The Best Travel Credit Card to Use Abroad

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One of the most stressful things about traveling is figuring out how to use money once you’ve saved up enough to go on your amazingly planned vacation, especially if you’re going abroad.

Do you bring a debit card and rely on an ATM machine? Or should you just bring a lot of cash and make sure to keep it safe by only taking enough to go out for the day?

travel abroad - pafoua posing

I’ve done both and I can tell you that each system has its own place depending on where you go. In some places, like South East Asia, might be better to bring some cash and exchange it in-country because the currency exchange is much better and in many places are a cash system only.

For other places, say Europe, it might be easier to just bring a debit card and take out money at an ATM once you land, though you could rack up some dollars with those foreign transaction fees.

These are all good things to consider when planning out how you are going to access money when you are on vacation.

In this post, I’ll talk about what I do and how I came across the best travel credit card to use abroad.

My Favorite Travel Credit Card to Use Abroad: Chase Sapphire Preferred

I did a lot of research before I signed up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card. I wanted to find a credit card that would give me the most bang for my buck and flexibility with travel rewards.

ENTER:

Clickable chase sapphire card

The Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card

Sign up today and you can earn up to 60,000 bonus points, that’s $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards! Enough for 1 round-trip ticket (or 2 shorter trips!).

I think the Chase Sapphire is one of the easiest credit cards to manage for travelers dipping their feet in travel hacking. Now let me tell you a few reasons why this is my favorite travel credit card to use abroad.

Points Vs. Cash Back

I wanted to figure out whether it was more worthwhile to get a card that rewarded with points or cashback. I read this exact article from The Points Guy to help me make my decision.

Bottom line: for us travel junkies, it is much better to get a point-earning credit card.

With cashback, you might get 5% cashback (or a whopping 5 cents) per purchase you make and there might be a dollar cap per year. Meh.

With points, usually, it’s a 1 point to 1 dollar ratio and there’s no cap or expiration date. Say what?! Check for Chase Sapphire.

Welcome Bonus for Signing Up

One of the reasons why I liked the Chase Sapphire is because of its welcome bonus.

Just by signing up and spending $4,000 within the first three months, I can earn a bonus of 60,000 bonus points rather than just a 1:1 point totaling 4,000 that I would earn any other time. That’s a pretty good deal.

When I signed up for the Chase Sapphire, I had a few big purchases in mind that I was wanting to buy already: honeymoon airfare tickets, a wedding dress, and furniture.

Having these big-ticket items helped me reach the $4000 fairly quickly within the first three months of signing up, giving me those 60,000 bonus points.

How Can I Redeem My Points?

So we have a points card giving us up to 60,000 bonus points…what do we do with them now?

That’s the best part about having a Chase Sapphire card. All your points are collected right on the Chase app or website in what they called the “Chase Ultimate Rewards” section. You can easily see how many points you’ve earned and make purchases directly in the app or website.

You can book your flight, hotel, and even rent a car through the Chase rewards section. When you do this and you see the total cost, you can choose to either pay cash or with the points you’ve earned. Choose the points.

Who Will Take My Points?

Chase has 14 transfer partners with immediate point transfers, which means that if you find a great deal on United (one of their partners), you can book through the Chase app and your points will automatically transfer and pay for the flight so you don’t miss out on a good deal United is offering.

I liked the immediate transfer and I also liked their partners. Here are a few of them that I purchase through pretty often: United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Marriott Bonvoy, World of Hyatt, and they have many more.

Pafoua with 3 friends in the airport, ready to fly

Benefits of Chase Sapphire Travel Credit Card

If I haven’t convinced you why the Chase Sapphire card is the best travel credit card to use abroad, let me tell you about some of the amazing benefits that come with signing up.

5x points on travel purchased through Chase

This is a new one – so you’ll get the newest bestest of the benefits! If you purchase any travel-related things (like hotels and airfare) through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, then you receive 5 points per dollar on travel! I know, I thought it was crazy too, but it’s true.

3x Points on Household Purchases

Since you are probably purchasing groceries, ordering takeout, and putting your streaming services onto your credit card… all these purchases will also give you 3x household points to your Chase rewards.

There are some stipulations like you’ll need to get groceries at your local supermarket rather than a wholesale like Costco or Sam’s Club, but I still think 3x the points is a pretty nice deal.

Trip Cancellation/Trip Interruption Insurance

Thank goodness I haven’t had to use this benefit yet, but it does give me peace when I make purchases through Chase Ultimate Rewards. If you get sick or need to cancel your trip, even on non-refundable purchases, you’re covered.

