Credit card for USA travel

On your trip to the USA, you will need a credit card for many everyday things. Booking hotels, making a deposit on a rental car, and even ordinary shopping will be much easier with one. However, there are big differences in travel credit cards for the USA.

The best credit cards for USA travel

Some credit cards are more suitable for the USA than others. This is mainly due to the lack of widespread acceptance and eliminating additional fees, e.g., for a cash withdrawal or conversion to US dollars.

Top 5 credit cards for the USA

Among the countless credit cards, some offers are particularly well suited for your trip to the USA. We compare the best offers for you:

Barclays Visa

The free Visa card from Barclays tempts you with unbeatable zero rates, "pay later" options, and 0% installment purchases. The flexible repayment models are particularly exciting with this credit card, and you can choose between each of them within a period of eight weeks.

With the "pay later" option, you can choose between a flexible monthly statement as a total amount or in installments. The installment function is automatically preset and can be deselected.

As an additional service, you can apply for up to three free partner cards. Paying with Apple Pay or Google Pay is also possible with your new Barclays Visa.

The most important advantages at a glance:

  • No monthly or annual fee
  • Pay free of charge worldwide
  • Withdraw money worldwide with no fees

The added value of this credit card for US travel is obvious: You can enjoy stress-free shopping across the United States with no additional fees. As long as you keep an eye on the different billing options (installment or total) with the 8-week time limit, the Barclays Visa remains an ideal travel partner for your USA vacation!

Get your Barclay Visa Card

American Express Green Card

Thanks to the lucrative Membership Rewards program and the low annual fee, which may even be waived completely, the AMEX Green Card is a good alternative to other membership credit cards.

Despite the low or even completely waived annual fee, the AMEX Green Card gives you insurance benefits and additional protection in the form of flight delay insurance, baggage delay insurance, and misuse protection for the card.

In addition, you can access modern payment technologies like Apple Pay and contactless payments. Your participation in the AMEX Offers program is free of charge. Here, you can benefit from recurring offers from various partners and receive discounts on shopping and travel.

American Express Green Card advantages

AMEX Green Card facts:

  • Collect points with every Euro you spend
  • Special AMEX offers
  • No card fee, starting from €9,000 annual turnover
  • Travel insurance included

The American Express Green Card offers a lot of benefits for your USA trip. Membership Rewards points can be redeemed in numerous ways, such as first-class flights. The low-cost entry into the Membership Rewards program makes the AMEX Green Card attractive to those who are not eligible for the American Express Gold Card or do not want to pay its annual fee in the long term are well served by the American Express Card.

Insider tip: If you want to immigrate to the USA, AMEX is your perfect partner! Learn how to build up a credit score in the USA with American Express with no effort!

American Express Gold Card

Anyone who puts the golden credit card from American Express on the table truly makes an impression. Yet it's not expensive at all! For a monthly membership fee of €12, you can collect points with your golden AMEX when paying, enjoy extensive insurance coverage, and use contactless payment.

Many millions of acceptance points worldwide give you important "Membership Rewards" points with every purchase: You earn one point for every Euro you spend. A free additional Gold Card for family members or fellow travelers also helps you collect points.

American Express also offers you free SMS and email notifications, an AMEX app, payment with Apple Pay, and a non-stop phone service as a special service.

American Express Gold Card advantages

Key benefits at a glance:

  • 12 months free thanks to a €144 starting credit
  • Points earning, discounts, credits, and rewards
  • Travel insurance coverage for flights, theft, trip cancellation, baggage, car cover, accidents, and more

With these benefits, the American Express Gold Card is the perfect secondary card for your USA vacation. While you use your primary card to make those big deposits on accommodations and withdraw money regularly, you can use your AMEX to store freely, earn points, secure discounts on car rentals and events, and enjoy your vacation in the United States comfortably and well insured.

American Express Platin Card

The AMEX Platin Card is a true premium credit card with a lot of benefits and services. For the annual fee of €660, you’ll get big travel rewards, a lot of goodies, airport lounge access, hotel benefits, concierge- and shipping services, and just so many discounts!

