Best Credit Cards For Expats Teaching ESL14 min read

Note: This article is directed primarily to teachers from the United States.

One of the decisions you are going to have to make before moving abroad to teach English is whether or not you will take a credit card with you and how you will manage your money. Many people choose to use local banks, however, this may not be an optimal choice for everyone. I’m going to go through whether or not it is wise to take a credit card with you and then take a look at what the best credit cards for expats are if you do choose to take one.

Do I need a credit card abroad?

The answer to this question is going to be different for everyone. For starters, not everyone is going to qualify for a credit card as companies have become more strict about who they will and will not give credit to. For most people, having a credit card is going to be a smart decision strictly for the purposes of having a backup source in the event that something happens or in the event that you need to purchase something which requires a credit card (think deposits left for higher-end hotels).

Having a backup credit card in the event that you lose your bank card can be a lifesaver. Think about the worst case scenario. It’s Friday night and the banks will be closed Saturday and Sunday. For whatever reason, you have lost your bank card and don’t have much cash withdrawn. How are you going to eat? How do you plan on getting around? This has happened to me and it prompted me to do two things. First, I opened a second account at my bank that I could easily transfer money into from my main account and had a backup debit card in the event of an emergency. Second, I applied for a credit card that I could use in an absolute emergency situation. You have to remember that you are in a foreign country and most likely there won’t be any family you can rely on in the short-term if you need to. Thinking about everything that could go wrong and developing contingencies will help with giving you peace of mind.

A credit card isn’t just a good option for emergency situations though. Many credit cards, including those on this list, offer rewards for spending in specific areas such as dining out, hotels, airfare, and so on. This can be incredibly beneficial for expats who regularly use all of these services. Imagine being able to take a flight back home on your next vacation at almost no cost to you just because you’ve racked up enough points. Or staying at a five-star hotel for a few nights free. The list goes on as to what you can do with the rewards you earn, but, the point is that this is only possible having a credit card.

However, there are also a number of people who shouldn’t take a credit card with them. If you know you have problems with spending then the last thing you want while you are living in another country is access to credit. Especially if this is your first time abroad you are going to be on the euphoric trip of a lifetime. The temptation to spend is going to be extreme. Many people have gotten themselves into steep debt from using credit cards abroad and racking up foreign transaction fees on top of their principal and interest. Don’t even put yourself in the position to allow this to happen if you have even the slightest concern you will be tempted to overspend. It isn’t worth it.

What should I look for in a credit card as an expat?

There are two main things that you want to look for when selecting a credit card for use abroad as an expat which are the benefits the card offers and the fees you will pay to use the card. Notice that I did not mention other things like APR. That is because the goal is to not have to use this card other than for emergencies or when you are purchasing things you will receive points or cash back or miles for using. Preferably, these will be smaller purchases that you can easily pay back at the end of the month. You do not want to carry a balance and accumulate interest. So, for this reason, the APR doesn’t matter as you won’t have to worry about accumulating interest. Obviously, a card with a lower APR is better and if you can find a card with great benefits and low fees that also has a low APR then it’s a plus. However, you shouldn’t pass up a card that has awesome benefits and low fees just because it has a high APR.

Fees

The first thing you want to take a look at is what fees are charged for keeping and using the card and, perhaps more importantly, what fees aren’t charged. Most of the best credit cards for expats are going to have some type of fee for having the card. The average I found when looking around was $95 each year. Some waived the fee for the first 12 months and some didn’t. Some fees were higher and a few were lower but the best cards all charged about that much to use. For a better card, you can expect to pay higher fees. You’ve got to pay to play and all those nice benefits such as miles and points don’t come free. However, you want to make sure that even though you are paying a yearly fee that the benefits you are receiving from the card are equal to or better than that fee. You also want to look for a card that does not charge any foreign transaction fees. This is where you are going to get hit the hardest. Foreign transaction fees can easily amount to hundreds of dollars each year if you use your card often enough. The very first time I traveled abroad, I used a debit card that charged ATM fees as well as foreign transaction fees. Between the both of those, I used almost $150 in around a month and a half on fees alone. You work hard for your money so don’t just give it away to banks and credit card companies.

Benefits

When it comes to benefits you want to focus on the areas that make sense. You are probably going to be doing a lot of flying, especially if you are in a country like Dubai or Thailand which is a short flight from dozens of other countries. You may be staying at a lot of hotels if you decide you want to travel around and see the country you are teaching in or the surrounding countries. Depending on the city you may be eating at a lot of restaurants if you don’t have a kitchen.

Finding cards that give you points in these areas are going to make a lot more sense than a card that gives you points when you buy music online or spend money at certain department stores that may not be in the country you are living in. You want to look for cards that are going to give you the maximum return. So, if one card gives you double points for every dollar you spend on flights, for example, and another card doesn’t then it’s a no-brainer which one you want to go with if it meets the above-mentioned criteria for fees.

Also, think about the areas you are going to spend the most money on. Do you plan on spending a lot of money in restaurants? Then pick a card that gives you more points for dining out as opposed to flights or hotels. Will you be taking a lot of flights? Those can quickly add up so that you may be able to get one of your longer flights for free. Look at your lifestyle and think about where you spend the most money so that you can maximize your benefits.

What are the best credit cards for expats?

Venture from Capital One

This is a great card if you know that you will be taking a lot of flights or even a few very expensive flights. Not only are there generous miles rewards for the purchases you make but also numerous other benefits such as 24 hr concierge service, shopping discounts and travel upgrades, emergency card replacement, as well as others. Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of using the Venture card.

