Best credit card for traveling outside of the U.S.
April 6, 2015 9:06 AM   Subscribe

What credit card is best in life for traveling abroad? I'm in the U.S., headed to Israel next month. Would like to get a new credit card that has no foreign transaction fees and no annual fee. Any recommendations welcome. Thanks!
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell to Travel & Transportation around Israel (24 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Highly recommend the CapitalOne Venture Rewards card. No foreign transaction fees, no annual fee for the first year, and I've gotten the annual fee waived every year for 3 years running just by calling them up and asking nicely. I also like their rewards setup - flat 2% cashback (or miles, but it ends up being the same cash value) on everything, so you don't have to think about what category your purchases fall into.

Edit: it's not chipped, and I definitely second getting a chipped card of some kind if you possibly can, whether instead of or in addition to this card. Chipped cards are the standard in Europe (not sure about Israel specifically).
posted by danceswithlight at 9:13 AM on April 6, 2015

chip & pin would be preferably over chip & signature which is what most us banks are offering for chipped cards. Im not sure which offer chip & pin though.
posted by TheAdamist at 9:20 AM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

I was just researching this. Most sites will recommend the Barclary's Arrival Mastercards for travelling They have chip+pin and no foreign transaction fees. There's two versions: one with a fee and one without. The one with the fee gives more rewards I believe. It seems OK.

Also you can set your own PIN via the web site which makes life a lot easier.
posted by GuyZero at 9:21 AM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

I didn't have any issues with my Amazon Chase Visa card back in 2013. Just call them before you go and let them know you'll be out of the country for a few weeks or so. How long do you plan on staying?
posted by oceanjesse at 9:26 AM on April 6, 2015

I have the Barclaycard Arrival Mastercard with chip + PIN. Most restaurants I went to in Europe ran it as a regular signature card, but the PIN functionality was very handy for train tickets and other kiosk purchases.
posted by roger ackroyd at 9:26 AM on April 6, 2015

Pentagon Federal Credit Union's cards have no foreign transaction fees. Most also have chips, but I don't think they're chip + PIN.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:50 AM on April 6, 2015

I researched this a few months ago in advance of a trip to Australia and New Zealand, and despite comments earlier in this thread, the no-fee Barclay Arrival Mastercard does not have chip + PIN. Unless something has very recently changed, you need the $89/year Barclay Arrival+ - note the plus - for that. They do waive the $89 fee for the first year, though, so it's still the most comprehensive and affordable option for foreign travel - just be sure to sign up for the Arrival+ and not what's linked above, and cancel before the year is out if you won't need it long-term.

That said, from what I've read, chip + PIN isn't as important in Israel as places such as Australia, New Zealand and European countries who have fully converted - much of Israel is still on magstripe cards like the US.

I personally had a good experience with Bank of America and their Travel Rewards card. It was approved and sent to me in around a week's time, and there are no foreign transaction fees and no annual fees. It is only a chip + signature card and not chip + PIN, but it worked out fine - even though everywhere was fully converted to accept chip cards in Australia and New Zealand, the only place the BoA card didn't work was in a single parking kiosk.

On the other hand, Capital One promised to send me a chipped card, and they... sent me a card that wasn't chipped. I would avoid them.
posted by eschatfische at 9:55 AM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

+1 for Barclaycard. The vast majority of chip cards issued in the US are chip+signature, not chip+pin. As mentioned upthread, this can present problems with kiosks and such.
posted by primethyme at 9:56 AM on April 6, 2015

Oops, eschatfische slipped in ahead of me. I'm only familiar with the Arrival+, so that's good info. Be aware that by saying "no annual fee" you're limiting your options a lot. Many cards will waive the fee for the first year, and you can also usually get sign-up bonuses that cancel out the fee (e.g. with the Amex Platinum it's common to get 100k points as a bonus, which can easily be turned into $1k worth of value, easily making the $450 annual fee worth it even if you ignore the other benefits). So I'd encourage you to do the overall math of the entire time you'll have the card, and the value you'll get from the various benefits and rewards, rather than just looking at the initial cost.
posted by primethyme at 9:59 AM on April 6, 2015

It doesn't have a chip, but we got a Capital One Quicksilver card for a recent Europe trip. It's a Visa Signature card so you get some extra benefits, too.

No annual fee, no foreign transaction fees, and a flat 1.5% cashback reward on everything. It's totally straightforward and easy. If you game it you might be able to do better, but I hate all of that "1% on the first $3000 and then 1.5%, but you can get 4% at movie theaters on odd dates and 2% on gluten-free dishes at any Sbarro's" stuff. It stresses me out.
posted by AgentRocket at 10:03 AM on April 6, 2015

Whoops, my apologies. I have the Arrival+ and it does have chip+pin. Indeed on looking closer the Arrival does not. Sorry about that.
posted by GuyZero at 10:07 AM on April 6, 2015

Response by poster: Thank you for all the answers so far.

I'll be in Israel for about 10 days.

I travel abroad quite seldom, so the idea of worrying about an annual fee and making sure I find a way to recover that value every year for a card I'll almost never use doesn't seem worthwhile to me. I'm not really interested in a card with great (or even particularly good) benefits, since I'm already tied to a card I use all the time at home and don't wish to switch. I just want something for this trip that will allow me to operate worry-free.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 10:20 AM on April 6, 2015

Schwab only offers debit cards, but it's a really good card to travel with if you plan on using ATMs. no foreign transaction fee, all atms fees refunded, etc. Just fyi, in case you are not tied to getting a credit card.
posted by monologish at 10:24 AM on April 6, 2015

Damn this weak brain. I was just in New Zealand for a month and tried Discover, Captial one, US Bank and the atm card from my credit union. I can't remember specifics but the cards without foreign transaction fees had worse exchange rates. The atm card had the best exchange rate but charged a transaction fee. It seemed like a wash and even if it wasn't 50 dollars on 5000 worth of transactions wasn't worth thinking about. One thing I knew to avoid was letting a helpful merchant (rental car) charge me in us dollars as that means they get to decide what there little private exchange rate will be.