American Express Platin Card advantages

In addition, you travel with extra protection. AMEX Platin Card overview:

  • Yearly travel credit of €200, e.g., for flights, hotel stays, and car rental bookings.
  • €200 annual SIXT ride car rental credit
  • Up to 7 additional credit cards for free
  • Contactless payment
  • Access to over 1,200 airport lounges
  • Special parking and car-drop-off-services
  • Collect points with every purchase
  • Premium ticket reservations for shows, events, and restaurants
  • Travel health insurance, travel cancellation insurance, luggage insurance, personal liability- and accident insurance

Bigger is better! If you want to enjoy your USA vacation to the fullest and with the appropriate premium luxury, then the AMEX Platinum Card is just right for you!

Santander BestCard Basic

Even if you are not a Santander customer yet, you can get the BestCard Basic for your trip to the USA. This free Visa card has many advantages that make your vacation in the United States easy.

These include contactless payment and the option of a free partner card. The discounts on fuel bills included in the BestCard Basic are applied up to a monthly fuel turnover of €200, and when paying in Euros, even the 1.5% foreign transaction fee is waived.

Santander BestCard Basic advantages

The most important advantages of the Santander BestCard Basic include:

  • No annual fee
  • Discounts on fuel bills (1%) and travel (5%)
  • Free cash withdrawals worldwide - four times a month

Given these benefits, the Santander BestCard Basic makes a great choice as your main credit card for your USA vacation, as you can make quick and easy payments with this Visa card. The high acceptance rate of Visa cards also saves you from unpleasant surprises when paying.

After your credit card application, it takes about a week for your ready-to-use credit card to arrive in the mail. You can apply securely and easily via video identification on the Internet.

Your Santander Credit Card

Credit cards for the USA: overview

When searching for the perfect credit card for travel to the USA, you will encounter countless providers, five different credit card products, and five different billing methods. When you're offered credit cards by car manufacturers, department stores, online stores, and brokers, the confusion is perfect.

The key here is that every company that offers you a deal has to work with one of the major credit card companies. Therefore, it almost doesn't matter which company provides it as long as it is a widely recognized credit card product. These include:

  • VISA
  • MasterCard
  • American Express (AMEX)
  • Diners Club
  • JCB-Karte

The most widely accepted products are VISA and MasterCard. With AMEX, you can encounter rejection in stores, hotels, and restaurants in the USA, and with Diners Club, the acceptance is even lower. Last on the list is the rarely accepted JCB card from Japan.

You can tell what type of credit card you have by looking at the front of the plastic card. There is a logo or lettering printed on it. In general, we would recommend that you apply for two different credit cards for your trip to the USA to remain solvent at all times.

Types of credit cards

Common credit cards include debit cards, charge cards, credit or revolving cards, and prepaid credit cards.

Debit card

When you use a debit card within the USA, your purchases are debited from your account promptly.

Charge card

The charge card is the typical credit card model with a fixed payment date at the end of a predetermined billing period. The bank account does not need to be funded at card use, and there is no immediate overdraft.

Due to the time delay in the debit, the charge card is very practical for larger amounts of money, and you have a high degree of flexibility. Thanks to the credit check before issuing a charge credit card, acceptance on USA travel is very high.

Daily charge card

A combination of debit cards and charge cards is the daily charge credit card. With this model, you can deposit a credit balance or use a fixed credit line deducted directly from your account. Another advantage: If your account is no longer covered, the credit card amount is only debited at the end of the month.

Revolving card

Providers of revolving credit cards entice you with the fact that you can repay large amounts in small installments. At first glance, these credit cards are free of charge. However, what is often concealed in comparison portals is the high interest on the amount owed.

Think twice before using a revolving credit card because often, there is no way around partial payment with interest. In contrast to the charge card, you do not have to repay the loan in one piece at the end of the billing period.

Tip
Keep the option open to use your revolving credit card as a charge card but fall back on installment payments in case of emergency. To do this, you can deselect the mandatory installment payment.

Prepaid credit card

A prepaid credit card promises increased security because by depositing a fixed amount of money in advance, you have absolute control over the sums of money you use. However, this "beginner credit card" also has some disadvantages.

Since a prepaid card is very easy to get (because it doesn't require a credit check), you won't get very far with it in the USA. Especially for rental car deposits and hotel bookings, prepaid credit cards are often declined.

