6 Best Credit Cards for International Travel

Susan Shain

Susan Shain | Blog

Aug 16, 2019 | Updated Aug 27, 2019

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If there was one thing my mom taught me about traveling outside the United States, it was to get a card without foreign transaction fees. She had a card from Capital One back in the day, which was one of the first issuers to abandon these pesky fees.

Nowadays, there are so many more cards for international travelers to choose from — my card comes with airport lounge access, travel credits, and the ability to quickly earn rewards toward free flights.

So if you’re getting ready to explore foreign lands, keep reading. We’ve selected the six best credit card offers for traveling abroad.

Many travel rewards credit cards require strong credit scores. So before going any further, check your credit reports and scores to make sure you’ll qualify.

6 Best Credit Cards for International Travel

Best For Card Name
Serious Travelers Chase Sapphire Reserve® (Review)
Occasional Travelers Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (Review)
No Annual Fee Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card (Review)
Flat-Rate Rewards Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card (Review)
Foodies Uber Visa Card (Review)
Debit Cards Schwab Bank Visa® Platinum Debit Card

Best for Serious Travelers

I’d confidently call the Reserve the best card for foreign travel. It’s become such a staple in my wallet that I’ve canceled all my other cards.

Not only does it earn generous rewards — more than many co-branded cards, even — but it also comes with a slew of travel perks. While the $450 annual fee is eye-popping, avid road warriors will quickly make up for it with the $300 annual credit on travel purchases, which effectively reduces the annual fee to $150.

SPENDING REWARDS
  • 3X Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on:
    • Travel (after using the full $300 travel credit)
    • Dining
  • 1X Ultimate Rewards point per dollar spent everywhere else
INTRODUCTORY BONUS OFFER
  • 50,000 Ultimate Rewards bonus points for spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months after account opening
    • Value: $500–$1,000 (assuming 1–2 cents per point)
    • Return on spend: 12.5%–25%

Key Features

  • Perks: $300 annual travel credit, Priority Pass membership, Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit, Primary Car Rental Insurance, Trip Delay Insurance, 50% bonus when redeeming points, and more
  • Annual fee: $450
  • Purchase APR: 18.99% - 25.99% Variable

Read more in our Review of the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card.

Best for Occasional Travelers

If you’re not a hardcore traveler who needs all the bells and whistles of the Reserve, the Preferred is a fantastic alternative. (It’s what I had before I got the Reserve and promptly forgot about all other credit cards.)

It earns solid rewards, and like the Reserve, has great travel and car rental insurance. For $95, its fee is much easier to swallow, making it a good choice for people who travel less frequently.

SPENDING REWARDS
  • 2X Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on:
    • Travel
    • Dining
  • 1X Ultimate Rewards point per dollar spent everywhere else
INTRODUCTORY BONUS OFFER
  • 50,000 Ultimate Rewards bonus points for spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months after account opening
    • Value: $500–$1,000 (assuming 1–2 cents per point)
    • Return on spend: 12.5%–25%

Key Features

  • Perks: Primary Car Rental Insurance, Baggage and Trip Delay Insurance, 25% bonus when redeeming points, and more
  • Annual fee: $95
  • Purchase APR: 17.99% - 24.99% Variable

Read more in our Review of the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.

Both Chase cards earn Ultimate Rewards points, which can be transferred at a 1:1 ratio to more than a dozen hotel and airline partners. For more details, jump to the rewards section below.

Best for No Annual Fee

Unless you’re traveling several times a year, you probably don’t need a travel rewards card like the Chase options above. You’d be better off getting a card with a lower annual fee.

Cash back cards are one consideration — but if you plan to travel abroad regularly (say, once a year), it’s worth getting a card with no foreign transaction fees.

We like this Capital One card because it has no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees. It also earns decent rewards, especially with the Hotels.com promotion that’s running through January 2020.

