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What Is a Credit Card Foreign Transaction Fee?

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woman making credit card purchase that will have foreign transaction fee

Whether you’re an experienced world traveler or eager to start your first adventure, there are a lot of details to plan for and things to do to get ready for your trip. An essential way to save and prepare for your trip is with a great travel credit card, but did you know some cards come with foreign transaction fees?

Learn about these fees. Find credit cards that don’t charge foreign transaction fees. And discover how you can come home from your next adventure with more money in your pocket.

Foreign Transaction Fees Explained

A foreign transaction fee is a fee charged when you make a payment or transaction in a foreign currency with a credit card or any electronic payment card. Fees are usually about 3% of the total transaction and are in U.S. dollars.

So if you use your credit card to buy your nephew a souvenir in Italy with the local currency, you may be charged a foreign transaction fee or international transaction fee on top of the cost of the souvenir. If that souvenir costs $100 U.S. dollars, you may pay a $3 foreign transaction fee.

All credit cards describe their fees in the fine print, so you research your current card and find out if it charges a foreign transaction fee. There are many instances when you’ll be charged these fees if you’re traveling internationally:

  • Withdrawing money from an international ATM, including for cash advances
  • Shopping at an online store that charges a non-U.S. currency
  • Reserving a room at a hotel outside your own country
  • Booking domestic flights in another country
  • Sending money to another country
  • Making any international transaction

Many times you are charged foreign transaction fees before you even leave the country. And even using a debit card can result in being charged foreign transaction fees. If you’re preparing to travel, try and find a credit card and debit card that charges no foreign transaction fees.

Cost of Transaction Fees

Every bank or lending institution can charge its own foreign transaction fees. Most fees range from 1 to 3%. Even 3% may not feel like a large amount, but every penny counts when it comes to travel. Saving small percentages quickly adds up to another night in your favorite hostel in Paris, another meal in Morocco or another rickshaw ride through Bangkok.

Exchange Rate and Currency Conversion Fees

The exchange rate is how much one currency is worth compared to another currency. For example, depending on the current exchange rate, a U.S. dollar might be worth 1.38 Euros, making the U.S. dollar more valuable and lowering the cost to travel. On the flip side, a U.S. dollar might also be worth .9 Euros, making it more costly to travel.

Each credit card issuer—MasterCard, Visa and American Express for example—offers a specific credit card exchange rate. Issuer rates are typically close to the true exchange rate. Using a credit card issuer’s exchange rate can help you save money on currency exchange rates compared to traditional banks.

For example, if today’s exchange rate from dollars to pounds is $1 for £.90, your credit card may offer an exchange rate very close to that rate. A bank or other financial institution, on the other hand, may offer a rate of up to 10% less than your credit card provides.

Ask about any currency conversion fees as well. Some credit cards charge a fee for every transaction. A currency conversion fee can be a set percentage, like a 1% fee, or a dollar amount, like a $1.50 per transaction. It’s a term that has been replaced by foreign transaction fee, so any credit card that offers no foreign transactions fees will also have no currency conversion fees.

Small Fees Add Up Quickly

Even if your current credit card has a typical and seemingly low foreign transaction fee of 3%, you can quickly lose hundreds of dollars on charges while you travel. Here’s a quick example to highlight the importance of transaction fees. Imagine a quick budget for a weekend in Paris.

You get a great deal on round-trip tickets to this exciting international city of just $300. Once you arrive, accommodations are pricey. You could spend about $100 per night to stay at a great hotel or hostel downtown for three nights. With excellent views of the Seine and, of course, the Eiffel Tower, it’s a wonderful place to launch your Parisian adventure.

Riding the metro is a great way to enjoy Paris, and you spend around $20 to get around town. No international trip is complete without food, and you spend $100 at cafes and restaurants.

Let’s take a look at all these expenses, without any souvenirs or unexpected costs:

  • $300 for flight
  • $300 for accommodations
  • $20 for transportation
  • $100 for food

This total of $720 would cost you an additional $21 in foreign transaction fees. If you’re planning a long trip or going for multiple weekend trips, such costs can easily add up. Simply cutting these additional fees can buy you another meal at your favorite Parisian restaurant.

The Beauty of Credit Cards with No Foreign Transaction Fees

Now that you understand the cost of foreign transaction fees, it’s time to find a card that doesn’t have those fees. Luckily, you’ve plenty of credit card options to choose from. Here are just a few of what the Credit.com team has dubbed the best available travel credit cards. These cards not only charge no foreign transaction fees but also let you earn rewards.

When looking for a travel rewards credit card, consider if the card offers no annual fee, offers points or cash-back, depending on your preference, and at any sign-on bonuses offered.

Saying Yes to a Rewards Credit Card

The best part of travel credit cards is the rewards programs they include. Every issuer has a slightly different program, but all programs work in a similar way. Basically, you earn points on your purchases, usually 1 point for every dollar spent, but sometimes up to  5 points depending on the card. What you use these points for depends on your travel style and card type. The best credit cards allow you to redeem your points for a variety of rewards including:

  • Airfare
  • Hotels
  • Cashback
  • Online purchases
  • Tickets for events
  • Train tickets
  • Car rentals

The Greatest Travel Reward Deals

While it’s tempting to use your reward points to simply earn cash, you often receive a better deal if you use them to book travel or accommodations. Shop around and discover great deals on reward programs.

For example, a rewards credit card may be offering a sale to redeem points for a hotel in Berlin. You could book this room in downtown Berlin for $150 per night, or use 15,000 points. However, 15,000 points may only redeem $120 in cashback. If you use your points for your hotel stay, you make $30.

Of course, reward points don’t have a strict redemption value, so 15,000 points may be worth more or less depending on your specific program and it’s redemption values.

Seeing the World

With the right credit card, you’re one step closer to your international vacation. As you dream about your next travel destination, browse the rewards credit card options at Credit.com. You can search our complete list of credit cards available and compare and contrast each option to find the right card for your lifestyle.


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