You don’t need to get a European credit card before visiting Europe. But you may need to bring a Visa or Mastercard, depending on your specific destination. Visa and Mastercard are both accepted in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide, including all European countries. American Express is accepted in all European countries but may not be accepted by the specific merchant you’re doing business with, particularly if it’s a small operation. Discover is accepted in most European countries but not Serbia, Albania, Montenegro, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine or Moldova. It’s also a hit-or-miss with specific merchants in the other countries.
If you’re wondering about whether European card readers are compatible with American credit cards, you’ll be fine anywhere there’s a person to check you out. That’s true whether you have a chip card or an older card with only a magnetic stripe. The one place you may need a specific type of card is at an unmanned payment terminal, such as you might find in a train station or parking garage. In that case, not even a chip-and-signature card will work. You’ll need to use a chip-and-PIN credit card or cash. But that shouldn’t amount to much more than a minor inconvenience, even though most U.S. chip cards are the signature variety.
Finding a credit card with no foreign transaction fees should be a bigger concern before traveling to Europe. The average credit card charges 1.61% of every purchase you make abroad, which can add up to a lot over the course of a trip.
Here’s are the best European credit cards:
Best Earning Potential - Capital One Venture Rewards: 50,000 points when you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months, worth $500 in travel. 10 miles per $1 at hotels.com/venture and 2 everywhere else. $95 annual fee. Requires good credit.
Best Bonus - Chase Sapphire Preferred: 50,000 points when you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months, worth $625 in travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. 3 points per $1 on travel and dining and 1 on everything else. Points worth 25% more when redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. 1:1 point transfer to 11 airline and hotel loyalty programs. No foreign transaction fee. $95 annual fee. Requires excellent credit.
Best Airline Card – Lufthansa Credit Card: 20,000 miles when you make an initial purchase. 30,000 more miles when you spend $5,000 in the first 90 days. 2 miles per $1 with Miles & More airline partners and 1 everywhere else. Annual companion ticket and 2 Lufthansa Business Lounge vouchers. No foreign transaction fee. $89 annual fee. Good credit required.
Best for No Annual Fee – PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express Card: 25,000 points when you spend $2,500 in the first 3 months. 3 points per $1 on travel (4 for PenFed Honors Advantage Members) and 1.5 on all other purchases. $100 annual air travel credit to be used on fees, lounge access or onboard food and beverages. $100 fee credit for TSA Pre-Check application. No foreign transaction fee. No annual fee. Excellent credit required.
You certainly don’t need a special European credit card. But you do want a card on a network that’s widely accepted in your destination of choice. Mastercard and Visa are your best bets, as they’re both accepted pretty much everywhere in over 200 countries and territories. It’s ideal to get a card with no foreign transaction fee and extra rewards on travel, too.
You might also want to set a travel notice to tell your card’s issuer where and when you’re going. That way, your purchases away from home won’t be confused with fraud.
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