Best cards with no foreign transaction fees in 2021
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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new credit card information.
There isn’t a whole lot in the points and miles world that everyone can agree on, whether it’s the best credit cards, the best airlines or the best airports. One thing we can agree on is that unnecessary fees are the worst — whether those fees come in the form of fuel surcharges on award flights, ATM fees or foreign transaction fees. It’s one thing if you’re incurring an additional cost for a valuable service, but foreign transaction fees essentially just punish travelers for doing what we love.
Many credit cards charge a foreign transaction fee of about 3%, which can knock out any potential rewards you earn. For this reason, we suggest having a few different cards that don’t charge foreign transaction fees for when you travel abroad. In this guide, we’ll walk you through some of the best credit cards with no foreign transaction fees.
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Although there are many cards that offer no foreign transaction fees, we’ve rounded up our 10 favorite cards for frequent travelers:
Best cards with no foreign transaction fees
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: Best for luxury perks (see rates & fees)
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Best for total value
- American Express® Gold Card: Best for dining and takeout (see rates & fees)
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: Best for flat-rate earning
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: Best for travel
- Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card: Best for no annual fee
- Capital One Savor Rewards Credit Card: Best for entertainment spending
- Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card: Best for Bank of America customers
- Alaska Airlines Visa® Signature credit card: Best for airline miles
- Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card: Best for luxury hotel benefits
Comparing credit cards with no foreign transaction fees
|Credit Card||Best For||Sign-up Bonus/welcome offer||Bonus Value*||Annual Fee|
|The Platinum Card from American Express||Luxury Perks||75,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first six months of account opening. 10x at U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations on up to $15,000 in combined eligible purchases in the first 6 months of account opening. Terms apply.||$1,500||$550 (see rates & fees)|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred Card||Total Value||60,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.||$1,200||$95|
|American Express Gold Card||Dining and Takeout||60,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first six months of account opening. Terms apply.||$1,200||$250 (see rates & fees)|
|Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card||Flat-rate Earning||60,000 miles after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.||$840||$95|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve||Travel||50,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening||$1,000||$550|
|Wells Fargo Propel American Express card||No Annual Fee||20,000 points after you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first three months of account opening.||$200||$0|
|Capital One Savor Rewards Credit Card||Entertainment Spending||$300 cash bonus after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening||$300||$95|
|Bank of America Premium Rewards credit card||Bank of America Customers||50,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days of account opening||$500||$95|
|Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card||Airline Miles||40,000 bonus miles when you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 90 days and Alaska’s Famous Companion Fare starting at $121 ($99 plus taxes and fees)||$820||$75|
|Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card||Luxury Hotel Benefits||150,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. Terms apply.||$900||$450 (see rates & fees)|
The information for the Wells Fargo Propel, Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card, Alaska Airlines Visa card and Hilton Aspire Amex 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.
In addition to lacking foreign transaction fees, each card offers a unique combination of perks and benefits for travelers. Let’s look at the details for each of our top picks.
Best no-foreign-transaction-fee credit cards
The Platinum Card from American Express: Best for luxury perks
Annual fee: $550 (see rates and fees)
Welcome offer: 75,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first six months of account opening (worth $1,500, according to TPG valuations), plus 10x on eligible combined U.S. gas stations and U.S. supermarket purchases, up to $15,000, in the first six months.
Bonus rewards: 5x on flights booked directly with airlines and flights (on up to $500,000 per calendar year) and 5x on prepaid hotels booked through amextravel.com
Why we like it: Not only does this card have no foreign transaction fees (see rates & fees), but it also offers an extensive portfolio of luxury travel benefits, including an annual up to $200 airline fee credit, monthly Uber credits (up to $200 annually for use in the U.S.), reimbursement for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fees every four years (up to $100) and access to Delta Sky Clubs (when flying Delta), Amex Centurion, Priority Pass Select, Escape and Airspace lounges. You also get Gold status with Hilton Honors and Marriott Bonvoy.
Essential reading: Amex Platinum credit card review
Chase Sapphire Preferred: Best for total value
Annual fee: $95
Sign-up bonus: 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening (worth $1,200, according to TPG valuations).
Earning rate: 5x on Lyft purchases; 2x points on travel and dining; 1x on everything else
Why we like it: Chase Sapphire Preferred has always been one of the best rewards credit cards for international travelers. Chase Ultimate Rewards points are some of the most valuable points available, and this card offers plenty of ways to earn points — including a temporary bonus category of 2x on groceries through April 2021 (on up to $1,000 in purchases per month). For premium rewards redemptions, you’ll find points are typically most valuable when transferred to one of Chase’s excellent airline and hotel partners, such as United or Hyatt. Alternatively, points can be worth 1.25 cents each toward travel and activities booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal or for certain purchases with Chase’s Pay Yourself Back feature.
