What is an international credit card? Which ones are the best?

Avoid foreign transaction fees and get travel-centric perks.

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Man taking a picture while traveling

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If you’re going to use a credit card to make purchases abroad or on foreign websites, avoid paying more than you need to. You can do this by using an international credit card, which usually comes with no foreign transaction fees and a bevy of travel-centric perks.

What is an international credit card?

This is a credit card that’s ideal for use abroad and on international websites.

You’ll typically find no foreign transaction fees and bonus rewards on travel purchases. You may also find benefits such as travel insurance, travel credits, airport lounge access and chip-and-PIN capability.

What is the best international credit card?

There are many excellent credit cards for overseas travel. And truth be told, there is no “best” card — only the one that fits your needs most effectively.

Nevertheless, some cards are consistently ranked among the top travel credit cards, which we’ll cover below.

Best for flights: The Platinum Card® from American Express

The Amex Platinum Card offers a market-leading rewards rate on flights. And if you transfer your Membership Rewards points to certain travel partners, they could be worth twice as much. It’s a lucrative combination. Add invaluable travel credits and complimentary airport lounge access, and you have one of the best travel cards, bar none.

Best for flat-rate rewards: Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

If you don’t want to worry about bonus categories, consider this reliable international credit card from Capital One. You’ll earn a consistent 2x miles on every purchase, plus 10x miles on eligible Hotels.com bookings up to January 2020.Call Capital One and a representative can assign you a PIN — perfect if you’ll travel to a chip-and-PIN destination. Plus, enjoy more flexibility with your miles by transferring them to Capital One’s 15 travel partners.

Best cobranded hotel card: Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card

This hotel credit card is loaded with benefits, including strong rewards, an annual Free Night Award and complimentary Gold Elite status in the Marriott Bonvoy loyalty program. You’ll also receive credits that can offset a large portion of your annual fee, as well as airport lounge access through Priority Pass Select.

Best premium card for flexible rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®

With an excellent annual travel credit, you can easily offset much of this card’s annual fee. You’ll like the strong 3x points you’ll earn on travel and dining after you receive your travel credit. And you can live large with complimentary airport lounge access and a $100 credit for your Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee.

One of the best benefits of this international credit card is its point redemptions. You can transfer points to a variety of travel partners. Or, you can redeem points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards, when they’re worth 50% more.

Best for travel perks with no annual fee: PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card

This card packs a punch, annual-fee product or not. The rewards are stellar: 4x points on travel if you’re a PenFed Honors Advantage Member, and 1.5x points on all other purchases.You can also get a taste of the high life with an annual air travel credit and a credit for your Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee.

How we chose our best credit cards

We compared credit cards for different travel niches, adding standout products to our list. We gave heavier weight to cards with best-in-market travel rewards rates. Also, we highlighted each international credit card that delivered excellent value through their travel benefits, such as credits and airport lounge access.

What’s changed in 2019

With the Amex Platinum Card, you’ll need to explicitly select Uber Cash when using your credits in the Uber app. And you’ll still want to note that the Chase Sapphire Reserve® offers 3x points on travel and dining only after you’ve spent $300 in purchases that qualify for the travel credit.

Amex introduced the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card this year after the much-anticipated launch of Marriott Bonvoy.

How to compare international credit cards

The hallmark of an international credit card is its no-foreign-transaction fee benefit and travel perks, making it a great choice for spending on international trips and on foreign websites. Here are a few factors to consider while looking for your next card:

  • Foreign transaction fees.

    These are fees assessed when you use your card abroad or on a foreign website, and they’re typically 3% of each transaction. The vast majority of strong travel cards won’t charge them.

  • Chip-and-PIN capabilities.

    Most cards in the US are chip-and-signature cards. You’ll use your card, and if necessary, you’ll provide a signature. In many international destinations — Europe, for example — chip-and-PIN cards are common. After using your card, you’ll be asked to input a PIN to verify your transaction.

    Research whether the country you’ll visit is a chip-and-PIN area. If so, look for card providers that let you request a PIN, such as Barclays, Bank of America or PenFed Credit Union.

  • Merchant acceptance.

    Visa and Mastercard are accepted far more widely than Discover and American Express. If you’ll use cards from the latter two providers, consider having another credit card as a backup.

Should I use my international credit card to withdraw cash from international ATMs?

Not only should you avoid withdrawing cash with your credit card from international ATMs, you should avoid doing so at any ATM, period. This is because you’ll be hit with a cash advance fee, and your transaction will immediately start accruing interest. The local ATM provider may even charge you a withdrawal fee.

One of the best options to withdraw cash abroad is using a debit card — specifically one that waives all ATM fees and gives you the true exchange rate. Consider a service like the Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking account, which comes highly recommended by Finder staff.

International credit cards with 0% foreign transaction fees

Name Product Foreign transaction fee Annual fee Purchase APR Filter values
None
$150
See Rates & Fees
Earn 3x Membership Rewards® points on all eligible travel, 3x points at restaurants and 1x points on all other purchases. Rates & fees
None
$0
17.24% to 26.24% variable
Earn 75,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend $1,000 in purchases on the card within your first 3 months of card membership. Rates & fees
None
$0
0% intro for the first 12 months (then 13.74%, 19.74% or 23.74% variable)
Earn 20,000 bonus miles once you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.
None
$0 intro annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
17.24% to 26.24% variable
Earn 30,000 miles after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months, plus $50 when you make a direct Delta purchase in the same timeframe. Rates & fees
None
$0 intro annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
17.49%, 22.24% or 24.74% variable
Earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.

Compare up to 4 providers

What are the pros and cons of using an international credit card?

Pros

  • Global acceptance. If you’re using a Mastercard or Visa credit card, you’ll be able to use your credit card in millions of locations around the world. American Express and Discover cards are also accepted worldwide, though in fewer places than Visa or Mastercard.
  • Travel perks. An international credit card usually offers travel-related benefits such as frequent-flyer rewards programs, complimentary insurance and airline lounge access.
  • Security of credit. When you’re traveling overseas, it’s wise to have more than one way to access your cash. Even if you have a prepaid card or debit card for everyday spending, you can use a credit card as a backup.

Cons

  • Fees. Depending on the card, using your credit card overseas can come with many costs. Understand exactly what you’ll pay when using your card for foreign transactions before you apply.
  • Temptation to spend. While a credit card can provide you with peace of mind, it might also tempt you to spend money you don’t really have. Remember that you’ll have to pay back everything you charge, plus interest if you plan on carrying a balance.

Bottom line

The ideal international credit card is one that meets your individual needs. Given the wide variety of options, take your time and compare several cards you like. For help narrowing your options, check out our guide to travel cards, as well as our airline and hotel card guides.

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