And if your trip is delayed more than 12 hours or you need to stay somewhere overnight, you are also covered for up to $500 per ticket. That would have been so handy when my friend and I flew our first one-way flight to China!

Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver

You can also pass on the rental car insurance offers and rely on Chase’s rental collision insurance when you put the full cost of your rental car on the Chase Sapphire card. That makes paying for a rental car so convenient!

Even More Travel Benefits

Okay, I could go on about this card – there are just so many good things! Here are even more travel benefits that are worth mentioning:

  • Baggage delay insurance: get up to $100 reimbursement every day for 5 days if your luggage is delayed
  • Lost Luggage Reimbursement: Damaged or lost luggage can be covered for up to $3,000 per passenger
  • Travel and Emergency Assistance: Get medical or legal referrals if you are away from home
  • Fraud protection: your card is always monitored for fraudulent charges
  • Get up to 5x points with Pelaton purchases

I gotta stop. You can always read more about the benefits of the Chase Sapphire card.

$0 Foreign Transaction Fees

After all those benefits, $0 foreign transaction fees are the cherry on top! When you travel, say to London for example, and you need to pay for lunch, there are a few things you can do. The first is obviously paying with cash (this was my policy in my early travel days).

The second is charging the meal to a debit or bank card, which would then most likely incur a foreign transaction fee. So you’ll pay for the meal and your bank to let you use your debit card abroad.

The third option is to charge the meal to your Chase Sapphire credit card and you’ll only pay for the meal like you would if you were right at home paying for In-n-Out. Nice right?

$95 Annual fee

So, what’s the cost of having a Chase Sapphire credit card? $95 a year. That threw me off a little and I had to read a little more about whether or not paying that much would help me save for travel.

Bottom line? Yes, it does. Throughout my reading, I found that the perks and benefits pay out the annual fee IF I use my card for staying at home (buying groceries, paying bills, etc.) and also use it for travel (airfare, hotels, etc.).

I have also come to love staying with Marriott Bonvoy, which is a partner, and that is also a 1:1 point transfer. You might need to do some research for yourself if the annual fee is a concern. Start here.

Pafoua and 3 friends posing in China

Chase Sapphire Preferred Vs. Other Travel Credit Cards

There are other travel credit cards that you can also read up on (The Points Guy is my usual go-to when learning more about point hacking). When I was doing my research, the Capital One Venture Card was the other card in the running.

It really is so similar to the Chase Sapphire Preferred, with a nice 60,000 bonus sign up only $3,000 to spend in your first few months, and a $95 annual fee too.

I ultimately didn’t choose Capital One because they don’t have the big partners for U.S. domestic travel (like United and Southwest).

Another credit card to consider is the Chase Sapphire Reserve. It does have all the benefits of the Preferred card, with even more luxury benefits like using airport lounges, higher earning rates, and some better trip insurance.

However, the annual fee is $550…. and I just don’t travel THAT much to make the card worthwhile. As a Chase Sapphire Preferred cardholder, I could upgrade at one point in the future, although that won’t be very soon.

Pafoua with 4 friends eating Korean BBQ

Using Credit Card vs. Cash and/or Debit Card Abroad

What is better to do when you are traveling abroad, use a credit card or carry around cash? Many people have differing opinions on this topic and which include trying to stay safe from pickpockets, making sure there isn’t a fraudulent freeze on a debit card, the ease of payment in a specific country, or many other reasons.

You’ll come up with something that works for you as you travel more. Here is what I do, and it works great for me.

The first thing I usually do is research the country I plan to visit regarding preferred forms of payment.

Areas in Southeast Asia like Vietnam work better with cash payments. If you’re buying from a local market they will prefer to give you change as sometimes they don’t have fancy credit card machines.

There might also be certain countries that don’t take Mastercard or Visa, so depending on which one you have you’ll need to carry cash with you.

The only time I do really use a debit card abroad is when I’m short on cash and need to use an ATM. I’ll then pay that horrid foreign transaction fee to get cash to use.

Credit cards are a whole new game if you’re visiting a place that does take card payments.

Second, I’ll make a plan on how I want to tackle payments. I would recommend going with cash and a credit card.

Cash because it’s easy to keep track of, makes payment really easy, and it’s pretty straightforward. There may be a small fee for exchanging money, but it’s not enough to put me off using cash.

If you’re using a credit card, like the Chase Sapphire, with $0 foreign transaction fees and fraud protection, you won’t need to worry about incurring extra fees and it may be easier to just keep your one credit card very close to you for safekeeping.