Essential reading: Chase Sapphire Preferred card review
American Express Gold Card: Best for dining and takeout
Annual fee: $250 (see rates and fees)
Welcome offer: 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first six months of account opening (worth $1,200, according to TPG valuations).
Earning rate: 4x at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year; then 1x) and dining worldwide; 3x on airfare booked directly or through amextravel.com; 1x on everything else
Why we like it: The Amex Gold is a great card for those who spend a lot on groceries and dining — which is most of us right now. You’re earning valuable Membership Rewards that can be transfered to a number of valuable partners, including Delta and Hilton. The Amex Gold also comes with a solid set of benefits for the price. You’ll get up to $120 in dining credits throughout the calendar year (split into $10 monthly statement credits when you buy from eligible dining establishments, including GrubHub and Seamless).
Essential reading: Amex Gold review
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: Best for flat-rate earning
Annual fee: $95
Sign-up bonus: 60,000 miles after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.
Bonus rewards: 2x miles per dollar on every other purchase
Why we like it: This card’s simple rewards structure has made it a crowd favorite for beginner travelers who want to earn rewards on everyday expenses with their Capital One credit card. The Venture Rewards card offers fixed-value miles that you can redeem for 1 cent apiece to offset travel purchases, plus the ability to transfer miles to its airline transfer partners. You’ll even get a credit for the TSA PreCheck/Global Entry application fee every four years (up to $100), which is a rare benefit for a mid-tier card.
Essential reading: Capital One Venture Rewards card review
Chase Sapphire Reserve: Best premium travel card
Annual fee: $550
Sign-up bonus: 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months (worth $1,000, according to TPG valuations).
Bonus rewards: 10x on Lyft purchases, 3x on travel (after using the $300 travel credit) and dining purchases; 1x on everything else
Why we like it: This premium travel rewards credit card became hugely popular when it was first released in 2016 and has remained one of the best travel credit cards for many TPG readers. In fact, it currently holds the title for Best Premium Card from the TPG awards in 2019. As with the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you’ll find the most value by redeeming points through Chase’s transfer partners or through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. The Reserve boosts the value of these awards to 1.5 cents per point.
Other benefits include an annual $300 statement credit for travel, up to $60 in annual statement credits on DoorDash (through 2022), at least one year of DashPass membership, Lyft Pink membership, up to $100 credit for your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee every four years and a Priority Pass Select membership that includes guest access. Plus, you’ll currently get 3x on groceries through April 2021 (on up to $1,000 in purchases each month) and can use the CSR’s $300 annual travel credit on purchases at grocery stores and gas stations through June 30, 2021.
Essential reading: The Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card review
Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card: Best for no annual fee
Annual fee: $0
Sign-up bonus: 20,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the first three months (worth $200 in travel)
Bonus rewards: 3x points on travel, dining (eating out and ordering in), gas stations, ride-hailing services, transit and popular streaming services
Why we like it: Beginners can find a ton of great value from the Wells Fargo Propel Card. With no annual fee, the card offers a solid return on a number of common spending categories. This card earns fixed-value rewards, meaning you’re getting a flat 1 cent from each point. While this might not be a great fit for points-and-miles gurus that like to maximize transfer partners and get as much as possible out of each point, it’s perfect for those just getting started with rewards. You’ll be able to earn and burn points without worrying about transfer partners and award charts.
Essential reading: Frequently asked questions about the Wells Fargo Propel Amex
Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for entertainment spending
Annual fee: $95
Sign-up bonus: $300 after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months.
Bonus rewards: 4% cash back on dining and entertainment and 2% cash back at grocery stores; 1% on everything else
Why we like it: Capital One defines dining and entertainment broadly, meaning you can earn 4% cash back on a lot of different purchases — including some common expenses abroad like dining and entertainment. The bonus is solid, too. Although international travelers often favor points and miles, cash back is still highly valuable — especially when you’re earning a good return on a category not often covered with other credit cards (entertainment, in Savor’s case). The ability to earn such a high return without forking over a foreign transaction fee is great.
Essential reading: Credit card showdown: Capital One Venture vs. Capital One Savor
Bank of America Premium Rewards credit card: Best for Bank of America customers
Annual fee: $95
Sign-up bonus: 50,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 90 days of account opening (worth $500, according to TPG valuations)
Earning rate: 2x points on travel and dining; 1.5x points on everything else
Why we like it: The Bank of America Premium Rewards card has a lot to offer for such a low annual fee — especially if you qualify for the Preferred Rewards program. You’ll earn a flat 1.5x on every purchase plus 2x on travel and dining purchases. The card also comes with an impressive suite of benefits, including an up to $100 annual airline incidental credit, a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit (up to $100) and an array of travel protections. The rewards structure is also incredibly simple, giving you the flexibility to redeem for travel, cash back or gift cards with a variety of merchants.
