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Savvy Saturday: Avoid foreign transaction fees while in the US

Sept. 18, 2021
4 min read
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Editor’s note: Some travel cards come with perplexing benefits that are tricky to maximize. This article is part of a series that shows you unique, fun and unintended ways to use your credit card benefits. If you’ve got any questions or have an example of a surprising way to maximize a credit card perk, tweet us @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at info@thepointsguy.com.


This is more of a "Did you know?" sort of topic, but it can save you potentially hundreds of dollars in a single transaction.

You've probably heard of foreign transaction fees. They're arbitrary fees (usually around 3% of the charged amount) your credit card issuer imposes for using your card internationally. Swipe your card at a taco truck in Tijuana, Mexico, and you could be charged 3% more than had you purchased the same taco 100 feet north in San Diego.

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But did you know that you can be charged a foreign transaction fee even if your feet are planted in the middle of Kansas? It may have already happened to you and you simply didn't notice.

The secret: Credit cards with no foreign transaction fee

If you're making purchases on the internet, you could be charged a foreign transaction fee. (Photo by Oscar Wong/Getty Images)

In truth, your credit card isn't particular about your actual geographical location. It's more about the location where your credit card transaction is processed.

If you're buying products online, reserving a hotel room, purchasing a flight, etc., you may be charged a foreign transaction fee. You can often sniff out the fee before making your purchase, however. Here are a few telltale signs:

  • Your purchase is from a foreign country.
  • You make a purchase from a site whose default language is not English.
  • Your purchase is in a foreign currency.

When you prompt a transaction with a merchant outside the U.S., your purchase may be categorized as "foreign," despite the fact that you're sitting in your living room. You may even be purchasing from a U.S.-based website that deals with overseas vendors and still fall victim to the 3% fee (Amazon has been known for this).

Early in my credit card career, I was burned by foreign transaction fees while sitting in front of my computer. I was booking travel on a foreign airline website, using the native site and paying in the local currency (some airlines charge less if you use the native site instead of the "U.S. version"). It doesn't happen anymore, because I almost exclusively use cards that waive foreign transaction fees. Here are some of our favorites:

If you're using any sort of travel credit card, your foreign transaction fees are almost certainly waived. If you're new to the credit card world, there are also plenty of no-annual-fee credit cards that waive foreign transaction fees, too:

Bottom line

Just because you're in the U.S. doesn't mean you won't be charged foreign transaction fees. If you're making purchases on the internet, there's a possibility you'll get dinged.

Whether you're buying products from an offshore company, reserving hotels overseas or booking a flight on a foreign airline, the safe bet is to use a credit card that waives foreign transaction fees because 3% in fees can add up in a hurry.

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

Featured image by Getty Images/Westend61
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.

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Best Marriott card for Business Owners
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
3 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

6X6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
4X4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
2X2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Intro Offer
    Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.

    Earn 100,000 points
    75,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $125
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

Pros

  • 6x points on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program
  • 4x points at restaurants worldwide, U.S. gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and U.S. shipping
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases
  • Earn a free-night award each card renewal month (up to 35,000 points)
  • Receive 15 elite night credits to jump-start status
  • Transfer Marriott points to 40+ airlines

Cons

  • Airline points transfer ratios are poor
  • Must spend $60,000 in a year for second free-night award
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.
  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy® points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status with your Card.
  • Terms apply.
  • See Rates & Fees