Going on a European vacation or traveling for business? Paying for anything in a country outside of your own comes with fees. Banks say that there are not only costs associated with converting currencies; there is considerable risk of fraud. Banks say those foreign transaction fees help to mitigate the costs they incur from you using your card outside of your country of residence.
However, you can also find cards that charge no foreign transaction fee, so if yours does, be sure it has other important advantages.
One other issue that's important if you're going to Europe is making sure that the credit card you bring is equipped with EMV technology, the new smart card chip. U.S. card issuers have been slow to provide these cards, partly because retailers have been late in adopting the new machines required to read them. (Learn the details in The Credit Card Chip: What Travelers Must Know and What You Need To Know About EMV Credit Cards.) Visa and MasterCard have given stores an October 2015 deadline after which those not equipped with chip readers will become liable when fraud occurs, rather than the card company being liable. As a result, more and more U.S. cards are coming chip equipped. Go to Europe without one, though, and you may end up being unable to use automated ticket machines or to charge purchases in smaller shops.
As part of your trip preparations, check with your bank to see whether your current card has an EMV chip and whether it charges foreign-transaction fees. If it does, especially if your trip spans a considerable amount of time, consider getting a card without these fees. Here are a few to consider.
Chase Sapphire Preferred
It’s not specifically branded as a travel card, but it has all of the benefits that you would want. Besides no foreign transaction fee, you get 40,000 bonus points if you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months of having it, and it’s a chip card – added security and convenience for Europe.
You also receive an extra 5,000 points when you add a second authorized user within 3 months, and there’s a 1:1 point transfer: 1,000 points equals 1,000 miles with partner airlines and travel programs. When you redeem points for travel rewards, you receive a 20% discount. This means that a $500 flight takes about 40,000 points. (The same 40,000 you get if you spend $4,000.)
There’s a $95 annual fee after the free initial year, and the APR is 15.99%. Against the national average of 14.89%, that isn’t too bad for a rewards card.
Capital One VentureOne Card
It’s simple, easy to understand and continues to gain market share (read our review). The VentureOne card is a card for travelers. You receive 20,000 bonus miles if you spend $1,000 in the first three months and 1.25 points for every dollar spent. After its 0% introductory APR expires, it has a competitive interest rate of 11.9% to 19.9%. And unlike most cards, there is no balance transfer fee. CapitalOne now includes chip technology on the VentureOne card and will have it on all cards by the end of 2015. There is no annual fee with this card.
Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express
How about an airline card to add to your arsenal? Receive 30,000 bonus miles from Delta if you spend $1,000 or more in the first 3 months and a $50 statement credit when you make your first purchase. You get a free checked bag and no annual fee for the first year. Starting in year two, the fee is $95.
The BankAmericard Travel Rewards Credit Card
If you’re already a Bank of America customer, this is definitely a card to consider. It’s a travel card so rewards are for travel-related services. For every $1 you spend, Bank of America gives you 1.5 points. There’s no earnings cap, points don’t expire and there are no blackout dates.
The interest rate is 14.99% to 22.99%, and the card has no annual fee. If you have an active Bank of America account you receive 10% in rewards for every purchase you make. New issue cards come with an EMV chip.
The Bottom Line
If you’re traveling to Europe, consider bringing a card with no foreign transaction fees. For more on the topic, check out How Foreign Transaction Fees Work. And, especially before October 2015, make sure that at least one of the cards you carry to Europe has an EMV chip. (After that, pretty much all U.S. credit cards should have them.)