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Every student studying abroad needs one of these credit cards

March 04, 2020
14 min read
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If you're a college student and plan to study abroad, you're in for a real treat. There's nothing like living abroad and immersing yourself in another culture -- traveling and exploring different cities virtually every weekend.

But this adventure doesn't come cheap.

Studies show that the average student spends anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 during a four-month semester abroad in Europe. These expenditures can help you rack up points and miles to help offset the cost of your adventures abroad -- if you use the right credit card.

Using one of these cards during your study-abroad semester is as important as making sure you have your passport with you.

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Best credit cards for studying abroad in 2020

  • Discover it Student Cash Back: Best for students who are still building credit
  • Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card: Best for earning transferable points
  • Uber Visa: Best for Uber users
  • Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for cash back
  • Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for beginners
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Best for maximizing points
  • The Platinum Card® from American Express: Best for an authorized user

The information for the Capital One Savor card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related: TPG beginner's guide: Everything you need to know about points, miles, airlines and credit cards

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Why you need a credit card on your study-abroad adventure

Put down your debit card. (I wish I could go back in time and take this advice before I ever got on a plane to Madrid for my semester abroad.)

Using a debit card, quite literally, has no point. You're spending money and getting nothing back in return. When you use a rewards credit card -- every time you pay for fusilli in Florence, purses in Paris or airfare in Argentina -- you're earning valuable points and miles that you can later use for flights and hotels.

Not to mention that you may also get valuable benefits like purchase protection as well as trip-delay or cancellation insurance. And you definitely want to know you have some room to breathe if and when your travels throw a curveball at you.

A credit card comes in handy for unexpected expenses and for avoiding hidden fees -- some cards don't charge foreign transaction fees. You don't want to be racking up additional expenses for fees every time you swipe your card.

In short, you'll want to be able to put the money you're not spending on fees toward more important things. Like sangria.

Related: What the city you studied abroad in says about you

Discover it Student Cash Back

Welcome bonus: Get all of the cash back you earned during your first year matched.

Annual fee: $0

What makes the card special: This is a student-targeted card with no foreign transaction fees.

With the Discover it Student Cash Back card, you'll get 5% cash back on your first $1,500 in purchases on quarterly rotating categories after you enroll your card, and then 1% cash back on everything else. The down side? These bonuses apply to purchases made with U.S. merchants only.

Students studying abroad can still get value out of this card all earnings during the first year are doubled, so you can still earn lots of cash back. The card also has no annual or foreign transaction fees. That means you can use it abroad to your heart's content without being penalized.

If you keep your grades up, you'll get a little extra bonus in the form of a $20 statement credit for each school year your GPA is a 3.0 or better. This bonus can be earned for up to five years. Since most students are still building credit, they're more likely to get approved for a student-targeted card. The Discover it Student Cash Back card fits the bill and sweetens the deal with matched earnings during the first year.

With no redemption minimums to worry about, you can cash out your rewards at any time and get that money working for you again.

For more information on the Discover it Student Cash Back, as well as other Discover cards, be sure to check out our guide.

Related: Best credit cards for students

Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

Welcome bonus: Earn 20,000 bonus miles once you spend $500 on purchases within the first three months.

Annual fee: $0

What makes the card special: This card competes with the ever-popular Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, which really made a splash in late 2018 after it added airline transfer partners. But the Venture card isn't the only Capital One card that allows you to transfer miles to airlines and hotels — the VentureOne can, too.

Unlike the $95-per-year Capital One Venture card, the VentureOne has no annual fee. The earning rates are different, too. You should pick the VentureOne over the standard Venture card if you plan to spend less than $12,667 on everyday purchases during the year. The Venture earns 2 miles per dollar spent, while the VentureOne earns 1.25 miles per dollar spent.

The Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card is currently offering a 20,000-mile welcome bonus after you spend $500 in purchases within your first three months. Based on our valuations, this welcome bonus is worth $280. Although it's a lot less than the Venture bonus, it's nothing to scoff at for a no-annual-fee card. The minimum spending requirement is also lower.

You'll also get travel accident insurance, auto rental collision damage waiver, purchase security and extended warranty protection as a card perk. No foreign transaction fees means you can use it abroad without paying extra to do so.

There aren’t many no-annual-fee cards with the ability to transfer points to travel partners, so this card is definitely worth a second look for students studying abroad.

Related: Capital One VentureOne Rewards credit card review

Uber Visa

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)
(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

Welcome bonus: $100 in Uber Cash with $500 in purchases in the first three months

Annual fee: $0

What makes the card special: You're probably going to use Uber while abroad -- this is a solid option because it offers rewards on your ride-hailing habits.

You'll also receive cellphone insurance of up to $600 if you pay your monthly bill with the Uber card; access to exclusive events; no foreign transaction fees, and Visa Local offers.

