Cost of using credit cards abroad

There's a new wrinkle when it comes to the fees credit-card issuers charge when you use your card overseas.

It used to be that the only fee Visa and MasterCard charged was 1 percent, to convert purchases made in a foreign currency to dollars for billing purposes. However, in March, they quietly began tacking on an additional 2 percent surcharge on all credit-card purchases made outside the US.

It's a growing trend, and one bank in San Francisco hiked its currency conversion surcharge to 5 percent last spring. Airline affinity cards are jumping in as well, with currency-conversion fees ranging from 2 percent to 3 percent for cards issued by FirstUSA.

Consumer Reports Travel Letter put it in perspective - if you charge $3,000 in a week for transportation, hotel rooms, meals, gifts, etc. while abroad, that is a hefty extra $90 in currency-conversion charges.

Right now, the good news is that American Express and Diners Club are holding their conversion rate at 1 percent. Tip: Call your credit-card issuer before you leave the country to find out what its fees and surcharges are.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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