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Best Credit Cards for Travelling Outside of Canada

Canadians love to beat the cold winter climate and travel to sunnier destinations. Vacations to the U.S. and abroad means dealing with foreign currency – something that’s become easier as more and more travellers use credit cards. You might think your credit card provider is doing you a favour by converting your foreign purchases back into Canadian dollars, but think again.

Nearly all Canadian credit card issuers charge a 2.5% fee for foreign currency conversion, a stiff penalty that negates any rewards you might have earned on your trip. So what’s a traveller to do?  Luckily, there are two great credit card options for Canadians who are looking to save money on foreign travel and on items purchased through foreign retailers.

Best Credit Cards for Travelling Outside of Canada

Best Credit Cards for Travelling Outside of Canada

Chase Canada

Since entering the Canadian credit card industry back in 2005, Chase Card Services – a division of U.S. giant JPMorgan Chase – has been nothing more than a niche player.  But in 2012, Chase did something fantastic: it removed the currency conversion fee on its Sears Financial Voyage MasterCard, Amazon.ca Rewards Visa, and Marriott Rewards Premier Visa.

But Chase decided to end its decade-old partnership with Sears Canada later this year, so that means come November 15th, 2015 it’s bon voyage for Voyage MasterCard customers.  That’s okay, because Chase still has two cards worth a closer look:

Amazon.ca Rewards Visa

The Amazon.ca Rewards Visa is one of the hidden gems in the Canadian rewards credit card market. This no-fee card pays two points for every purchase made through Amazon.ca and one point for purchases made anywhere else. You’ll get a $20 Amazon.ca gift card just for signing up, and every 2,000 point earned will automatically get redeemed for a $20 statement credit.

As mentioned, the best feature is that foreign currency transactions are converted at the exchange rate set by Visa, without additional surcharges. The card won’t work in the following countries: Burma (Myanmar), Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Syria and Libya.

*Update: Chase Canada has closed the Amazon.ca Rewards Visa to new applicants as of April 3, 2017.

Marriott Rewards Premier Visa

This hotel rewards card is one of the richest in Canada. Here’s a rundown of all the benefits:

You’ll get 30,000 bonus points after your first purchase. That’s good for 4 free nights at a category 1 hotel. New sign-up’s will also get an additional free night stay. Altogether that’s five free nights at a category 1 hotel, or four free nights at a category 2 hotel.

Each year on your card anniversary you’ll get an additional free night stay at any participating category 1-5 hotels. You’ll also get 15 Elite Credits toward your Marriott Rewards Elite membership level, guaranteeing you Silver Elite status or better.

The $120 annual fee is waived in the first year.

Earn 5 points for every dollar spent at Marriott locations worldwide, 2 points for every dollar spent on airfare, car rentals, and restaurants, plus 1 point for every dollar spent everywhere else.

The Marriott Rewards Premier Visa is the only hotel travel credit card in Canada with no foreign currency transaction charges in addition to the exchange rate.

Final thoughts

Foreign currency conversion fees are often hidden within your credit card statement – blended in with the exchange rate so you don’t even notice you’re paying an extra 2.5% on your purchases.  But don’t kid yourself – these charges add up in a big way.

It’s tough to earn 2.5% back on your spending – even with a premium rewards card. With the Amazon.ca Rewards Visa and the Marriott Rewards Premier Visa, Canadian travellers will not only save 2.5% on their foreign purchases, they’ll also earn healthy rewards on their spending.

14 Comments

  1. Mary R on January 27, 2015 at 6:22 am

    Can you please research US dollar credit cards. It would be nice to buy US dollars around par and buy and pay for all of your US purchases in US dollars. Are there any that have rewards?
    Thank you



    • Robb Engen on January 27, 2015 at 6:56 am

      Hi Mary, RBC’s U.S. Dollar Visa Gold is the only U.S. dollar credit card I’ve found that pays rewards (1 RBC reward for every dollar spent). It comes with a $65 USD annual fee. The trouble with U.S. dollar cards is that you need to pair them with a U.S. dollar bank account in order to avoid the currency conversion fee. TD has the best set up with its cross border banking plan.



