Credit Cards

2019 Edition: Best Cards for Overseas Spending

Using your credit card overseas can be quite rewarding, if you pick the right one.
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Although it’s “free” to use your credit card in Singapore (unless the merchant imposes a surcharge, which they really shouldn’t), swiping it overseas entails an explicit cost thanks to foreign currency transaction fees.

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Banks know that consumers are generally skittish about bringing their cards on holiday. Therefore, they try to incentivize usage by offering bonus points on foreign currency transactions. In fact, almost every general spending card on the market offers a higher earning rate on foreign currency transactions than those in SGD.

Because of the fee involved, many people ask me whether it’s “worth it” to use their cards overseas to earn miles. To answer this question, you need to ask yourself:

  1. How much do you value a mile?
  2. How much are you paying for miles when you use your credit card overseas?

We’ve addressed the first question in this article (tl;dr: 1.8 cents, but it varies depending on the individual). Now let’s look at the second.

What fees do banks impose for foreign currency transactions?

Here’s the fees that each bank charges for foreign currency transactions (inclusive of the fees levied by Visa/Mastercard/AMEX)

BankVisa/MCAMEXRemarks
DBS3.0%3.0%
UOB2.8% (3.1% from 4 Sept)3.25%UOB PRVI Miles MC/Visa, UOB Reserve, KrisFlyer UOB: 3.25%
OCBC3.0%N/A
Citibank3.0%3.3%
HSBC2.8%N/A
SCB3.5%N/A
Maybank2.75%N/A
CIMB3.0%N/A
BOC3.0%N/A
AMEXN/A2.5%
You can use the official Visa and Mastercard currency converters to get an estimate of the final amount that will post to your card. AMEX does not have a similar tool.
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In general, we’ve seen these fees creep up over the past 12 months, as almost every bank (bar AMEX) has raised their fees.

How much are you paying per mile?

Given the foreign currency transaction fees and FCY earn rates, here’s how much you effectively pay per mile.

FCYFeeCPMRemarks
OCBC 90°N Card4.03.0%0.75Until 29 Feb 2020, 2.1 mpd after
UOB Visa Signature4.03.1% (from 4 Sept)0.78Min S$1K, max S$2K spend per statement period. Payment must be processed outside of Singapore
BOC Elite Miles3.03.0%1.0Payment must be processed outside of Singapore
SCB Visa Infinite3.03.5%1.17Spend >S$2K in a statement period, otherwise 1 mpd
SCB Rewards+2.93.5%1.21Capped at S$2.2K of FCY spend per year
HSBC Visa Infinite2.252.8%1.24Spend >S$50K in the previous membership year, otherwise 2 mpd
OCBC VOYAGE2.43%1.25Until 31 Dec 2019, 2.3 mpd after
DBS Treasures AMEX
2.43%1.25 
AMEX KrisFlyer Ascend2.02.5%1.25June/Dec only, otherwise 1.2 mpd
AMEX KrisFlyer Blue2.02.5%1.25June/Dec only, otherwise 1.1 mpd
UOB PRVI Miles2.43.25%1.35Payment must be processed outside of Singapore
Maybank Horizon Visa Signature 2.02.75%  1.38Minimum spend of S$300 per month required. Capped at S$7.5K per month
DBS Altitude2.03%1.5 
Citi PremierMiles Visa2.03%1.5 
Citi Prestige2.03%1.5 
UOB Visa Infinite Metal2.03.1% (from 4 Sept)1.55Payment must be processed outside of Singapore 

Provided your value of a mile is greater than the cost of acquisition, then yes, it’s worth using your card overseas (just beware of the DCC scam!)

What about specialized spending cards?

In addition to the cards above, you can also consider using the following for 4 mpd on overseas spending. Do note that this is only applicable to certain categories of spending, and there may be caps:

Earn 4 mpd onCaps

Citi Rewards Visa/ Citi Rewards Mastercard
Online transactions, offline shopping on bags, shoes, clothes, department storesS$1K per month
OCBC Titanium RewardsOnline and offline shopping, electronics, department storesS$12K per memberhsip year
UOB Preferred Platinum VisaContactless (Paywave, mobile payments)S$1.1K per month (T&C state S$1K, but practice shows otherwise)
UOB Preferred Platinum AMEXDiningS$6K per membership year
UOB Lady’s Card/ Lady’s SolitaireOne (two for Solitaire) of seven categories: beauty, dining, entertainment, family, fashion, transport, travelS$1K per month (S$3K for Solitaire)

In this case, you’ll take 4 divided by the relevant FCY charge (see the table above) to derive your cost per mile.

Important: How does your bank define overseas transactions?

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For the vast majority of banks, an overseas transaction is defined as one processed in any currency other than SGD.