For members of the Preferred Rewards program, this card becomes even more valuable. If you stash enough cash away with Bank of America, you could earn up to 3.5x on travel and dining and 2.625x on all other purchases.
Essential reading: 5 reasons to get the Bank of America Premium Rewards credit card
Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card: Best for airline miles
Annual fee: $75
Sign-up bonus: 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 in the first 90 days and Alaska’s Famous Companion Fare starting at $121 (worth $820, according to TPG valuations).
Bonus rewards: 3x miles on eligible Alaska Airlines purchases
Why we like it: Alaska Airlines miles are valued the highest of any airline miles in our monthly valuations and the Alaska Signature Visa credit card is one of the only ways to currently earn them. While Alaska is a Seattle-based airline that only operates in North America, it does have strategic partnerships with other airlines that expand its reach. There are some amazing sweet spots in the Mileage Plan program and the next few years should be exciting for loyal Alaska Airlines customers.
A revitalized partnership between Alaska Airline and American Airlines has Alaska joining the Oneworld airline alliance mid-2021.
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card: Best for luxury hotel benefits
Annual fee: $450 (see rates and fees)
Welcome offer: 150,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. (worth $900, according to TPG valuations).
Bonus rewards: 14x points when you make eligible purchases at Hilton and 7x points at eligible U.S. restaurants, car rentals booked directly from select rental companies and flights booked directly through the airline or on amextravel.com. Plus, 3x points on all other eligible purchases.
Why we like it: Although the Hilton Aspire card has a high annual fee, some travelers will be able to recoup this fee and more through the card’s benefits. These benefits include a free-weekend-night award each year, top-tier Hilton Diamond status, up to $250 in annual airline fee credits, up to $250 in annual Hilton resort statement credits and a Priority Pass Select membership. Amex also added pandemic-related perks to this card, including expanded use opportunities for the resort credit and more.
Hilton is one of the largest hotel programs in the world, with nearly 6,000 hotels in 117 countries and properties that appeal to both budget and luxury travelers. If you frequently stay at Hilton properties throughout the year, you can get a lot of value by adding this card to your wallet.
Essential Reading: Hilton Aspire card review
What is a foreign transaction fee?
These pesky fees are charged by your card issuer every time you swipe your card outside of the U.S. This is because when you buy something abroad or on a non-U.S website, the cost of the purchase will likely need to be converted into U.S. dollars. This comes at a cost, which the foreign bank then passes onto the issuer, who then passes that fee onto you, the consumer.
How we chose the best cards with no foreign transaction fees
These days, most travel credit cards offer no foreign transaction fees. This means the competition for the best cards with no foreign transaction fees is tough and far-reaching.
We spend a far bit of time at TPG researching the best card offers and the details of each to help make the researching process a breeze for readers. This means taking all of the cards that offer no foreign transaction fees and then narrowing down that list further by looking at a number of different factors, including but not limited to:
- Sign-up bonus/welcome offer: What are cardholders getting out of the card during the first year? Is the spending requirement to hit the bonus reasonable? How much value is the bonus based on our calculations?
- Annual fee: While annual fees are almost always worth it for those who utilize a card’s benefits, we still want to make sure we’re providing options on this for every budget — whether you’re a luxury traveler willing to pay $500+ for a card or a beginner who needs something with a more manageable annual fee.
- Rewards rate: Everyone’s spending habits are different, and it’s important to choose cards that offer rewards across a wide range of bonus categories.
- Perks and benefits: Especially with cards that charge higher annual fees, perks and benefits are often a deciding factor in whether a card is worth keeping long term.
- Rewards program: What type of rewards you’re earning is equally as important as how much you earn. We chose cards from a number of different rewards programs to help you find one that fits your goals.
Are foreign transaction fees affected by exchange rates?
Yes and no.
Foreign transaction fees are charged by your issuer when you make a purchase abroad (or sometimes when you make an online purchase through a foreign retailer). The exchange rate refers to the value of one currency compared to the other and that rate is determined by payment networks.
What the exchange rate is on a certain day in a certain country will not change the percentage your card charges for a foreign transaction fee. In that sense, exchange rates do not affect foreign transaction fees.
However, an exchange rate can have an effect on the actual dollar amount you are charged for a foreign transaction fee. For example, at the time of writing, the Morningstar exchange rate for the U.S. dollar to the Euro was 1:0.92. That means you’d pay a $0.65 (3%) transaction fee for a 20-Euro dinner.
However, if the exchange rate changed to, say, 1:1.33, you’d only end up paying $0.45 for a 20-euro dinner. So, the exchange rate can make a difference in the actual dollar amount of the foreign transaction fee.
What credit card issuers charge foreign transaction fees?
