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.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Recommended Credit
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

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.