2022 Edition: Best cards for overseas spending

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Heading overseas? Here's which credit cards earn the most miles on foreign currency transactions.

With Singapore returning to pre-COVID travel conditions under the Vaccinated Travel Framework, there’s every reason to take that long-delayed vacation. So in that spirit, it’s time for a refresher on the best cards for overseas spending.

While it’s “free” to use your credit card in Singapore (unless the merchant imposes a surcharge), swiping it overseas entails an explicit cost thanks to foreign currency (FCY) transaction fees imposed by banks. And yet, many credit cards offer an upsized rate on FCY transactions. For example:

  • UOB PRVI Miles Card offers 1.4 mpd for all SGD spending, but 2.4 mpd for FCY spending
  • DBS Altitude Card offers 1.2 mpd for all SGD spending, but 2.0 mpd for FCY spending

So the question therefore is whether it’s worth using your card overseas, and the answer depends on:

  1. How much you value a mile
  2. How much you’re paying for miles when you use your card overseas

(1) is a subjective measure, which I’ve addressed in this article (my personal value is about 1.8 cents). (2) is much more objective, and the focus of the discussion below. 

How much do banks charge for foreign currency transactions?

When you make a transaction in a currency other than Singapore dollars, what typically happens is the amount is first converted to USD, and then into SGD.

💳 Example: DBS
“Visa/Mastercard transactions in US Dollar shall be converted to Singapore Dollar on the date of conversion. Transactions in other foreign currencies will be converted to US Dollar before being converted to Singapore Dollar.”

There’s some spread involved here, but the biggest expense is the FCY transaction fee charged by the bank. Here’s a summary:

💳 FCY Fees by Issuer and Card Network
Issuer↓ Visa & MastercardAMEX
Standard Chartered3.5%N/A
Citibank3.25%3.3%
DBS3.25%3.25%
Maybank3.25%N/A
OCBC3.25%N/A
UOB3.25%3.25%
BOC3%N/A
CIMB3%N/A
American ExpressN/A2.95%
HSBC2.8%N/A

FCY fees range from 2.8% to 3.5%, and unfortunately, have been edging ever upwards over the years. 

Don’t forget that the FCY fees are charged on top of the implicit spread in the Mastercard or Visa exchange rate (relatively modest in my experience). For example:

  • A US$100 transaction charged to a Mastercard would cost S$139.39, assuming no FCY fees (spot rate: S$139.09)
  • Once a 3.25% FCY fee is factored in, that amount becomes S$143.92
❓ How much will my overseas transaction cost?
If you’re curious as to how much a given foreign currency transaction will cost, you can use the Mastercard or Visa currency converter calculators. All you need to plug-in is the bank’s FCY fee, from the table above.
Mastercard Calculator
Visa Calculator

What’s the cost per mile?

No one likes to pay more than they have to, but do the miles earned for overseas transactions justify the costs? Generally speaking: yes, although some cards represent better options than others.

General Overseas Spending

The following cards offer bonuses on all foreign currency transactions (except, of course, those in the general exclusions list like charitable donations and cryptocurrency). 

CardFCY Earn RateFeeCPM
UOB Visa Signature4.013.25%0.81
SCB Rewards+4.02 3.5%0.88 
SCB VI3.033.5%1.17
HSBC VI2.2542.8%1.24
UOB PRVI Miles2.43.25%1.35
OCBC Premier VI2.243.25%1.45
OCBC VOYAGE2.23.25%1.48
AMEX KrisFlyer Ascend2.052.95%1.48
AMEX KrisFlyer Credit Card2.052.95%1.48
OCBC 90N MC2.13.25%1.55
DBS Altitude2.03.25%1.63
Citi PM2.03.25%1.63
Citi Prestige2.03.25%1.63
UOB VI Metal2.03.25%1.63
SCB X Card2.03.5%1.75
1. Min. spend S$1,000 per statement month, cap at S$2,000 per statement month
2. Cap at S$2,222 per membership year, must have SCB Visa Infinite or SCB X Card otherwise 2.9 mpd
3. Min. spend S$2,000 per statement month, otherwise 1 mpd
4. Min. spend S$50,000 in previous membership year, otherwise 2 mpd
5. Only in June and December, otherwise 1.1 (Blue) or 1.2 (Ascend)

Specific Overseas Spending

If you’re clocking FCY spend on particular categories, the cards below can also be options.

CardEarn RateFeeCPM
Citi Rewards4.013.25%0.81
DBS WWMC4.023.25%0.81
OCBC Titanium Rewards4.033.25%0.81
UOB Pref. Plat. Visa4.043.25%0.81
UOB Lady’s Card4.053.25%0.81
HSBC Revolution4.06
2.8%0.7
1. Department store, apparel, or online transactions (excluding travel). First S$1K per statement month. 
2. Online transactions. First S$2K per calendar month.
3. Department stores, apparel, electronics. Full list here. First S$12K per membership year.
4. Apparel, electronics, dining, food delivery, entertainment. Also applies to overseas mobile payments. Full list here. First S$1.1K per calendar month.
5. Depends on your selected bonus category. Full list here. First S$1K (Lady’s) or S$3K (Lady’s Solitaire) per calendar month.
6. Airlines, hotels, department stores, apparel, supermarkets, transport. Must be online or via contactless payments. Full list here. First S$1K per calendar month.

How do banks define overseas transactions?

For most banks, an “overseas transaction” is simply any transaction processed in a currency other than Singapore dollars.

