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Traveling abroad? Know What Exchange Rates Your Credit Card Charges

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There’s a lot of planning involved when traveling abroad, from booking airfare and hotels to figuring out what sites you want to see. But one thing that travelers sometimes don’t calculate is how much it could cost every time they swipe their credit card.

No one wants to see a nasty surprise — a pile of expensive fees — on credit card or bank statements when returning home from a trip abroad, but it happens all too often if you don’t know what to expect.

Before leaving the country, you should know what fees your credit or debit cards charge, where you’ll get foreign currency while traveling, which outlets (such as airport kiosks or local ATMs) offer the best exchange rates and how many of these options come with extra fees.

Exchange rates for top currencies

The good news is you can see what exchange rate you’ll be offered when you use a Mastercard® or Visa® for foreign purchases by checking online. Their rates are always better when you compare them with currency exchange companies such as Travelex (either online or at the airport).

Below are the rates we found as of Nov. 28, 2018, for exchanging dollars into popular foreign currencies with the top credit card issuers, along with exchange company Travelex.

Exchange rates for top currencies
Mastercard Visa Travelex
British pounds 0.785 0.786 0.786
Euros 0.887 0.887 0.81
Japanese Yen  114.03 113.85 101.19
Mexico Pesos 20.50 20.50 18.14
Canadian Dollar  1,336 1.333 1.18

Here are sites to check the exchange rates on foreign transactions your card will use in real time:

American Express doesn’t have a dynamic site where cardmembers can check exchange rates.

Beware of dynamic currency conversion

When it’s time to pay with a credit or debit card when traveling abroad, many merchants will often offer U.S.-based credit card users the choice to pay in the local currency or in U.S. dollars. Choosing dollars and not having to worry about conversion rates may, at first glance, seem like a no-brainer.

But if you look at the fine print on your receipt, you’ll discover that you’re paying a premium when choosing to pay in U.S. dollars, which is called dynamic currency conversion (DCC). Merchants can use a conversion rate higher than the going rate, even profiting from the transaction. And if your card charges a foreign transaction fee on top of that (which typically ranges from 1% to 3%), you may end up paying dearly for overseas purchases.

So, when paying with a card while traveling abroad, it’s always best to ask that your purchase is processed using the local currency rather than U.S. dollars, as your card issuer will always provide the better exchange rate without incurring any dynamic currency conversion fees.

Foreign transaction fees

The savviest travelers know to always pack a credit card or two that doesn’t assess a fee for foreign purchases. And if you don’t have one, it’s best to apply for one before your trip. Some no foreign transaction fee cards charge an annual fee as well, but not all do.

The travel perks that come with some annual-fee cards may balance out, especially if you regularly spend on the card outside of the country. Below is our list of some credit cards that don’t charge foreign transaction fees, broken down by those that come with and without annual fees:

No foreign transaction fee cards with $0 annual fee
  • Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
  • Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card
  • Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card
  • Discover it® Cash Back
  • Discover it® Miles
  • Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
  • United Gateway℠ Card
No foreign transaction fee cards with an annual fee†
  • American Express® Gold Card: $250 annual fee
  • Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card: $95 annual fee
  • Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card: $95 annual fee
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card: $95 annual fee
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve®: $550 annual fee
  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®: $450 annual fee
  • AAdvantage® Aviator® Blue Mastercard®: $49 annual fee
  • Citi Premier℠ Card: $95 annual fee
  • IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card**: $89 annual fee
  • The World Of Hyatt Credit Card: $95 annual fee
  • Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card**: $95
  • The Platinum Card® from American Express: $550 annual fee
  • The Ritz-Carlton™ Credit Card: $450 annual fee
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card: $99 annual fee
  • Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card**: $450 annual fee
  • United Club℠ Infinite Card: $0 intro annual fee, then $525 annual fee
  • United℠ Explorer Card: $0 Intro for the First Year, then $95 annual fee

To see rates and fees for American Express® Gold Card, please click here .
To see rates and fees for The Platinum Card® from American Express, please click here .

Where to get cash

When leaving the U.S., it’s best to have some foreign cash available, since there are always places that won’t take your credit or debit cards. And it’s best to get your cash before you leave, but sometimes that isn’t always possible.

Almost all international airports have foreign currency kiosks and ATMs. But because the exchange rates are so low — and some do charge commissions and transaction fees — you should only use them in an emergency or if you don’t mind paying to withdraw your own money.

If you decide to use an international ATM, check with your bank before you leave to see if it’s on a specific network.

For example, Bank of America is on the CIRRUS network. As long as you use ATMs on that network, you won’t be charged each time you withdraw from a non-network ATM. But it does charge 3% of the dollar amount withdrawn for foreign currency at all ATMs. Also, know that some ATMs have daily withdrawal limits.

Like their U.S. counterparts, foreign banks also tend to have higher foreign currency conversion rates than credit cards and currency exchange companies such as Travelex, so look at them as an option when it comes time to convert your dollars. But do your research on these banks, making sure they can convert your dollars and know what fees may be involved.

The bottom line

It pays to do your homework on exchange rates and fees before leaving the U.S. A quick call to credit card and bank customer service departments could save you a lot of money on fees. Here’s a checklist on what you need to do:

  • Bookmark your credit card’s currency exchange website so that you can see rates on the fly in real time.
  • Make sure you know what network your bank’s debit card is in before you leave so that you can avoid out-of-network fees for withdrawals.
  • Either get your foreign currency before you depart or go to a local bank or in-network ATM to grab it.
  • Use foreign currency exchange kiosks and ATMs, which come with lower conversion rates and fees, only as a last resort.

After any introductory period, as specified by individual card offers above.

**The information related to this offer has been independently collected by LendingTree and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication. This offer and/or promotion may have since changed, expired, or are no longer available.