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.
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:
- How much do you value a mile?
- 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)
|UOB||3.1% (3.25% from 9 Mar 20)||3.25%||UOB PRVI Miles MC/Visa, UOB Reserve, KrisFlyer UOB: 3.25%|
|AMEX||N/A||2.5% (2.95% from 1 Mar 20)|
|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.|
In general, we’ve seen these fees creep up over the past 12 months, as almost every bank (bar AMEX) has raised their fees.
- On 1 Apr 18, Maybank increased its FCY charge on Visa Diamante, Visa Infinite and World Mastercard from 2.5% to 2.75%
- On 4 Oct 18, Citibank increased its FCY charge from 2.8% to 3%
- On 1 Nov 18, HSBC increased its FCY charge from 2.5% to 2.8%
- On 1 Jan 19, CIMB removed the admin fee waiver for FCY transactions on the Visa Signature and Platinum Mastercard, thereby increasing the fee from 1% to 3%
- On 2 Jan 19, DBS increased its FCY charge from 2.8% to 3%
- On 15 Jan 19, BOC increased its FCY charge on Mastercard transactions from 2.5% to 3% (Visa fees increased from 2.5% to 3% on 1 Dec 18)
- On 15 Mar 19, OCBC increased its FCY charge from 2.8% to 3%
- On 4 Sep 19, UOB will increase its FCY charge from 2.8% to 3.1%
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.
|OCBC 90°N Card||4.0||3.0%||0.75||Until 29 Feb 2020, 2.1 mpd after|
|UOB Visa Signature||4.0||3.1% (from 4 Sept)||0.78||Min S$1K, max S$2K spend per statement period. Payment must be processed outside of Singapore|
|BOC Elite Miles||3.0||3.0%||1.0||Payment must be processed outside of Singapore|
|SCB Visa Infinite||3.0||3.5%||1.17||Spend >S$2K in a statement period, otherwise 1 mpd|
|SCB Rewards+||2.9||3.5%||1.21||Capped at S$2.2K of FCY spend per year|
|HSBC Visa Infinite||2.25||2.8%||1.24||Spend >S$50K in the previous membership year, otherwise 2 mpd|
|OCBC VOYAGE||2.4||3%||1.25||Until 31 Dec 2019, 2.3 mpd after|
|DBS Treasures AMEX
|AMEX KrisFlyer Ascend||2.0||2.5%||1.25||June/Dec only, otherwise 1.2 mpd|
|AMEX KrisFlyer Blue||2.0||2.5%||1.25||June/Dec only, otherwise 1.1 mpd|
|UOB PRVI Miles||2.4||3.25%||1.35||Payment must be processed outside of Singapore|
|Maybank Horizon Visa Signature||2.0||2.75%||1.38||Minimum spend of S$300 per month required. Capped at S$7.5K per month|
|Citi PremierMiles Visa||2.0||3%||1.5|
|UOB Visa Infinite Metal||2.0||3.1% (from 4 Sept)||1.55||Payment 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 on||Caps|
Citi Rewards Visa/ Citi Rewards Mastercard
|Online transactions, offline shopping on bags, shoes, clothes, department stores||S$1K per month|
|OCBC Titanium Rewards||Online and offline shopping, electronics, department stores||S$12K per memberhsip year|
|UOB Preferred Platinum Visa||Contactless (Paywave, mobile payments)||S$1.1K per month (T&C state S$1K, but practice shows otherwise)|
|UOB Preferred Platinum AMEX||Dining||S$6K per membership year|
|UOB Lady’s Card/ Lady’s Solitaire||One (two for Solitaire) of seven categories: beauty, dining, entertainment, family, fashion, transport, travel||S$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?
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.
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.
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.
$192.60 (first year free)
OCBC 90°N Card
- 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)
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.
UOB Visa Signature
- 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
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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