Traveling abroad can be exhilarating, fun and sometimes a little stressful. Luckily, by having one of the best credit cards for international travel in your wallet, you can have some peace of mind knowing you’re protected. Gone are the days when you needed to purchase travel insurance or worry about bringing enough cash to cover your expenses. With the right credit card, you’ll not only receive a slew of protections, but you can also maximize your spending so you’ll earn enough points on vacation to cover your next jaunt abroad.
The criteria for determining the best international travel cards is different from the best credit cards for domestic travel. For one, when you’re traveling internationally, you’ll want additional protections. In some cases, you’re thousands of miles away from home in unfamiliar territory, so having the backing of your credit card to ensure a safe and comfortable travel experience can go a long way. Add in the benefits of not being charged added fees for spending while abroad, as well as perks when you’re traveling internationally, and you have a great card to use on your next vacation outside of the US. Our best cards for international travel range in perks, depending on what you’re planning to spend the most on.
Chase Sapphire Reserve(R): Best card for hotels abroad
Chase Sapphire Preferred(R) Card: Best value for the annual fee
The Platinum Card(R) from American Express: Best card for travel insurance and for lounge access while traveling abroad
American Express(R) Gold Card: Best card for dining abroad
Capital One VentureOne Card: Best no-annual-fee card
Whether you’re looking for access to airport lounges or a full suite of insurance coverage, these cards offer protections that you should look for in a credit card to use abroad. Before we dive into the benefits of each of these cards, take a few minutes to understand the perks that make for a good card for international travel. CNN Underscored’s comprehensive credit card methodology compares every aspect of each international travel credit card to our “benchmark credit card” to determine which cards can potentially bring you maximum value.
What to look for in a credit card for international travel
When you’re looking for a credit card for international travel, there are benefits to look for that can save you money and provide peace of mind. Perks like travel insurance would typically cost you money, but many credit cards offer it free of charge.
Of course, there are restrictions to these protections. In most cases, you’ll also need to charge your travel expenses — such as airfare or accommodation — to the card for the benefits to apply. Be sure to read the fine print on any card you’re applying for to make sure you understand the rules governing these perks before relying on their coverage.
That being said, here are the six benefits you should look for in a quality credit card to use abroad.
No foreign transaction fees
Some credit cards charge foreign transaction fees of around 3% on purchases made abroad. This may not sound significant until you factor in large expenses like hotels, rental cars, dining and shopping. On cards that charge this fee, you’ll incur a $30 fee for every $1,000 spent — and that can add up quickly.
If you spend more than $3,200 per year abroad, getting a credit card that waives foreign transaction fees makes sense. That’s because you’ll incur about $96 in fees, which is more than the annual fee on many cards. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card charges a $95 annual fee, but it charges no foreign transaction fees, making it a solid option to use when you’re traveling internationally.
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Use a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees while you’re abroad. – Getty Images
Trip cancellation and interruption insurance can provide the ultimate peace of mind when you’re traveling abroad. This type of coverage provides reimbursement for nonrefundable expenses if your trip is delayed or canceled due to unforeseen circumstances. Covered circumstances include accidental injury, loss of life, sickness, severe weather and jury duty, to name a few.
Trip delay reimbursement comes in handy if your trip is delayed for more than six hours or requires an overnight stay. Several cards offer this protection, such as the Amex Platinum, which offers up to $500 per ticket to cover meals, lodging and other eligible expenses if your trip is delayed for a covered reason. You must have paid for the round-trip ticket entirely with your Amex Platinum in order to be eligible for the protection.*
There are few worse feelings than arriving to your destination only to realize that your bags didn’t make the trip. Baggage delay insurance is helpful when the airline you’re traveling with loses your luggage during your journey. For example, the Amex Gold card covers up to $1,250 for carry-on baggage and up to $500 for checked baggage in the event that your baggage is lost, damaged or stolen when you purchase the entire fare for a common carrier on the card.**
Bonus points on travel expenses
Some of the most significant expenses incurred during travel include airfare, hotels, rental cars and meals. Of course, you’ll want to get a credit card that rewards you generously in these categories.
