If you travel often or buy items from overseas businesses, then you’ll want to avoid costly foreign transaction fees. Credit cards can offer a range of benefits for those heading overseas, but the credit cards we’ve compared on this page are specifically designed to help you avoid currency conversion fees.
Cards that don’t charge for overseas transactions
What's in this guide?
- Cards that don't charge for overseas transactions
- The fees you could incur when travelling
- Fee-free exchange rates
- How to compare credit cards for overseas travel
- What to be aware of when using a credit card overseas
- Pros and cons of using a credit card overseas
- The bottom line
- Using a credit card in specific countries
The fees you could incur when travelling
So what exactly are the fees that you’ll want to avoid? Unfortunately there’s more than one. To avoid getting stung, here are the potential charges you want to know about:
It’s also worth noting that non-sterling transaction and cash advances are often exempt from your card’s interest-free days, and may be charged interest at a different (higher) rate.
Here’s a section from a popular credit card’s summary box which serves as an example of how much extra you could pay to use your credit card abroad.
Fee-free exchange rates
Underlying each credit card’s exchange rate is the network’s exchange rate. When you use a Visa card to pay for something in a different currency, Visa’s exchange rate is used. When you use a Mastercard, it’s Mastercard’s exchange rate that applies. Card issuers then normally add their own charge on top of this, but if you’re using a card designed for taking abroad which doesn’t charge non-sterling transaction fees (like those listed on this page), then you’ll enjoy the network’s exchange rates with nothing added on top.
Or alternatively if you’re on Team Amex, here’s our guide to using your American Express card abroad.
How to compare credit cards for overseas travel
With certain credit cards on the market specifically designed for overseas use, there are some important features you should compare to find the right one for you.
- Foreign transaction fee
The cards we’ve listed in the table above all waive the foreign transaction fee.
- Foreign cash transaction fee
Most cards that waive the fee for overseas transactions will still charge you for withdrawing money at a cash machine overseas or buying foreign currency. You can use the table above to see the the foreign cash transaction fees of the listed cards.
- Interest-free days on foreign transactions
Almost all cards on the UK market offer up to 55 or 56 days where you won’t pay interest on your purchases. But to enjoy this benefit you must have cleared your balance in full in the previous billing cycle and you must clear your balance in full when you receive the bill for your current billing cycle. And crucially, while almost all cards offer this benefit, not all extend it to cover non-sterling transactions. You can find this information in a card’s “summary box” – that’s a standardised document that all card issuers must provide – or refer to our table above.
- Interest-free days on foreign cash transactions
In the case of almost all UK credit cards, any interest-free days will not apply to non-sterling cash transactions.
- Standard purchases interest rate
Crucially, it’s important to bear in mind that most credit cards on the market tailor rates to the individual. If you have bad credit, you may be offered a higher rate (or your application may be declined).
- Annual fee
A minority of UK credit cards charge an annual or monthly fee. Weighing the cost of any account fees against the potential savings you could get from paying 0% foreign transaction fees will help you find a card that’s affordable for you.
- International acceptance
In your hunt for a credit card to use overseas, one of the first features to consider is international acceptance. As you might expect, credit cards on the Visa or Mastercard networks find acceptance in almost all countries around the world – at cash machines, contactless and chip and PIN payment terminals alike. Acceptance of American Express cards (or even the lesser known Diners Club and Discovery networks) is not quite as widespread, and their use could attract higher fees.
If your credit card can help you dodge the foreign transaction fees and offer you some perks along the way, that’s fantastic. But it’s important not to be blind-sided by the perks. Plenty of cards incentivise non-sterling spending by offering enhanced reward point earn-rates, but what you earn in rewards is usually outweighed by the extra fees or interest you incur. Similarly, a frequent flyer credit card is an easy way to pick up points or miles as you spend overseas, but it’s crucial to weigh up the costs against the benefit.
A few cards on the UK market come with some form of travel insurance added on, but you’re unlikely to find one which offers this as well as fee-free spending abroad. Plus, free insurance tends come on more premium options (platinum or black cards) where it’s offset by an annual account fee.
