Reader Question: Which Credit Card For My Daughter Who Is Studying Abroad?

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Million Mile Secrets reader Carol writes in:

Our daughter is studying abroad for 1 year in Rome, Italy and I am trying to figure out a way to send her money and a credit card for her to use that has no international transaction fees.  

Any suggestion you may have would be greatly appreciated.  Would it be possible for her to earn mileage or points on a specific card?  She is 20 years of age.

There are three parts to Carol’s question:

  1. Which credit cards have no foreign transaction fees?
  2. Which miles and points credit cards can a 20 year old qualify for?
  3. How to send money to someone abroad?

Why Is a No Foreign Transaction Fee Card Important?

Most US credit cards charge an extra 3% when you use them for transactions in foreign currency.

3% may not seem like a lot, but it adds up.  Let’s say that you’re a student studying abroad who spends, say, $750 per month for 12 months.  That’s $9,000 in spending ($750 per month X 12 months).

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Say No to Foreign Transaction Fees!

You will pay $270 in fees if your credit card charges a 3% foreign transaction fee  ($9,000 in annual spending X 3% foreign transaction fee).

You can save the $270 by getting a card which doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees and even earn miles and points!

Credit cards with no international transaction fees

My favorite no-foreign transaction fee card is the Chase Sapphire Preferred because you get double points for travel (airfare, hotel, car rental, parking, etc.) and dining.

If you’re studying abroad for a year, there’s a good chance that you will be spending lots of money on eating out and traveling, so why not get double points for those expenses?

You can transfer points from the Chase Sapphire Preferred to many airline and hotel partners such as Hyatt, United, Southwest etc.

Here’s a link to “Which Credit Cards Do NOT Charge a Foreign Transaction Fee?” if you want to see which other credit cards do not charge a foreign transaction fee.

You can also check out the No Foreign Transaction Fee tab on the Travel Credit Cards page.

No foreign transaction fees
No Foreign Transaction Fees Tab

Some cards like the Chase Hyatt or the Citi Hilton Reserve also have a chip in them which may make them easier to use in certain countries, but in my experience most merchants also accept regular American credit cards without a chip.

Also the American cards with a chip are different from the European cards with a chip, so I wouldn’t go out of my way to get a card with a chip in it.

CREDIT CARDS FOR STUDENTS

But Carol’s daughter is unlikely to get approved for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card because she has no other credit cards.

Carol can add her daughter as an authorized user on one of her existing cards (preferably an older card) to build her daughter’s credit history.

Carol’s daughter should also apply for a student credit card, charge a small amount each month, and pay the bill in full to build her credit history.

You can read more about student credit cards in my post Credit Cards for Students With No Credit History.

The Discover Student card does NOT charge a foreign transaction fee.  However, Discover cards aren’t that widely accepted outside the US.

The Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® could be a better choice because it is a Visa card which is accepted in more places than Discover and it also doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.

But Carol’s daughter is also likely to get a VERY low limit on her 1st student card which may not be enough for her expenses studying abroad.  So she should have a back-up card as well.

Carol could also apply for a miles and point card with no foreign transaction fees (like the Chase Sapphire Preferred) and add her daughter as an authorized user to that card.  That way her daughter:

  • Is building her credit history
  • Earns miles and points for foreign transaction purchases
  • Has another credit card in case her student credit card is over the limit or a fraud alert prevents her from using it

However, Carol should only add her daughter as an authorized user if she is comfortable that her daughter won’t go on a spending binge with the credit card because Carol is responsible for paying the bill on time!  But Carol will earn the points for the spending on the card.

Carol should also let the bank know that the authorized user is overseas so that there aren’t fraud alerts when the card is used outside the US.

SENDING MONEY TO SOMEONE ABROAD

Sending money to someone’s bank account overseas is costly because both the sender and the receiver will have to pay wire transfer fees.

It is less expensive to use your debit card to withdraw money from an ATM abroad.  You should NEVER use a credit card to withdraw money from an ATM because you will pay very high cash advance fees.

However, many banks charge a fee for using an ATM outside the US (in addition to the fee which the ATM owner charges) and often there is a 3% foreign transaction fee added to the withdrawal amount.

The Charles Schwab debit card with the High Yield Investor checking account is the best debit card for using overseas.  There are:

  • No foreign transaction fees
  • No ATM withdrawal fees
  • No minimim balance required

Even better, you get reimbursed for the ATM fees which the ATM owner may charge you.

Don't Pay Foreign Transaction Fees With Your Credit Card
The Charles Schwab Debit Card Is The Best Way To Get Money Outside The US

Carol could open a joint account with her daughter and deposit money in the account in the US.  Her daughter could then withdraw the money with her debit card from an ATM outside the US.  And there wouldn’t be any fees involved!

You can even deposit checks by mail or via a mobile phone app!

Another option is a Bank of America debit card.  Bank of America is part of the Global ATM Alliance, which means that you could be charged no fees for using some ATMs overseas.

But you may still be charged the foreign transaction fees.  I don’t like this option as much as the Charles Schwab option because this applies only in few countries and doesn’t waive all fees.

In Italy, withdrawals on BNL d’Italia ATMs would be free with a Bank of America debit card, but there could still be a foreign transaction fee baked into the exchange rate.

DYNAMIC CURRENCY CONVERSION

Even WITH a no foreign transaction fee debit or credit card, you could still be charged a 3% fee!

You’ll pay 3% extra even if you have a credit card with no foreign transaction fees, if you choose to be charged in US dollars versus the local currency.

For more details, read Why you should always pay for foreign purchases in the local currency and not US dollars.

Bottom LIne

Unless your child has an established credit history, a miles and points earning card may be out of their reach.  But they can get a basic student card with no foreign transaction fees, though it may have a low limit.

You can also add your child as an authorized user to one of your credit cards with no foreign transaction fees and earn miles and points for your child’s expenses.  But you are also responsible for the bill.

The Charles Schwab bank account is the best way to withdraw money from an ATM with no fees and foreign transaction charges outside the US.

Cards without foreign transaction fees will save you money, but always ask to be billed in the local currency to avoid the currency conversion fee!

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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