Here’s a look at some of the best credit cards and what they reward you with for purchases you make on vacation:
Chase Sapphire Reserve: Earn 10x points on hotels, car rentals and dining booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards (after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually); 5x points on flight purchases made through Chase Ultimate Rewards (after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually); 3x points on travel worldwide (after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually) as well as on dining; 1x points on all other purchases.Capital One VentureOne Card: Earn 5 miles per dollar spent on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel; 1.25 miles per dollar on every other purchase.Chase Sapphire Preferred: Earn 5x points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards; 3x points on select streaming services, online grocery purchases and on dining worldwide; 2x points on other travel purchases; 1x points on all other purchases.The Platinum Card from American Express: Earn 5x points on flights booked directly with airlines or Amex Travel; 5x points on prepaid hotels booked with Amex Travel; 1x points on all other purchases.American Express Gold Card: Earn 4x points on dining at restaurants worldwide, groceries at U.S. supermarkets up to $25,000 in purchases per year; 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or with Amex Travel; 1x points on all other purchases.
Travel can be tiring and stressful, but plenty of credit cards offer perks to improve your travel experience and save you money. Some of the best credit cards for international travel offer benefits like lounge access, free hotel nights and elite benefits.
Hands down, the best credit card for travel perks is the Amex Platinum card, which offers a slew of credits and benefits. Card holders get Hilton Honors and Marriott Gold elite status (enrollment required), making them eligible for room upgrades, bonus points and complimentary breakfast at Hilton hotels. The Amex Platinum card also includes access to more than 1,000 airline lounges in the Priority Pass network (enrollment required) as well as access to its own network of Centurion Lounges and Delta Sky Clubs so long as you’re flying with Delta. Plus, card holders get up to a $200 airline fee credit and up to $200 back in statement credits each year on select prepaid hotel bookings with Amex Travel.
Welcome bonus offers
If you’re going to get a credit card for international travel, the perks are essential. But, you should also look at bagging a high welcome bonus offer while you’re at it. For the highest, most versatile bonus, you should opt for a card that earns transferable rewards. Here’s are some noteworthy welcome bonus offers.
The Platinum Card from American Express: Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $6,000 within the first six months of card membership.American Express Gold Card: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $4,000 within the first six months of card membership.Chase Sapphire Preferred: Earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 within the first three months of account opening.Chase Sapphire Reserve: Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 within the first three months of account opening.Capital One VentureOne Card: Earn 20,000 bonus miles after spending $500 within the first three months of account opening.
For years, the US has lagged behind Europe in introducing chip-and-PIN technology. That’s started to change in the past decade, as most of the major banks have begun incorporating this technology into their most popular card products.
Considered more secure than magnetic strips, chip-and-PIN cards get inserted into the payment terminal. After the chip is read, card holders have to enter a PIN to approve the transaction, rather than a signature. Ultimately, chip-and-PIN technology will be more widely prevalent in Europe and will make it easier for you to complete payments while you’re abroad.
Best cards for international travel
Now that you’ve got an idea of what makes for a good card to use for international travel, let’s dive into our choices of the best cards. Here are the details of each of our best international travel credit cards so you can see how they stack up.
Chase Sapphire Reserve: Best card for hotels abroad
Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 within the first three months of account opening.Earn 10x points on hotels and car rentals booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually.Earn 10x points on dining purchases through Chase Ultimate Rewards.Earn 5x points on flight purchases made through Chase Ultimate Rewards after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually.Earn 3x points on travel worldwide after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually.Earn 3x points on other dining, including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out.Receive up to $300 annually in statement credits as reimbursement for travel purchases.Up to $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck(R) credit every four years.Priority Pass Select(TM) membership.No foreign transaction fees.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve is an excellent card for international travel because it checks most boxes. It’s great for earning tons of points and ensuring you get to your destination in comfort. The card comes loaded with premium perks like a Priority Pass Select membership for lounge access on your trip, a $300 annual travel credit and up to 10x bonus points on travel spending.
Card holders get up to a $100 Global Entry, TSA PreCheck(R) or NEXUS fee credit every four years, enabling them to speed through the airport on international or domestic trips. Keep in mind that if you apply for and are approved for a Global Entry membership, you automatically receive TSA PreCheck.
