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How to see the exact exchange rate your card charges when you travel

by on Wed January 22, 2014 • 15 Comments

See the exchange rate of your credit card


Traveling abroad is filled with uncertainty, especially when it comes to fees. And nowhere is there more confusion than with the exchange rate you face when you pay with your travel credit card. Are you getting fleeced like you do at kiosks? Will there be extra fees? None of us likes to see a nasty surprise on our credit card statements after returning home, but it happens all too often to all of us.

The good news is you can see exactly what exchange rate you’ll be offered when you use your card for foreign purchases by checking online. That’s because Visa and MasterCard were forced by the European Union to disclose these rates on a daily basis, which apply for all customers globally, and there is good news.

Below are the rates we found at the writing of this article for exchanging dollars to popular foreign currencies. Lower numbers are better. The rates for credit card purchases are very competitive – almost identical to the rates set on the floors of market exchanges every day. And a lot better than what you’d get from Travelex at the airport, which is much higher and ends up being a tax on forgetfulness.

VisaMasterCardTravelexMarket Rate
British Pounds1.6461.6451.8271.646
Japanes Yen0.0100.0100.0110.010
Mexican Pesos0.0760.0760.0840.075
Canadian Dollar0.9150.9111.0170.911

Here are sites check the exchange rates on foreign transactions your card will use right now:

  • Visa current exchange rates
  • MasterCard current exchange rates

American Express doesn’t post the exchange rate it uses, but in our experience it is very close to that of Visa and MasterCard. The variable is the ‘settlement date’ which can be a little later than the day you made your purchase, depending on when the merchant reports the charge.

There are other traps to consider…

Dynamic currency conversion

Foreign currency credit card terminalThis is when you are given the choice to pay in the local currency, or pay in dollars. Usually you’ll see a selection pop up on the card terminal giving you this option. Choosing to pay in dollars will incur an extra fee – often 4% or more – so avoid this option. There is no rational reason for a U.S. cardholder to pay it.

The companies that provide this service say it’s useful because you’re “certain” of the rate you’ll be paying, but there is always an extra fee associated with it, and if you have a card with foreign transaction fees you’ll still get hit with a foreign transaction fee on top of it because the purchase takes place in a foreign country, so you could be paying an extra 7% or more on your transaction. With the exchange rate offered by Visa and MasterCard so competitive and easy to check there’s little reason to accept handling your credit card purchase in dollars when you’re in another country.

Unfortunately some merchants like restaurants don’t always let you see the terminal, letting one of their employees swipe your card. And at those places make sure you ask to pay in the local currency to avoid the extra fee.

One trick – American Express does not allow dynamic conversion and its fees, so if you’re unsure, use your American Express card to pay and you won’t face that charge.

Foreign transaction fees

Visa and MasterCard usually add 1% to foreign transactions, and the bank that issues your card may add another 2% or so. But with cards marketed with no foreign transaction fee as a feature you won’t pay these fees. We have a list below.

Here is a list of travel miles cards with no foreign transaction fees:

  • All Capital One credit cards, including no annual fee Capital One® VentureOne Rewards Credit Card
  • All PenFed credit cards
  • BankAmericard Travel Rewards® (no annual fee)
  • Bank of America Privileges Card
  • Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® – Earn 2x on All Purchases – Offer is no longer available.
  • British Airways Visa Signature® Card
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
  • Citi® Hilton HHonorsTMReserve Card
  • Citi ThankYou® Premier Visa® Signature Card
  • Citi Prestige® Card
  • Citi® Executive / AAdvantage® World Elite MasterCard
  • Delta SkyMiles Gold, Platinum, and Reserve credit cards from American Express (effective May 1st, 2014)
  • Discover It Card (no annual fee)
  • Fairmont Visa from Chase
  • IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card
  • Hawaiian Airlines® World Elite MasterCard®
  • The Hyatt Credit Card
  • Ink Plus® Business Card – No longer available
  • Ink Bold® Business Card – No longer available
  • Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card
  • The Platinum Card® from American Express – all versions
  • Premier Miles & More World MasterCard®
  • Ritz Carlton Rewards from Chase
  • Southwest Airlines® Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card
  • United Club Card
  • United MileagePlus® Explorer Card



The following two tabs change content below.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Miles dont expireas long as card is open
Learn more

Partner Offer

50,000 bonus points

Intro Offer

$0 introductory annual fee the first year, then $95

Annual Fee


Foreign Transaction Fee Waived

Yes - transfer to United MileagePlus, Southwest Rapid Rewards, Marriott Rewards, and more

Points Can Transfer to Airline Miles ?

