Key takeaways

  • Make sure your credit card will be widely accepted at your destination, with capabilities for chip-and-PIN transactions.
  • Save money by going with cards that don’t charge foreign transaction fees and offer travel insurance protection.
  • Some cards also offer welcome bonuses that could offset your costs and credits for the Global Entry program that can expedite your entry into the U.S. when you return from travel.

With pandemic-era travel restrictions gone, Europe is a top travel destination for 2023. And with inflation continuing to drive up travel expenses, your dollars (and points) can go a lot further abroad.

Whether traveling during the high season or snagging off-peak discounts, you can enjoy all the best that Europe offers without breaking the bank. But why just lean on a strong dollar when you can tack on additional savings with your credit card? From covering airfare and hotels to protecting your biggest travel expenses, the right credit card can make your trip cheaper and more convenient.

But with so many card options, it’s easier said than done. Luckily, we have you covered with questions you should ask and the features you should look for as you choose a card for traveling to Europe.

Is this card widely accepted?

First, make sure any credit card you take to Europe is widely accepted. The Visa and Mastercard networks offer wider acceptance abroad than Discover and American Express.

While you can certainly bring your Amex and Discover cards, it’s best to pack a backup. That way, you won’t get stuck in a stressful situation where you can’t pay for something because your card isn’t accepted.

Will you get a substantial welcome bonus from this card?

If you’re headed to Europe, consider picking up a new credit card offering a lucrative welcome bonus. Whether you want to cover some of your travel expenses or use your travel spending to meet credit card spending requirements, the timing could work out to your advantage.

A hotel credit card can help you cover a few hotel nights. The Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card* is an excellent pick, because it comes with an intro offer of up to 150,000 Bonus Points for three free night awards (valued at up to 50,000 points each night) after you spend $3,000 on purchases in your first three months from your account opening. The card’s $95 annual fee is reasonable, especially if you’re saving hundreds of dollars on hotel bookings.

An airline credit card welcome bonus can save you even more money by covering the cost of airfare to Europe. For example, the United℠ Explorer Card* offers 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 within the first three months of account opening. This bonus could cover one round-trip ticket to Europe.

Transferable rewards earned with the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and Citi Premier® Card can provide even more flexibility.

The Citi Premier bonus is among the highest for transferable points at an offer of 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 within the first three months of account opening. You can use those points for flights to Europe through transfer partners like Aviana Lifemiles, Flying Blue, Turkish Miles&Smiles and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club. In fact, Virgin Atlantic has one of the cheapest award tickets to Europe, starting at just 10,000 miles each way in economy class.

Does this card offer bonus points on travel and dining?

Like most people who travel abroad for vacation, you might be tempted to splurge a little during your trip to Europe. You’ll want a credit card that will reward you generously for these purchases. Your biggest expenses will likely be travel and dining, which is why a card like the American Express® Gold Card would be ideal to bring along. The card earns 4X points on dining worldwide and 3X points on flights booked directly with airlines or through the Amex Travel portal.

If you’re looking for even higher rewards potential, the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card offers 10X miles on hotel and rental car bookings through Capital One Travel. You’ll also earn 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel and 2X miles on all purchases. So whether you’re planning to shop till you drop or splurge on hotels, you’ll earn generous rewards with this card.

Does this card have foreign transaction fees?

Earning lots of points during your Europe adventure should be a priority, but not if you have to pay 3 percent or more in foreign transaction fees. Luckily, you can avoid these pesky fees by opting for a credit card with no foreign transaction fees.

Most travel rewards cards waive these fees, allowing you to earn points and protect your purchases without an added cost. Examples include the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card.

The best no-annual-fee cards — like the Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card — offer no foreign transaction fees when you use your card abroad.

Most importantly, you’ll want to be aware of popular credit cards that don’t waive this fee, like the Citi Double Cash® Card* and Chase Freedom Unlimited®*. Avoid the penalty for using your credit card abroad by skipping these cards in favor of ones that waive the fees.

What kind of travel protections does this card offer?

Most people who travel internationally, including to Europe, buy travel insurance to protect their trip. And it’s a good idea: If your trip is canceled or interrupted due to illness or other covered reasons, insurance will reimburse any non-refundable travel expenses. This layer of protection can save you thousands of dollars in an emergency.

But you don’t have to pay for this safety net if you have the right credit card in your wallet. Quite a few credit cards include travel protection such as trip interruption or cancellation coverage, trip delay reimbursement, travel accident insurance, lost luggage reimbursement and primary rental coverage.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® offers some of the most comprehensive coverage available if you charge your travel expenses to the card, including:

  • Emergency evacuation and transportation coverage of up to $100,000 per trip
  • Primary auto rental collision damage waiver of up to $75,000 for theft or collision damage
  • Trip cancellation/interruption insurance of up to $10,000 per person and $20,000 per trip
  • Lost luggage reimbursement of up to $3,000 per person
  • Trip delay reimbursement of up to $500 per ticket

Does this card have chip-and-PIN capability?

If you use your credit card in Europe, you might be surprised when the cashier asks for a PIN. Chip-and-PIN credit cards are more common in Europe and considered more secure than the chip-and-signature cards we have in the U.S. But not to worry – lots of popular U.S. credit cards are equipped with this technology. They include the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, Citi Premier® Card and Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card.

To find out if your credit card is chip-and-PIN enabled, call your card company and ask if you can set up a PIN. Many rewards credit cards allow you to set a PIN on activation. The last thing you want during your trip to Europe is for your card to be rejected because you don’t have PIN capability. Find out ahead of your trip and set it up, if possible.

Will you get a Global Entry fee credit from this card?

Having Global Entry can make your return home from Europe much more pleasant on the return. This trusted traveler program gets you expedited entry into the U.S. While everyone else stands in a long line at passport control, you can skip to the Global Entry kiosk, scan your passport and get waved through in a matter of minutes. If you have Global Entry, you’ll also be enrolled in TSA PreCheck, which gets you into an expedited line for security screening where you keep your shoes and light jacket on.

The Global Entry application fee is a downright bargain at just $100 for five years. However, you can get this fee reimbursed with certain credit cards. They include the Capital One Venture, Chase Sapphire Preferred and United Explorer Card. The Global Entry application fee credit offsets the first year’s annual fee on these cards. While it’s not the only benefit you should consider when choosing a travel credit card for European sightseeing, enough credit cards offer it that it’s worth being mindful of.

The bottom line

Europe is becoming increasingly cashless, and traveling with a credit card is practically mandatory these days. While you can get by with any credit card, choosing the right one will ensure that your card is accepted, you earn points and you don’t incur additional fees in the process. If you take it a step further, you can even improve your travel experience and offset the cost entirely. Best of all, you’ll have peace of mind and can focus on enjoying your trip.

*Information about the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card, United℠ Explorer Card, Citi Double Cash® Card and Chase Freedom Unlimited® card has been collected independently by Bankrate. Card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.