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WalletHub Study: Roughly 7 in 10 people don’t realize foreign fees can apply without foreign travel

With international travel expected to approach pre-pandemic levels this year, WalletHub today released the results of a nationally representative Foreign Transaction Fee Survey gauging people’s opinions on various aspects of spending money abroad, along with a report on WalletHub’s Best Credit Cards for International Travel.

Please find key takeaways below, followed by commentary from WalletHub experts.

  • Not-So-Foreign Fees:  Roughly 7 in 10 people don’t realize foreign fees can apply without foreign travel. Foreign transaction fees can also apply to purchases made through foreign merchants while you’re in the U.S.
  • Unaware of Foreign Fees: 41% of people don’t know if their credit card has a foreign transaction fee. This is most common among people over the age of 45. 
  • Swearing Off Foreign Transaction Fees: 53% of people say they would never get a credit card that charges a foreign transaction fee.
  • Best Exchange Rate When Traveling Abroad: The majority of people (79%) don’t know that using a credit card gets them the best exchange rate when traveling abroad. 
  • Worries When Using Credit Cards Internationally: Card loss/theft (35%) is what people worry about the most when using their credit cards internationally, followed by currency exchange rates (28%) and credit card foreign transaction fees (23%), leaving overspending (13%) at the bottom of the list. 
  • Unfair Fees: 62% of people say foreign transaction fees are unfair. Women (71%) are more likely to feel this way than men (52%). 
  • Credit Card Politics: More than 7 in 10 people think foreign fees should be cheaper in countries allied with the U.S. 
  • Best Credit Cards for International Travelers: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. Both have $0 foreign fees and great travel rewards.
  • Best Credit Card Companies for No Foreign Fees: Capital One, Discover and NFCU are some of the major issuers that exclusively offer no foreign transaction fee credit cards. Getting such a card, along with a no foreign fee debit card, enables international travelers to minimize the cost of currency conversion.

Q&A with WalletHub 

Do most people know if their credit cards have foreign transaction fees?

“A new WalletHub survey found that 41% of people don’t know if their credit card has a foreign transaction fee. This is most common among people over the age of 45, perhaps because they tend to have higher incomes and can afford not to worry about an extra 3% being tacked onto anything they happen to buy from a foreign merchant,” said Delaney Simchuk, WalletHub analyst. “Most people do not have the luxury of ignoring foreign transaction fees, yet a lot of us still do. The good news is finding out whether your credit card has a foreign fee is as simple as logging into your online account and pulling up the card agreement.”

Is it clear to people that a foreign fee can be applied without foreign travel?

“Most people do not have a clear understanding of when credit card foreign transaction fees come into play, and that could end up being very costly. For example, 7 in 10 people don’t realize foreign fees can apply without foreign travel, according to a new WalletHub survey. People simply assume you have to be on foreign soil for a foreign transaction fee to be charged, but these fees can also apply to purchases that you make through merchants based abroad while you are in the comfort of your own home,” said Delaney Simchuk, WalletHub analyst. “Fortunately, there are lots of really good credit cards without foreign transaction fees that people can use to make purchases from international sellers.”

How do consumers feel about credit cards that charge foreign transaction fees?

“A new WalletHub survey found that 62% of people think foreign transaction fees are unfair, including 71% of women and 52% of men. All in all, 53% of people say they would never get a credit card that charges a foreign transaction fee,” said Delaney Simchuk, WalletHub analyst. “People who want to avoid foreign fees have plenty of good options, especially from the major credit card companies that don’t charge foreign fees on any of their cards, like Capital One. Swearing off foreign fees entirely isn’t necessarily the best approach, however, since you could miss out on a great card for your domestic spending.”

Do people know that credit cards get them the best exchange rate when traveling abroad?

“Roughly 79% of people don’t realize that using a credit card gets them the best exchange rate when traveling abroad, according to a new WalletHub survey. Credit cards can save you 7% or more compared to currency exchange kiosks in the airport or exchanging hard currency at a local bank,” said Delaney Simchuk, WalletHub analyst. “In addition to saving you money on every international transaction, a credit card with no foreign transaction fee does the conversion automatically when you buy something, making spending money internationally more convenient and safer. Losing your credit card abroad is a lot less harmful than losing a wad of cash.”

What do people worry about the most when using their credit cards internationally?

“A new WalletHub survey found that people’s top concerns about international credit card use are card loss and theft, which got 35% of the vote, followed by currency exchange rates at 28% and credit card foreign transaction fees at 23%. Overspending was at the bottom of the list, with just 13% of the vote,” said Delaney Simchuk, WalletHub analyst. “We’ve seen a willingness among consumers to go into debt for a vacation, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that most people aren’t too concerned about overspending abroad. Still, overspending is likely to have the biggest, most long-lasting impact on people.”  

What advice do you have for people looking to avoid foreign transaction fees?

“Foreign transaction fees are easy to avoid. All you have to do is compare credit cards with no foreign transaction fees, find an offer that suits your credit standing and spending habits, then apply online. There are hundreds of no-foreign-fee cards available, including options for all credit scores,” said Delaney Simchuk, WalletHub analyst. “Once you have the right card, avoiding foreign fees is simply a matter of using the card for any purchases that might be processed abroad.”

This article was released by WalletHub.