The 10 Best Credit Cards for Expats [+ Tips for Using Credit Abroad]

Credit Card Ticket Purchase
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Planning an extended stay aboard or perhaps a move outside the U.S. due to a work assignment? Fortunately, in this day of digital payments and online account access, it’s easier than ever to manage your finances and credit card transactions while living and/or working as an American expat abroad.

One key element of planning and managing your finances abroad is securing a credit card that aligns with the associated demands of doing financial transactions in the specific foreign country you’ll be visiting.

Finding the best credit cards to use overseas, whether you’re an expatriate or just planning an extended vacation, is an interesting and important topic that is on our agenda today.

In our article, we’ll talk about some of the key attributes you’d want to consider when selecting such a card and which cards might best fit the criteria for making purchases abroad while minimizing fees and maximizing rewards.

Let’s begin our journey.

10 Key Considerations When Selecting a Card to Use Abroad

Contactless Credit Card Transaction
It’s important to know how the majority of transactions are handled in your destination country. Image Credit: Karolina Grabowska via Pexels

There’s a lot to think about when selecting the right credit card to use in another country. Let’s look at some of the factors you’ll want to consider for maximizing your ability to use your card, avoid excess fees, and earn as many rewards as possible.

1. No Foreign Transaction Fees

Since most of your transactions will be foreign transactions, you’d want a card that does not charge fees for these payments or purchases. Foreign transaction fees can be as high as 3% of the amount of the transaction.

2. Card Acceptance

There are several payment networks that credit cards use to facilitate transactions. Visa and Mastercard are the most widely accepted worldwide, while American Express and Discover are less so.

If you’re traveling with an American Express or Discover-issued card, you’ll want to carry a backup Visa or Mastercard just in case your card is not accepted by a specific merchant.

3. Customer Service Options

Having access to customer service if there’s a problem with your account can be critical. You’ll want to have easy access to account services such as live chat, social media service teams, or secure messaging to ensure you can get help without regard to your location.

4. Online Account Access

The ability to manage your card account online is paramount. You’ll want to be able to make timely payments, keep track of transactions, access benefit information, and even report a lost card, should you need to.

Fortunately, while site functionality can vary, card issuers across the board have online account management access.

5. Access to Emergency Funds

While your primary ATM debit card might be your go-to for accessing foreign currency, if your ATM card won’t work at a specific terminal, you may need to resort to a credit card to secure funds. You’ll want a card that can facilitate the transaction with ease and minimal fees.

6. Will You Need Contactless Transaction Capability?

Many countries currently accept contactless transactions. According to Wikipedia, contactless payments are increasing worldwide but are especially prominent in Australia, Canada, the U.K., Japan, Germany, and the Netherlands. If you want the convenience of having contactless transaction capability abroad, no worries. More and more U.S. credit card issuers are replacing traditional swipe and sign cards with contactless versions so you can easily find a card that offers this benefit.

Paying with credit card
Selecting the right credit card for making purchases abroad is an important step in making sure your transactions are smoothly processed. Image Credit: Energepic.com via Pexels

7. Chip and PIN Technology

Many countries require you to input a PIN number for certain credit card transactions versus using a signature. The U.K. and Europe are 2 areas where these types of cards are commonly used. China, India, and Canada are also countries quickly making the transition.

If a human is processing your transaction, you may be able to sign. If, however, you’re purchasing a transit ticket from a machine, for example, you may only be able to use a chip and PIN card.

8. Earning the Card’s Welcome Bonus

If you secure a new credit card before your departure, you might want to complete any minimum spending requirements to earn the card’s welcome bonus. This may be difficult to accomplish if you are out of the country.

A little preplanning might be necessary to complete the necessary requirements to secure this 1-time bonus.

9. Utilizing Benefits & Offers That Help Offset the Annual Fee

If you’re located abroad, some perks and benefits may not be accessible. For example, perhaps the country you’re in does not have Uber, yet one of your card’s benefits is hundreds of dollars in Uber Cash. Additional offers could include statement credits for dining or food delivery services, shopping credits at specific retailers, or other specific purchase requirements not readily available at your destination.

