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List Of Credit Card Foreign Currency Transaction Fees

Published 3/8/08 (Modified 6/24/11)
By MoneyBlueBook

Not too long ago I went on vacation in East Asia. While I was there I had the fortune to be accompanied by local friends who could spot me so I didn't need to convert my American dollars into local currency. However there were at least two occasions when I glanced upon several beautiful small wooden art pieces that I wanted to buy. While I had a few local currency bills on me, it wasn't enough to buy the slightly expensive art pieces. So I had to resort to what I ordinarily would do back home in the United States - pull out my trusty cash back credit card. Fortunately, I had the foresight prior to traveling to another country, to research and familiarize myself with credit card foreign currency exchange fees.

Watch Out For Hidden International Credit Card Foreign Currency Exchange Charges

While foreign currency exchange fees are now generally listed and disclosed by credit card companies, card issuers rarely publicize these hidden charges, preferring to leave them in the fine print. While some complain that the majority of these interchange fees are not used to process the actual currency exchange, but rather used to fund credit card reward programs and other direct advertising campaigns, the real concern is the lack of education when it comes to incurring these fees. Frequently, consumers who use their credit cards overseas come home to the unwelcome surprise of costly fees on their billing statement.

The foreign currency transaction fee for credit card purchases is comprised of two parts - the fee percentage charged by the card payment network (such as Visa, Master Card, Discover, American Express) and the fee percentage added by the card issuer (such as Citibank, Chase, Bank of America). Visa and MasterCard impose a standard 1% fee on all foreign currency charges to cover the expense of converting your foreign currency purchases back into U.S. dollars. The fee is imposed on the card issuer, but the expense is usually passed onto the consumer. Banks and card issuers that issue Visa and Mastercard also tack on their own additional transaction fee to the total - usually another 2%.

American Express does not have an extra card issuer fee, but it does impose its own foreign currency conversion charge of 2%. Previously, Discover Card was the only major card payment network that levied no foreign purchase transaction fees, however they have now updated their policy and tacked on the nearly ubiquitous charges. But then I challenge you to find a place overseas that actually accepts Discover Card. I think those living abroad probably have never heard of Discover before, likely thinking it's some off shoot of Visa or Master Card.

Credit Card Issuers That Have No Foreign Currency Transaction Fees

Capital One credit card is one of two major issuers that charges no foreign currency transaction fee for credit card purchases made abroad. While Visa and Mastercard still levy fees on Capital One - the card issuer has made the conscientious decision to waive the fees as a cost of attracting customers. Thus it looks like your best foreign purchase bet would be to apply for a Capital One Visa Or Mastercard to avoid the expensive and cumulative currency exchange transaction fees. I personally have the Capital One No Hassle Miles Card, which I use to earn 1.25 miles on each dollar spent, good for any airline with no seating restrictions, mileage cap, or expiration date on miles earned.

List of Credit Card Foreign Transaction Fees Sorted From Lowest to Highest

Today, most of these foreign transaction fees are laid out in more readable form on your monthly credit card statement. Sometimes they are denoted by a simple asterisk indicating the fee percentage that was levied, while some card issuers will list the actual dollar amount of the transaction fee portion. The transaction fees I've provided below include the total combined charges imposed by both the card issuer and the card payment network. Pay attention to some of the hidden special offers out there, especially the ones from more obscure credit unions and brokerage/banks.

Credit Card Issuer/Offer
Fee For Foreign Currency Transactions
Capital One 0%
Affinity Federal Credit Union 1%
NASA Federal Credit Union 1%
SunTrust Bank 1%
Discover Card 2% - Not Generally Accepted Overseas
U.S. Bank 2%
American Express 2.7% - Not Generally Accepted Overseas
Bank of America 3%
BB&T Bank 3%
Chase/Washington Mutual 3%
Citibank (Citi Card) 3%
HSBC 3%
TD Bank 3%
Wells Fargo 3%

Reminder Before Using Your Credit Card To Make Foreign Purchases

Modern credit card programs today implement sophisticated transaction software to detect fraudulent and unauthorized credit card activity. If your card has always been used in the New York tri-state region for example, but suddenly credit charges start streaming in from some place like Thailand or Indonesia, your card issuer may raise an eyebrow and start declining those international charges as part of their anti-fraud measures. A quick e-mail or phone call to your credit card company before you travel should prevent such an inconvenience from happening.

Credit Card Users Who Have Made Credit Purchases Abroad May Be Entitled To A Cash Settlement

If you made a foreign transaction using your Visa, Mastercard, or Diner's Club credit card at least once between February 1, 1996 and November 8, 2006, you may be entitled to claim money from a legal settlement. In response to an anti-trust class action lawsuit brought against Visa, Mastercard, and Diner's Club for alleged fraud and conspiracy to fix and conceal foreign currency transaction fees on credit card purchases to the detriment of card issuers and consumers, a legal settlement has been worked out. Under the settlement terms of In re Currency Conversion Fee Antitrust Litigation (MDL 1409), those who fall under the plaintiff class have three ways to participate and claim their settlement money.

While two of the options require that you gather your billing statements and receipts to verify the estimated value of your foreign credit card purchases, the simplest method for most is to file for the Easy Refund option, which is the route I personally took. As noted, this option is recommended if you traveled outside of the U.S. for less than one week or had foreign transactions of less than $2,500 using your eligible cards during the 1996 to 2006 period.

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