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

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 and cost us the least in foreign exchange.

And we found it.

Thanks to our research, we’re going to come out a few hundred dollars ahead.

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: Not For Travel Points Hackers

Our research ignores any hacking of convoluted rewards systems to earn free flights and hotels.

We just don’t have the mental energy to get involved in that. All we want is one go-to credit card that we can use everywhere and anywhere we travel outside of Canada.

Simple.

Outline

The Findings:

  • The 5 best credit cards (and 2 worst), who should choose which, and why.

The Criteria:

  • What factors we considered and you should too when choosing your credit card.
Selection of Canadian credit cards
Choose your credit card. Sorry, no magic tricks though.

Which Card to Choose

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

Your choice will depend 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:


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.

Best Free Card (If You Make More than $80k a Year):

Rogers World Elite Mastercard

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 have to call Rogers in December to request a statement credit.

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

 

 


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.

Best Free Card (If You Make Less than $80k a Year):

Home Trust Preferred Visa

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.

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
  • Little Perks: None
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Minimum Income Requirement: None

 


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

Best Card for Longer-Term, Middle-Income, and Lounge-Loving Travelers

Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite

The $139 annual fee for the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite card is probably worth it if you:

  • Typically travel for more than 10 days at a time (it covers 25 days, 15 more than the Rogers World Elite)
  • Make more than $60k but less than $80k a year, since you’re not eligible 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.

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: 1% on most
    • Foreign Transaction Fees: 0%
    • Cash Back: 1% on all everything everything except grocery, dining, entertainment, and transit, which you get 2% on
  • 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

 


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

Best Card for Us and Travelers Like Us:

The HSBC Premier World Elite Credit Card

The HSBC Premier World Elite Credit Card is neck-and-neck with the Scotiabank card. It costs $10 more per year and offers 6 days longer medical insurance (31 vs. 25), a $100 travel enhancement credit instead of 6 lounge passes, and free worldwide Boingo WiFi.

We chose this card because Chris gets the discount for having an HSBC account, the first year is free, the $100 travel enhancement is more valuable to us than the lounge passes, and we spend over a month traveling at a time, so the more days we don’t have to pay for insurance the better.

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

 


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

Best Credit Cards to Keep an Eye On:

Brim Financial Standard / World / World Elite Mastercard

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 almost 5,000 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, 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 any card mentioned here, 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).

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

 


Rogers Platinum Mastercard

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

Best Not to Get These Cards:

Rogers Platinum Mastercard and Fido Mastercard

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 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
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?”

What Makes the Best Credit Cards for Traveling

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. 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

More Travel Tips

If you appreciated our advice on finding the best Canadian credit cards for international travel, you might enjoy these Unconventional Route posts from Kim and I too:

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