Savvy Saturday: Avoid foreign transaction fees while in the US

Sep 18, 2021

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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 photo by Westend61/Getty Images.

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