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How to avoid travel money fees and charges traveling overseas

Save money on your vacation by sidestepping the fees.

Updated

Fact checked

To understand the hidden costs that come hand in hand with travel money, you have to read the fine print, understand your options and make the right choices. You can start saving for your next trip by being careful about what spend on and how you pay.

This guide breaks down and gives some tips on how to avoid the hidden costs and charges you’ll run into when taking travel money on vacation.

The major travel money costs and how you can avoid them

Fees for overseas purchases

  • Currency conversion fees

Currency conversion fees happen when you pay for something in a currency that is different from the default currency on your card. So, if you use your credit or debit card abroad and pay in the local currency, you’ll likely be charged a fee (around 3%). Imagine getting charged $60 on top of your $2,000 hotel stay — this fee can bleed hundreds of dollars on your vacation.

  • How to avoid them:

You can miss this fee completely by using a credit or debit card — like the Capital One 360 debit card — that waives the currency conversion fee.

Another way to avoid this fee is to use a prepaid travel card and preload the foreign currency you’re planning to spend (see what happens when your prepaid card doesn’t support the local currency).

  • Exchange rates

Exchange rates can either work for you or against you depending on currency fluctuations. Also, where you exchange your money is important too. Exchange rates at the airport exchange desks and foreign money changers will typically have less favorable rates because of an added margin for their own profit — this is either reflected in a lower exchange rate or a money exchange fee.

  • How to avoid them:

Avoid exchanging your money at airports or with random foreign money changers. You’re better of withdrawing cash from an international ATM to get a more competitive rate.

If you’re concerned about currency fluctuations, consider a travel card that’ll lock in the exchange rate when you load funds on the card. On the other hand, credit and debit cards will give you access to the daily interbank exchange rate, which is usually the most favorable rate.

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Fees for withdrawing cash overseas

  • ATM withdrawal fees

If you’re not careful, you could find yourself paying this fee twice for each overseas ATM withdrawal you make — once to your card provider and once to the ATM operator.

  • How to avoid them:

You can spare yourself this fee by getting your paws on a travel-friendly card with no overseas ATM withdrawal fees. Capital One and Discover are two of your options when looking for a debit card with no international ATM fees.

It’s also worth noting that Barclaycard and Bank of America are members of the Global ATM Alliance, which waives the fee when withdrawing from a member’s ATM. You could also minimize the fee by withdrawing a large amount of cash and limiting your ATM visits.

  • Cash advance fees

This steep fee, plus interest, is charged by credit card companies each time you make an ATM withdrawal with your credit card.

  • How to avoid them:

It’s simple, avoid this by not making cash withdrawals on your credit card. Instead, make sure to pack a prepaid travel card or debit card that you can use for overseas withdrawals.

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Fees using prepaid travel money cards

  • Account inactivity fees

If you’re not using your card, the provider might charge a monthly fee for maintaining your account following a period of inactivity, usually 12 months.

  • How to avoid them:

If you want to keep your account active, make a small transfer or purchase before 12 months on inactivity. The last thing you want is for your remaining funds to be slowly devoured by the monthly inactivity fee. Read our guide on how to claim your remaining travel card funds.

  • Account closure fees

When you close your travel money card, you may find that you’re charged an account closure fee.

  • How to avoid them:

There’s really no way to avoid this cost, unless you exhaust all of your funds on the card. Then you won’t have to worry about the fee for closing your card to get your remaining balance back.

Our pick for a prepaid travel card
Travelex Money Card

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Fees for using travel credit cards

  • Annual fees

Cards designed for overseas use can also come at a price, so make sure that the annual fee doesn’t outweigh any potential benefits.

  • How to avoid them:

To get by this, just look for a credit card with zero annual fees or a promotional period that allows you to use the card at no charge.

  • Interest fees

When you use your credit card, not only will you have to repay the purchase amount, you may also have to pay interest. Be sure to make on time payments or you could roll yourself into a ball of a debt.

  • How to avoid them:

You could get a travel-friendly 0% interest credit card or you could take advantage of the interest-free days when you pay your balance on time.

  • Merchant fees

Sometimes you might find that the overseas merchant adds a surcharge to your transaction just because you’re using a foreign credit card.

Also, if you agree to pay in dollars while overseas, you’re agreeing to the currency conversion rate which incorporates a fee to the merchant, a poor exchange rate and the currency conversion fee which your card company may also charge.

  • How to avoid them:

Always stay alert at the counter and be vigilant about checking your bill before paying. Ask when in doubt about any item, and always say “no” when offered to pay in your home currency.

Data indicated here is updated regularly
Name Product Foreign transaction fee Welcome offer Rewards Filter values
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
None
80,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months, a value of up to $1,000 through Chase Ultimate Rewards
5x points on Lyft, 2x points on travel and dining and 1x points on all other purchases
Earn a huge signup bonus worth $$1,000 with this popular travel card. Combine with other Chase Ultimate Rewards cards for even greater value.
American Express® Gold Card
None
35,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
3x points on directly-booked flights; 4x at restaurants; 4x at US supermarkets on up to $25,000 annually (then 1x points)
Earn up to 4x points on select purchases, a bevy of travel perks, and a welcome offer worth up to $350 with this upper-mid tier travel card. Rates & fees
Petal® Visa® Credit Card
None
N/A
Up to 10% cash back from select merchants, on other purchases earn 1% back, 1.25% after six on-time payments and 1.5% after 12 on-time payments
Build your credit with rewards and no fees: Apply if you're new to credit or have a fair to good score.
Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi
None
N/A
4% at gas stations on up to $7,000 annually (then 1%), 3% at restaurants and on travel, 2% at Costco and 1% on all other purchases
An impressive cashback card that offers up to 4% back on everyday purchases like gas, travel and dining all for the cost of a Costco membership.
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
None
50,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
10x points on Lyft rides, 3x points on dining and travel after earning your $300 travel credit and 1x points on all other purchases
Get a generous $300 in annual travel credits, 3x points on travel and dining, and a 50% bonus on point redemptions with Chase's premier card.
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