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How to Pick a Credit Card for International Travel

Jason Steele

Taking a trip outside the U.S. requires preparation. Travelers need to get their passports in order, obtain any necessary entry visas, and choose the right credit card. So what makes one credit card better than another when traveling internationally?

Foreign Transaction Fees

Buried in the fine print of most credit card user agreements is one of the most egregious fees, the foreign transaction fee. Many cards impose a charge of 1%-3% on all transactions processed outside of the U.S., even though these transactions do not represent any additional costs to the card issuer. But thankfully, new credit card applicants can determine if their card has this fee by looking at the mandatory card disclosures, commonly called the “Schumer Box.”

And better yet, more and more cards are dropping this unnecessary fee. For example, Chase recently announced that it would no longer impose this fee on customers of its United Airlines Explorer card, just like it has for most of its other cards that are co-branded with airlines and hotels.

EMV Smart Chips

Credit cards issued in most countries other than the U.S. include a small microchip chip that provides additional security beyond the magnetic strip. These are called EMV chips, and they used to be necessary just for transactions at unattended kiosks such as ticket machines in train stations. But on my most recent trip to London, I discovered that my cards without this chip were routinely rejected at restaurants, book stores and museums.

Very quickly, this feature is becoming crucial for all credit card use in Europe and other parts of the world. Sadly, these chips are not being adopted by American banks as quickly as travelers would like.

Travel Assistance Services

Many credit cards come with some sort of travel and emergency assistance services. These services can help arrange travel reservations, offer medical and legal referrals, and even help track down lost luggage. And while these services can be extremely valuable, cardholders are generally responsible for any additional costs incurred by third-party providers.

If you’re looking for credit cards that have some or all of these features, here are a few of them.

The Hyatt Credit Card from Chase

This card features an EMV smart chip and no foreign transaction fees. And as a Visa Signature card, travelers receive complimentary travel and emergency assistance services. As a rewards card, customers receive one point in Hyatt’s Gold Passport program for each dollar spent, and new applicants can earn two free nights at any Hyatt property worldwide. There is a $75 annual fee for this card.

BankAmericard Travel Rewards

This is one of the only cards available with an EMV chip, no foreign transaction fees and no annual fee. Cardholders earn 1.5 points reward per dollar spent, and these points can be used for travel, gift cards, merchandise and other options. In addition, cardholders also receive access to a 24-hour travel and emergency assistance program as well as a concierge that can help book travel and dining reservations.

PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature Card

This card is one of the few issued in the U.S. that offers an EMV smart chip and is enabled with the full Chip and PIN system. Cardholders also receive one point per dollar spent on most purchases, double points at supermarkets, and triple points for gas. This is also a Visa Signature card that offers a full slate of travel insurance and assistance services. There is no annual fee for this card.

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