If you are unable to take advantage of offers that help offset the annual fee on the card, the card may not provide good overall value.

10. Earning Ongoing Rewards

Earning rewards is one of the key attributes of a travel rewards card. However, some bonus-earning categories can be for U.S.-based retailers, such as restaurants, gas stations, shipping, wireless services, and supermarkets, which may not be accessible when out of the country.

The card you select to use abroad should ideally earn rewards on the types of purchases you plan to make.

Bottom Line: Selecting the right card to use abroad includes finding a card that minimizes fees, is widely accepted, and offers easy online account management. Additionally, if you’re counting on statement credits, bonus earnings, and other benefits to offset the card’s annual fee, you’ll want to select a card that allows you to utilize these benefits while abroad. 

Sizing up the Country You’ll Be Visiting

Euros in Hand
Will you be making most of your purchases with cash or are credit cards widely accepted? Image Credit: Karolina Grabowska via Pexels

While most countries widely accept credit cards, you’ll want to know the type of credit card you’ll need. For example, will you need a chip and PIN card or a card that can make contactless payments? In rare cases, you’ll also need to know if cash payments are the norm.

Is Cash Still King or Do Credit Cards Rule the Day?

If you’re moving or planning an extended visit to any of these countries, you’ll find that credit cards may not be widely accepted and cash transactions are still prominent. According to the payment processing analyst company Merchant Machine U.K. in a report published earlier this year, these countries as still heavily reliant on cash transactions:

  • Bulgaria
  • Egypt
  • Hungary
  • Kazakhstan
  • Morocco
  • Peru
  • Philippines
  • Romania
  • Ukraine
  • Vietnam

On the contrary, there are countries where credit cards are much more widely accepted than others. According to the research and analyst company Statista, you’ll find the highest percentage of credit card transactions in these countries (outside of the U.S.):

  • Canada
  • Finland
  • Hong Kong
  • Israel
  • Japan
  • Luxemburg
  • Norway
  • South Korea
  • Switzerland
  • United Kingdom

Bottom Line: It’s important to do your homework prior to selecting a credit card to use abroad to determine the type of card you’ll need in the specific country or area you’ll be visiting.

Comparing Worldwide Acceptance

Worldwide acceptance of all payment processing networks is improving rapidly.  Here’s how the networks compare when we look at global acceptance:

  • Visa and Mastercard — According to each payment processer’s website, each of these card types is widely accepted in over 200 countries
  • Discover — Discover states that the card is also accepted in over 200 countries
  • American Express — While American Express cards are accepted at 99% of U.S. merchants that accept credit cards, the card’s international presence is around 100 countries according to the company’s website

There was a time when American Express was not widely accepted abroad, but those days are changing quickly. The same was true for Discover, but fortunately, both card networks have greatly expanded international presence. However, you’ll want to carry a backup Visa or Mastercard, just in case.

Bottom Line: Visa and Mastercard payment networks are the most widely accepted internationally. You will find acceptance of your Amex card or Discover card but you should have a backup Visa or Mastercard in case your card is not accepted by a specific merchant.

Best Personal Credit Cards for Expats

Now that you have some basic knowledge about what to look for in a credit card you’ll be using abroad, let’s look at some of the best options.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Why We Like the Card for Expats

First and foremost, you won’t be charged foreign transaction fees and your Visa Signature card will be widely accepted abroad. Your account can be accessed online and you’ll have connection options for customer service.

You can set up a PIN via Chase’s automated system and contactless transactions are available on cards that have the contactless symbol.

We like that the card has a generous welcome bonus, 5x points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3x points on dining, and 2x points on all other travel purchases and those points receive 25% more value when redeeming for travel via the Chase travel portal. Points can also be transferred to travel partners for potentially greater value.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Why We Like the Card for Expats

We like that the card does not charge foreign transaction fees and that if you need emergency cash, you can withdraw from an ATM (fees apply) or visit an American Express office. You can easily set up a PIN on your card online and all cards with a contactless symbol can be used at merchants that accept contactless transactions.

