Planning a European vacation can take a lot of research, especially true if you want to see all the best sights, world class art and landmarks from our ancient past. You’ll also need to figure out what to pack. After all, a lot of the details of everyday life are different in Europe, ranging from the currency you’ll use to get around to the plug adapters you’ll need to charge your laptop, phone and any other mobile device.
You’ll also want to make sure you bring the right credit card to Europe, and perhaps even more than one. Not only do you want to bring along a credit card that doesn’t charge the typical 3 percent in foreign transaction fees on purchases made abroad, but you may also want to bring along a chip-and-pin credit card that is set up to work using the technology card processors in Europe already use.
Of course, you should also try to rack up valuable travel rewards on your European getaway, and why wouldn’t you? Racking up travel rewards makes sense whether you earn them early and use them to pay for some component of your trip, or you simply earn rewards on your hotels, meals and other trip purchases while you’re overseas.
Here are some of the top credit cards for Europe and how you can use them to your advantage.
Best travel signup bonus
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
- Earn 80,000 points worth $1,000 in travel when you spend $4,000 on your card within three months of account opening
- Earn 2x points on travel and dining and 1x points on other purchases; also earn 5x points on Lyft purchases through March 2022
- $95 annual fee
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is a chip and signature card, meaning if you use it to pay for a restaurant meal in Europe, you’ll likely be presented with a receipt you need to sign. However, this card is a top option for a European vacation otherwise, and it all starts with the fact you won’t pay foreign transaction fees when you use this card to pay for purchases overseas.
You’ll also earn valuable Chase Ultimate Rewards points, including an initial signup bonus, which can be used for gift cards, merchandise, experiences or travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Portal. As an added bonus, Chase Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred 1:1 to popular airline and hotel partners like British Airways, Southwest Rapid Rewards, Marriott Bonvoy and World of Hyatt.
If you’re hoping for some travel protections, this card also has you covered. As a cardholder, you’ll receive perks like trip cancellation/interruption insurance, auto rental collision damage waiver and baggage delay insurance when you use your credit card to pay for your airfare and hotels.
Best for flexible rewards
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
- Earn 50,000 miles worth $500 in travel when you spend $3,000 on your card within three months of account opening
- Earn an unlimited 2x miles on all purchases
- $95 annual fee, waived the first year
If you want to rack up flexible rewards you can redeem however you want while you avoid common travel-related costs, the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card is worth checking out. This card doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, and you even get up to $100 in credit toward Global Entry or TSA Precheck membership, which could help you avoid lines and long wait times at the airport when you travel abroad.
You’ll also earn a flat 2x miles for every purchase you make, which you can use to “erase” travel-related purchases from your bill after the fact. For that reason, this card is a good one to use for your Europe trip. You can pay for airfare and hotels with your card, as well as meals and other travel expenses. Hopefully you can reach the threshold to earn the initial signup bonus, in which case you could redeem your miles to cover travel expenses on your card at a rate of one cent per mile.
Best for foodies
Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card
- Earn a $300 cash bonus when you spend $3,000 on your card within three months of account opening
- Earn 4% back on all dining and entertainment, 2% back at grocery stores and 1% back on other purchases
- $95 annual fee, waived the first year
If you’re a foodie heading to Europe to enjoy award-winning wines and escargot in Burgundy, France or heaps of homemade pasta in Italian cities like Bologna and Rome, you’ll want to position yourself to rack up a ton of rewards. A card like the Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card is ideal since it lets you earn 4 percent back on all dining and entertainment, 2 percent back at grocery stores and 1 percent back on all other purchases.
This card is also free from foreign transaction fees, and you can redeem your rewards for statement credits in any amount. You’ll also get travel accident insurance and 24-hour travel assistance services as cardholder perks, both of which could be valuable for your European getaway.
How to choose the best credit card for your trip to Europe
Bringing a credit card to Europe is an incredibly smart idea, and the benefits extend well beyond the rewards you can earn. Paying with plastic helps you avoid having to exchange too much currency, or to trade in currency as you move between European destinations that don’t use the euro.
Not only that, but the majority of travel and rewards credit cards come with zero fraud liability, meaning you won’t be on the hook for fraudulent purchases made with your credit card or credit card number overseas. This is a huge departure from carrying cash since you don’t have any protection if your currency itself is stolen or misplaced during your trip.
With that being said, there are still factors you should consider to find the right card for your trip. Here are some of the details you should consider as you compare card options.
- Decide if you want luxury travel benefits. If you want some VIP travel benefits for your trip to Europe, you may want to consider travel credit cards that come with airport lounge access, annual travel credits or elite hotel status. You’ll likely pay a much higher annual fee for a card with these luxury travel perks, but doing so can be well worth it if you want travel to feel more luxurious and hassle-free.
- Figure out the type of rewards you want to earn. Make sure any cards you’re considering offer the rewards you want the most, whether that’s airline miles, hotel points, flexible travel rewards or standard cash back.
- Check for foreign transaction fees. We already mentioned how some credit cards charge a foreign transaction fee (usually 3 percent) for purchases you make overseas. To keep costs down and avoid these unnecessary add-ons, look for credit cards with no foreign transaction fees.
- Compare cards in terms of travel insurance perks. Check whether cards you’re considering offer many travel benefits, and note that many of the top cards offer an array of complimentary travel coverages just for being a cardholder. With the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, for example, cardholders receive trip cancellation and interruption insurance, car rental insurance, baggage delay insurance, trip delay insurance, lost luggage reimbursement, travel accident insurance, emergency evacuation coverage and more simply for paying for their airfare, hotel or resort stay and other travel expenses.
Frequently asked credit card questions when traveling abroad
Should you get a credit card for the sole purpose of traveling abroad?
You don’t necessarily need a credit card to travel abroad, but having one comes with serious benefits. For starters, having a credit card with zero fraud liability means you won’t be on the hook for fraudulent charges if your credit card is compromised while you’re overseas. Numerous travel credit cards come without foreign transaction fees, and you can even earn valuable rewards on your spending.
Also, note that many of the top travel credit cards come with important insurance products you can access as a cardholder, that come in handy when traveling internationally. Cardholder benefits to look for include trip cancellation and interruption insurance, baggage insurance, emergency evacuation coverage, trip delay insurance and more.
Are all travel credit cards good for international travel?
Some credit cards definitely work better for international travel than others. For starters, Visa and Mastercard have the best international acceptance rates, whereas acceptance of American Express and Discover can be limited depending on where you’re traveling. Not only that, but some credit cards charge foreign transaction fees that make everything you buy overseas more expensive.
How important is avoiding foreign transaction fees when traveling abroad?
While paying a foreign transaction fee on overseas purchases isn’t the end of the world, strive to avoid these fees if you can. Most credit cards that come with foreign transaction fees charge around 3% in fees for every purchase you make, which turns every $100 you spend abroad into $103. That may not sound like a lot, but foreign transaction fees can add up in a hurry.