In terms of Uber Cash earning, you'll earn:

  • 5% on Uber purchases, including Uber rides, Uber Eats and JUMP bike and scooter rentals
  • 3% back on restaurants, bars, hotels and airfare
  • 1% back on all other purchases

To sign up for the card, go into the Uber app, tap menu, tap payment, tap to view all offers, tap details and voila -- you’re ready to apply.

Sure, the Uber Card is not winning any awards for luxury travel benefits, but it's a solid card to have in your wallet to enhance your study-abroad experience.

Related: Only for frequent Uber users: Uber Credit Card review

Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)
(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

Welcome bonus: $200 cash bonus once you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.

Annual fee: $0

What makes the card special: The Quicksilver from Capital One is about as simple as you can get. It's for people who don’t want to spend time learning award charts and maxing out transfer bonuses.

It doesn't charge any foreign transaction fees and is a good choice if you don't want to pay an annual fee. Although the sign-up bonus isn’t massive, the spending requirement is low. If you're trying to keep your costs to a minimum — and get some cash back in the process — this is a card worth looking into.

Related: Credit card review: Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards.

Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

Welcome bonus: $300 after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening

Annual fee: $95

What makes this card special: It offers strong cash-back earning rates on popular and often overlooked categories, including 4% back on dining and entertainment — something you'll likely be doing a lot of while traveling abroad. The card also offers 4% cash back on popular streaming services.

The flat miles and cash back earned makes it simple for you, since you don't have to worry about remembering which spending categories offer higher rewards.

It also offers 3% back at grocery stores (excluding superstores like Walmart and Target), and 1% on all other purchases. It doesn't charge any foreign transaction fees, and you'll enjoy secondary car-rental insurance, roadside assistance, purchase protection/extended warranty and complimentary concierge services. The premium concierge services are the most underrated credit card perks. You can use this service for restaurant reservations or trip-planning advice.

Related: Capital One Savor credit card review.

Chase Sapphire Preferred

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

Welcome bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.

Annual fee: $95

What makes the card special: There's a reason (or 10) everyone you know has this credit card.

Although it may be out of range if you are just getting started on your credit card journey, it's one to set your sights on as soon as the time is right. The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great starter card if you want to get into points and miles because it earns you 3x points on dining and 2x points on travel — so every time you book a flight on Ryanair or end up at Wok to Walk again, those 2x fully transferable points will add up quickly.

The sign-up bonus is solid, too: 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. There’s a $95 annual fee, but perks like trip-delay and cancellation insurance, purchase protection and baggage-delay insurance easily make up for it.

When you’re ready to redeem the points you’ve earned with the Chase Sapphire Preferred, that’s when the card’s flexibility really shines. First, you can use your points to purchase airfare, reserve hotel rooms and even rent a car at a rate of 1.25 cents per point through the Chase travel portal. That means if you don’t want to worry about blackout dates or finding award space, you’ll always have the option to book travel using your points this way.

But, if you really want to get a lot of value out of your Ultimate Rewards points, take advantage of the card’s ability to transfer points to any of Chase’s airline and hotel partners. If you take this route, you’ll need to do a little homework: Learn which partners are best for specific trips and search for award availability. But if you’re willing to put in the extra time, you can get much more than 1.25 cents per point in value from your Ultimate Rewards points — especially with programs like United MileagePlus or the World of Hyatt.

Related: Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card review

The Platinum Card® from American Express

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

What makes the card special: If your parents are cardholders of The Platinum Card® from American Express, you might have hit the jackpot. They can add you as an authorized user for an additional $175 per year (see rates and fees). (The annual fee for this card is $695, but comes with a host of perks. See rates and fees). Although this may seem steep, you can easily make this up (and then some) through the valuable benefits that you'll unlock.

Related: Why you should add authorized users on your Amex Platinum

As an authorized user, you'll enjoy access to American Express Centurion Lounges, Priority Pass lounges and Delta Sky Clubs (though the latter only applies when you are traveling on Delta). You'll also receive a TSA PreCheck/Global Entry credit to breeze past lines before and after your trip, as well as receive Marriott and Hilton Gold elite status.

If you really want to go all out, you'll also have access to the Fine Hotels & Resorts and Hotel Collection benefits. When you book a prepaid stay through the Fine Hotels & Resorts program or reserve through, you’ll earn 5 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent and get access to the program’s elite-like benefits. Think: Room upgrades, daily breakfast, late checkout and even a $100 property credit.

You won't be eligible to earn the 100,000 point welcome bonus (after you spend $6,000 on purchases in your first 6 months of Card Membership) as an authorized user, but these travel perks will easily upgrade your study abroad game.

Related: The Platinum Card from American Express review

For Capital One products listed on this page, some of the above benefits are provided by Visa® or Mastercard® and may vary by product. See the respective Guide to Benefits for details, as terms and exclusions apply.

Bottom line

Studying abroad is undoubtedly going to be a significant expense, but with these tips in mind, you'll be able to offset some of the cost of it — and might even score yourself some free flights or hotels in the process.

For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, click here.

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.