Additionally, customer service and online account management are easily accessible outside of the U.S.

The Amex Platinum card also has a long list of travel protections and benefits such as worldwide lounge access, hotel and rental car elite benefits, and access to car rental Premium Protection (limit of 42 consecutive days).

Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card

Why We Like the Card for Expats

With worldwide lounge access via complimentary Priority Pass Select membership, 3x earnings on travel and dining, and a $300 statement credit each year for travel purchases, an expat will find value with the Chase Sapphire Reserve card.

Ultimate Rewards points earned on the card are worth 50% more on travel redemptions (via the Chase travel portal) and points can be transferred to travel partners for even greater potential value.

And, of course, the card does not charge foreign transaction fees, can be PIN-enabled, and is available as a contactless card.

American Express® Gold Card

Why We Like the Card for Expats

While bonus earnings on supermarket purchases are limited to the U.S., the 4x dining bonus earnings apply to restaurants, including Uber Eats.

The card also comes with Amex’s high level of customer service worldwide, access to chip and PIN technology, and access to a contactless card should you desire to have one.

Additional Personal Credit Cards for Expats

  • Capital One® Venture® Rewards card — The card comes with a generous welcome bonus, no foreign transaction fees, a low annual fee, and earns 2 miles per dollar spent on every purchase. The card also offers Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee reimbursement.
  • Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card — With no annual fee or foreign transaction fees, the card makes a nice traveling companion. You’ll earn 1.5% cash-back on every purchase.

Best Business Credit Cards for Expats

Need to conduct business and make related purchases abroad? Here are our top recommendations for business cards to use internationally.

Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card

Credit CardKey Benefits & Info
Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card

Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card
Learn More
(at Chase's secure site)
  • Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
  • Earn 3 points per $1 on the first $150,000 spent in combined purchases on travel, shipping purchases, internet, cable and phone services, advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines each account anniversary year
  • Earn 1 point per $1 on all other purchases—with no limit to the amount you can earn
  • 25% more value when redeeming points through Ultimate Rewards® travel
  • Good to Excellent Credit Recommended (670-850)
  • Annual Fee: $95

$2,000

Must Reads: For more info on the Ink Business Preferred, see our guides on its benefits, 7 things to do as a new cardholder, and our full review. This is our favorite Chase business credit card.

Why We Like the Card for Expats

With a generous welcome bonus and ongoing bonus earnings for common business purchases, including travel, the Ink Business Preferred card works hard for the business owner abroad. There are no foreign transaction fees and when it comes time to redeem your rewards, you’ll have several flexible options. Redeem for travel via the Chase travel portal for 25% more in value or transfer points to travel partners for potentially greater value.

You’ll also have access to chip and PIN availability and contactless transactions. Just call Chase to set up a PIN or to have a replacement, contactless-capable card sent to you. Online access to your account and to customer service is also available.

The Business Platinum Card® from American Express

Why We Like the Card for Expats

Worldwide lounge access to over 1,300 properties tops the list of premium travel benefits you’ll experience with the Amex Business Platinum card. Add in complementary hotel elite status, rental car perks, and elevated earnings on select travel purchases and you have a card that travels well.

We like the level of Amex customer service you receive abroad, as well. You can secure a PIN for your card, have access to emergency ATM cash, get a replacement card sent overnight, or call the Global Assistance Hotline for help with other incidents while traveling.

Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business

Why We Like the Card for Expats

Busy business owners who don’t have time to navigate complex earning or redemption structures will like the CapOne Spark Cash card. You’ll be earning 2% cash-back on every purchase and enjoy no annual fee for the first year.

Setting up or changing a PIN online is simple and you’ll have fraud coverage while traveling. And, of course, the card does not charge foreign transaction fees.