You’ll need to call your credit card company ahead of time and let them know that you are traveling abroad so there isn’t a freeze on your account when you start using it.

If you do use cash, you may have extra money left over after your trip. This is a great opportunity to collect bills or coins from that country if there isn’t enough to do a full currency exchange.

Old coins for sale in Bali

Why a Travel Credit Card Might Not Be the Best Fit for You

Money isn’t the most comfortable thing to talk about, and I hesitate to get into the nitty-gritty of money talk too because how you use your money is up to you. #youdoyouboo

But I think this is a good heart (mind, wallet, whatever-you-want-to-call-it) check if you are considering opening a credit card. Let’s spend a few uncomfortable but necessary minutes on why a travel credit card might not be for you.

To put it out there, I do have a pretty good credit score and the reason why is because I have a loong (as in years, thank you student loans) credit line and I make my payments on time.

That wasn’t always the case though. There was a time in my life when I wasn’t making a lot of money and was late on payments. I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to come back from a low credit score.

Then I moved to China and my paycheck was even less than what I made in my day job in America. But I got myself on a consistent payment plan, budgeted well using Dave Ramsey’s envelope system, and built up my credit over time.

Read Next: 25 Practical Pros And Cons of Teaching English In China

So here’s a list of why a credit card might not be the best for you. Right now.

  • You have a low credit score.
  • You are currently working to get yourself out of credit card debt.
  • You might overspend and work yourself into big credit card debt.
  • You aren’t able to make full repayments every month, which will then lead you to be charged interest, making your principal balance higher than when you started.

These are just some things to think about before you apply.

I’m not a financial advisor or even a guru.

I just have a lot of experience with late payments, being in debt, getting into credit card ruts, and working hard to come back from the pitfalls. I’ve experienced all 4 bullet points mentioned above so I know what it’s like and if you’re there too, tread lightly.

Be responsible with a credit card. Do your research. Read this post to get you started, even if you need a refresher. Or this post for some get-out-of-debt tips; I needed it too.

Pafoua dressed up in China

Final Thoughts on the Best Travel Credit Card to Use Abroad

Whew! Hopefully, I didn’t put you off too much with heavy credit card talk. I am a credit card user and I love that I can earn rewards when I purchase my weekly groceries or pay my bills.

And of course, use it for travel too – can’t forget that!

If you’re ready to apply for a credit card I encourage you to find one that you like, make sure it fits your needs, and go for it. Start earning those travel points!

What are your thoughts about travel credit cards? Do you have a favorite one that you like to use? Continue the conversation below and leave a comment.


You might also be interested in these travel tips too:

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My Favorite Travel Tips + Resources

Here is a quick glance at all my go-to travel tips and resources that I use to plan every trip! For more information, check out my travel resources page.

  • Booking flights: I use Google Flights to check all routes and find the best flights. Then I compare them with Expedia (for reward points) and Skyscanner (for the lowest prices) before I book.
  • Accommodations: I love budget-friendly rentals or booking at a hotel where I can earn points. For hotels, I go through Booking.com or book directly with Marriott (for points + rewards). When I travel internationally, I’ll book through Hostelworld for very budget-friendly stays. For vacation rentals, I usually look through Airbnb, but you could also use Vrbo. Expedia also has some great bundles for hotels, flights, and car rentals altogether.
  • Transportation: For travel in the United States, I love renting through Expedia with Enterprise or Thrifty. They have been consistent and provide the best customer service. For international travel, I’ll book through Rome2Rio or Eurail for trains or bus fares.
  • Travel Credit Card: I book all my travel (flights, hotels, car rentals) through my favorite travel credit card. I also use this card for everything on my trip including dining, excursions, and souvenirs. Apart from earning 5x more points towards free travel, there are amazing benefits: no foreign transaction fees, trip cancellation/interruption insurance, trip delay reimbursement (so I can book worry-free), fraud protection, emergency assistance – it’s really a great deal! Check it out here!
  • Vaccines and Medications: Check the CDC website for updates on necessary vaccines to enter a country, including updates on Covid-19 and recommended places to visit. I recommend getting all the vaccines you need before you go!
  • Tours + Experiences: I absolutely love my tours! Everything from eerie walking ghost tours to food tours, I’ll usually book something every trip either through Viator or GetYourGuide. I also love LastMinute.com for very affordable tickets to theaters and other experiences in Europe.
  • What to Pack: I almost always travel by backpack. For products I like, check out my packing guide page for all the things I take with me on different trips.