The Best Travel Rewards Cards With No Foreign Transaction Fees [2019]

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There are lots of great credit cards out there, and different cards serve different purposes. Some cards are great for those who travel all the time, others are great for those who don’t travel a lot, and then there are lots of cards inbetween.

In this post I wanted to look at the best travel credit cards with no foreign transaction fees. What factors should you be considering when deciding which no foreign transaction fee card to use, and which cards are best?

What makes a good no foreign transaction fee credit card?

I remember back in the day when it was rare for a card not to have foreign transaction fees. The fact that a card didn’t have foreign transaction fees was reason enough to use it for purchases abroad. Nowadays you have all kinds of great credit cards that not only have no foreign transaction fees, but offer other benefits for purchases abroad.

So, what should you be looking for in a card with no foreign transaction fees?

  • It offers bonus points in categories you spend a lot of money in abroad; for most of us this would include travel, entertainment, and dining
  • It’s a Mastercard or Visa; while American Express has some good cards with no foreign transaction fees, they don’t have the same level of global acceptance as other issuers, and that becomes a problem
  • If you are going to make travel purchases with the card (like airfare), ideally it offers useful travel coverage

Other considerations when making purchases abroad

Before I get into my specific card suggestions, I wanted to share a few other general tips when paying for purchases abroad:

Always pay in local currency

When using a card with no foreign transaction fees, always pay in the local currency (you’ll often be asked if you want to pay in local currency or your home currency). This will get you a better exchange rate, since if you pay in USD you may be hit with an unfavorable rate. This might be counterintuitive, but trust me.

Not all conversion rates are the same

It’s important to understand the difference between how card issuers determine exchange rates. People assume that all cards without foreign transaction fees will get you the same conversion rate. That’s not the case. While the foreign transaction “junk” fee as such is waived (often around 3%), conversion rates can differ between issuers.

As I’ve explained in a previous post, typically Mastercard has the best exchange rates, often materially lower than what’s offered by Visa. Rumor has it that the reason for this discrepancy is as follows:

  • Visa guarantees the exchange rate the day you make the purchase, but has a built in cushion since the transaction typically only posts a couple of days later, so exchange rates could change, meaning there’s some risk for Visa
  • Mastercard charges the exchange rate the day the transaction posts (often a couple of days after the transaction), so since they’re charging whatever the rate is, the cushion is much smaller

Chip & PIN technology matters

While credit card use is more widespread in the US than anywhere else, we’re also way behind when it comes to credit card technology.

A vast majority of US credit cards don’t have Chip & PIN technology. While many credit cards nowadays have chips, most of the technology is Chip & Signature technology, where you insert your card and then sign.

What’s the benefit of Chip & PIN? Many automated kiosks, particular in Europe, only take Chip & PIN cards. These aren’t common in the US, though it’s an area where Barclays is a leader. So if this is something that’s important to you, consider the Barclaycard Arrival® Plus World Elite Mastercard® (see terms).

Personally I do just fine using Chip & Signature cards, though it does often mean going into the train ticket office rather than using a kiosk.

On the plus side, at least we’re finally seeing more contactless cards be introduced in the US.

What are the best no foreign transaction fee cards?

I’d say there are six cards that are most rewarding for foreign purchases when you factor everything in (five personal cards and one business card), so let me explain below:

Citi Premier℠ Card

The card offers 3x points on travel and gas, and 2x points on dining and entertainment. For most of us, I’d say travel, dining, and entertainment covers a vast majority of what we’d spend money on while abroad.

The “travel” category includes things like flights, hotels, car rentals, tour operators, ferries, subways, trains, cruises, and even parking. Dining is pretty self explanatory, and then entertainment includes things like live entertainment, concerts, movie theaters, amusement parks, tourist attractions (including museum and art galleries), and more.

For a card with an annual fee of under $100, I’d say this is by far the most rewarding card for the average person’s spend while traveling abroad.

You also have the advantage of this being a Mastercard, which generally has the best exchange rate.

Lastly, the card offers a primary collision damage waiver benefit outside the US (it’s secondary within the US), which is great if you’re renting a car. If you use your card to pay for flights, you’ll also receive benefits like trip delay protection, lost and delayed baggage coverage, and more.


Earn 2x points on museum tickets with the Citi Premier

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® has a $450 annual fee and is offering a welcome bonus of 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 within three months.

While the card’s $450 annual fee sounds high, in reality the card shouldn’t cost you nearly that much. That’s because it has a $300 annual travel credit, and also offers a Priority Pass membership.

The card offers 3x points on dining and travel, which covers a lot of the purchases that many of us would make while abroad.

The advantage of this over the Citi Premier is that it offers 3x points on dining rather than 2x points, though the downside is that it offers a single point per dollar spent on entertainment, while the Citi Premier offers 2x points in that category.

The card offers excellent coverage, including primary collision damage waiver benefit (both within the US and abroad), which is great if you’re renting a car. If you use your card to pay for flights, you’ll also receive benefits like trip delay protection, lost and delayed baggage coverage, and more.