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15 thoughts on How to see the exact exchange rate your card charges when you travel

  1. Kim

    If I am using a Chase Sapphire Preferred card to pay for a hotel in Italy, there is no foreign transaction fee, but how do I know what conversion rate will be used? It states they won’t be following the normal conversion rates… I’m wondering if it would be wiser to use my Credit Union credit card and pay the 1% foreign transaction fee on that card???

  2. steve

    what i just discovered is visa added approximately 7% to the posted exchange rate and then my bank added another 2.5% to that. When I talked to CIBC about it they told me that visa international sets the rates and CIBC adds their 2.5%. I then spoke with visa international who subsequently told me that my bank sets the rates. I then spoke with my bank again this time to a supervisor (after the usual wait time approx 15 mins) who assured me that visa international has their own “special” way of calculating the rate.
    So to make long story short the Canadian dollar at the time was around $.80 U.S. which is $1.20 cad. I used my credit card in good faith expecting a 2.5% fee which would have brought it to $1.23. Imagine my surprise when my statement showed $1.29 !! I feel so blatantly ripped off by this company that I have faithfully dealt with for probably 30 yrs by now. The worst part of it is I had no warning from them whatsoever they simply are taking my money from me .
    Why is this not against the law and who can I complain too?

    1. Sean

      Actually, Steve, it appears there’s an error on your part in how you understand conversions. 1 CAD = 0.80 USD means that 1 USD = 1/0.80 = 1.25 CAD, not 1.20. This is because the relationship is based on multiplication, not addition, so to calculate the reverse rate we divide, not subtract. Think of it this way, if you want to buy 1 usd, you need a enough Canadian (C) so that C*0.80=1. Therefore C=1/0.80=1.25.

      Add on top of that 2.5% (note this is different than adding $0.025 to the exchange rate, since you’re adding 2.5% of $1.25) is approximately $1.281) so the 1.29 is not far off – in fact, that could simply be explained by the exchange rate being just slightly less than 0.80 at the time the purchase was charged to the card…

      Hope that helps!

      1. steve

        Thanks, very well explained! I had figured my math could be wrong so I asked around and with some help got it figured out using percentages.
        I don’t why it was not explained to me by visa though.

  3. charisse

    Thanks for this article. Although it was posted a while ago it’s still helpful. I will be visiting Mexico soon. I will taking a taxi from the PV airport and using my Chase Sapphire Preferred which has no transaction fee to pay for it. I know there is a price in pesos and in dollars. Do I need to tell them to charge my card in pesos, or does it not matter when using the card? Thank you!


      @charisse – Always accept the charge in the local currency. When they offer to charge you in dollars, the merchant will embed extra fees via a worse exchange rate.

  4. Cleo

    I’m renting an apartment in Europe and the rate is in Euros. I have to submit payment in US dollars and the amount shown in their conversion is much higher than today’s exchange rate. They are telling me they use Bank of America and that is the rate tent are charging. My credit card is not B of A and has no Foreign transaction fees. Why would this occur?


      @Cleo – Why do you need to submit payment in USD? If you do the charge in Euros you’ll get the standard exchange rate of *your* bank instead of B of A, and it will show up on your bill in dollars.

  5. Ted Lengel

    Is it best to wait until I get to Canada and use my Chase debit card to withdraw Canadian money from an ATM? Is there a fee? How much?


      @Ted – Your debit card may have a fee – very few banks or brokerages waive the foreign fees for ATM withdrawals. Charles Schwab is one of them.

  6. Lorna

    I’m thinking of using my AMEX Emirates Skywards card to pay my hotel bill in Dubai whilst on holiday in September. How can I find out what rate will be used on the day or would I be cheaper paying in cash.



      @Lorna – That particular card appears to have a 2.99% fee on top of the currency conversion, so paying cash will be cheaper.

  7. Jeff

    The dynamic conversion is such a scam. And the US guys make it worse by layering the foreign transaction fees on top.

    For cards issued in Europe at least they only charge a ‘currency conversion’ fee so if you select dynamic conversion you will only pay whatever the dynamic conversion up charge is. But US cards will hit you double unless you have one with no foreign transaction fees.


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