Best Study Abroad Credit Cards

John Ganotis

John Ganotis

Updated Dec 06, 2017

Studying abroad is a unique experience that allows you to travel and immerse yourself in a new culture. With these new opportunities come the responsibility of financial planning. Allocating your limited funds as a student can be difficult, especially with an entirely new currency and the burden of an exchange rate.

A credit card can be a free and convenient way to safely carry spending power without the same risks as cash or a debit card. However, if not used responsibly, a credit card can quickly become very expensive.

This page covers our top credit card picks for students going abroad, and we also cover credit card tips for studying abroad.

Best Credit Cards for College Students Studying Abroad

We’ve selected these three cards as some top prospects you might want to consider if you’re looking for a good card to use while studying abroad. Here’s why:

Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard

The Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard (Review) is the only one of these three that supports Chip-and-PIN, so this card will be the most compatible abroad.

It has no foreign transaction fees, which also makes it a good fit for use outside the United States, but it does have an annual fee after the first year. This card also has a rewards program designed to effectively give you 2% cash back to use on travel expenses, so it could help you pay for future travel when you use it for things you’re buying anyway.

The Arrival Plus is designed for people with excellent credit, so if you don’t have blemish-free credit history already established you may not qualify. If you don’t have credit established, someone you trust with excellent credit, and who also trusts you, could apply for this card then add you as an authorized user so you can get this card and use it to build your own credit history.

Capital One Journey Student Credit Card

The Capital One Journey Student Credit Card (Review) is designed for college students, and it has no foreign transaction fee, which scores it big points as a card to use while studying abroad.

It earns 1.25% cash back as long as you’re paying your bills on time, and has no annual fee. If you’re new to credit cards and can’t get anyone to add you as an authorized user, this could be a great all-around choice. It’s a good card to start building credit that’s also a good choice for use while studying abroad.

Like most Visa cards issued in the U.S., this card has Chip-and-Signature technology, but not Chip-and-PIN — it will work many places abroad, but not as many as a card that support Chip-and-PIN.

Citi ThankYou Preferred Card for College Students

The Citi ThankYou Preferred Card for College Students (Review) is another card designed for college students who want to establish credit history, so it doesn’t require that you already have significant credit history established.

It has no annual fee, but has a 3% foreign transaction fee, so it probably won’t be your top choice for use while studying abroad. The card has a reward program that earns points: 2 points per dollar for dining and entertainment purchases, and 1 point on other types of purchases. You’ll be able to redeem them for up to 1¢ per point, so this is almost like getting 1–2% cash back on purchases. Depending on the categories you spend on most, the ThankYou Preferred for College Students may earn you more in rewards value than the Capital One Journey, even though it may not be the top choice.

Since it’s a Mastercard with Chip-and-Signature, this card should be pretty widely accepted abroad, although not at quite as many places as a card with Chip-and-PIN technology.

Credit Card Tips for Studying Abroad

Keep these tips in mind, whether you’re looking to get a card or already have one that you’ll be using abroad.

Selecting a new card

  • Choose a credit card that’s widely accepted. If you’re looking for your first credit card, choose one that will be good in the U.S. as well as abroad. Keep in mind credit cards on the Visa and Mastercard networks tend to be more widely accepted abroad than American Express and Discover cards.
  • Find a card with no foreign transaction fees. Many credit cards charge a 3% fee on top of every purchase made in a foreign currency.
  • To maximize compatibility abroad, pick a card with Chip-and-PIN technology. Almost all cards in the U.S. use Chip-and-Signature, which is not accepted everywhere abroad. For example, at an unmanned train ticket machine there is no person to check your signature, so the machine may accept cards with Chip-and-PIN, but not cards that only support Chip-and-Signature. Barclaycard is the only major issuer in the U.S. that offers credit cards that support Chip-and-PIN. If you’re looking for a U.S.-issued card that supports Chip-and-PIN, we recommend the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard (Review).
  • If you don’t have credit established already, you may be able to get someone you trust with good credit history, like a parent, to apply for a card and add you as an authorized user.
  • If you’re new to credit cards and building credit, read our guide to building credit with credit cards and ask us any questions you have.

Using a credit card abroad

  • Contact your bank in advance to let them know you will be abroad and provide a list of your potential travel destinations. This will help prevent your card from being declined for possible fraud.
  • Sign the back of your credit card and carry photo identification. European countries take theft seriously and may refuse your card if they think it’s stolen. Since signing for a credit card transaction is not normal in other parts of the world, expect merchants to examine your signature closely — they probably won’t have the same lackadaisical attitude toward credit card signatures as merchants in the United States do.
  • Make sure you understand how exchange rates work, and the cost in U.S. Dollars for anything you’re buying. For example, if the current exchange rate of USD to Euros is $1 to €0.84, you’ll be paying $1.19 for every Euro you spend. At that rate, if you buy something on your credit card for €200 you’ll owe your credit card company $238.61.
  • Don’t borrow cash from your credit card issuer, unless it’s an extreme emergency. Cash advances are very expensive, and can show your lender you’re being irresponsible.
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