For decades, globetrotters tolerated paying a percentage fee for the "convenience" of exchanging currency on the fly. Even after merchants around the world embraced credit cards, American tourists and professionals alike continued to let banks charge up to 5 percent on each transaction conducted outside the U.S. After all, if you had the cash to get yourself out of the country, you probably had some extra room in the budget for foreign transaction fees. Plus, they were almost always still cheaper than dealing with the high-cost street currency counter.
Credit card issuers have discovered over time that frequent overseas travelers typically spend far more with their accounts than cardholders who remain inside the United States. Eliminating foreign transaction fees means earning processing fees from merchants and annual fees from high-spending members. Whether you're a frequent flier on a first name basis with airport lounge attendants or just a casual traveler looking to save a few bucks, you can take advantage of the best credit cards with no foreign transaction fee.
Our editor's take:
This is a great travel card for someone who doesn't want to commit to a particular airline or hotel chain. Earn 2 miles per dollar on every purchase, every day. There's no cap on earning potential, no expiration date on those miles, no travel blackout dates and no foreign transaction fees.
Capital One does not charge foreign transaction fees across its entire credit card lineup. However, even casual travelers will love earning 2X miles per dollar spent on every purchase made on the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card. This card's Purchase Eraser tool lets you pick out eligible travel expenses from recent statements, then eliminates them by issuing a statement credit.
Unlike most other travel rewards cards, earned miles show up on your statement within a few days, enabling you to quickly convert large purchases into rewards toward flights or hotel nights. A typical household's monthly spending might earn more than enough rewards miles to offset this card's moderate annual fee ($0 introductory fee for the first year and $59 after that).
Not interested in paying an annual fee? With Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card, you can earn 1.25 miles per dollar on every purchase, every day, all while paying no foreign transaction fees and a $0 annual fee.
Our editor's take:
We like that this card gives new cardholders an opportunity to earn a hefty amount of bonus points, that you can earn 2 points per dollar spent on travel and dining at restaurants, and the ability to transfer points to participating frequent travel programs at full value.
New customers have the potential to earn a lot of bonus points with the Chase Sapphire Preferred. You can earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening (equal to $625 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®), plus earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first three months from account opening.
Earn 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants, and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases. This card offers multiple redemption options, including cash back, gift cards and travel. You'll always get 20 percent off travel when you redeem your points for airfare, hotel stays, car rentals and cruises when booking through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
Sweetening this card's potential is the ability to transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards®, at full value, to participating frequent traveler programs (in other words, 1,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards® points equal 1,000 partner points or miles). This card is chip-enabled for enhanced security and wider acceptance, charges no foreign transaction fees, and features 24/7 direct access to dedicated customer service specialists, which can come in quite handy no matter what time zone you're in.
Another card offering new customers the opportunity to earn some serious bonus points is the Citi ThankYou® Premier Card. You can earn 50,000 bonus ThankYou Points after making $3,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening, redeemable for $500 in gift cards, $625 for airfare, or other rewards.
Our editor's take:
Earn rate of 1.5x miles per dollar on purchases is competitive, but Discover also doubles all the miles you earned at the end of your first year with this card. Other interesting perks: Get up to $30 back for in-flight Wi-Fi each year, no annual fee, and you get a free FICO credit score each month. Turn your miles into cash or use them as a credit toward your statement.
Discover's newest product differentiates itself from other Discover it® cards by not offering bonus rewards on rotating categories, instead offering a higher base rate of earning plus some interesting perks for the frequent traveler.
Cardholders earn 1.5x miles for every dollar you spend on purchases, with 100 miles equating to one dollar. At the end of your first year of membership, Discover will double all miles earned. You can redeem miles in any amount toward travel purchases on your statement or get cash as a direct deposit to your bank account. Another core benefit is reimbursement for all in-flight Wi-Fi purchases via statement credit (up to $30 per year). All this comes with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees.
If you’d rather earn your rewards in the form of cash back, take a look at Discover it®-New! Double Cash Back your first year. Right now Discover is offering to double all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year automatically (only for new cardmembers). With this card you can earn 5 percent cash back in categories that change each quarter like gas and restaurants (up to the quarterly maximum when you sign up) and 1 percent cash back on all other purchases.
Our editor's take:
We're longtime fans of this card, which offers five points per dollar spent on airfare, an appealing bonus offer and no annual fee, plus the consumer-friendly benefits of a credit union.
Although Pentagon Federal Credit Union (PenFed) doesn't charge foreign transaction fees on any of its credit cards, this rewards card, which charges no annual fee, offers significant rewards for airfare purchases (5 points per dollar spent). PenFed designed their original cards to help soldiers and military families avoid banking fees during overseas deployments. With PenFed Credit Union membership and a strong credit report, you can submit a credit card application for consideration, if approved you can enjoy some of those same benefits. Cardholders can also request an embedded EMV chip, a feature that has become almost essential for travel in most parts of Europe.
Prefer to trade rewards for a lower APR? PenFed Promise Visa® Card also doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees or an annual fee, but features a lower variable purchase APR range (7.99-16.99 percent variable APR when you open your account, based on your creditworthiness).
Our editor's take:
A competitive 1.5 points per dollar earn rate is a good start, but what really catches our attention is this card's additional 10 percent customer points bonus on every purchase when you have an active Bank of America checking or savings account.
This travel rewards card charges no annual fee and offers a generous 1.5 points per dollar spent on all purchases, redeemable toward a statement credit to pay for eligible travel purchases such as for flights, cruises, hotels, vacation packages, baggage fees or rental cars. Tether this rewards card to an active eligible Bank of America checking or savings account and you can earn an additional 10 percent customer points bonus on every purchase when you have an active Bank of America checking or savings account. If you're a Preferred Rewards client, you can increase that bonus to 25-75 percent. An embedded EMV chip and an ATM alliance with Barclays Bank in the UK make this a great card for travel throughout the EU.
If you’re looking for a card that gives a higher rewards rate on certain categories, take a look at U.S. Bank FlexPerks® Travel Rewards American Express® Card - 20,000 Bonus FlexPoints, with which you can earn 2X FlexPoints at restaurants and fast food; 2X FlexPoints on airline, gas or grocery spending (whichever you spend most on each monthly billing cycle); and 2X FlexPoints on most cell phone expenses. You can earn 1 FlexPoint per dollar spent on all other eligible net purchases.
Avoid hidden surcharges on 'no-FTF' cards
Even if you pick one of these "no-FTF" credit cards for your next international adventure, you could still get socked by fees from local banks or retailers. Here's how to keep your trip surcharge-free:
- Despite what your bank might tell you, merchants don't always welcome every American credit card equally. Stores might request or require you to use a card that transacts on their preferred network. If you prefer to carry an American Express or Discover card, pack a "spare" Visa or MasterCard to ensure acceptance.
- Watch for "dynamic currency conversion" offers. Point-of-sale systems in tourist havens often use an unfavorable exchange rate while tacking on processing fees. Ask to do business in local currency and let your bank save you money.
- Use ATM cash advances for emergencies only. Even "no-FTF" credit cards charge hefty cash advance processing fees. Plus, you'll usually have to pay a surcharge to a local ATM operator that can run as high as $20 in tourist districts. Instead, drop cash into an online checking account with a no-fee debit card.
Finally, protect yourself against pickpockets by writing down your credit card companies' emergency phone numbers and key account details before you leave. Keep a copy separate from your wallet or valuables. If your card gets lost or stolen, your bank's emergency assistance team can help replace your card or provide an emergency cash advance much more quickly than if they have to look up and verify your account information.