If you’re travelling overseas, it’s certainly a smart idea to organise international travel insurance, and a card that offers complimentary insurance can help you save the time and money you’d otherwise spend on standalone cover. Depending on the card, the international travel insurance usually includes overseas medical insurance, transit accident insurance and travel delay insurance to name a few. The cover might also extend to your spouse or any dependent children travelling with you. As well as travel insurance, some credit cards offer purchase security insurance and extended warranty so you can shop with peace of mind.
APR and foreign transaction feesCredit card promotions have to include an Annual Percentage Rate (APR), which all card issuers must calculate in the same way.
Credit card fee structures can get fiddly, so the APR’s designed to benchmark the yearly cost to borrow, with a view to helping consumers compare cards against each other. It takes into consideration the default interest rate plus any mandatory, regular account fees.
However, APR doesn’t take into account other fees, such as those you may or may not be charged when you travel abroad. A 0% foreign fees credit card may have a higher APR than other types of credit cards, but it will save you quite a lot in fees if you travel often and don’t carry a balance on the card. So, while a handy figure to compare the cost of borrowing with different cards, the APR doesn’t tell the whole story.
Finally, always keep in mind that credit card companies only have to offer their advertised representative APR to 51% of the people who are approved for the card (the rest may get a higher rate, depending on their circumstances; that’s why it’s usually referred to as “representative” APR).
What to be aware of when using a credit card overseas
- Adding funds to your credit card. There are certain people who add funds to their credit cards accounts before they leave for overseas, and they then make use of these funds through their card in the form of a debit card. By doing this, you can avoid paying interest. What you should know is that card providers don’t take any responsibility for funds you add to your credit card account. So, if your card is lost or stolen and used for unauthorised transactions, you might lose out on valuable funds.
- Consider other options. Using your credit card is not the only way you can spend money overseas. You can turn to traveller’s cheques and travel money cards, and you can even consider using a Mastercard or Visa debit card. In fact, it’s wise to organise more than one travel money option before travelling to ensure you’re not stranded without cash in case your card is lost or stolen.
- Excessive debt. A credit card may tempt you to overspend while on holiday. It’s important to remember that you have to repay everything you charge (plus interest in most cases), so make sure that you’re spending with a budget in mind so that your balance doesn’t get out of control.
Pros and cons of using a credit card overseas
There are many ways to take money with you on holiday, including credit cards. It’s generally a smart idea to have at least a couple of different payment options to hand when you’re abroad – perhaps a mixture of cash and one or two payment cards. To help you decide how much you want to lean on a credit card, here are some of the key pros and cons.
- 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 Diners Club cards are also accepted worldwide, though in fewer places than Visa or Mastercard.
- Other perks. Credit cards designed for overseas use can come with travel-related benefits such as a 0% purchases deal to help spread the cost of your holiday, frequent flyer rewards programs, complimentary insurance or airline lounge passes.
- Security. When you’re travelling overseas, it’s wise to have more than one way to access your cash. Even if you have a prepaid card or debit card organised for everyday spending, a credit card can be used as a backup and the security of credit could come in handy in an emergency. Most cards also now come with an app that you can use to freeze and unfreeze your card if it goes AWOL (and to track your spending too).
- Financial flexibility. Ultimately, credit cards give you credit – whether that’s just to act as a buffer until the end of the month or to spread costs over several months.
- Fees. Depending on the card, using your credit card overseas can come with extra costs. What’s more, the fee structure can be a bit fiddly! Before you pick a card and hop on a boat/plane/train, get your head around the potential fees.
- Limitations. Some cards come with limitations, including eligibility requirements, restrictions on how and where you can use the card.
- Temptation to spend. While a line of credit can provide you with peace of mind, it might also tempt you to spend money that you don’t really have. Remember that you’ll have to pay back everything you charge (plus interest if you don’t pay your balance in full).
The bottom line
If you’re a frequent traveller or regularly shop online with international retailers, a credit card that has 0% foreign transaction fees could help you keep your costs to a minimum. As you’ve probably gathered by now, the ideal credit card to use overseas is one that best suits your unique requirements. Given the range on offer, it’s worth taking some time to get your head around the potential fees and then to compare the cards available.
It’s also worth noting that many people opt for one credit card to use at home and one card to use abroad. For some, all that extra credit lying around could be a bad idea, but if you have the self-discipline, this can be a smart option.
Once you’ve done your homework, the next step is to use an eligibility checker to find out which cards you’ll get approved for.
Using a credit card in specific countries
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