They may also cause problems when paying at old credit card terminals ("imprinters") because they usually do not have embossing, i.e., no physically protruding numbers that can be printed by "tracing" them onto paper.

In addition, "offline" card readers cannot be used to check the live balance of a prepaid card, making them useless for deposit queries. For this reason, prepaid credit cards are marked "electronic use only."

As a rule, prepaid credit cards can only be used on readers that are connected to the Internet. Meanwhile, there are also specially manufactured prepaid cards with high embossing, but this is only a cosmetic measure. A car rental company or a hotel employee will immediately recognize the "fraud."

Which is the right credit card for USA travel?

When choosing your credit card for the USA, consider what activities you have planned during your stay in America. If you're generally more comfortable with cash in your pocket, you'll appreciate the option for free cash withdrawals, for example. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I want to rent a car or a motor home in the USA?
  • Do I want to rent a hotel room or an apartment in the USA?
  • Do I want to refuel a car in the USA?
  • Do I want to withdraw money in the USA?
  • How much money will I spend approximately?

Now that you know exactly what you want to use your credit card for, you can compare offers from different companies. For each offer, go through the following questions:

  • Is there an annual fee for the credit card?
  • Is there a fee for withdrawing money in the USA?
  • Is there a fee for using this card in the USA?
  • Is the credit card accepted nationwide?
  • What is the billing model?

Most people opt for a VISA or MasterCard and use an AMEX as a secondary card at the end of these questions. One reason for this may be the additional insurance, discounts, and bonus programs of most AMEX cards.

However, the additional security in the event of rejections and card blocking also prompts USA travelers to carry at least two different credit cards.

Additional services with credit cards

Besides a good travel credit card, are you looking for some bargains on insurance, coupons, or bonus miles? Then you won't be disappointed. The following options are currently on the market:

  • Integrated international health insurance
  • Air miles
  • Discount on product purchases
  • Fuel vouchers
  • Travel insurance

USA trip with credit card: preparations

Found the credit card of your dreams? Great, now you have to activate it for your trip to the USA and get a PIN. It's also important to set a return date with your credit card provider. This will help prevent unauthorized charges after your trip home.

In case of suspicious activities (e.g., charges by unknown persons), your credit card may be blocked by your provider as a precaution. In this case, you should have a second credit card and all important phone numbers and contacts at hand.

Be informed about getting cash in case of an emergency and how long you would have to wait for a replacement card. If you need to change money, go only to official exchange offices. Also, set up an alternative payment method, such as Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay, etc., to be safe.

Tip
If you do not have a credit card at the time of your ESTA application, you can also pay for your US travel authorization at ESTA-Online with Paypal, Giropay, Apple Pay, EPS, or Sofort.

Do I need a credit card for the USA?

Many everyday things are much easier in the USA with Visa, Mastercard, and Co. Moreover, some things like booking a rental car or reserving a hotel room are hardly possible without any "plastic money."

So if you want to enjoy your stay in the USA without stress and unnecessary obstacles, you should get at least one credit card.

Why do I need a credit card in the USA?

The USA is known for allowing you to pay for almost everything with your credit card. This starts with Starbucks coffee or small purchases in the supermarket and extends to cab rides, parking fees, fuel transactions, or complete travel bookings.

Withdraw money in the USA with a credit car?

You won't get very far in the USA with a conventional debit card. Although there are many ATMs that you can use with a Maestro card, there are often high fees.

Therefore, withdrawing money by credit card is quite common in the United States. With a good travel credit card and at the right ATM, the withdrawal is even free of charge for you.

ATMs can be found on every street corner in the USA and even in restaurants and pubs. However, some ATMs will surprise you with an individual extra fee. In this case, you will get a warning on display so that you can choose another ATM in time.

Attention
Payment service providers have a new trick to scam money out of your pocket: when withdrawing cash from an ATM, you are offered an automatic conversion into your home currency. Please check "no" to prevent additional fees.

Paying by credit card in the USA

In the credit card country of the USA, anything can be paid for with "plastic money." In addition to saving time, you usually get a better exchange rate this way and don't have to leave a large cash deposit.

Rental car

Almost every rental car company in the USA will require a credit card when you make your reservation and will block the deposit amount on your card until you have returned the rented vehicle safely.

