Traveling abroad can be an exciting adventure — but it can also be expensive. Forget the cost of airfare and hotels; those foreign transaction fees can really add up.
Want to avoid fees for swiping your card abroad while also earning rewards for spending money on travel? Check out our list of the five best credit cards for international travel.
For a low annual fee, most of these cards offer perks like no baggage fees, access to airport lounges and insurance on car rentals. Plus, none of the cards on our list charge a foreign transaction fee — that means you can swipe abroad without worry.
The Best Credit Cards for International Travel
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: Best Overall Credit Card for International Travel
Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card: Best Bonus Program
Capital One Savor Rewards Credit Card: Best for Dining and Entertainment
Chase Sapphire Reserve Credit Card: Best for Luxury Travel
Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for No Annual Fee
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
High rewards rate for travel bookings
Up to $100 credit for TSA PreCheck/Global Entry
Free lounge access
The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card offers more casual international travelers plenty of perks. You’ll earn unlimited 2x miles on everyday purchases, which you can redeem for future travel in the Capital One Travel portal or use to get reimbursed for past travel purchases. Even better, you’ll earn 5x miles when you book hotels and rental cars in the travel portal.
If you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening, you’ll also earn 75,000 bonus points as part of the welcome offer. That’s $750 toward your travel purchases. (You can also shop with your rewards on Amazon or transfer to your favorite loyalty program.)
Other perks of the Venture Rewards Credit Card include:
No fees for foreign transactions
Up to a $100 statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck purchases
Hertz Five Star Status
Two free lounge visits a year
Travel accident insurance and rental car insurance
Extended warranty protection on purchases
Don’t want to pay an annual fee? The Capital One VentureOne Rewards Card offers decent travel perks without the $95 a year price tag. With the VentureOne Rewards Card, you’ll earn 1.25x miles per dollar instead of 2x, and the bonus drops to 20,000 miles (for $500 in purchases in the first three months from account opening).
You’ll also lose perks like lounge access and TSA PreCheck reimbursement. But for no annual fee, the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card offers travelers great travel rewards — with no foreign transaction fee in sight.
Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card
Yearly referral bonuses
Variable rewards rate
Account anniversary bonuses
The sign-up bonus for the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is 60,000 miles if you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. In normal circumstances, that’s worth $600 in travel credits. But when you redeem those points through Chase Ultimate Rewards, they jump to $750.
Why? Because points are worth 25% more in Chase Ultimate Rewards (Chase’s travel portal). If you open a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, you’ll want to get familiar with Chase Ultimate Rewards. Each year, you can earn up to $50 in statement credits for hotels booked through the platform. You’ll also earn 5x points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards (excluding hotel purchases that qualify for the $50 Annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit).
In addition, for every dollar spent with the Sapphire Preferred Card, you’ll earn:
3x points on select streaming services and dining (including delivery and takeout)
3x points on groceries (excludes Target, Walmart, and wholesale)
2x points on travel purchases (outside of Chase Ultimate Rewards)
1x point on all other eligible purchases
We like the Sapphire Preferred for more than just its sign-up bonus and rewards rate, though. This card, more than any other on our list, offers a comprehensive bonus program, including
15,000 bonus points for every referral (up to 75,000 bonus points per year)
Bonus points on every account anniversary equal to 10% of your total purchases that year
Chase also offers a host of travel insurance (trip delay, car rentals, trip cancellation, trip interruption and even emergency assistance). Not a bad deal for just a $95 annual fee.
Capital One Savor Rewards Credit Card
High cash back rewards for dining/entertainment
Complimentary concierge service
Though the Capital One Savor Rewards Credit Card has a $95 annual fee, it quickly pays for itself if you’re regularly seeking out new experiences. This international travel credit card — with no foreign transaction fees to speak of — offers tremendous cash back opportunities:
8% cash back on entertainment purchases made through the Capital One Entertainment ticketing platform or on Vivid Seats
5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
4% cash back on dining, entertainment and popular streaming services
3% cash back on groceries
1% cash back on all other eligible purchases
The moral? Treat yourself to a night out regularly enough back home, and you’ll quickly rack up enough cash to afford your next international trip. Just don’t leave the Capital One Savor Rewards card behind because it’s free to swipe internationally.