SPENDING REWARDS
  • 1.25X miles per dollar on all other purchases
INTRODUCTORY BONUS OFFER
  • 20,000 bonus miles for spending $1,000 in the first 3 months after account opening
    • Value: $200–$400 (assuming 1–2 cents per mile)
    • Return on spend: 20%–40%

Key Features

  • Perks: Potential Visa Signature benefits, like the Luxury Hotel Collection and concierge service
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Purchase APR: 14.24% - 24.24% (Variable)

Read more in our Review of the Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card.

Other cards that don’t have foreign transaction or annual fees include the Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card, Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card, and HSBC Cash Rewards Mastercard® credit card. And the Uber Visa card below!

Best for Flat-Rate Rewards

Want to get out and see the world, but don’t currently spend that much money on travel and dining? Then take a look at this card, which earns at least 2X miles everywhere (think: gas stations, grocery stores, pharmacies, etc.), making it a smart choice for aspiring globetrotters.

Once you’ve racked up your miles — which won’t be too hard, given the welcome bonus — you can transfer them to more than a dozen airline partners.

SPENDING REWARDS
  • 2X miles per dollar on all other purchases
INTRODUCTORY BONUS OFFER
  • 50,000 bonus miles for spending $3,000 in the first 3 months after account opening
    • Value: $500–$1,000 (assuming 1–2 cents per mile)
    • Return on spend: 16.67%–33.33%

Key Features

  • Perks: Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit, plus Visa Signature benefits, like the Luxury Hotel Collection and Concierge service
  • Annual fee: $0 intro for first year; $95 after that
  • Purchase APR: 17.99% - 25.24% (Variable)

Read more in our Review of the Capital One® Venture Rewards® Credit Card.

Best for Foodies

Bon appétit! If you’re seeking a no-fee credit card that also earns rewards on the best activity in the world — EATING — then look no further.

This card earns nice rewards on dining and certain major travel expenses, and has the added bonus of no foreign transaction fees. It’s also handy for any online purchases that might come up. A very tasty choice, indeed.

SPENDING REWARDS
  • 4% cash back on dining, including restaurants, bars, and UberEATS
  • 3% cash back on hotels and airfare, including vacation home rentals
  • 2% cash back for online purchases, including Uber
  • 1% cash back for all other purchases
INTRODUCTORY BONUS OFFER
  • $100 cash bonus for spending $500 in the first 90 days after account opening
    • Return on spend: 20%

Key Features

  • Perks: $50 streaming credit if you spend $5,000 in a given account year, exclusive invitations to Uber events, free FICO Score 8 based on your TransUnion report, Cell Phone Protection
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Purchase APR: 17.99%, 23.99% or 28.74% Variable

Read more in our Review of the Uber Visa Card.

Best Debit Card

Okay, okay, so this clearly isn’t a credit card, but it deserves a spot in your wallet anyway. No matter where you travel, you’ll need a little bit of cash, and the best place to get it is at an ATM. (Those money exchange booths don’t offer great rates, and travelers checks have gone the way of the dodo.)

That said, you should never use a credit card at an ATM, as it comes with an onslaught of fees. You should instead use a travel-friendly debit card.

In my opinion, this one reigns supreme. I’ve had it for a decade, and have convinced half my friends to sign up, as well.

Here’s why: It doesn’t charge ATM fees, so you never have to worry about whether an ATM is in- or out-of-network — and even better, it refunds the fees charged by other ATMs. It also has zero monthly fees and excellent customer service.

Read more about the Schwab Bank Visa® Platinum Debit Card.

While you should always use your debit card at ATMs, you should use your credit card for purchases at stores and restaurants. That’s because, in case of fraud or theft, your credit card will offer better protections.

What About Co-Branded or Cash Back Cards?

As you can see, we only included general travel rewards cards in the list above. Because these cards earn points or miles that can be redeemed with a variety of partners, they’re the most flexible and useful for the everyday traveler.

If you’re loyal to a hotel or airline, however, you might find better value with a co-branded card whose points are best used at that particular chain. Not only do these come with high earning capability, but they also come with special travel perks.