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This card is particularly appealing for international hotel spending because you can earn up to 10x points on bookings made through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal. The portal offers great deals on hotel and rental car bookings, making this a fantastic card benefit. When you book your hotel with this card, you can even use your annual $300 travel credit toward it.
Also notably, the Chase Sapphire Reserve charges no foreign transaction fees and offers partner perks like 10x points on each Peloton Bike and Tread purchase (up to 50,000 total points) through June 30, 2022, so the card offers value both when you’re traveling abroad or staying at home. It comes with a $550 annual fee.
Chase Sapphire Preferred: Best value for the annual fee
Earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 within the first three months of account opening.$50 annual statement credits for hotel stays booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards.Earn 5x points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, excluding purchases that qualify for the $50 anniversary hotel credit.Earn 2x points on other travel purchases.Earn 3x points on dining, including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out.Earn 3x points on select streaming services and online grocery purchases.No foreign transaction fees.
If the $550 annual fee on the Sapphire Reserve is more than you’re willing to spend, the Sapphire Preferred is a reasonable — and lucrative — alternative. The card has just a $95 annual fee and more pared-down travel benefits, but it still offers great value, especially as a card to use internationally. For example, card holders receive an annual $50 credit toward hotel bookings made through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
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Use your annual $50 credit at a property like the Grand Hyatt Baha Mar. – Hyatt
The card comes loaded with travel benefits, including trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance, baggage delay insurance, car rental protections and more. Notably, it charges no foreign transaction fees, so you won’t be charged extra for using the card abroad.
Overall, this is an excellent card if you want generous perks and a reasonable annual fee. The Sapphire Preferred also has a higher sign-up bonus than the Sapphire Reserve even though it charges a lower annual fee. Currently, you’ll earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 within the first three months of account opening.
The Platinum Card from American Express: Best card for travel insurance and for lounge access while traveling abroad
Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $6,000 within the first six months of card membership.Earn 5x points on flights booked directly with airlines or Amex Travel (up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year).Earn 5x points on prepaid hotels booked on AmexTravel.com.Gold elite status with Marriott Bonvoy and Hilton Honors (enrollment required).$200 annual hotel credit on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts or The Hotel Collection bookings with Amex Travel.Up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year on incidental airline fees (enrollment required).Up to $100 Global Entry/$85 TSA PreCheck(R) credit every 4.5 or 5 years (enrollment required).Fine Hotels + Resorts program access.Global Lounge Collection access (enrollment required).No foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees).
If you want to travel like an elite and professional traveler, The Platinum Card from American Express is hands-down the best credit card for international travel. The Amex Platinum card comes packed with travel credits, hotel perks and elite status perks. Card holders pay a hefty $695 fee for these benefits (see rates and fees), but you may find it worthwhile if you manage to make use of them every year.
If you’re looking for an upgraded hotel experience, the Amex Platinum offers instant Marriott and Hilton Gold elite status once you enroll in the benefit. This is pretty significant, as Hilton Gold members get complimentary breakfast and bonus points. Platinum Travel Services can help you plan your dream vacation, while the International Airline Program can get you discounts on international premium economy, business and first-class seats. Meanwhile, Global Dining Access by Resy can get you a table at sought-after restaurants in the US, France, Italy, Peru and Spain. Notably, the card charges no foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees).
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Access American Express’s network of Centurion Lounges, such as the Centurion Lounge in Hong Kong. – Emily McNutt
American Express is renowned for its protection benefits, and the Amex Platinum card is no exception. Card holders get peace of mind when they book a round-trip ticket entirely with their Amex Platinum with up to $10,000 in trip cancellation insurance per trip. Additionally, you’ll get up to $500 per trip in trip delay coverage if your flight is delayed more than six hours, as well as access to the Global Assist Hotline when you travel more than 100 miles from home. The Amex Platinum is truly is the most well-rounded card, offering every type of travel benefit imaginable — especially if you’re planning to travel internationally.
American Express Gold Card: Best card for dining abroad
Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $4,000 within the first six months of card membership.Earn 4x points at restaurants worldwide, plus takeout and delivery in the US.Earn 4x points at US supermarkets on up to $25,000 per year.Earn 3x on flights booked directly with airlines or with Amex Travel.$100 travel credit on stays booked through The Hotel Collection with Amex Travel (minimum two-night stay required).No foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees).