But Bank of China and UOB add another caveat: the transaction must be processed outside of Singapore. For example, if you were to book through the Hotels.com Singapore website and pay in Euros with your UOB PRVI Miles Card, you’d earn 1.4 mpd instead of 2.4 mpd because the payment is processed in Singapore. 

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. 

The Amaze Alternative

Despite its recent nerfs and impending exclusion by DBS, Amaze continues to be the best option to use for FCY transactions. 

With Amaze, you’ll pay zero FCY fees (though the FX rates entail a small spread) while earning up to 4 mpd on your credit card plus up to 1% cashback. 

💳 tl;dr: Amaze card
Sign Up Here
  • Link up to five Mastercard credit/debit cards
  • Foreign currency transactions on Amaze are converted into SGD (with no FCY transaction fees) and charged to the underlying credit/debit card
  • Transaction MCC remains the same
  • Earn 0.5-1% cashback on all transactions of at least S$10 (min. S$1,500 spend per quarter, capped at S$50 cashback per quarter), except exclusion categories
  • Offline transactions charged to Amaze become online transactions for the underlying credit/debit card

The 4 mpd is limited only by the credit card linked to the Amaze, but by pairing it with the Citi Rewards Mastercard and DBS Woman’s World Card (until 31 May 2022), you’ll have a monthly cap of S$3,000. 

While Amaze is probably living on borrowed time (I’d be pleasantly surprised if we made it through 2022 without further nerfs), the miles game is all about making hay, and make hay we shall. 

Beware of DCC!

Example of DCC in India: How much I would have been charged had I opted for it, versus how much I was actually charged

We can’t talk about using your card overseas without the customary warning about the scam known as Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC).

For the uninitiated, DCC is a “service” provided by merchants which converts the transaction into your card’s local currency, at a fee that’s much more than what your bank would charge. The merchant pockets part of the profit, so some unscrupulous places will instruct staff to select it by default, without the consent of the customer. 

Be alert, and always, always emphasise that you want to be billed in whatever the local currency is. If you want to avoid the scourge of DCC altogether, use an American Express card, since AMEX does not support DCC.

Conclusion

While FCY fees are annoying, it’s still possible to get your money’s worth by using cards that earn 4 mpd on overseas transactions. 

Amaze is the real game-changer, however- for as long as it lasts. So long as you can earn 4 mpd, 1% cashback with minimal FX spreads, there’s little reason for you to bring any other card on your travels.

Aaron Wong
Aaron Wong
Aaron founded The Milelion to help people travel better for less and impress chiobu. He was 50% successful.

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SH Lim

Does DBS WMC still give 4mpd when paired with Amaze? Some of the comments seem to suggest otherwise.

OJW

As of last month’s points crediting (transactions from Sep’21), I got my 4 mpd with DBS WWMC on 15th Oct for all my Amaze transactions, except the ones made on CardUp using my Amaze card.

bent

Should HSBC revo be added to the list given it offers 4mpd albeit not on all categories and only 2.8% FCY fee? But most of what a general person would spend overseas would be on the categories that HSBC whitelists anyway e.g. airline, hotel, car rental, dining, travel agencies, supermarket, department stores, even uber (transport)?

Bent

Thanks! Must have missed it. Think it’s the most attractive one for me given the low cpm

Tony

Thanks to your kind introduction of the Amaze card. It is now my default card for overseas expenditures.

Jake

How about pairing OCBC Titanium Rewards with Amaze? It does earn 4 mpd for shopping?

lemon

following. but my understanding from the other article seems to suggest so.

I’d also like to know if i charge foreign currency through amaze to ocbc 90n mc, is it considered foreign currency or sgd? because 90n gives 1.2mpd for local spend but 2.1mpd for forex, so it might actually be worth it to charge as forex despite the 3.25% fcy.

KCH

Does Amex Krisflyer card only earn 2MPD during the months of Jun and Dec?

Josie

Hi Aaron, is the CPM for the American Express Platinum Charge Card also 0.98 cpm? Thanks!

Anon

What if a merchant charges DCC without giving me a choice (aka press yes and print for me to sign). what can I do?

Sean

Check before signing and ask them to reverse then charge in local currency.

Anon

What if they “refuse”?

Lifshitz

Dispute. No DCC gives only the SGD value for you to sign. It’s either FCY (in which case you can dispute) or FCY and SGD with boxes (in which case you tick the FCY box). Without a signature indicating your agreement, your bank will not honour thew charge. Had this several times with an StR…

Aloy

Hi Aaron, should Amaze cashback be reflected as 0.5% in the conclusion?

Jtks

It’s 1% for overseas spend

Freddy

I just came back from a 10-day trip and had been using Visa paywave (Apple Pay or the credit card directly). I was quite surprised that I wasn’t hit by DCC at all. All transactions were processed in the local currency without me even asking. Not sure if it was because DCC was not supported by contactless payments, or DCC was banned in that country?

Candy

Thanks for the review! I used the Amaze card with DBS WWMC for my entire UK trip! I won’t be applying for the CitiRewards card though, as I have too many cards. Pity that from 1 June, DBS WWMC will no longer be useful when tagged to the Amaze card for miles. I would be using ICBC Global travel mastercard instead (though this one no miles but has 3% cashback on overseas spend).

AMEX CPM calculation

May I know why the Amex CPM is 0.98 for the krisflyer cards? it looks like it should be 2.95/2 = 1.475?

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