With airline credit cards, you’ll usually get free checked bags and priority boarding; with hotel cards, you might get free nights or elite status in hotel loyalty programs. Some good examples include the Hilton, United, and Southwest credit cards.

Alternatively, if you aren’t going to travel overseas, you might fare better with a cash back card like the Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer (Review). These cards often come with lower fees, and earn straightforward cash back on every purchase that you can redeem for statement credits.

9 Qualities of the Best Credit Cards for International Travel

Here are nine things you should look for when you’re planning on using a credit card internationally.

1. No Foreign Transaction Fees

Most credit cards charge foreign transaction fees, which equate to around 3% of any purchase made in a currency other than U.S. dollars.

So, on an international trip where you charged €3,000 to your card, you’d pay €90 in fees. Alternatively, you could get a card without foreign transaction fees (like the options mentioned above), and use that €90 to enjoy one more dinner at that cozy French bistro, complete with a nice bottle of Cab.

Having a card that’s chip-and-PIN enabled — and with contactless capability — is a good idea, as these technologies are much more common abroad. There’s a decent selection of PIN-enabled cards today, and many now come equipped with contactless tech, so if your card isn’t expiring for a while, ask your issuer if it can send you an updated version.

2. Global Acceptance

When it comes to going abroad, all cards are not created equally: Certain credit card companies are much more widely accepted than others.

For example, a Discover card in Europe is nothing more than a wallet decoration, as few shops will accept it. On the other hand, you can go pretty much anywhere in the world with Visa or Mastercard.

international credit card utilization

When it comes to global transactions, Visa has a large lead, followed by UnionPay and Mastercard. Amex and Discover are miniscule in comparison. Image credit: The Nilson Report

While American Express cards are accepted more widely than Discover, they’re still infinitely less ubiquitous than Visa or Mastercard. You’ll be able to use them at international chains, as well as restaurants and hotels in tourist hotspots, but we wouldn’t call them reliable.

If you really want a card that runs on the Amex network, two solid travel cards are The Platinum Card® from American Express (Review) (Rates & Fees), which is a luxury card with plum benefits, and the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card (Review), which offers 3X points per dollar on a range of categories — including dining, gas, transit, flights, hotels, and “popular streaming services” — for no annual fee. Just make sure that, if you’re traveling abroad with Amex or Discover, you also keep a Visa or Mastercard in your wallet as backup.

3. Good Exchange Rates

If you make a purchase in Thai Baht, it’ll show up on your credit card statement in U.S. dollars. That’s because your payment network (Visa, Mastercard, Amex, Discover) did the currency conversion for you.

While it won’t make a huge difference, it’s worth noting that some sources say Mastercard usually offers a slightly better exchange rate. There aren’t a ton of great Mastercard travel cards, but if this is something you care about you can check out Capital One and Citi for some pretty good options.

If a point-of-sale machine asks you to charge your purchase in dollars instead of the local currency, you should ALWAYS decline. This practice, known as “dynamic currency conversion,” is a total rip-off — and could cost you several percentage points on each purchase.

4. High Earning Rate and Signup Bonus

Aside from having something to swipe while abroad, one of the main reasons to get a travel credit card is to earn rewards.

Credit cards generally earn rewards in two ways: a welcome bonus when you apply and spend a certain amount, and ongoing rewards when you spend money in certain categories. 

For instance, several of the cards above earn a boatload of bonus points or miles when you spend several thousand dollars in the first three months. That’s enough for almost a week’s worth of free hotel stays, or a free round-trip economy flight to most places in the world. #winning

Besides a big signup bonus, you should also look for a travel card that earns rewards in categories in which you frequently spend money, such as airfare, dining, gas, or groceries. That will help you rack up more points and miles for your next trip!

5. Valuable Travel Rewards Program

Those rewards, however, won’t do you any good unless you can easily redeem them for travel. Which is why it’s important to consider the type of points or miles you’re earning with each card.

When we were choosing the best credit cards for international travel, we looked for cards that let you transfer points and miles at a 1:1 ratio to airline or hotel partners — because that’ll get you the most bang for your buck. (For example, if you transfer 30,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United, you’ll receive 30,000 United miles. You can redeem those for a free United flight, paying only the taxes and fees.)