Earn 3x points on restaurant purchases abroad

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card has a $95 annual fee and is offering a welcome bonus of 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 within three months.

The card has the same annual fee as the Citi Premier℠ Card after the first year, but the bonus categories aren’t quite as good. The card offers 2x points on dining and travel, while the Citi Premier offers 3x points on travel, and 2x points on dining and entertainment, so you’re likely to earn more points for purchases abroad.

The card offers excellent coverage, including primary collision damage waiver benefit (both within the US and abroad), which is great if you’re renting a car. If you use your card to pay for flights, you’ll also receive benefits like trip delay protection, lost and delayed baggage coverage, and more.


Earn 2x points on hotel stays

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card has a $95 annual fee that’s waived for the first year, and is offering a welcome bonus of 50,000 Venture miles after spending $3,000 within three months.

Here’s the thing — this card doesn’t have the same bonus categories as the above, but this card is better than all three of the above cards for non-bonused spend.

That’s because the card offers 2x Venture miles per dollar spent, and those Venture miles can be:

In other words, every dollars spent on the card earns you up to 1.5 airline miles or 2% towards travel. I’d only use this for non-bonused purchased abroad, meaning not for travel, dining, and entertainment purchases.

Redeem Venture miles towards the cost of virtually any travel purchase

Citi Prestige Card

The $495 annual fee Citi Prestige Card offers 5x points on dining and airfare, and 3x points on cruises and hotels. The 5x points on dining globally is huge when eating out while abroad, though otherwise the bonus categories aren’t quite as well rounded for other common travel purchases.

Earn 5x points for dining globally

Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card

I’ll throw this card in as a bonus, as I think it’s the best business credit card for foreign purchases. The Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card has a $95 annual fee and is offering a welcome bonus of 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $5,000 within three months.

The card offers 3x points in several categories, valid on the first $150,000 spent in those categories every cardmember year. One of those categories is travel, which has the same broad definition as on the Sapphire Reserve. So that’s an excellent bonus category for the purposes of spending while traveling.

Earn 3x points on travel purchases abroad

Other cards with no foreign transaction fees

Bottom line

I think the Citi Premier℠ CardChase Sapphire Reserve®, and Citi Prestige Card are the winners when it comes to no foreign transaction fee personal travel rewards credit cards.

The Citi Premier has the benefit of being a Mastercard, and also offers bonus points on entertainment, which is a rare bonus category. The card also has a lower annual fee than the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Citi Prestige, and that fee is even waived for the first year.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve has the benefit of offering 3x points on dining, which is a big category for many. For anyone who doesn’t have the Sapphire Reserve, the Sapphire Preferred is a good alternative.

Then there’s the Citi Prestige, which is the best of all for dining purchases, given that it offers 5x points on those purchases.

On top of that, the Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card is also excellent if you’re looking for a business card, and the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card is ideal if you’re spending a lot in non-bonused categories while abroad.

Personally I can survive without a Chip & PIN card, but if that is something that’s important to you, consider the Barclaycard Arrival® Plus World Elite Mastercard®.

What’s your favorite travel rewards credit card with no foreign transaction fees?

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Comments

  1. Interesting story … my friend had to return his rental car in Reykjavik with the tank empty and pay exorbitant refueling charges to the rental company, all because the gas stations on the way to the airport required Chip & PIN. He said there wasn’t even a cash kiosk. Don’t discount the advantages of Chip & PIN in a pinch.

    I’m so excited to have the Arrival+ Mastercard for non-bonused spend overseas. @Lucky you’ve put together this list a few times. With a $.021 return and it being a Mastercard, I don’t know why the Venture Rewards Visa is on this list and the Arrival+ isn’t. In my opinion, a Sapphire or Citi Premiere paired with an Arrival+ is the most versatile, least-redundant combination overseas.

  2. PenFed Power Cash Visa with 2% cashback. No FTF. NO AF.

    BofA AAA Visa 3%-Travel, plus some other categories I don’t care about. No FTF. NO AF.

    Barclay Arrival (“Minus”?) 2.11%-Travel and Dining. No FTF. NO AF. $25 redemption threshold.

  3. Thanks, B. Wiser! Long been looking for a 2% cash back, No FTF, No AF credit card…the PenFed card is just what I need, as retired military.

  4. Dr. Stan, you’re very welcome. Although I don’t have it yet, I plan to get it soon. Check out their CD and Premium Online Savings rates, also.

    Note that there is also a 2% NoAF/NoFTF card from Paypal.

  5. Diners Club Mastercard (Professional) has $95 AF and chip and PIN. It has airline reward transfer partners. Downside is that it does have foreign transaction fee and you only earn a point for every dollar spent towards airline miles. I have had it for years, but don’t use it anymore other than to keep for credit history and chip and PIN for foreign travel when needed. It’s with Bank of Montreal, but still a “US” card as one in the US can apply for it.

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