Since the car rental deposit may be blocked on your card for a few days beyond the return date, you should set your credit limit accordingly or have a spare credit card ready.

Tip
You probably won't be able to get a rental car in the USA with a prepaid credit card, as blocking the deposit on one is not possible. Therefore, you should get a charge card or debit card for your rental car reservation.

Fuelling

In the USA, you can pay your fuel bill by credit card directly at the pump. To do this, you will be asked to enter a US zip code, which you should ideally have found out beforehand.

However, there is an alternative method: for refueling transactions with payment at the pump, you must deposit your credit card as security before refueling. A certain amount is then blocked (reserved) as a payment guarantee, but the actual charge to your card only happens after refueling.

Hotel rooms

To book a hotel room in the USA, you usually need a credit card on which a deposit can be blocked (i.e., not a prepaid card.) After your check-out, you will get the blocked amount back within a few days.

For round trips through the USA, this procedure can lead to problems because some hotels take a little longer to release the blocked amounts. In addition to an appropriately high credit line, a call to your credit card provider can help you solve this problem.

Sparen Sie bei Ihrem Hotel – hotelscombined.de

Taxicab

Cabs in the USA are equipped with the Passenger Information Monitor (PIM). The display on the back of the driver's seat gives you information about your location, the weather, and the news and also allows you to pay directly by credit card.

Just swipe your credit card through the device and enter your tip amount on display. Afterward, you will receive the bill from the driver, which also includes the cab number. You can use this cab number to communicate with the driver later, e.g., if you have forgotten something in the cab.

Road toll

You have to pay a road toll on many car routes in the USA. Although there is no uniform toll system, credit card payment has become established almost everywhere at highway entrances. The old problem of having enough change for American toll machines has largely been solved.

Public transport

At public transportation ticket machines, it's easiest to pay with your credit card. Paying cash is sometimes not even possible anymore.

At a restaurant

Everywhere in the USA, you can pay the amount for food and drinks and the tip for the service staff with a credit card. This is how it works:

  1. The waiter brings you the bill in a little folder.
  2. You check the bill for accuracy.
  3. You put your credit card together with the bill in the folder.
  4. The waiter collects the folder, authorizes the payment at the terminal, and returns the card to you to sign for the payment on the "restaurant copy.”
  5. You enter the tip amount (20% is appropriate) in the provided line on the "restaurant copy" and sign it.

Tip
When writing down the tip amount, pay attention to the American ways of writing the numbers "7" and "1" to avoid confusion.

Shopping

At the supermarket check-out or during an extended shopping trip, you will be asked by the salesperson whether you want to pay with a debit or credit card. Afterward, you usually swipe your credit card through a scanner at the terminal. Sometimes, you also have to sign.

Credit card fees in the USA

When using your credit card in the USA, various fees may apply, depending on the provider. These include foreign transaction fees, cash withdrawal fees, conversion fees, and annual fees.

Foreign transaction fee

A fee may be charged for the use of a credit card when making payments in US dollars. However, some banks also charge this fee if the amount paid is debited in your home currency but the payment is made outside of your country. The amount of the foreign transaction fee for credit cards varies depending on the credit card and can be between 0.5% and 2%.

Cash fee

When you withdraw money from an ATM with your credit card in the US, your bank may charge a cash fee. Usually, the amount of this fee is a certain percentage of the withdrawn amount, which is between 3% and 4%.

Surcharge fee

Some ATM operators in the USA charge their own fees. However, you will be informed about this kind of charge on display before withdrawing money so that you can still decide in time for another ATM.

Conversion fee

When purchasing in US dollars, you may have to pay a conversion fee in addition to the base exchange rate.

Interest on partial payment

If you have chosen the variant of a "revolving" credit card, then you may find yourself in the position of paying high-interest rates for repaying larger sums. To avoid this, you can deselect the mandatory installment payment when you sign your credit card agreement.

Credit cards without fees

Not all credit card providers charge additional fees for the use, withdrawal of money, or conversion. Therefore, a detailed credit card comparison is worthwhile before you decide on a travel credit card for the USA.

With a little help from credit card experts, you can find the best deal for you. It's also worth looking at any additional services that you can opt out of before signing the contract to save money.

