An international credit card can be used pretty much anywhere in the world. It’s a card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees and includes an international chip and PIN.
Not all cards that work in the U.S. work when you’re traveling internationally. A card you can use in Australia, Canada, Europe, Japan, Mexico and elsewhere means you won’t run into businesses that only accept specific types of payments or certain currencies when you’re traveling.
If you want to avoid the hassles of carrying cash or traveler’s checks, getting stuck at a kiosk unable to finish a transaction or paying foreign transaction fees for your purchases, an international credit card is a must-have.
Credit card foreign transaction fees
A foreign credit card transaction fee is a fee charged when you use your credit card to make a payment in a different country. It used to be known as a foreign currency conversion fee. It’s a fee added on to the sale because you’re paying in a foreign currency. Typically, foreign transaction fees are roughly 3% of the total cost of the transaction. They are also charged in U.S. dollars.
If you purchase an item or souvenir in another nation’s currency and the total bill comes to $100, with 3% in a foreign transaction fee tacked on, you pay a total of $103.
Foreign transaction fees are charged on different types of transactions, including ATM withdrawals, hotel reservations or even booking airline flights. The terms and conditions for foreign transaction fees are usually included in the fine print of your credit card cardholders agreement. Make sure you review your agreement so you understand all rates and fees before using your card for purchases abroad.
The international chip and PIN
The international chip and PIN are part of a system—referred to as Euro Pay, Mastercard
or EMV chips. EMV chips started in Europe and are now integrated into credit cards world-wide. The chip replaced the traditional magnetic strip used on U.S. credit cards until recently. Many foreign merchants won’t accept standard magnetic strip credit cards, because the technology is considered unsafe and outdated.
U.S. merchants that accept magnetic strip cards now foot the liability of fraudulent transactions where the credit card company foots if it a chip card is used.
The PIN, or personal identification number, is a standard part of cards in Europe. The PIN associates a four-digit number with the card to identify the cardholder’s authenticity and authorize transactions—usually at self-serve kiosks, ticket booths, gas pumps, toll booths and phone booths. While uncommon, it’s useful to get a PIN for your international credit card so you don’t find yourself at a self-serve kiosk unable to complete your purchase when traveling.
So, if you plan to travel outside the U.S., especially if your plans include Europe, when shopping for a travel credit card, look for one that features international chip and PIN capabilities.
International credit card options
There are different international credit cards available, but some offer better benefits and interest rates than others. Some even offer a rewards program. The editors at Credit.com break down a few of the available cards here to help you see some of your options and start to find the best card for your travels.
An international credit card to consider is the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. This card was named the “Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption” by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance in June of 2018. This Chase
card lets you earn 60,000 bonus point after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from your initial account opening. That equals $750 you can use toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards. Better yet, this card doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees and there are no blackout dates or travel restrictions. It does have a somewhat higher variable annual percentage rate (APR) for both purchases and balance transfers. Nonetheless, if you don’t carry a high balance, this one is a nice all-around option.
Another nice international travel card option is the Wells Fargo Propel American Express
card. Its intro bonus isn’t quite as much as the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, but it’s still a nice 30,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 in purchase in the first three months, which is worth a $300 cash redemption value. This card also has an intro APR of 0% intro for 12 months on purchases and 0% intro for 12 months on qualifying balance transfers. And it has no annual fee.
The Wells Fargo
card also rewards you when you travel with 3X points for eating out and ordering in and 3x points for flights, hotels, homestays and car rentals. Plus, you get 1X points on all other purchases. And it has no foreign transaction fees or foreign currency conversion fee.
The Capital One Venture Rewards card is a credit card worth considering too. It offers a solid introductory APR and travel rewards points. It also rewards you with a sign-on bonus of up to 20,000 miles or $200 in travel when you spend $1,000 in your first three months. The only downside is that this card comes with an annual fee after the first year.
If you enjoy the Capital One
brand but want to avoid an annual fee, consider the Capital One Venture One Rewards Credit Card. The card gives you all the advantages of Capital One without a fee every year.
If you’re after a prepaid debit card that has no foreign transaction fees, consider the Kroger
Rewards Prepaid Visa card.
Things to consider
Even with an international means of payment, your credit card may not be accepted at all locations. Recently, a Credit.com staffer who traveled to Amsterdam tried to use his World Elite Mastercard at some retailers and found that local merchants didn’t always accept a Mastercard branded card.
Before embarking on your trip, it’s beneficial to check either with stores (if possible) or the credit card issuer itself to see if any conditions exist that might prevent your card from being accepted by foreign merchants. Alternatively, you consider taking a few different brands of international credit cards with your and/or have some cash in the local currency or traveler’s checks on hand—just in case.
Check your credit
Before applying for an international credit card, it’s important to check your credit score and see what you qualify for. A low score or no score at all could get in the way of your dreams of traveling with an international credit card in hand. Most international credit cards that offer cash-back or miles require a good or even excellent score.
Regardless of your score, there are international credit card options out there available if your credit is just fair or poor. One such card is the Capital One Quicksilver One Cash Rewards Credit Card. It also has no foreign transaction fees.
International travel with a credit card is convenient, but it can also be tricky. If you’re planning a trip abroad, it’s important to research which international credit cards will serve you best. Having a credit card that can be used anywhere in the world and doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees is a great tool to have in your pocket but the terms and conditions of each card vary depending on several factors including your credit history, your spending habits and the places you plan to visit.