Check Currency Exchange Fees Before Trip

Dear Credit Card Adviser,

How can I find out foreign exchange rates charged by credit cards, in particular American Express, ahead of making the purchase in foreign currency? The AmEx customer service does not have an answer for me.
-- Manoj

Dear Manoj,

These days, it's easy to find out how much your credit card issuer charges as a foreign transaction fee for international purchases. Foreign transaction fees also are called currency conversion fees.

If banks impose such a charge, a new federal law known as the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act, or Credit CARD Act, requires them to disclose the fee in the terms and conditions for new credit cards. Look for it in the summary box that contains rate and fee information.

Asking customer service is another way to find out. I'm not sure how you phrased your question to the representative, but I'd simply ask what the foreign transaction fee is on your credit card. It's not a state secret, so the representative should be able to tell you. If not, ask for a supervisor.

For the record, American Express (NYSE:AXP) charges 2.7 percent of each foreign purchase, except for Platinum and Centurion cards, which don't have the fee. American Express dropped the fee from those cards at the end of the first quarter.

Other issuers have jumped on the fee-waiving bandwagon. Chase (NYSE:JPM) dumped the fee from seven of its credit cards, and Citigroup (NYSE:C) did so on two of its cards. Capital One (NYSE:COF) doesn't charge currency conversion fees on its credit cards for overseas transactions.

It's a good idea to compare the foreign transaction fees charged on all of your credit cards so you can take along the cards with the lowest fees. Consult this chart of foreign transaction fees to see the fees charged by the largest U.S. card issuers.

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