Pros

  • The Venture card offers very generous benefits in terms of miles you receive for purchases. You can earn unlimited miles. Every purchase you make earns you 2x miles for every dollar you spend and you can earn 10x miles when you stay at certain hotels.
  • There are no foreign transaction fees which is a huge upside for this card when put against other travel cards. As mentioned above these can easily add up to hundreds of dollars or more over the course of a year while living abroad.
  • The Venture comes with a long list of benefits other than just miles including a $0 liability policy for fraud in the event that your card is ever lost or stolen. This can save you thousands of dollars in the unfortunate event that you lose your card.

Cons

  • There is a $95 per year annual fee for using the Venture card. The upside to this is that it is waived for the first year, however, for some people, this may be a major turn off. You will have to compare the fee to how much you plan on using the card and how much your benefits will add up to.
  • Late fees for this card are $38 per month. While it is up to you to make sure that you are making your payments on time it is also not outside the realm of possibility that you may be late making a payment at some point and these fees are higher than many other cards I came across in my research.
  • APR can be between 14.74%, 21.24%, or 24.74% depending on what capital one deems your creditworthiness level. While 14.74% isn’t a horrible rate for cards in today’s market, the most likely outcome, unless you have absolutely amazing credit, is that you will be in one of the latter two levels. If you get stuck with an APR of 24.74% and you carry a balance (which is exactly what I recommend you don’t do) then you can be stuck with some steep monthly payments depending on how much the balance you are carrying is.

 

Chase Sapphire Preferred

The Sapphire Preferred card offers many of the same benefits as the Venture card with a few differences. The venture card does not offer 10x points on hotels like the Venture card. Instead, they opt to focus more on rewarding users for travel and dining out which, as I mentioned, maybe something you do quite frequently as an expat English teacher depending on where you are living and whether or not there is a kitchen in your apartment.

Pros

  • The Sapphire Preferred card lets you earn 2x rewards on travel-related expenses (such as flights and hotels) or dining out. While this isn’t nearly as attractive as the 10x points you can earn at certain hotels with the Venture card, it is still beneficial to expat teachers who may be traveling and eating out a lot.
  • Just as with the Venture card there are no foreign transaction fees. As mentioned above the money that you save on these fees can easily pay for the annual fee you pay for using this card and then some.
  • You will receive 25% more when you redeem your points for travel-related expenses such as flights, hotels, car rental, and cruises through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Program. This can save you even more on top of the points you are using.

Cons

  • As with the Venture card, there is a $95 a year annual fee. This fee is waived for the first year so you will be able to use the card for a year to make sure that you like it before having to pay the annual fee.
  • The APR for the Sapphire Preferred card starts out at 17.74% and goes all the way up to 24.74% depending on what they deem your creditworthiness to be. I will reiterate that I in no way recommend you carry a balance on your card. However, if you go against that advice and carry a balance, there are cards out there with a better APR, though they just may not have the same benefits.
  • The Sapphire Preferred Card only offers you 1 to 1 points for every dollar you spend on items that are not travel related or dining out. This is in comparison to the 2x miles you receive from the Capital One Venture card mentioned above.

This list is by no means exhaustive. There are plenty of other cards that you can look into which meet our above-listed requirements. LendEDU has some great suggestions for credit cards if any of the above don’t work for you.

Bonus Recommendation

Charles Schwab Checking Account

For this article, we discussed the best credit cards for expats. However, if you will be banking in the United States even while you are living abroad then you should seriously consider changing over your bank or opening a second account with a bank that is more friendly to international travelers. For this, I recommend a Charles Schwab Checking Account. You will be required to open a brokerage account in order to hold a checking account with Charles Schwab, however, it is free to open with no minimum amounts that must be kept in the account. The biggest advantage of a Schwab checking account is that there are no foreign transaction fees and you are reimbursed for all ATM fees at the end of each month.

I have personally used Schwab as my primary bank for the past four years and have had nothing but good experiences. When I lost my debit card one night, there was a new card in the express mail the next day which arrived in Thailand three days later after giving them a quick call. Their customer service has always been outstanding any time I have had to call them. These are added benefits, however, the ATM fee reimbursement and no foreign transaction fees alone will save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars each year. Especially when ATM fees are running as high as $10 per transaction in some countries that are popular with expats.

What are some final tips for using a credit card as an expat?

I’ve mentioned it multiple times throughout this article but it is worth repeating which is do not carry a balance from month to month if you can avoid it. Paying interest on your card completely defeats any benefits you are getting from rewards points and cash back. Not only that but why would you want to pay more than the original cost for the things that you buy? Try and keep the things that you buy low enough that you can pay your bill at the end of each month. You will get all of the benefits without having to pay extra in interest. Also, make sure that you are paying attention to whether or not your rewards expire and when they do as well as when you can use them. Many programs have a set time limit on when rewards points need to be used and the last thing you want to do is rack up a hefty amount of points only to find out their gone when you try and use them to book a flight. A common practice with rewards programs is also blackout dates. These are the days and times that you cannot use your points. They are commonly around holidays and peak travel times. You will have to read into the fine print of each card to make sure that the card doesn’t have blackout dates and if it does make sure that they are not dates you know you will be traveling. If you make sure of these things and make sure to follow the above-mentioned recommendations you should be able to optimize your use of any of the best credit cards for expats while teaching English abroad.

 

 

I want to help you find an awesome job in the ESL industry and then excel at it. I’m a TESOL certified teacher with over two years of experience working both online and offline. I have worked with students ranging from young learners to advanced level university speakers and have worked in recruiting and hiring, teacher training, and content creation. I’ve seen the good and bad of the ESL industry and I’m here to tell you about it.