Cover of me picking the best Canadian credit card for international travel

Disclosure: Whenever possible, we use links that earn us a cut if you pay for stuff we recommend. It costs you nothing, so we’d be crazy not to. Read our affiliate policy here.

Play Your Cards Right

As Kim and I prepare to head abroad for another six months, we’ve (finally) resolved to play our cards right. We scoured the internet for the best Canadian credit card for international travel—one that would earn us the most rewards with the lowest foreign exchange fees.

And we found it.

Thanks to our research, we’re going to come out a few hundred dollars ahead, especially since most credit cards charge 2.5% foreign exchange fees! Our cards are so handy that Kim even included them among her 15 favorite travel essentials.

If only we’d done this sooner!

The same goes for you.

Here’s how to play your cards right and get the best Canadian credit card for international travel.

Relaxing on a hammock on a beach
We want to relax when we travel, not worry about which credit card to use.

Disclaimer:

We’re looking for the best Canadian credit cards for when we’re traveling abroad, not for using at home before we leave.

And by “best” we mean the one that minimizes expenses and fees and maximizes cash back.

Simple.

Outline

  • The Findings: The 5 best credit cards (and 2 worst), who should choose which, and why.
  • The Criteria: What factors we considered in our choices and why they are important.

The Best Card…s

Selection of Canadian credit cards
Choose your credit card. Sorry, no magic tricks though.

There is no absolute best credit card for Canadians traveling abroad.

Your choice depends on your income level and how long you typically travel for.

And your choice shouldn’t depend on the bank you use. For example, you can get the Scotiabank card even if you bank with CIBC (though you might get a discount if you bank with Scotiabank.)

Here’s what we found are the best credit cards to choose from:

Best Card for 10-Day-or-More and Lounge-Loving Travelers:

Scotiabank Visa Infinite credit card
If you like airport lounges and/or longer-term travel, consider the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite.

Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite

What You Get:

  • Annual Fee: $139 ($69 if you have a Scotia Total Equity Plan account),
    • Supplementary Card: $0 for 1st one, then $50
  • Net Cash Back: 2% on most travel-related spending
    • Foreign Transaction Fees: 0%
    • Cash Back: 2% on groceries, dining, entertainment, and transit. 1% on everything else.
  • Travel Medical Insurance: 25 days (10 if aged 65+)
  • Baggage Insurance: $1,000 per trip
  • Trip Cancellation and Interruption: $2,500 pp, $10,000 per trip
  • Car Rental: 48 days up to $65,000
  • Extra Perks:
    • 6 Priority Pass airport lounge passes a year
  • Minimum Income Requirement: $60,000 individual, $100,000 household

Our Verdict:

If we didn’t get a discount on the HSBC World Elite for having an account with them, this is the card we would have gotten. 

The $139 annual fee for the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite card is your best bet if you meet any one or more of these criteria:

  • Typically travel for more than 10 days at a time because its insurance covers you for 25 days, 15 more than the zero-fee Rogers World Elite.
  • Make more than $60k a year but less than $80k, which is the minimum for the Rogers card.
  • Are willing to spend extra to be able to hang out in airport lounges. The card comes with six annual free passes.

Be Careful

I’ve noticed most other sites that are rating and reviewing these no foreign exchange fee credit cards pimp this Scotiabank one pretty hard.

You wanna know why?

Because it pays the highest commission.

Don’t get me wrong, it is a good card, but don’t fall for their over-the-top selling tactics either.

Bonus Offer:

Scotiabank PassportTM Visa Infinite* Card

Best Card for Us and Travelers Like Us:

HSBC World Elite Mastercard.
We chose the HSBC card for a variety of reasons. If you’re similar to us, you might too.

The HSBC Premier World Elite Credit Card

What You Get:

  • Annual Fee: $149 annual fee ($99 for HSBC account holders)
    • Additional Card: $0
  • Net Cash Back: 1.5% on most
    • Foreign Transaction Fees: 0%
    • Cash Back: 3% on flights, hotels, car rentals, tours; 1.5% on all else
  • Travel Medical Insurance: 31 days
  • Trip Cancellation and Interruption: $2,000 per person, $5,000 per trip
  • Baggage Insurance: $750 per person, $200 for necessities if bags delayed 12 hours or more
  • Car Rental: Up to 31 days per rental, $2,000 theft of personal effects, $65,000 max car value
  • Extra Perks:
    • $100 per year of travel enhancement credit to pay for seat upgrades, baggage fees, or airport lounge passes
    • Global Boingo wireless access for up to 4 devices
  • Minimum Income Requirement: $80,000 individual income, $150,000 household income, or $400,000 assets under management in Canada

Our Verdict:

The HSBC Premier World Elite Credit Card is neck-and-neck with the Scotiabank card.