Hot Tip: When selecting a business card to use abroad, be sure to look at the Schumer box. This summary is a required disclosure that lists all the related pricing, fees, and terms and conditions of the card you’re considering. The box will tell you whether the card charges foreign transaction fees, the amount of the annual fee, the level of interest rates charged, and other financial information about the card. You’ll find this box under “pricing and terms,” “pricing and fees,” or another similar title usually near the “apply now” link for the card.

Everything Else You Need To Know

Contactless Payments
The percentage of contactless payments and digital wallet transactions is growing quickly worldwide. Image Credit: World Payments Report

It’s best to apply for your card and complete the welcome bonus requirements prior to leaving the U.S. You will need a U.S. address to apply for the card and it may be easier to meet minimum spending requirements while in the U.S.

You’ll also want to set up your PIN and make sure your card has contactless capability prior to your departure. Having a replacement card sent to a U.S. address, should you need to do that, could be easier and safer than having it sent abroad.

If there are statement credits or bonus opportunities that would be difficult to use abroad, you may want to try to utilize these prior to departure.

While digital and e-wallet payments are not yet the majority of payment point-of-sale methods abroad, the 2020 World Payments Report, shows that non-cash digital payments are growing at the rate of 14% each year worldwide. You may want to update these wallets with your new card prior to departure.

Once you’re ready to make your move, you may want to contact the credit card company to let them know you’ll be using the card abroad for an extended period of time.

Bottom Line: It may be easier and/or safer to set up a PIN, order a contactless card, utilize bonus offers/statement credits, and complete any minimum spending requirements prior to your departure. It also makes sense to load your new card to your digital wallet as these payments are becoming more widely accepted globally. 

Final Thoughts

The best credit card for your use abroad will depend on which country you’re visiting, how the majority of your purchases will be made, and whether you’ll be able to utilize the benefits offered by the card.

Some of the most important considerations are that the card does not charge foreign transaction fees, that you have access to customer service, and there is a sufficient level of online account management capabilities.

Depending on the country, securing a PIN and having a card that facilitates contactless transactions could also be priorities.

And finally, if you’re selecting a card to use abroad, it’s best to receive the card, set up any applicable functions, and complete any spending requirements you deem difficult to complete abroad prior to your departure.


The information regarding the Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer. 

For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, click here.
For rates and fees of the American Express® Gold Card, click here.
For rates and fees of The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, click here.


Frequently asked questions

Which is the best credit card for expats?

The best credit card for an expat will depend on the country they’re visiting or living in, how the card will be used, and whether earning rewards is important.

Additionally, the best card for expats will not charge foreign transaction fees on purchases abroad, have chip and PIN capabilities, the ability to access customer service, and access to online account management.

Is Visa or American Express more widely accepted internationally?

You will find Visa-issued cards more widely accepted than American Express-issued cards. With that having been said, however, American Express is more widely accepted than ever and is expanding its footprint globally.

Which is better internationally, Visa or Mastercard?

Either Visa or Mastercard would be a good choice to use internationally as the payment processing networks have similar acceptance levels worldwide.

Do I need a chip and PIN card internationally?

Some areas use chip and PIN cards more than others — the U.K. and parts of Europe are the most common. However, use in other countries is growing. If a person is handling your credit card transaction, you may be able to use a card without a pin and just sign for your purchase.

However, when using an automated terminal for a ticket or gas purchase, for example, a chip and PIN card may be required in order to complete the transaction.

Christine Krzyszton

About Christine Krzyszton

Christine, who lives in Northern Michigan, travels about 300,000 miles a year despite her remote location. Her expertise is traveling the world on a weekend with no pre-determined destination in mind, letting the cost of the airfare determine where she will go. She has over four million flown miles and elite status on all three major domestic carriers.

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2 comments

  1. Isn’t it true that almost every major U.S. card issuer will cancel your card if you move abroad?

    Reply

    • Hi John,

      I do not believe that to be true. Most issuers will allow you to continue to use most if not all of your US-based credit cards while living overseas.

      Reply

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