Aside from the generous cash back program, this Capital One card includes a one-time $300 bonus after you spend $3,000 in purchases in the first three months from account opening.
Don’t love the annual fee? You’ll get a lot of the same great perks with the Capital One SavorOne Credit Card. Cash back for dining, etc. is capped at 3%, but you won’t have to fork over a $95 annual fee to keep the card open.
Chase Sapphire Reserve Credit Card
$300 annual travel credit
Up to $1,200 reward bonus
Airport lounge access
You’ve got to spend money to make money — and that’s certainly true with the Chase Sapphire Reserve Credit Card. Far and away, it has the highest annual fee ($550) of any card featured on our list of the best credit cards for international travel. But the sign-up bonus alone pays for the fee itself for the first two years.
How? You’ll get 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. Ordinarily, 80,000 bonus points would be worth $800 in statement credits for travel purchases. But when you use those points toward future travel bookings through Chase Ultimate Rewards, they’re worth 50% more — or $1,200.
And you’ll definitely want to use Chase Ultimate Rewards. You’ll automatically get $300 in statement credits as reimbursement for travel purchased through the portal every year. After that statement credit, you’ll also earn 10x points on hotels and car rentals booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
In addition, cardholders earn:
10x points on Chase Dining purchases with Chase Ultimate Rewards
3x points on all other travel purchases globally
3x points on dining
1x point on all other eligible purchases
The Chase Sapphire Reserve Card comes with premium travel benefits, including room upgrades at select hotels, complimentary airport lounge access and up to a $100 statement credit every four years for Global Entry, TSA PreCheck or NEXUS. On top of that, there are no foreign transaction fees, you’ll get plenty of travel and purchase protections and you’ll earn 10,000 bonus points for every referral.
Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards
No annual fee or foreign transaction fees
Flat-rate cash back rewards
Extra cash back for travel purchases
The Capital One Quicksilver Rewards Credit Card isn’t a travel card; it’s not even the best cash back rewards credit card. So why did it earn the fifth and final spot on our ranking of the best credit cards for international travel?
Easy: It doesn’t cost a thing (no annual fee), and there are no foreign transaction fees. Plus, it still earns decent cash back (unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases). For many, that makes it better than the fee-free Capital One VentureOne Rewards Card, which only earns 1.25 points per dollar spent.
Plus, cardholders earn 5% cash back on all hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel. On top of that, the sign-up bonus is easy to claim: Just spent $500 on purchases in the first three months from account opening to earn $200. You can claim it as a statement credit, or you can request a paper check or direct deposit — and then use the $200 to fund your travels abroad.
Honorable Mentions: Other Top International Credit Cards
Though we didn’t ultimately rank the following options in our top five credit cards for international travel, they may be right for borrowers in more specific scenarios.
Best International Travel Credit Card for Students
If you’re a student planning to study abroad, it’s a good idea to pack a credit card without foreign transaction fees. One of our favorites is the Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students; you can find it on our list of the best student credit cards.
Not only are there no foreign transaction fees, but there’s also no annual fee. The Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card even earns points: 1.5 points for every dollar spent on eligible purchases.
Best International Travel Credit Card for Bad Credit
Borrowers with bad credit will have a hard time finding a travel card that they qualify for, but we do recommend two secured credit cards that don’t charge foreign transaction fees:
Discover it Secured Credit Card
Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card
The Discover card doesn’t even run a credit check, but the Capital One is a Visa — you’ll have an easier time finding merchants that accept Visa abroad than you will merchants taking Discover.
