3% international fee on credit card purchases — not!


Credit cards imageThis post is for American travelers who plan to use an American credit card while traveling outside of the United States.

It’s great to be able to travel with a minimum of cash in your pocket but did you know that when you use your credit card outside of the United States, you incur a 3% fee on top of your actual charge?

Note: It was originally written April 2013. Since then a few other cards have removed the international fee. I’ve listed 2 more here.

As I traveled, I saw many people pay huge fees to access their money. I work hard for my money, as most of them did too, so I want to hold on to as much as possible with which to actually live and travel. To that end, I did some research to find the best ways to travel without carrying money and the best money-access solutions.

So far I have found only two card options that don’t charge an international fee:

  • Chase Sapphire Visa Card — The Chase Sapphire is a full-fledged, metal credit card designed for security. It comes with excellent call-in support. It provides points as rewards so you can use them for travel or take cash back. I traveled with this card, paying the balance each month via their website or app. (Both required multiple screens and were frustrating but I gave much feedback and hope it’s improving.) I loved traveling with this card.
    Downside: The card costs $95 a year. (The checking and savings accounts also require minimums to avoid fees.) [I have added my own personal note at the end of this post.]
  • Capital One 360 Free MasterCard® Debit Card  — actually a debit card, rather than credit but is accepted as a credit card. You can keep your travel funds in a Capital One 360 savings account which is fee-free and pays better than normal interest (variable 0.75% Annual Percentage Yield), and/or the Capital One 360 checking account (19% APY) which is also fee-free. Then you use online services to move money between the two accounts of from you current checking account. (You can also do bill-pay from your savings account.)
    Downside: Not many real branches. (They are in Austin, Texas and I’m not sure where.) To deposit checks you need to mail them or use a mobile app. Depositing checks online is pretty much the same security-wise as going into a bank because the bank scans your checks and signatures anyway. Or, you can put the money into any other bank account, then transfer the money to this account online. So if you’re traveling and someone is doing your banking for you, that person must be comfortable with all-online/app.

2016 Update — two more cards

Citicards’ Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World EliteTM Mastercard® doesn’t have the international fee as of 2016. They may have other cards that don’t have this fee as well. I have long been a fan of Citicards customer service.

Charles Schwab Bank’s debit card has no international fee and no other fees and excellent customer service. There’s no benefit of frequent flier miles, but there is also no fee. If you don’t live near a branch of Charles Schwab you can mail your deposits or use their app to deposit using your smartphone’s camera. Or, you can move the money from your local bank.

Capital One fun

I learned about the Capital One 360 card by attending a meeting of the LA Web Professionals that happened to be held in a Capital One office. What started as a casual conversation with the personable Mark Medina and Lenzie as I ordered and refilled my coffee ended up with me wanting to open an account.

If you live in Los Angeles, I recommend stopping in for coffee and banking info at:
Capital One 360 – Los Angeles Café
11175 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025

Learning about a great banking deal and bank card was never so much fun.

Leaning on my banker & hanging with some fellow web pros.

There are other Capital One 360 Cafés in the US. All of the account setup and banking can really be done online. Actually… I didn’t start off to do this, but if you’re going to open an account with the bank online, I’d love for you to do open your account via this link. I recommend the bank because it’s a good deal and great for travel, not to make a profit, but I certainly wouldn’t mind getting the referral bonus.