Visa, MasterCard, or American Express: Which is Best for Overseas Use?

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Can’t decide if you should bring a Visa, MasterCard or American Express credit card when you travel? Find out which credit card is best to use overseas.

First published on 13 August 2015. Last updated on 19 October 2016.

When Singaporeans make purchases on a credit card overseas, there is a currency exchange rate to consider. These rates differ based on the credit cards you use. The differences are small but add up over time. And besides cash, you do have to consider other factors like convenience.

So if you were comparing credit cards to take with you abroad, which one should you choose – a Visa, MasterCard, or American Express?

What is the Difference between Visa, MasterCard, and American Express?

Visa and MasterCard are intermediaries. They connect merchants with banks, a service for which both parties pay them. Visa and MasterCard process transactions when you pay with their credit cards, but they do not forward you the credit you are using (that money comes from your issuing bank). American Express (Amex) however, is different. It is both a distributor as well as a card issuer.

All you need to know is that, due to these differences, the available services and costs will not be similar.

foreign-currency-exchange

Currency Exchange Differences

When you use a credit card overseas, there are three layers of charges you will face. These are:

  • The Cross-Border Transaction Fee
  • The Foreign Exchange Fee
  • The Card Company Fee

The card company fees are fixed regardless of the bank. Visa and MasterCard both charge a fee of 1% when you convert currency and make purchases abroad.

However, one difference is that MasterCard has a lower fee (0.2%) if you convert currency, but make the purchase in Singapore. An example is when you purchase something on Amazon.com.

The other two fees, the cross-border transaction fee and the foreign exchange fee, change based on the bank. Below is a table of foreign transaction fees you can expect from different card issuers:

Credit Card Foreign Transaction Fees in Singapore

Credit Card Issuer Visa MasterCard

American Express

American Express 2.5%
ANZ 2.5% 2.5%
CIMB * 3.2% 2.4%
Citibank 2.5% 2.5% 3.3%
DBS 2.5% 2.5% 3%
HSBC 2.5% 2.5% 2.5%
Maybank 2.5% 2.5%
Maybank Visa Infinite, Visa Diamante, and World MasterCard 2.75% 2.75%
POSB 2.5% 2.5% 3%
Standard Chartered 3.5% 3.5%
UOB 2.5% 2.5% 3.25%
UOB PRVI Miles World MasterCard and PRVI Miles Visa Card 3.25% 3.25%

* Bank charges are waived for CIMB Platinum MasterCard and CIMB Visa Platinum Card

Note that Visa, MasterCard, and American Express’s transaction fee typically ranges from 1 to 1.8%, and that the card issuer adds another 1.5% to 2.5%. This means that when you are bringing a card abroad, there is a better chance of getting a good rate from either Visa, MasterCard, or American Express credit cards. But this difference is a small one.

Versatility

How many merchants will accept the card you’re carrying? Visa is accepted in over 200 countries, whereas Amex is accepted in around 140 countries. MasterCard is a little tight lipped about its network, but it estimated that it’s accepted in over 210 countries, making it the most versatile option of the three.

It is always a good idea to check ahead on where you’re visiting, to see if your card has wide acceptance. There’s no point having a credit card that’s only of use in your hotel.

credit-card-for-overseas

Customer Service Quality

Amex is legendary for its concierge services. The premiere Amex cards are undoubtedly the best for overseas use, and its concierge service (at platinum level and above) can reportedly even get reservations in Michelin star restaurants within the hour.

If you’re lucky enough to have access to premiere Amex cards, that’s the one you bring with you overseas. It’s almost a no-brainer. But even regular Amex cards have a 24-hour hotline you can call if you need help overseas, or if your card gets lost or stolen while traveling.

Visa and MasterCard are close in terms of customer service. Visa may be slightly ahead, due to its capability to replace your credit card within one business day when you lose it. The new card can be mailed to your location. This is a useful point to consider, if you don’t want to take chances or are going places where losing your stuff is a real risk.

credit cards vs debit cards in singapore

It’s More About the Specific Card than the Card Company

As you can tell, the competition between card companies is tight. Amex is arguably the best choice if you qualify for premiere cards, MasterCard seems to have slightly wider acceptance, and Visa is quicker on card replacement.

These are good to know, but they’re not game changers. That comes down to whether your specific card matches your spending habits, to maximise the rewards you can get. In order to find the best credit card for those purposes, you can check the comparison tools on SingSaver.com.sg.

Read This Next:

Which Air Miles Card Are You?
5 Best Credit Cards for Overseas Dining


Ryan
By Ryan Ong
Ryan has been writing about finance for the last 10 years. He also has his fingers in a lot of other pies, having written for publications such as Men’s Health, Her World, Esquire, and Yahoo! Finance.