Best American Express Card for International Travel
Our list of the best credit cards for international travel consists exclusively of Visas and Mastercards, with a nod to Discover as an honorable mention. We do not include any American Express cards because they are not accepted as frequently as the other credit card companies on our list.
That said, if you have Visa or Mastercard in your wallet to cover you in a pinch, American Express makes some truly great travel cards — if you travel enough to take advantage of the perks.
The top option? The Platinum Card by American Express. The annual fee is a whopping $695, but you’ll get an abundance of annual statement credits (totaling nearly $1,700 if you take advantage of them all); some of the biggest include $240 in streaming services statement credits and a $200 statement credit for prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts or The Hotel Collection bookings.
You’ll also earn mega points on flights and prepaid hotels and a massive sign-up bonus worth 125,000 miles. Oh yeah, and there’s no foreign transaction fee to boot.
What to Look for in a Card for International Travel
How do you pick a credit card for international travel? Here are a few things to keep in mind:
First and foremost, select a card that you can actually use wherever you go. Visa and Mastercard are the most widely accepted credit cards across the globe, but Discover has made great strides; you can use a Discover credit card at more than 60 million locations globally.
American Express still trails in terms of foreign acceptance. If you have an American Express travel credit card — and you should if you’re a serious traveler; Amex offers some of the best travel credit cards available — you may want to have a Visa or Mastercard in your wallet as a backup, just in case.
Foreign Transaction Fees
The main appeal of a credit card designed for international travel is that you can swipe it freely without worrying about foreign transaction fees. If you have a card that charges any foreign transaction fee, don’t use it while abroad unless you have to. Instead, you’ll want a credit card that doesn’t charge you just to use it.
None of the selections on our list of the best credit cards for international travel include foreign transaction fees.
Capital One and Discover are great options; from their premium travel cards down to their secured cards for bad credit, you never have to worry about paying a foreign transaction fee.
It’s hard to envision your perfect vacation going wrong — but bad things can happen, even when you’re abroad. Many travel credit cards offer various levels of travel insurance, including rental car insurance, trip interruption insurance, trip cancellation insurance and even lost luggage insurance.
While you can purchase travel insurance separately, it might be worth the effort to find a credit card for international travel that offers comprehensive insurance.
The best travel credit cards reward you with points or miles that can be applied to future travel purchases, like airfare, hotels and rental cars. They typically also dole out more points or miles when you swipe the card for travel purchases to begin with.
More serious travelers who leave the country for work or pleasure multiple times a year may get more out of airline and hotel credit cards, which reward you handsomely for your loyalty. But if you’re leaving the country on a once-in-a-lifetime (or even a once-in-every-few-years) trip, a credit card with a broader rewards system and lower annual fee is probably more your speed.
And don’t rule out a cash back credit card as you preferred international travel card. While cash back credit cards may not offer specific perks like free checked bags, you can rack up serious savings on everyday purchases.
The Capital One Quicksilver, for example, earns unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase. Hang on to those savings, and then use them to fund your next trip. Plus, the Quicksilver has no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees — and earns unlimited 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
You can earn serious rewards points, miles or cash with a credit card sign-up bonus. While a sign-up bonus (also called welcome offer) shouldn’t be your sole reason for choosing a credit card, they can make a compelling case, sometimes offering up to 100,000 miles or rewards points or $800 cash back to apply toward your vacation.
Booking your first big international vacation? Open a travel credit card with a huge sign-up bonus, then make all your reservations on the card.
If you don’t travel internationally often and just want a solid credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, look for a basic rewards card from Chase or Capital One.
However, if you plan to travel regularly and want perks like lounge access, TSA PreCheck reimbursement and free checked bags, you can pay for premium travel credit cards or even co-branded hotel and airline credit cards. Some cards may also get your premium status with certain hotels or car rental agencies.
Our list of the best travel credit cards is a good place to start your search.
