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Get to Know International Travel Fees

Traveling internationally comes with unique taxes and fees. But a bit of pre-trip planning can trim many of those international travel costs.

By Carla Fried | American Express Credit Intel Freelance Contributor

7 Min Read | November 30, 2020 in Cards



Many international travel fees and taxes are fixed, but there are also plenty you can steer clear of if you make smart decisions before you go.

The best credit cards for international travel usually don’t charge a transaction fee every time you use them outside the U.S.

To save on international fees, plan to hit foreign ATMs as seldom as possible. Getting foreign currency before you leave the U.S. can help you save money.

The adventure of diving into different cultures makes traveling abroad alluring, but it also comes with unique expenses that can put a dent in your travel budget. Some international travel fees are set in stone – arrival or departure fees in countries that charge them, for example. But there are many international travel fees you can avoid or minimize with a bit of advance planning. For instance, a wise choice of credit card for international travel means you won’t get charged a fee on every transaction you make.


Taking time to get to know the ins and outs of international travel taxes and fees can leave you with more dollars to put toward actually enjoying your adventure abroad.


Watch Out for International Booking Fees

As anyone who has booked airline travel knows, the base fare is just the beginning. Additional government fees and taxes, along with airline charges not included in the base fare, cost U.S. domestic and international travelers more than $19 billion in 2019, according to one analysis.1 The cost of international travel taxes and fees is typically greater than the add-ons for flights inside the U.S. Many of these international “extras” are non-negotiable, but there are a few ways you may be able to reduce or sidestep them:

  • Consider direct flights. When you fly to international destinations, fees may be charged by every airport along the way. And if you have a layover where you’re actually staying overnight, you may end up paying an additional arrival and/or departure fee charged by the government. If you find a great flight itinerary with a connection or two, just click through to the booking details to see if there are extra fees involved. Direct might be the way to go.

  • Avoid extra bag fees. When you fly internationally, you typically can check your first bag for free. But after that freebie, international travel baggage fees are steep: typically $50 per bag. If you’re not the traveling-light sort, this is where an airline credit card can be your best friend for international travel: Book the flight with that card and you may be eligible for a second free bag. Or if you’re upgrading to a premium seat, you may also get to check more than one bag for no additional fee.

Bring the Right Credit Card for International Travel

There’s no question credit cards are convenient, but convenience can come at a high price when you’re abroad if you don’t bring along the best credit card that suits your international travel needs.

  • Consider a card that doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee. The credit card you love to use stateside to pile up valuable rewards might be less than optimal abroad. Many cards charge a foreign transaction fee that is typically between 2% to 4% for every purchase made outside the U.S.2  Contact your current card issuers to confirm whether any offer international charging without a foreign transaction fee. If not, you might want to consider applying for a card that does not charge a foreign transaction fee. To learn more, read “What You Should Know About Foreign Transaction Fees.

  • Opt for local currency when using your card. In some instances, when you use your credit card to make a purchase abroad, the merchant may ask if you want to pay in U.S. dollars or the local currency. If you pay in dollars, you will be subject to whatever exchange rate the merchant’s payment system uses. It’s likely going to be a better deal to process the payment in the local currency.

Review Thrifty Ways to Stay Connected While Traveling

Chances are, you will want to stay connected to stateside family and friends. Unless you have a global cell phone plan, you are going to be charged extra international fees for texts and calls back to the States. Some ways to save:

  • Price out your cell provider’s offers for coverage where you’re headed. Using your U.S. phone outside the U.S. typically means running up big international roaming fees for calls, texts, and surfing. Before you leave, check with your cell provider to see what special plans it offers for where you’re headed. Paying for a one-month plan – it might be $50 or so – can be less costly than paying all those international travel fees.
  • Use a prepaid SIM Card for local communication. If you anticipate using your phone to hail rides, for online maps to get you to the museum, or to point you in the direction of the right metro stop, buying a prepaid SIM card loaded with data when you land and popping that into your phone can keep you connected while you’re out and about. This will only work if your phone is “unlocked.” Most are these days, but you might want to check with your provider.
  • Save communications for when you’ve got free Wi-Fi. Be sure to confirm with your host or hotel that (A) there is Wi-Fi service and (B) that it’s free. Be aware that some hotels charge a per-visit or even per-day fee.


The Takeaway

International travel fees and taxes can add up. The good news is that with some pre-trip planning and a good credit card for international travel, you can eliminate or reduce plenty of these charges.

Carla Fried

Carla Fried is a freelance journalist who has spent her entire career specializing in personal finance. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Money,, and Consumer Reports, among other media outlets.


All Credit Intel content is written by freelance authors and commissioned and paid for by American Express. 

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