Credit card limits in the USA

To avoid payment problems during your trip to the USA, we recommend that you increase your credit card limit. This is especially useful because of the deposit amounts for rental cars and hotel rooms, which providers or operators will block on your card for a certain period.

Before your trip, calculate your approximate expenses and decide how high your credit limit should theoretically be to enjoy your USA vacation without worries based on your hotel and rental car bookings.

Note
Your bank will probably increase the credit card limit to a maximum of three times your income. Therefore, it is advisable to have at least two credit cards with you on your trip to the USA.

Loss of credit card: what to do?

If you lose your credit card during your trip to the USA or if it is stolen, you must have the card blocked immediately. In this case, you should always have the blocking emergency number and your contacts at banks and credit card institutions at hand.

Credit card blocking call from the USA

If you dial the barring emergency number during your vacation in the USA, you will first be asked to enter a number for classification.

Once you have entered the number, you will be connected to a staff member who you can ask to block your credit card. After that, contact your bank or credit card company and discuss the next steps.

Credit cards for the USA FAQ

Do you have further questions about credit cards for the USA? Then you will hopefully find what you are looking for in our FAQ for travel to the USA with a credit card.

Are there alternatives to credit cards in the USA?

If you don't always want to carry a wallet of credit cards, these days you can also use Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay, Garmin Pay, SwatchPay, Fitbit Pay, and other smartphone payment systems to cover your bills.

Some systems require you to have (and deposit) a physical credit card, but you can also deposit your PayPal account in some cases. Direct payment with the PayPal app is also already possible at many restaurants and stores.

The good old traveler's checks are not yet completely obsolete, but banks and credit institutions have not issued them since 2015 due to security concerns

How do I use a credit card in the USA?

When using your credit card in the USA, you will be confronted with various methods. These include the classic swiping with or without a signature at a terminal, the chip-and-PIN method, and the very old-fashioned manual imprinter method, where your credit card number is printed on paper.

It's best to be prepared for all methods and perhaps practice your first visit to a US restaurant.

When do I need to apply for a travel credit card?

Since it can take a few days from the time of application to the time you receive your new travel credit card for the USA, you should not wait too long before applying. It is best to apply for a credit card and your ESTA application at the beginning of your travel planning.

Which credit cards have no annual fee?

Depending on the country, there are different credit card offers where the annual fee is waived. However, these offers usually do not include a bonus program, and you may have to pay interest on installment payments.

Which credit cards have no foreign transaction fee?

Depending on the country, there are different credit card offers that have no foreign transaction fee. With these offers, however, there is usually no bonus program included.

How do I get a travel credit card for the USA?

Usually, you apply for a credit card at your bank or the credit card provider with the best offer. The best offers might not come from your bank, which is why it's worth looking into credit card comparisons.

Depending on the type of credit card you get, you'll go through a credit check. If you are younger than 18, you will only be able to apply for a prepaid credit card. Other essential criteria for getting a credit card are your residence and your monthly income.

Can I tip with a credit card?

If you want to tip in the USA (which, by the way, is good manners here), you can do so with your credit card. There is a special line to fill in on restaurant bills or the option of entering a percentage at the terminal when paying electronically.

Visa or MasterCard - which is better for the USA?

In the USA, you can get by very well with both a MasterCard and a Visa card. Both types of credit cards are widely accepted, which is not always the case for the competing products from Diners Club and American Express.

My credit card does not work in the USA

If you're standing in front of an ATM or in a restaurant in the USA and withdrawing money or making payments just won't work, then you may have forgotten to have your credit card activated for the USA.

A call to your bank or credit card company should provide clarity. Your customer service representative can also tell you if your card has been blocked and give you more tips on how to fix the problem. In such cases, you should always have a replacement credit card - preferably from another provider - in your pocket.

Travel safely with credit cards in the USA

Now that you know everything about traveling with a credit card in the USA, nothing can go wrong. Nevertheless, one more piece of safety advice: always keep credit cards and PIN codes separate from each other in safe places and keep a record of your spending.

We wish you a great vacation in the USA!

Green Card CheckAre you eligible?

Sources:
test.de, wikipedia.org, sperr-notruf.de, stern.de, wiwo.de, mastercard.de