What is the best credit card for students studying abroad?

Written by
Erica Sandberg
Terms apply; see the online credit card application for full terms and conditions of offers and rewards. Please note: Any balance transfer savings vary depending upon account usage and payment behavior.

When your child is off to college, one of the best gifts that you can give is credit card guidance. That can mean making your child an authorized user on your account or helping them apply for their own card. Equipping them with the right card is especially important when your child leaves the country to attend college in an international destination.

There are plenty of credit cards on the market but not all will be best for your child’s big academic adventure. Here is what to look for in a credit card for students studying abroad.

No foreign transaction fees

First and foremost, make sure that the credit card your child has access to does not charge foreign transaction fees. These fees can add up precipitously, and there is no reason to assume extra costs if they are not necessary.

Foreign transaction fees typically range from 1% to 3% of the transaction, so if your child charges $100 on the card, the fee can be anywhere between $1 and $3. Although that’s not much over the short-term and for small expenses, when spread out over a semester, year, or for an entire program, these fees can quickly add up – especially if your child uses the card often and on expensive purchases.

Imagine your college student charges an average of $1,500 worth of necessary and nonessential expenses each month. With a credit card charging a 3% foreign transaction fee, $45 will be added to the bill. Over the course of six months, that’s $270 in fees.

Thankfully most travel credit cards do not charge foreign transaction fees. If you don’t have one now that you can add your child to as an authorized user, look for a card with this feature. There are also a number of student credit cards lacking foreign transaction fees, too. If your child is applying for a card on their own, a no foreign transaction fee student credit card is a great place to start.

Protection and perks

Yet another benefit of equipping your college student with the right travel card is that it offers valuable protection and perks.

These often include:

  • Travel insurance. With this embedded insurance, your student can be protected against the expense of unforeseen circumstances when there is a travel delay.
  • Airport lounge access. These can be safe places for your child to relax before a flight, while also enjoying complimentary snacks and beverages.
  • Free checked bags. If your child will be flying quite a bit with more than a backpack, they can save money on checked bags with the right credit card.

>>SEE MORE: Guide to credit card travel insurance

Be aware that credit cards that offer the best perks also tend to have higher annual fees. Before applying for a credit card with an annual fee, make sure the card’s perks will be utilized enough to offset the cost of the card.

An adjustable credit line

Almost all credit card companies allow primary account holders to add authorized users. If you choose to make your child an authorized user on your credit card, make certain it is an account that you can select a credit line that is different from the one you have. This way you can protect your balance against charges your child makes.

As the primary account holder, you are entirely responsible for all the debt that is encouraged with the card, no matter who ran the balance up. So not only is it a good idea to set reasonable ground rules for usage before adding your child to your card, but your card issuer should also back you up with the ability to adjust the spending limit.

For instance, you may have a $25,000 credit limit but want your child to only have access to $1,000. Check to see if your current credit card allows you to set a different credit line for authorized users. Not just once but whenever you want. If it doesn’t, consider opening a new card that does.

>>SEE MORE: Guide to adding children as credit card authorized users

Rewards for common items and services

It makes financial sense for your child to use a credit card that offers the ability to earn rewards on common purchases. Look for a card with a rewards program that matches your child’s spending habits while they are away.

If your child will be traipsing around the country on weekends, vacations, or breaks, you may want them to use a card that enables them to earn a lot of points on flights, accommodations, hotels, and gas. Or if they plan to eat out for most of their meals, a credit card rewarding restaurant purchases could be a good idea.

Since your child is in school, they will be most likely purchasing items for their studies. If they will be buying from e-commerce sites, focus on a credit card that gives the best rewards for that type of shopping. Other cards offer high rates on streaming services.

Always review the rewards program in advance so you and they know they can earn the most as they charge.

An excellent mobile app

Your child will be on the go, so make sure their devices are equipped with the credit issuer’s app. With it they can conduct all their credit business no matter where they are in the world.

Just about all credit card apps will enable the user to track purchases, view statements, make payments, and see how many rewards are available for redemption. But see if you can find one that goes the extra mile.

For example, some mobile apps allow cardholders the ability to freeze their credit card in the event that it is lost or stolen. That can be a huge relief when your child is far from home and doesn’t have you to mitigate potential fraud.

