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You’ve moved abroad (or plan to) and soon discover the cold, hard fact that no other country does credit card points like the good old US of A. Additionally, here in the UK it’s difficult to establish credit due to its reliance on the electoral roll and that your US credit does not transfer. As an American who has lived in the UK for 13 years, I’ve put together some pointers on how to keep your American credit cards and keep racking up those points as an expat.

Foreign Exchange Fees

At 2.7%-3% on every purchase, foreign exchange fees negate any potential gain for US expats earning points and miles abroad. You need to be focused only on cards that have no foreign transaction fees. No forex fee is the baseline for any card before you delve into points and miles as an expat. As my UK credit cards often have foreign transaction fees, I often use my US credit cards when traveling in the rest of the world rather than my UK cards.

Best No-Foreign-Transaction-Fee Credit Cards:

The Easiest-to-Use Options for Expats

Over 50% of transactions in the UK are contactless and everywhere from the London Underground to Boots accept contactless payments. As an American going abroad, you’ll be familiar with handing over your card overseas and getting that confused look when you have to sign for your transactions, sometimes involving a manager’s approval and certainly a delay.

Luckily, many expats link their favorite cards to Apple Pay or Google Pay to get around the paper signature issue. Some expats told me that Apple Pay and Google Pay are often not subject to the £30 cap that contactless cards are, although it’s up to the retailer.

There are a variety of chip and PIN cards, which means that you don’t have to sign.

Finally, there are contactless cards in the US. Expats I spoke to sing the praises of their newly issued contactless Chase Sapphire Reserve (call and ask for a new contactless card) that they’re even using to get on the tube. American Express® Gold Card is another option for a contactless card, although be aware that the 4x points at supermarkets only applies to US purchases (up to $25,000; then 1x at US supermarkets).

(Photo by Eden Batki / The Points Guy)
The Amex Gold is one of several contactless credit cards that earn strong rewards. (Photo by Eden Batki / The Points Guy)

Top Credit Cards for Earning Bonus Points

In the points and miles world, the United States is still the envy of other nations for the large sign-up bonuses and generous multipliers on certain categories of spend.

Expats loved their Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve even before the contactless change because Chase widely defines travel and dining categories, including expenses like public transit fares and parking fees.

TPG UK has confirmed that the London Underground and National Rail code as travel and earn 3x every dollar spent with the Chase Sapphire Reserve or 2x with the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which can be a significant spend over the course of the year.

Personally, I love my Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card for its 2x miles on every purchase, plus 10x miles on hotel bookings made and paid with your card through Hotels.com/Venture. I don’t have to worry about how a purchase codes as I know every purchase is getting at least 2x with no foreign exchange fees. It has also recently gone contactless.

Transferring Money to the US

We always recommend that you pay your balances in full every month — if you don’t, the value of the points and miles you’re earning are negated. However, how are you going to pay off those US credit cards if you’re living abroad and earning pounds? I use expat favorite Transferwise. Other expats I know use Paypal, xe.com and Azimo. Your bank may transfer money to linked banks overseas without a fee if it’s the same bank in both countries (HSBC, for example).

(Screeshot courtesy of iTunes)
TransferWise is available on both Android and iOS devices. (Screenshot courtesy of iTunes)

Some expats also use their US cards essentially as a money transfer rather than sending over a large amount of dollars when they move abroad. By putting their everyday UK expenses on their US credit cards and using their US savings to pay it off, they’re often getting forex rates at interbank exchange rates — which are much more favorable rates than other methods of currency conversion. It’s worth noting that there’s a slight margin between the buy and sell rates of currency, which you can read more about here.

Using Friends and Family

You can add friends or family who live back in the US as authorized users to your credit cards in order to continue to accumulate points and miles. I often ask my family to purchase things to either send me or manage our property in America. I added my cousin as an authorized user on my cards so that she can make purchases for me and I can continue to accrue points and keep my US credit active. I also use US online shopping portals to maximize any gifts I’m sending to friends and family in the United States (all those wedding and baby gifts add up!).

Bottom Line

When you leave the United States to live abroad, it doesn’t mean you have to give up the strong points and miles earnings of your US credit cards. Keeping your US credit active can help when you repatriate and can serve as a way to save up for those flights home.

Featured photo by The Points Guy.

For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum, click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire Card, click here.

Know before you go.

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2018 TPG Award Winner: Mid-Tier Card of the Year
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

NEW INCREASED OFFER: 60,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,200

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

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More Things to Know
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
18.24% - 25.24% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

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

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.