These are the standard foreign transaction fees across some of the major U.S. credit card issuers, but keep in mind that these may vary between cards within an issuer’s lineup.
Even though each of the issuers listed above does charge a foreign transaction fee on at least one of its cards, many will have card options without foreign transaction fees (some of which are included in this guide).
Foreign transaction fees by issuer
|Card issuer:||Foreign transaction fee:|
|Bank of America||3%|
|U.S. Bank||3% for different currencies; 2% for USD transactions|
Which issuers are most widely accepted internationally?
Something else to seriously consider when traveling abroad is that not every payment network is accepted worldwide. Mastercard and Visa are by and large the two most popular networks — if a merchant abroad accepts credit cards, it is likely going to accept one of these cards.
Discover and American Express, which are commonly accepted in the U.S., may not be accepted around the world. This is why it’s a smart idea to have multiple types of cards in your wallet.
Issuers often will have card options that operate on different networks. All Chase credit cards — except for the Chase Freedom Flex — operate on the Visa payment network. Barclays, Citi and Capital One offer cards on both the Visa and Mastercard networks. Wells Fargo uses the Visa network for some cards and the American Express network for others. Discover and American Express, of course, always use their own payment networks.
If you have at least one Visa and one Mastercard, you’ll likely have a card that is accepted almost anywhere. Just keep in mind that in many places around the world, cash is still king. In parts of Asia, Africa and even Europe, many smaller merchants will either not accept credit cards or they will charge a high (sometimes 10%) surcharge on any credit card payment.
While you should always use a credit card when possible (and beneficial), it’s good to have local currency in hand whenever you are traveling.
Will you be charged a foreign transaction fee when booking international trips online?
You don’t have to be in another country to rack up a foreign transaction fee. If you make a payment online that gets routed through a non-U.S. bank, you might see that pesky fee tacked onto your bill. This can happen when you are buying from a company that is not based in the U.S., but it also happens when booking hotels abroad.
Most properties within major hotel brand portfolios like Hilton or Marriott are individually owned and managed, but reservations are facilitated through a brand-wide website. This means that while your reservation may be made on a U.S. website and you may pay in USD, the room charges may be processed by the hotel itself through a non-U.S. bank.
It’s generally hard to tell in these cases whether you’ll be charged a foreign transaction fee until after the payment is already processed. So it’s a best practice to use a card with no foreign transaction fees for booking purposes. Luckily, most top credit cards for booking hotel stays come with no such fees.
When do I pay a foreign transaction fee?
You might not know you have been charged a foreign transaction fee until you receive your credit card statement. This is because the fee is charged by your credit card issuer and not the company you made the purchase with.
Keep in mind that while the receipt from the purchase your car rental in Europe might say €500, the amount you will see on your credit statement will be the amount converted into dollars plus the additional foreign transaction fee.
Tips for using your credit card abroad
Aside from the general best practices to using your card in general, here are a few things to consider while abroad:
- Let your issuer know you’ll be traveling — Some issuers ask that you register your travel ahead of time so that the bank knows you’re abroad and doesn’t label purchases as fraudulent. While not every issuer requires it, it’s always a good idea to let them know you’ll be using your card outside of your usual area.
- Have a mix of credit cards — When traveling outside of the U.S. not all payment networks are accepted universally (Amex and Discover are popular in the U.S. but not always commonly accepted abroad, for example). It’s a good idea to have a mix of Visa, Mastercard and other types of cards in your wallet that you can use on purchases when you travel.
- Understand local currency and exchange rates — If you’re asked if you want to make a purchase in U.S. dollars or in the local currency, always choose the local currency. Generally speaking, you’ll get a better exchange rate when you allow your credit card to make that conversion than asking a merchant to use its exchange rate to convert a purchase into USD.
- Have a chip-and-PIN credit card — Chip-and-PIN cards use a PIN number for payment authentication rather than a signature. In some places, you may find that you need a chip-and-PIN credit card to make certain purchases, especially at unmanned kiosks at places like ticket machines and gas pumps. U.S. cards almost always default to chip-and-signature, but there are some that will automatically switch to PIN when a system won’t accept a signature.
If you’re a frequent international traveler, a card with no foreign transaction fees is a must. The last thing you want is for rewards you earn on your trip to be wiped out by a 2% – 3% fee.
What do you get in return for the foreign transaction fee? Nothing. Banks have no additional costs associated with processing a transaction from Toronto versus one from Tennessee. There are no special data centers being maintained on Christmas Island or any other remote place where you might travel.
TPG staffers have been studying this issue for years and the only conclusion that we’ve been able to reach is that banks simply charge these fees because they can get away with it.
Most top travel cards don’t charge a foreign transaction fee and many cash back credit cards have started eliminating foreign transaction fees as well.
Additional reporting by Daniel Ross.
Featured photo by The Points Guy staff.
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