This means that regardless of whether you’re sitting in Singapore and buying something from a US site, or physically using your card at a cafe in Sydney, you’ll earn the card’s FCY rate.

However, UOB and BOC add a further restriction on overseas transactions: payment processing must be done outside of Singapore.

Example from BOC’s T&Cs

There are some websites (e.g. Hotels.com) which may bill you in FCY, but process the payment in Singapore. In this case, you’ll be awarded miles based on the local earn rate instead. So for example, a US$100 transaction processed in Singapore would earn S$138.80 * 1.5 (instead of 3.0) = 208 miles on the BOC Elite Miles card. 

How do you know where payments are processed? You don’t. That’s the worst thing about such a rule- it puts the onus on the customer to find out information that’s not exactly readily available. Thankfully, most of the times the situation is pretty clear cut, but it’s still something you want to take note of for UOB and BOC cards. 

Conclusion

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As of today, the best card to use for overseas transactions is hands down the OCBC 90°N Card. Unlike other cards which have minimum spend requirements or caps on earning, the OCBC 90°N’s value proposition is very straightforward: 4 mpd on any spending that is not in SGD, until 29 Feb 2020.

Min Income
Annual Fee

$30,000

$192.60 (first year free)

OCBC 90°N Card

Earn 4 mpd on all foreign currency spending and selected airline tickets (including SIA), without cap.
  • Get up to S$50 cash + 7,000 bonus miles when you get approved by 31 Oct 19 as a new-to-bank customer
  • From now till 29 Feb 20, earn 4 mpd on foreign currency spending, Singapore Airlines, SilkAir, AirAsia, Jetstar, Scoot, Spotify and Netflix all without cap. Earn 8 mpd on Expedia, Agoda, Airbnb, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, also without cap
  • No conversion fees, and a minimum transfer block of only 1,000 miles
  • Earn 1.2 mpd on local spend, and 2.1 mpd overseas (after 29 Feb 2020)

more details

Apply Here

The runner up would be the UOB Visa Signature, but you need to be careful with this one. To earn 4 mpd on overseas spending, you need to spend a minimum of S$1,000 in FCY in a given statement period (may not be the same as calendar month), and the 4 mpd is capped at S$2,000 of FCY. You also need to make sure the payment is processed outside of Singapore.

Min Income
Annual Fee

$50,000

$214

UOB Visa Signature

Earn 4 mpd on overseas spending, petrol and contactless payments...just beware the T&C.
  • Earn 4 mpd on overseas currency transactions with a minimum of $1,000 overseas spending in a statement period (may not be calendar month), capped at $2,000 per month
  • Also earn 4 mpd on petrol, contactless and online foreign currency payments
  • Remember that UOB's definition of foreign currency/overseas spending requires the transaction to be processed outside of Singapore

more details

Apply Here
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Finally: do exercise caution when using your card overseas. It’s best practice not to leave the magnetic stripe activated longer than it has to be, and always monitor your statement closely in the months after returning. If you’re asked whether you’d like to pay in SGD, respond with a resounding “no”, and if you’re forced to do so anyway, lodge a complaint.


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SyokNo miles for meGzQuekAaron Wong Recent comment authors
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Fai
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Fai

“You also need to make sure the payment is processed in Singapore.” Typo?

No miles for me
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No miles for me

The T&Cs for the UOB PPV actually state the total per calendar month for contactless and selected online is 2000 uni$ not S$1000. So you could make 1000s of <$5 transaction and not reach the cap or one $1000 transaction and hit the cap. (I think they have recently been revised).

Quek
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Quek

Hi, thanks for another great and informative article. There seem to be little discussion on exchange rates used by the various banks for FCY. In most of their T&C, for non USD fcy, I notice they will change from X-Currency to USD then to SGD. This additional change is usually disadvantages, at least if at the money changer due to the BUY-SELL spread. Any thoughts on whether if compared to money changer rates, are the rates used by the banks any good? Do they differ significantly between banks? If we are going to determine CPM using FCY rate, shouldn’t we… Read more »

freedom
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freedom

Why USD in the middle is that Visa/MasterCard are from US. They clear in USD only.

No miles for me
Guest
No miles for me

For some currencies and banks USD is not used as an intermediate. For example UOB does a direct AUD to SGD conversion. In regards to money changer vs credit card. You can usually get a better rate than the Visa/MC rates and you forgo the additional ~3% fees so you are pretty much guaranteed to be better off using a local money changer (not Travelex) and cash.

Gz
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Gz

Do does topping up foreign Wallet ( ie. MY GRAB) counts as FCY transation?

Syok
Guest
Syok

How about ICBC global travel master card which is 3% cash back on foreign currency spending?