The downsides compared to the Scotiabank card are that it costs $10 more per year, doesn’t include lounge passes, and only offers 1.5% (vs 2%) on groceries, dining, entertainment.

The benefits compared to the Scotiabank card are 6 days longer medical insurance (31 vs. 25), a $100 travel enhancement credit, and higher cash back (3% vs 1%) on flights, hotels, car rentals, and tours.

We chose this card because I get a discount for having an HSBC account, the first year is free, the $100 travel enhancement is more valuable to Kim and me than the lounge passes, and the extra travel insurance saves us some money because we travel for more than a month at at time.

Best Zero-Fee Card (If You Make More than $80k a Year):

Rogers World Elite Credit Card
The Rogers World Elite is the best free credit card for Canadians who earn more than $80k a year and are traveling abroad.

Rogers World Elite Mastercard

What You Get:

  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Net Cash Back: 1.5%
    • Foreign Transaction Fees: 2.5%
    • Cash Back: 4% on purchases in foreign currency, 1.75% in purchases in Canadian dollars
  • Travel Medical Insurance: 10 days. This card covers you even if you don’t charge your travel expenses to it.
  • Baggage Insurance: $0
  • Trip Cancellation and Interruption: $1,000 per person, $5,000 per account
  • Car Rental: Up to 31 days per rental, $0 theft of personal effects, $65,000 max car value
  • Little Perks: Nothing worth mentioning
  • Minimum Income Requirement: $80,000 annual personal or $150,000 annual household

Our Verdict:

With the Rogers World Elite you get a pretty sweet 1.5% cash back on foreign currency purchases and 10 days travel insurance for free.

The downsides are you have to make $80,000 or more a year and the cash back is not automatic. You also have to call Rogers in December to request a statement credit. 

Best Zero-Fee Card (If You Make Less than $80k a Year):

Home Trust Preferred Visa credit card
If you make less than $80k a year and don’t want to pay for a card, the Home Trust Preferred Visa is your best bet.

Home Trust Preferred Visa

What You Get:

  • Net Cash Back: 1%
    • Foreign Transaction Fees: 0%
    • Cash Back: 1%. Maximum 10 transactions a day.
  • Travel Medical Insurance: None
  • Baggage Insurance: None
  • Trip Cancellation and Interruption: None
  • Car Rental: 48 days, $65,000 max, and roadside assistance in North America
  • Little Perks: None
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Minimum Income Requirement: None

Our Verdict:

The Home Trust Preferred Visa gives you 1% cash back and zero foreign exchange frees and that’s it.

But it doesn’t take much from you either because it’s free. It also doesn’t have the minimum income requirement that the Rogers World Elite card does.

The big downside of this card is the lack of travel insurance.

To get free insurance elsewhere, check if your bank account credit card comes with some insurance. If so, you could buy your flight with it, then use the Home Trust card while traveling to save on foreign exchange fees.

Best Credit Cards to Keep an Eye On:

Brim Credit Cards
We wouldn’t recommend getting the Brim Credit Cards, but they have potential, so they’re worth keeping an eye on.

Brim Financial Standard / World / World Elite Mastercard

What You Get:

  • Annual Fee: $0 /$99 / $199
  • Net Cash Back: 1% / 1.5% / 2%
    • Foreign Transaction Fees: 0%
    • Cash Back: 1% / 1.5% / 2%
  • Travel Medical Insurance: 0 / 8 days, $5,000,000, <65 years old / 15 days, $5,000,000 (3 days if >65)
  • Baggage Insurance: 0 / $1,000 pp, $2,000 max / $1,000 pp, $2,000 max
  • Trip Cancellation and Interruption: 0 / 0 / $2,000 pp up to $5,000 cancellation; $5,000 pp up to $25,000 interruption
  • Car Rental: 0 / 48 days, $65,000 max / 48 days, $85,000 max
  • Little Perks:
    • Free Boingo WiFi
    • Mobile device insurance $500 / $1,000 / $1,000
  • Additional Cards: $0 / $20 / $50
  • Minimum Income Requirement: 0 / uncertain / $80,000 individual

Our Verdict:

Brim’s cards are new on the scene, for better or for worse.

Since launching earlier this year with some fanfare, big promises, and a flashy website, there have been a lot of hiccups and online complaints (see the more than 6,000 comments on this RedFlag forum). It took them forever to deliver the cards to the people who applied, and the jury’s out on whether they will ever deliver on what they promise.

One huge concern relates to Brim’s claims to have zero foreign transaction fees. Instead of using Mastercard’s exchange rates, they’ve decided to use their own, so it’s unclear whether they might actually take a cut of their own.

The free card is essentially the same as the Home Trust one, minus car insurance plus free Boingo WiFi and $500 mobile phone insurance.