The American Express Gold Card is one of the best cards for international travel thanks to a host of valuable perks and generous earnings on vacation spending. Card holders earn 4x points on restaurants worldwide, which can add up substantially — especially considering the card charges no foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees). Card holders also earn 3x points on flights booked directly with the airline of their choosing or when booked through Amex Travel.
This card doesn’t charge as high of an annual fee as the Amex Platinum — you’ll pay $250 each year (see rates and fees) — but you’ll still get some of American Express’s valuable travel protections. For example, you’ll get up to $1,250 for carry-on baggage and up to $500 for checked baggage protections if your luggage is lost, damaged or stolen and you paid for the entire airfare with your Amex Gold card. Plus, if you travel more than 100 miles from home, you’ll have access to the Global Assist Hotline.**
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Travel knowing your luggage is protected if it gets lost, stolen or damaged. – iStock
The American Express Membership Rewards program is one of the best loyalty programs out there. Not only is the Amex Gold card great for earning Membership Rewards points on international travel, but those points will also go quite far when you’re ready to cash them in for your next trip abroad. For example, consider transferring 26,000 of your American Express Membership Rewards points to British Airways for a round-trip economy class ticket between the East Coast and Ireland (plus taxes and fees).
Capital One VentureOne: Best no-annual-fee card
Earn 20,000 bonus miles after spending $500 within the first three months of account opening.Earn 5 miles per $1 spent on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel.Travel accident insurance.$0 annual fee.No foreign transaction fees.
The great thing about the Capital One VentureOne Card is that it not only has no annual fee, but also still offers practical travel benefits. The card earns 5 miles per dollar spent on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel. All other purchases earn 1.25 miles per dollar, which is great if you want to maximize earnings on vacation spending without worrying about category bonuses.
The card also offers travel accident insurance, which is rare for a no-annual-fee card.
Capital One also has the Capital One Venture Credit Card, which charges a modest $95 annual fee and comes with added benefits, such as unlimited 2 miles per dollar spent, plus 5 miles per dollar spent on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel. Additionally, you’ll get two free visits to the Capital One Lounge each year, no foreign transaction fees and more.
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For a no-annual-fee credit card, it’s great to avoid foreign transaction fees. – Getty Images/iStockphoto
So, which credit card is best for international travel?
The best credit card for international travel depends on your travel goals and habits. If you want a card packed with luxury benefits, a great loyalty program and you don’t mind paying a $695 annual fee (see rates and fees), the Amex Platinum card is the best choice.
Is it a good idea to use a credit card when traveling internationally?
Using a credit card when you travel internationally is not only a good idea, it’s necessary. In most cases, you’ll need a credit card to secure a hotel and rental car. Using a credit card ensures that your purchases are protected and that you earn rewards on your spending, automatically working your way toward your next vacation.
How do I avoid credit card fees when traveling internationally?
To avoid credit card fees when traveling internationally, use a card with no foreign transaction fees — you’ll save at least 3% in fees by taking this step. All of our best cards for international travel listed above don’t charge a foreign transaction fee. Before applying for a card you intend to use internationally, read the fine print to ensure you’re not on the hook for these pesky fees.
What is the best credit card to use while traveling to Europe?
The best credit card to use while traveling in Europe is one with chip-and-PIN technology. Many issuers are taking steps to offer this technology on their credit cards. If you’re especially interested on a card with chip-and-PIN ability, check the fine print before applying.
Click here for rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card.
Click here for rates and fees of the Amex Gold card.
*Eligibility and Benefit level varies by Card. Terms, Conditions and Limitations Apply. Please visit americanexpress.com/benefitsguide for more details. Underwritten by New Hampshire Insurance Company, an AIG Company. **Eligibility and Benefit level varies by Card. Terms, Conditions and Limitations Apply. Please visit americanexpress.com/benefitsguide for more details. Underwritten by AMEX Assurance Company.
Looking for a travel credit card? Find out which cards CNN Underscored chose as our best travel credit cards of 2022.
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