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Overseas credit card spending soars: how much is too much in fees?

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As overseas shopping tops $2.1 billion a month on credit cards, what you pay in transaction fees could also add up. Here's how to save.

Finder analysis of Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) data has found that the amount we spend on overseas credit card purchases has reached a record high.

Collectively, we spent over $2 billion per month up to October 2023 (the most recently reported data).

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The value of overseas credit card purchases between 2019 and 2023. It is now above pre-COVID levels. Source: RBA data Image: Finder

But we're not just spending a higher amount.

The data shows were also making more overseas transactions, with an increase of 18.21% year-on-year.

That can also lead to more fees.

The cost of international transaction fees

Some credit cards and debit cards charge a 2-4% international transaction fee every time you use your card with an overseas business.

As well as when you're travelling, this fee could be charged when you shop online with a business based overseas.

That means you could end up paying an extra $2 to $4 for every $100 of overseas spending.

But international transaction fees are charged after a purchase is converted into Australian dollars.

So, you wouldn't really know how much the fee is until after you used the card, because currency exchange rates change daily.

How to avoid FX fees on a credit card

A simple way to save on this cost is with a credit card that has no or 0% foreign transaction fees.

A few credit cards also offer a rebate on the fee if you meet certain criteria. This is similar to some debit cards.

Another option is a prepaid travel money card. Just keep in mind that it can be harder to use these cards for check-in at hotels or security for a car hire when you're overseas.

Credit card rewards vs. international transaction fees

A key point for travellers is that credit cards with 0% FX fees usually don't offer frequent flyer points or perks.

This is something Sarah Megginson, Finder's Head of Editorial, considers when she's choosing a new card.

"I change my credit card every 18 months or so to take advantage of bonus points offers, and most recently switched to the Citi Premier Qantas credit card," she said.

"It's a fantastic card in terms of earn rate for online purchases, with 1 Qantas Point per $1 spent online. It's not as competitive when it comes to fees, with a currency conversion rate of 3.4%."

Megginson recently spoke to 3AW about the potential cost of this fee, and some of the other hidden charges you could pay.

But she also had a strategy for avoiding international transaction fees when she's travelling.

"On a recent holiday to the United States, I made sure I left this card behind and converted enough cash to last me for the trip instead. This helped me with budgeting, too."

Looking for a new credit card for travel? Compare cards with no foreign transaction fees on Finder.

Image: Getty Images

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