      • tp1943 on February 25, 2015 at 7:30 am

        Disagree regarding TD having best cross border plan.
        RBC in conjunction with RBC Georgia which is an internet bank much like Tangerine works seamlessly for me. You should investigate.



      • Jeff on March 4, 2015 at 2:39 pm

        @Robb, I also disagree. RBC Bank US (RBCbank.com) has two USD visa cards which work great when travelling in the US. Yes, it works best with a RBC Bank US checking account which is easily setup at a local RBC bank branch along with a RBC USD savings account at Royal Bank. Yes, the checking account now has a 2.95 monthly fee, however, consider that as part credit card annual fee as 3 of 4 of the cards have no annual fee and all provide rewards. http://www.rbcbank.com/borrowing-in-the-us/compare-credit-cards/index.html It’s worth some investigation for the cross-boarder shoppers who can get an FX conversion rate better then the Visa’s rate.



  2. Daniel @ SaveWithDan on January 27, 2015 at 7:07 am

    I am really considering this Marriot card, but I am a bit concerned I’d be “locked-in” to the Marriot chain of hotels, reducing my travel options… What do you think?



    • Robb Engen on January 27, 2015 at 7:49 am

      Locked in with the chain, yes, but consider that Marriott is the largest hotel chain in the world with over 4000 hotels in 80 countries. I don’t think you’d have any trouble redeeming the free nights.

      My take is that you can use it as a secondary card to one that’s more flexible in how you book and redeem your rewards. The first year is free and the bonuses and perks are plenty, so you can see how it fits in with your spending and travel patterns before “committing” to it as a long term card.



    • Robb Engen on January 27, 2015 at 9:01 am

      This might make the program even more interesting – Marriott just acquired Delta Hotels and Resorts – http://news.marriott.com/2015/01/marriott-signs-definitive-agreement-to-acquire-delta-hotels-and-resorts.html



  3. Leona on January 28, 2015 at 7:50 am

    I seem to recall reading (on one of your former posts?) that an Amazon Visa card balance can’t be paid online like other bills but must be paid in person at a Cdn. bank, etc. Is this correct & if so, is this still the case with this card? Is this how the Marriott card works in terms of paying balances owing as well?

    Thanks so much for you research/info. on credit cards. I’ve found it very helpful & follow your site for this reason.



    • Robb Engen on January 28, 2015 at 8:49 am

      Hi Leona, thanks for your comment. I use the Amazon.ca Visa and can assure you that your balance can be paid online just like with any other credit card. The website isn’t pretty by any means, but you can view your transactions online and it tracks your statements going back 12 months.



      • Leona on January 28, 2015 at 10:46 pm

        Thanks Robb. That’s good to hear–esp. from someone who’s actually using the card & paying this way. We’ll have to look into it for sure in that case.



  4. Marie on January 31, 2015 at 9:14 pm

    I was unaware of the existence of either of these cards, thank you for bringing them to my attention. It might be time for another credit card churning play, though my previous one was a partial fail as I was unable to redeem the flight passes in time. (TD Aeroplan) Alas, live and learn.
    The Marriott card is definitely worth looking into for my travel plans, thanks.



  5. John on February 4, 2015 at 4:39 am

    Thanks for your good work.

    In our last couple of trips to the US, for some credit card purchases we have been asked if we wanted to pay in US or Canadian dollars. Does it make a difference vis-à-vis fees and conversion? Thanks.



    • Robb Engen on February 4, 2015 at 9:41 am

      That’s interesting John, and good to know. I think it would depend on what the exchange rate, or spot rate, is at the retailer in question. If you use a credit card that charges 2.5% for foreign currency conversion, then it would make sense to pay in Canadian dollars, all things being equal.

      Again, I’d ask what exchange rate they’re offering and compare that to the current rate. This Bank of Canada page uses the average quotes from financial institutions over the last five days – http://www.bankofcanada.ca/rates/exchange/noon-rates-5-day/



  6. gary on February 24, 2015 at 10:28 am

    excellent post robb. we have been using the sears card for the past two years and have racked up over $ 200. in sears points. in addition we have saved $500. in transaction fees AND the conversion rate is always better than the banks. (usually 1 to 2%). we will be switching to the amazon card when we get home, although that marriott card is worth consideration.



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