The higher the travel perks, rewards and sign-up bonuses, the higher the annual fee, in general. If you’re looking for a credit card for an upcoming trip but don’t plan to regularly leave the country, find a credit card for international travel with a lower annual fee — one that also has perks outside of foreign travel. After all, the card needs to offer you value even when you’re back home.
If you do travel outside the country regularly, a card offering better travel perks but at a higher annual fee may make sense for you. The Platinum Card from American Express is our favorite luxury travel card, but the high cost and concerns about global acceptance limit its audience.
In general, rewards credit cards carry higher-than-average interest rates. When looking for a credit card for international travel, bear in mind that the APR will be high; if you don’t pay off your statement balance in full every month, the credit card debt can rack up quickly.
If you’re traveling abroad for the first time but have a history of mismanaging credit cards, you may want to consider an alternate option.
Pros and Cons of International Travel Credit Cards
International travel credit cards offer great perks, but they’re not for everyone. Weigh the pros and cons before opening a new credit card:
No foreign transaction fees
High travel rewards rates
Sign-up bonus to help fund travel
May be too niche for consumers who don’t travel often
High annual fee for best travel perks
May incentivize increased spending
Typically only available to borrowers with good or excellent
Alternatives to Credit Cards When Traveling Internationally
Credit cards aren’t for everyone. If you don’t want to open a new credit card — or don’t have a strong enough credit score to get a top travel credit card — here are some other options for your upcoming trip:
Debit card: Some debit card issuers also waive foreign transaction fees. Find a bank account advertising a no-foreign-transaction-fee debit card ahead of your trip.
ATM reimbursement: Similarly, some bank accounts offer unlimited ATM fee reimbursement worldwide. That means you can take out cash no matter where you are without worrying about paying a high surcharge.
Cash: Not every merchant may accept cash, especially in a post-COVID world. However, smaller mom-and-pop shops may only accept cash. When traveling abroad, it’s smart to travel with cash (in the local currency) and plastic. Exchange your cash at a local bank in the U.S. before traveling to get the best exchange rates.
Gift cards: Ahead of your trip, you can buy gift cards for specific airlines, hotel chains and Airbnb. You can’t use gift cards for every purchase, but they can knock out a lot of the big-ticket expenses, if accepted.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About International Travel Cards
We’ve found the answers to the mostly common questions about international travel cards
In general, you can use your credit card internationally if the merchant accepts your card. Visa and Mastercard are the most widely accepted credit cards across the globe, though Discover has made significant strides in foreign countries. While American Express has virtually caught up in domestic acceptance, international acceptance can still be hit or miss depending on the merchant. To be safe, always travel internationally with a Visa or Mastercard.
And remember: Though you can swipe your credit card internationally, you may have to pay a foreign transaction fee. To avoid foreign transaction fees, select a card from our list of the best credit cards for international travel — none of our picks charge these fees.
Foreign transaction fees are generally between 1% and 4% of each transaction. For example, if your credit card charges a 3% foreign transaction fee and you swipe it abroad for a $100 purchase, you’ll pay an additional $3. A typical foreign transaction fee actually represents two separate fees: the bank fee and the currency conversion fee. Check out The Penny Hoarder guide to how foreign transaction fees work to learn more — or just choose a credit card without these fees so you don’t have to worry when spending abroad.
Qualifying for top-tier or even basic rewards cards is challenging when you have bad credit. Options are primarily limited to secured credit cards (requiring a security deposit) or unsecured credit cards with high fees and APRs. That said, the Discover it Secured Credit Card and the Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card are good options for bad-credit borrowers. Neither charges a foreign transaction fee, and Discover doesn’t even run a credit check. Check out The Penny Hoarder’s full list of the best credit cards for borrowers with bad credit to find an option that suits your needs.
Contributor Timothy Moore is a writer and editor in Cincinnati who covers banks, loans, insurance, travel and automotive topics for The Penny Hoarder.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.