Here’s what you’ll get for Chase and Capital One partners (current as of August 2019):

  • Chase Ultimate Rewards: Aer Lingus, Air France/KLM, British Airways, Iberia, JetBlue, Singapore Airlines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt, IHG, Marriott, Ritz Carlton
  • Capital One Venture Miles: Aeromexico, Air France/KLM, Air Canada, Alitalia, AsiaMiles, Avianca, Emirates, Etihad, EVA, Finnair, Hainan Airlines, JetBlue, Qantas, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines

See your hometown airline on one of those lists? Then that could be a reason to choose one type of card over the other.

6. Airport Lounge Access

Dreaming of the lounge life? If you ask me, lounge access is basically the number-one reason to have a credit card.

Every time you fly, you’ll get free food and drinks, dedicated WiFi, and comfy seating. And certain credit cards give it to you for free! 

From the list above, only the Chase Sapphire Reserve® (Review) comes with lounge access. It includes a Priority Pass Select membership, which gets you into more than 1,200 lounges and experiences (including free restaurant credits) around the world.

Priority Pass member lounges

Priority Pass member lounges. Image credit: Priority Pass

Read more about credit cards with airport lounge access.

7. Global Entry Fee Reimbursement

Another way to travel in style is to become a Global Entry member. This “Trusted Traveler” program from the U.S. government allows you to bypass security lines when traveling domestically, and immigration lines when returning from a trip abroad.

Though the application costs $100 for four years, select travel cards — like the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Capital One Venture — will reimburse the fee.

You’ll note this perk is often listed as a “Global Entry/TSA PreCheck” credit. That’s because it’ll cover either program — but if you plan to travel internationally, you’ll want to go for Global Entry. It affords the same benefits as TSA PreCheck, with the added bonus of being able to skip lines at immigration.

Read more about cards with Global Entry and TSA PreCheck application fee credits.

8. Travel Insurance

Since hitting the road always has its ups and downs, many credit cards come with travel insurance, too.

This can encompass a range of features, including:

  • Trip cancellation: Reimburses prepaid travel expenses when you need to cancel a trip
  • Trip delay: Pays for food and lodging when your trip is delayed by six hours or more
  • Lost baggage: Reimburses you for clothing or toiletries when your baggage is delayed or lost
  • Travel accident or emergency evacuation: Covers evacuation during medical emergencies, or payouts if you die or lose a limb

From the list above, the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Preferred cards offer the best travel insurance.

Read more about credit card travel insurance (and the cards that have it).

9. Rental Car Insurance

Many travel credit cards will have your back when you’re renting a car.

What you want to look for is “primary” coverage, which means you won’t need to bother your regular car insurance company if you get into an accident — and can file a claim straight with your credit card.

Again, the cards above with this feature are the Sapphire Reserve and Preferred.

Read more about the best credit cards for car rental insurance.

Which Credit Card for International Travel Should You Apply For?

When you’re getting ready for your big trip overseas, make sure to pack your sunglasses, your passport… and your international credit card. By choosing any of the options above, you’ll be ready for anything that comes your way.

Don’t want to scroll up again? Here’s a quick refresher:

Best For Card Name
Serious Travelers Chase Sapphire Reserve® (Review)
Occasional Travelers Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (Review)
No Annual Fee Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card (Review)
Flat-Rate Rewards Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card (Review)
Foodies Uber Visa Card (Review)
Debit Cards Schwab Bank Visa® Platinum Debit Card

PS. Once you’ve gotten the card, be sure to set a travel notice before going abroad. That way, your credit card issuer won’t view your charges as suspicious — and you won’t have to worry about your card getting declined when you’re just trying to enjoy a bowl of ramen in Japan.

Didn’t see the right card for you here? Browse our favorite travel rewards credit cards and you’re sure to find what you need.
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For rates and fees of the The Platinum Card® from American Express, please click here.

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