This is really a little project I am suprised no one has done. Take a quiver of cards and make same day transactions for the same ammount and see what the difference is.
posted by Pembquist at 11:55 AM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

nthing chip + pin as must-haves. If the place you want to use the card refuses to accept it, what kind of rewards or fees it has are immaterial. We learned this the hard way in Eastern Europe once. Our card providers said they'd have been happy to help us set us PINs from home, but for security reasons, they didn't have an easy way to get it done for us while we were overseas.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:47 PM on April 6, 2015

USAA will give you a chip+PIN card if you ask. 1% foreign transaction fee, I believe. No annual fees.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 2:56 PM on April 6, 2015

Took Barclay Card and Chase Sapphire Card. These are the best two cards on market, but Barclay has Pin.

Barclay card in spain worked in every metro station, sapphire didn't once. Barclay card on same day had better exchange rate. Get the Barclaycard.
posted by sandmanwv at 3:30 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

My understanding is that on a true chip-and-pin card, you have to change the pin on the card itself, either by visiting a teller window or by inserting the card into an ATM that can perform this task. If you have the offer of "changing your pin online", that sounds like it's not a true chip-and-pin.

I have several chipped cards now from various U.S. issuers, but none of them are true chip-and-pin. I've confirmed this while using them in various non-U.S. locations recently, including various parts of Europe, Qu├ębec, and French Guiana. The most common experience is that the card reader spits out a piece of paper, which the cashier may or may not care about. They haven't worked in the key problematic scenarios for travellers: toll booths, automated gas pumps, train/transit ticket kiosks, parking, vending in general. (However, they have often worked in the small wireless card readers that restaurant staff use at the table.)

Strategies for getting around these problems: have cash for smaller purchases. Have coins if you'll need them for highway tolls. Plan ahead to buy gasoline or transit tickets during working hours, from a human sitting at a cash register, either with cash, or just by letting them swipe a magstripe card. Buy train tickets online in advance.

The only U.S.-issued chip-and-pin card that I've ever had personally that actually worked was a Travelex cash card, denominated in euros. It did true chip-and-pin validation. It did not work in all remote kiosk environments. Travelex doesn't offer them anymore, so that's not an option.

I've heard that some automated kiosks, notably for train tickets, may have restrictions against accepting payments from "foreign" cards, however that's defined. If true, that might be an issue that appears to be a chipped card issue, but really isn't. (And if true, it might be something you can't do anything about.)

Some cards mentioned in discussions around chip-and-pin cards are difficult to get if you don't meet certain criteria. Andrews Federal Credit Union is one, I tried to apply for a chipped card from them, but the process was inconvenient and unfriendly, so I didn't pursue it.

The Barclay's card does sound interesting. I don't have that one.

ATMs still accept old magstripe cards pretty reliably, even in places where magstripe cards have become uncommon.

(Disclaimer: I haven't been to Israel.)
posted by gimonca at 9:08 PM on April 6, 2015

I'd expect your current card to work most places regardless, if your experience ends up being similar to mine.

If you don't have a rental car, that immediately removes potential problems around getting gasoline on nights or weekends, or around paying for tolls and parking.
posted by gimonca at 9:14 PM on April 6, 2015

Response by poster: I started to look further into the Barclaycard, but it looks like Mastercard charges an additional 1% fee:
For MasterCard Cards, we and MasterCard (or their affiliates) will convert transactions in foreign currencies into U.S. Dollars. MasterCard will use their currency conversion procedures that are current at the time of the transaction. Currently, the currency conversion rate they use is either the wholesale market rate or the government-mandated rate in effect under those procedures increased by one percent. The currency conversion rate used on the conversion date may differ from the rate in effect on the date you used your Card or Account.
It seems like this is an issue with all MasterCards. Back to the drawing board, I suppose.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 8:59 AM on April 7, 2015

I'm traveling to Europe soon, and I've chosen to use the Bank of America travel credit card since I already have Bank of America. No foreign transaction fees. I've also opened a Schwab High Yield Investor Checking Account. I don't know what it has to do with investing, but they have a debit card you can use internationally and they'll refund all your ATM fees when you get back. And I requested cards with chips for both of them, and they gladly complied.
posted by madonna of the unloved at 12:20 PM on April 7, 2015

Conrad, the Visa network also has a 1% foreign transaction fee, and American Express has a 2.7% fee. The network transaction fee is an inherent part of using a credit card overseas.

When we talk about a card not having foreign transaction fees, we're talking about a surcharge that the credit card issuer is charging on top of the Visa, Mastercard or Amex network fees.

(I should probably note that Discover actually does not have any foreign transaction fees, but acceptance of Discover in Israel is going to be very limited.)
posted by eschatfische at 12:08 PM on April 9, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks again, everyone. I decided to get the Barclaycard (without the annual fee). Should arrive soon. I'll let you all know how it works out after my trip!
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 2:38 PM on April 10, 2015

Response by poster: The Barclaycard worked just fine. I didn't have any "chip and pin" issues.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 10:41 PM on June 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

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