[DISCLOSURE: Cards from our partners are mentioned 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
Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®
- Limited Time Offer: Enjoy 70,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first 90 days
- Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase
- Book travel your way—no airline, seat or hotel restrictions—and redeem your miles for travel statement credits
- Get 5% miles back to use toward your next redemption, every time you redeem
- No foreign transaction fees
- International Chip and PIN for use at self-service chip terminals around the world
- Miles don’t expire as long as your account is open, active and in good standing
Card Details +
Why We Picked It: Like many travel credit cards, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite has a nice welcome offer — 70,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first 90 days of the 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.
Why We Picked It: The awesome welcome offer (50,000 miles for spending $3,000 in the first three months of account opening), consistent rewards rate (2X miles per dollar), plus 10X miles per dollar spent on hotels.com/venture (learn more at hotels.com/venture), 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. Cardholders can also receive up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
Annual Fee: $0 intro for first year; $95 after that.
APR: 14.74% - 24.74% (Variable)
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 welcome offer for new cardholders. All new card members are eligible for their welcome offer: earn 25,000 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 16.99% – 24.99%
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
- Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- Chase Sapphire Preferred named "Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption" - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, June 2018
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- No foreign transaction fees
- 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
- No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards
Card Details +
Why We Picked It: The Chase Sapphire Preferred has a nice welcome offer — 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: $0 Intro for the first year, then $95
APR: 17.99% - 24.99% Variable
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 was last updated September 25th, 2018. It was originally published February 15, 2017.