks (Visa, Mastercard, American Express, etc.) to improve the odds of your card being honored.
Consider mobile wallets
Finally, something I’ve noticed during my travels in recent years is a shift toward contactless payments. In fact, while in Hong Kong early last year, I found a few places where there was no swipe or chip insert mechanism available — only tappable payments. Meanwhile, in France, we found that even our NFC-enabled cards weren’t accepted (we’d need to use the chip for payment instead) whereas I could sue the cards in Apple Pay without issue. Based on that insight, I’d personally recommend adding your “no foreign transaction fee” cards to Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay, or the like before embarking on your trips. Not only does this increase security but could also save you time and hassle as you navigate new cities.
Even if it may not seem like you’ll need a “no foreign transaction fee” card for a while, the truth is that it never hurts to have this bonus perk. What’s more, several top cards feature no foreign transaction fees among their other attractive rewards, meaning you won’t need to sacrifice anything for this benefit. It should also be noted that you may not even need to travel to encounter foreign transaction fees as online shopping can sometimes result in paying with international currencies. Therefore, if you’re in the market for a new credit card, finding one that won’t charge you foreign fees is a must.
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Also published on Medium.