And if you are the primary account holder and your child is the authorized user, you will want to have the app too. This way you can see where your child is using the card and in what increments. If you don’t approve of the transactions, you can quickly suspend the card usage with a tap on your device, and deal with the issue later.

Best international credit cards for students

Again, almost any card with the features covered above could be a good option for a student studying abroad; however, if you are looking for specific recommendations, here are a few ideas.

If your child is applying for their own card, they may want to consider:

CardName

  • No annual fee
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Credit needed: CreditScoreNeeded
  • For a limited time new cardholders can earn $100 once spending $100 in the first three months of opening an account.
  • Earn a flat 1.5% cash back on all purchases; plus earn 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel. This is a great perk as it means you can earn bonus rewards on purchases no matter the expense.
  • Be considered for a credit line increase in as little as six months.

CardName

  • No annual fee
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Credit needed: CreditScoreNeeded
  • For a limited time new cardholders can earn $100 once spending $100 in the first three months of opening an account
  • Earn 3% cash back on dining, entertainment, select streaming services, and at grocery stores (excluding Walmart and Target); earn 8% cash back on Capital One Entertainment purchases and at Vivid Seats; and earn 1% on all other purchases. This is a great choice if dining and entertainment are main priorities (next to studying, of course) while abroad.

See our full list of student credit cards for additional options.

If you are planning to add your child as an authorized user to your account, these cards may be a good option:

CardName

  • No cost to add authorized users
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Offers 5x points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards and 2x points on all other travel purchases; 3x points on dining out, select streaming services, and on online grocery store purchases; and 1x points on all other purchases.
  • 25% more value for points when redeemed for airfare, hotel stays, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Receive a $50 hotel credit each year for a stay booked through the Ultimate Rewards portal
  • Receive an annual point bonus equal to 10% of your total purchases from the previous year
  • New cardholders can earn 60,000 points once spending $4,000 with the card in the first three months of opening an account – a bonus worth as much as $750 when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards! This could go a long way towards purchasing your child’s airfare, or perhaps a ticket for you to visit them abroad.

CardName

  • No cost to add authorized users
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Offers 2x miles on all purchases made, so whether your student is paying for books or dinner, they’ll earn rewards to use towards future travel purchases.
  • Cardholders are eligible for a reimbursement of their Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee, a perk worth up to $100. This won’t benefit your child much while they’re abroad, but could expedite things as they leave and enter the United States. Or you could take advantage of membership for visits to see your child.
  • This card also has a great welcome bonus for new cardholders. New cardholders can enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once spending $4,000 on purchases within three months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel. Again, this could easily cover or heavily offset an international plane ticket.

CardName

  • No cost to add authorized users
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • For a limited time, eew cardholders can earn 100,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first three months of opening an account. This could be a great incentive if you decide to visit your child abroad.
  • Earn a whopping 17 points per dollar spent a participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels – again, a great perk if you want to visit your child and earn rewards on your stay.
  • Beyond that, the card earns 3x points on up to $6,000 in combined purchases at gas stations, restaurants, and grocery stores. This is a great way for your child to rack up points for you to later utilize on a visit – or treat your child to a hostel upgrade with a stay at a Marriott hotel.
  • Outside of the bonus categories, this card earns 2x points on all purchases, which is a nice step up from the standard 1x on “all other purchases” many cards offer.

For additional options, see our picks for the top travel credit cards and best credit cards with no foreign transaction fees.

Bottom line on credit cards and college students abroad

While your child is enjoying their international schooling, there is no reason for them not to be protected with a credit card they can use for expenses. Just make sure the features are appropriate for both you and them. Whoever is managing the card should also submit the payments on time and keep the debt to a zero balance or very low compared to the credit line. Do so and your college student will return not just with a unique education, but a positive impact on their credit history.

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Disclaimer:

The information in this article is believed to be accurate as of the date it was written. Please keep in mind that credit card offers change frequently. Therefore, we cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information in this article. Reasonable efforts are made to maintain accurate information. See the online credit card application for full terms and conditions on offers and rewards. Please verify all terms and conditions of any credit card prior to applying.

This content is not provided by any company mentioned in this article. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed here are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any such company. CardRatings.com does not review every company or every offer available on the market.

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