What credit card is best to use in Europe to avoid transaction fees and exchange fees?

By , CardRatings contributor
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A handful of travel credit cards and charge cards do not charge foreign transaction and currency conversion fees, saving you as much as 5 percent compared to standard credit cards. Finding the right no foreign transaction fee credit card offers for you depends on your itinerary and your personal style.

The first time I traveled to Europe, back in the early 1990s, friends had warned me about foreign transaction fees. Even though my trusty Citibank card carried a 3 percent surcharge on each of my purchases and cash advances, the corner bureau de change charged a whole lot more. Today, far more European merchants accept Visa, MasterCard, and even American Express. It's cheaper than ever to let your credit card convert your currency on the fly. And a handful of banks hope to lure your business by eliminating transaction fees entirely.

  • Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

    Editor's Note: This offer has expired and is not currently available.

    Through a series of mergers over the years, Capital One actually enjoys status as a chartered bank in the United Kingdom. Therefore, as an EU bank, it's not a "foreign" transaction to use a Capital One card in Europe. Even if this was not the case, none of Capital One's credit card charge a foreign transaction fee when making purchases outside of the United States -- just in case you decide on a detour.

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

    The Preferred version of Chase's travel rewards card also offers no foreign transaction fee, along with rewards points earning opportunities on travel and dining at restaurants.

Chip and PIN and chip and signature

Even with no foreign transaction fees, there's one more thing you may want to ask your prospective credit card issuers about before you complete an application. Fearing heightened credit card fraud and identity theft, many European merchants have restricted the number of cards they will process using traditional magnetic stripes. Those retailers have switched to the "chip and PIN" version of the EMV standard, not yet widely supported in the United States.

According to travelers posting on bulletin boards hosted by travel experts at Frommer's and Fodor's, Capital One's unique structure as both a United States and a United Kingdom bank means that its cards get accepted almost everywhere. If you choose another credit card issuer, call their customer service department to request a chip-and-signature version of your card. Though there still may be occasional difficulties due to a lack on PIN, few travelers have experienced problems using their chip-and-signature cards. American Express, Chase, and Wells Fargo have already started issuing experimental versions of these EMV cards on request, while rolling them out officially for some "luxury" and "business" branded accounts. The best no foreign transaction fee credit cards won't help you overseas if your merchant can't read it.


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