The $99 card is probably only worth considering if you make less than $80,000 a year. Otherwise, you can get about the same benefits for free with the Rogers World Elite. That, or pay $40 more a year and get the Scotiabank card with better cash back, better insurance, and the six free airport lounge passes.

And the $199 card has the most generous cash back rewards of all the foreign exchange free credit cards we’ve found, but it’s still probably not worth it compared to the cheaper Scotiabank and HSBC cards.

Given the uncertainty around Brim, I’d recommend waiting to see whether they can deliver on their promises (and deliver their cards to applicants).

Best Not to Get These Cards:

Rogers Platinum Mastercard

Fido Mastercard
Get the Home Trust or Brim credit card instead of these ones.

Rogers Platinum Mastercard and Fido Mastercard

What You Get:

  • Net Cash Back: 0.5%
    • Foreign Transaction Fees: 2.5%
    • Cash Back: 3%
  • Travel Medical Insurance: None
  • Baggage Insurance: None
  • Trip Cancellation and Interruption: None
  • Car Rental: None
  • Little Perks: None
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Minimum Income Requirement: None

Our Verdict:

There’s really no reason to get these credit cards for your international travels because they give you less cash back than the Brim and Home Trust alternatives and don’t offer anything the others don’t.

What Makes the Best Credit Cards for Traveling

kim buying mango in el valle town bahia solano on colombia's pacific coast
Kim: “Can I pay for this mango with my zero foreign exchange fee credit card by any chance?”

Zero Foreign Transaction Fees

Using most Canadian credit cards while traveling abroad is like walking around with holes in your pockets. Money steadily trickles out of them and you might not even notice.

That’s because just about every Canadian credit card charges a 2.5% fee for every transaction done in foreign currency. So if you pay for a 200 Euro hotel room in France, you’ll be charged an extra 5 euros. Or if you buy a pair of shoes from Nike.com for 100 US dollars, your card will charge you an extra $2.50 US.

This 2.5% adds up.

But it’s small enough that credit card companies try to hide it. They’re baked into the total transaction cost so you don’t even see that hole in your pocket that they’re feeding off.

Don’t let them get away with it. Find a card that doesn’t have this 2.5% foreign transaction fee and sew up the hole in your pocket.

Cash Back on Travel Expenses

The yin to the 2.5% foreign transaction fee’s yang is cash back. Cash back is the percent reward credit cards pay you for every transaction you make with it. The more cash back, the better.

And we’re talking about pure cash, not points. As we said before, we’re not interested in the travel hacking points game.

To us, a buck in the hand is worth two theoretical bucks worth of points in the bush.

Travel insurance quote screenshot
It’d cost $254 for the 31 days of travel insurance that comes with our credit card

Travel Medical Insurance

As you can see in the screenshot above, the 31 days of coverage Kim and I get from the HSBC credit card we ended up choosing would have cost $254 dollars if we’d bought it on its own.

For you, 31 days may be more than you need. Maybe you only ever get away for just a week or two max. In that case, just be careful your card doesn’t limit the number of trips you can take a year.

And definitely don’t ignore travel insurance and expect your provincial health care coverage to come to the rescue if you have a medical issue abroad. Of the thousands of dollars a day a foreign hospital can cost you, your province might cover you for just $75 of it. Either you pay the rest, or you find an insurer who will.

For an easy-to-follow guide, check out our guide to finding the best travel insurance for Canadians here.

Warning: Your credit card will only provide travel insurance if you use it for 75% to 100% (depending on the card) of “Eligible Expenses”—transportation, hotels, and packaged tours.

Chris by his silly looking rental car in Louisiana
The ridiculous-looking rental car Chris got during his Southern USA road trip was covered by his credit card.

Car Rental Insurance

If you plan on renting a car while traveling abroad, complementary insurance provided by your credit card is an added bonus.

Note that the insurance offered by credit cards only covers damage to the vehicle you rent. It doesn’t cover damage to you, your passengers, and whatever you smash into (or smashes into you). Most rental car companies provide third-party damage, but definitely double check before taking a car off the lot.

To be covered by your credit card, you have to use the card for the reservation, payment, and payment guarantee, and decline the rental car company’s Collision Damage Waiver and/or Loss Damage Waiver Coverage.

This post from Nerd Wallet has more details on what to look out for when renting a car and relying on your credit card’s insurance.

best travel tips and tricks cover image of Kim in jeep with locals in Jordan

Travel Better for Better Travel

The Travel Tips Our Moms Never Told Us

9 Fun and Fast Ways to Stay Fit While Traveling

9 Essential Tips and Tricks for Using Google Maps While Traveling

8 Simple Steps to Save Your Ass and Save Money by Finding the Best Travel Insurance

Speak Up!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*
*