5 Awesome Credit Cards Without Foreign Transaction Fees

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One great trend we’ve seen from credit cards over the past few years has been the elimination of foreign transaction fees on many card products. Previously these fees largely negated the value of the points you’d earn from transactions while abroad.

As credit card acceptance continues to grow globally, having the right credit card to maximize your purchases abroad can be very beneficial. What are important characteristics for credit cards which are useful abroad?

  • No foreign transaction fees (obviously)
  • Bonus points for categories you spend most in internationally; for most people this will be travel purchases (airline tickets, hotels, train tickets, taxis, etc.) and dining
  • Chip & PIN technology, ideally, which is still a necessity at certain automated vendors

With that in mind, I figured I’d share what I consider to be the five best credit cards for foreign purchases:

Citi ThankYou® Premier Card

If you’re looking to maximize your return of points on foreign spend, this card is pretty tough to beat. The ThankYou Premier offers triple points on travel and gas purchases, and double points on dining and entertainment purchases.

For the purposes of the card, “travel” is defined as follows:

airlines, hotels, car rental agencies, travel agencies, gas stations, commuter transportation, taxi/limousines, passenger railways, cruise lines, bridge and road tolls, parking lots/garages, campgrounds and trailer parks, time shares, bus lines, motor home/RV Rental and boat rentals

Then “entertainment” is defined as follows:

sports promoters, theatrical promoters, movie theaters, amusement parks, tourist attractions, record stores and video rental stores

While everyone’s spend patterns when abroad are different, for my spend patterns that would translate into earning bonus points on a vast majority of my purchases while abroad.

Earn double points at amusement parks, including Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen

Citi Prestige® Card

This is the premium version of the ThankYou Premier Card, except it has a slightly different earnings structure. The card offers triple points on airfare and hotel purchases, and double points on dining and entertainment purchases.

The distinction is that the Prestige Card only offers triple points on travel purchases involving airlines and hotels, and not on car rentals, parking, trains, etc.

The added benefit of the Citi Prestige Card is that it offers excellent travel protection in the event you have delays or cancellations, and primary car rental coverage when abroad.

Earn triple points on airfare

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

The Chase Sapphire Preferred offers double points on dining and travel. Purchases categorized as “travel” include the following:

airlines, airports, car rental agencies (including truck, trailer, and RV), cruise ships, hotels and motels, timeshares, local and commuter transportation (including trains, buses, taxis/limos, ferries, bridges, tolls and parking), travel agencies

On top of that, the Chase Sapphire Preferred offers good consumer protection in the event of travel disruptions, along with primary car rental coverage, both in the US and abroad.

Earn double points on rental cars, plus primary collision coverage

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

This card was refreshed around the middle of last year, and one of the new perks is that there are no foreign transaction fees on the card anymore.

I value Starpoints at ~2.2 cents each, so to me the card offers among the best return on everyday, non-bonused spend. So for anyone looking to just maximize their points on spend abroad which doesn’t fit into bonus categories, the Starwood Amex is a great option.

Westin-Palace-Madrid-Hotel - 47
Earn double Starpoints for stays at SPG hotels, like the Westin Palace Madrid

Barclaycard Arrival® Plus World Elite Mastercard®

The Barclaycard Arrival Plus is one of the best travel cashback credit cards. You earn two miles per dollar spent, and each mile can be redeemed for one cent towards the cost of an airline ticket. On top of that, you get a 5% refund when you redeem points. In other words, you’re getting a return of ~2.1% on your spend.

The card also has Chip & PIN technology, so can be a great option for kiosks in Europe, some of which don’t accept non-PIN cards.

Use your card for Chip & PIN purchases, like train stations

Bottom line

Using the right credit card can make a huge difference in maximizing points while abroad. All of the above cards have different merits. Personally I’ve been using the Citi Prestige® Card for my international airfare and hotel purchases, while I’ve been using the Citi ThankYou® Premier Card for most other purchases, including transportation, dining, etc.

What’s your go to card for international travel?

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  1. Chip & PIN technology, ideally, which is still a necessity at certain automated vendors.

    None of these are really Chip and PIN. Barclays is Chip and Sig first, then PIN backup.

    The Bank of America Travel Rewards card has no foreign exchange or transaction fees and offers a 1.5% rebate and is Chip and Sig.

    FIA Amex Fidelity or now a Elan Fidelity Visa has a 1% foreign transaction fee but gives a 2% reward on all purchases, so the fee is more than offset.

    Now is Diners Club would ever get back to accepting applications, you’ll get a true Chip and offline PIN card with no forex and lounge accesses.

  2. Oh and all Capital One and Discover cards have no foreign exchange or transaction fees as well. Why aren’t these listed.

  3. I have used a British Air Chase Visa for quite a few years and it has no foreign currency conversion fees. I got Avios points for spending and have been able to get some decent redemptions on flights to London and Ireland. Even though they raised the points required for redemptions. I will use it for foreign transactions due to having no foreign currency conversion fee.

    It has an added rental car benefit for the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland where your rental car is covered if you meet criteria like declining the collision damage waiver protection. In Ireland, there is a separate insurance item for theft protection which is also covered with the rental car benefit. It is common for insurance costs to be close to the full cost of the rental with a super collision damage waiver, so this is a very good benefit with this card, particularly for someone who travels to Ireland regularly.

  4. Lucky this is a good post but for your mention of the Chase Sapphire Preferred. VISA cards are about 1% worse on forex than Mastercard and Amex. A little less shameless TPGing please

  5. Just would mention that citi prestige offers triple points on train travel (just not commuter). I’ve had Amtrak, Korail, and JR all get their proper bonus. And travel agents also get bonused, so not quite as restrictive as just “airfare and hotel.”

  6. Lucky, are there any no annual fee, no foreign transaction fee Mastercard out there, with or without rewards?

  7. In my experience, the CSP does not consistently give 2x for dining outside the US. Coupled with the worse Visa forex rate means it should not be recommended for this purpose.

  8. Navy Federal Credit Union offers all credit cards with no forex fee. CSP and SPG both have forex fees so why would you put them in a post that’s titled: 5 Awesome Credit Cards Without Foreign Transaction Fees? Hmmm . . .

  9. Askmrlee: The BofA card is actually well over 2% if you have $100K with BofA/Merrill. Also, Discover isn’t accepted abroad at all, at least in the parts of Europe I’ve visited. So I don’t think it really counts (outside China?).

    I agree that the chip & PIN point is a big one. Parking, toll, gas and train ticket kiosks can all require it. I have the Barclays AA card, which works like the Barclays card you mention.

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