[Disclosure: Cards from our partners are reviewed below.]
One of the greatest challenges to planning trips outside the country is figuring out how to balance cost and convenience. Not only do you often end up spending a lot of money when traveling abroad, you only have so much time to do it. If you want your getaway to be both affordable and enjoyable, you’ll need some help. Sure, guidebooks and deal sites are great resources, but a credit card can have immense value as well.
How to Get a Credit Card for International Travel
Dozens of credit cards have travel perks, but there are a few particular benefits international travelers should look for when choosing a credit card. A credit card with no foreign transaction fees, a low (or no) annual fee and wide acceptance hits the international-travel trifecta. (Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Discover are widely accepted overseas, but Visa and MasterCard tend to have more global reach than the other two. Even if your card is accepted in the country you’re visiting, it’s up to individual merchants what they’ll accept, so it’s always a good idea to have multiple forms of payment.) And credit cards can be a better choice than cash when traveling abroad, because credit cards have fraud protection unlike cash. Plus, using your debit card abroad can carry hefty exchange and ATM fees. And debit cards have inferior fraud protections compared to credit cards.
As with all financial products, there’s no best credit card for international travel, but we’ve highlighted a few of the industry leaders below. Keep in mind that most credit cards with travel benefits require applicants to have good or excellent credit, so take the time to see where your credit stands before applying (each credit application will ding your score a bit). You can see two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com. This guide will help you understand how to get the best terms on a new credit card.
Our Picks for the Best Credit Cards for International Travel
Why We Picked It: Like many travel credit cards, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite has a nice signup bonus — 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 within 90 days of account opening — and allows you to redeem rewards for a variety of travel purchases. But there’s an extra perk that makes this card stand out: chip and PIN. If you want to use an unattended kiosk to buy something in another country (think public transport tickets or vending machines), you’ll need a card with chip-and-PIN capability. Most U.S. cards with EMV only have chip-and-signature at this point. Another appealing feature: When you redeem your rewards miles, you get 5% of the amount added back to your miles balance.
Additional Details: You earn two miles per dollar on all purchases, and travel redemptions start at 10,000 miles for $100. This card has no foreign transaction fees, and the miles don’t expire. There’s also a 0% introductory APR for 12 months on balance transfers made in the first 45 days of opening an account. (Balance transfers have a $5 or 3% fee, whichever is greater.) After that, the standard APR applies.
Annual Fee: $89 (waived the first year)
APR: Variable 16.99%, 20.99% or 23.99%
Why We Picked It: The high signup bonus (40,000 miles for spending $3,000 in the first three months of account opening), consistent rewards rate (two miles per dollar), low annual fee ($59, waived the first year) and lack of foreign transaction fees makes this a solid choice for international travelers.
Additional Details: The flexibility of the rewards make this card attractive to travelers who aren’t tied to a particular airline or hotel chain: Your miles don’t expire for the life of the account, and you can redeem them for statement credits at a rate of 100 miles per $1 within 90 days of making a travel purchase. You can also redeem miles for non-travel statement credits, gift cards and other rewards, though redemption rates vary.
Annual Fee: $59 (waived the first year)
APR: Variable 13.99%, 18.99% or 23.99%
BankAmericard Travel Rewards Credit Card
Why We Picked It: A lot of good travel credit cards have annual fees — this one doesn’t. There are also no foreign transaction fees, making this a very affordable card to carry alongside your passport.
Additional Details: You earn 1.5 points per dollar on all purchases, and points don’t expire. You can redeem them for a statement credit at a rate of 100 points per dollar on travel purchases. You can also redeem points for cash back or gift cards, but the rates of redemption are lower. If you’re an existing Bank of America customer, you could earn more rewards with a customer bonus. All cardmembers are eligible to earn 20,000 bonus points by making $1,000 of purchases within the first 90 days of opening an account, and there’s an introductory APR of 0% on purchases for 12 months (standard APR applies thereafter).
Annual Fee: None
APR: 0% introductory rate for 12 months, then variable 15.74% to 23.74%
Why We Picked It: The Chase Sapphire Preferred has a nice signup bonus — 50,000 bonus points if you spend $4,000 in the first three months — and you can redeem your rewards at a higher rate when you book through Chase Ultimate Rewards. When redeeming for cash, 100 points have a $1 value. When redeeming for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 100 points have a $1.25 value.
Additional Details: This card has no foreign transaction fees, points never expire and you earn two points per dollar on travel and dining. (Other purchases have a point-per-dollar earning rate.) Cardholders can transfer points to some airline and hotel reward programs at a 1:1 rate.
Annual Fee: $95 (waived the first year)
APR: Variable 16.99% to 23.99%
At publishing time, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard, Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and Chase Sapphire Preferred are offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply and ultimately sign up for these cards. However, these relationships do not result in any preferential editorial treatment. This content is not provided by the card issuers. Any opinions expressed are those of Credit.com alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuers.
Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.
This article has been updated. It was originally published February 15, 2017.