Credit card exchange rates and charges explained - even the hidden ones

Elle Kasser

In a multicultural place like Singapore, travelling and shopping with international retailers is second nature. Whether it’s a quick trip for business, an online spree to buy the latest Korean beauty buys, or a visit to family working or studying abroad, we all need to pay for things in foreign currencies from time to time.

If you’re planning on using your cards for international purchases, it’s worth knowing that overseas credit card costs can be high. You’ll often have to pay a credit card foreign transaction fee, and may also face markups on the exchange rates used, as well as interest and other unexpected charges. This guide covers all you need to know about the real cost of international credit card transactions.

When it comes to overseas spending, credit cards may not be your best option. We’ll also introduce an alternative - the Wise multi-currency account and debit card - as a way of spending overseas without the hefty costs.

Learn more about Wise 📖

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Table of contents:

Credit card: Overseas charges

Whenever you spend overseas using your credit card, you can expect to pay fees. Typically these charges include:

  • A currency conversion fee paid to the card network
  • An administrative fee paid to the bank that issues the card
  • A foreign exchange rate markup on the rate set by the network

Because of the way credit card bills are created, you usually can’t see all of these charges split out. You’ll have to look into your card’s terms and conditions to learn more about exact charges which apply to your specific card. Typically the total charges come in at around 3.25% plus any exchange rate markup, which can vary by network.

Credit card overseas spending: an example

Here’s how it works. Let’s imagine you spent USD100 on a gift for a friend, and paid using your UOB credit card. The payment is processed and costs you SGD137.68 in total*. This SGD amount is what shows up on your credit card bill. However, it actually includes the cost of the purchase, plus 3 other fees.

The exchange rate used to calculate this SGD bill is USD1=1.3768SGD. This is a total markup of 3.68% over the European Central Bank rate, which is the benchmark used by Visa when calculating exchange rates.

The difference is made up of the following fees - a markup on the exchange rate set by Visa, a fee of 1% imposed by the network, and a charge of 2.25% added by the bank itself, to cover administrative charges.

These charges may come as a surprise as they’re usually tricky to spot within your credit card bill. However, you can find the costs of any overseas transaction using the foreign transaction calculators available through your card network, to help you spot the extra costs of your international spending. ¹ ²

*Exchange rate and fees correct at time of research, 10th February 2021

Credit card total foreign transaction fees

The overall costs of using your card overseas depends on the bank and the network which issue the card you want to use.

To give some context, here are the total fees for some of Singapore’s major credit card issuers, including the currency conversion charge and the administration fee. Don’t forget there may also be an extra cost if the exchange rate used includes a markup, or if you pay using Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC) - more on that later.

Card issuer Visa Mastercard American Express
OCBC³ 3.25% 3.25% N/A
DBS⁴ 3.25% 3.25% 3%
UOB⁵ 3.25% 3.25% 3.25%
Amex⁶ N/A N/A 2.5%
Citibank⁷ 3.25% 3.25% 3.3%
Maybank⁸ 2.75% 2.75% N/A

Wise debit card

Looking for an alternative to avoid credit card foreign transaction fees? Try Wise.

Spending with your credit card when you’re overseas or shopping online with international retailers can mean paying extra fees. Instead, take a look at the Wise multi-currency account and debit card as a smart way to hold, convert and spend foreign currencies with no foreign transaction fees.

You can hold 50+ currencies in your account, spend using your linked debit card, and get the real exchange rate with no markup - every time. All you pay is a low, transparent currency conversion fee, which can work out far cheaper than your regular bank. It’s always free to spend the currencies you hold in your account using your card, and the Wise auto-convert tool will convert your balance to the currency you need for the lowest possible fee if you ever need to spend a currency you don’t have.

There’s no cost to open an account, no minimum balance, and no maintenance fee. That means you have nothing to lose, and plenty to gain by cutting the costs of international spending.

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Using credit card overseas: tips to avoid excessive fees

If you choose to use your credit card abroad, there are a few other costs you’ll want to watch out for.

Beware of cash advance costs

Don’t forget that making cash withdrawals using your credit card can incur cash advance fees, as well as interest and foreign transaction charges. Cash advance costs of about 8% are to be expected, and vary by card issuer.

Avoid DCC

DCC is dynamic currency conversion. This is where you’re asked by a merchant or when using an ATM abroad if you want to pay in your home currency or the local currency wherever you are. If you choose to pay in your home currency you’ll run into extra fees, and most likely get a poor exchange rate too. Always pay in the local currency wherever you are for the best available deal.

Choose your ATM wisely

If you can avoid withdrawing cash using your credit card you’ll be better off. However, if you must use an ATM, check there are no extra costs involved. Some ATM operators add in their own fees on top of anything you’re paying your bank or card issuer. Watch the on-screen prompts for warnings of additional fees and keep away from ATMs with a captive audience, like those in a bar or nightclub. These often have the highest costs, as people are willing to pay extra for convenience.

Remember online shopping tax

If you’re buying goods online from abroad, which include alcohol or tobacco, or cost more than S$400 including shipping, you may need to pay GST. That means an extra 7% or more, depending on what you’re buying. Learn more about online shopping tax in Singapore here.

Watch for international charges for SGD payments, too

If you’re shopping online and paying in a foreign currency it’s easy to guess you’ll pay a foreign transaction fee. However, you may be charged by your bank even if you’re charged in SGD, if the payment is processed overseas. This depends on your bank or card company, but international SGD payments could be subject to an extra 1% admin fee - check where the payment is headed before you pay up.

Spending overseas is part of everyday life for many of us. But it can also come at a cost if you’re using a credit card. Take a look at the terms and conditions of your card to make sure you’re getting the best available deal - and check out the Wise multi-currency account and debit card as a smart and simple way to spend overseas without extra fees.


  1. Visa - Exchange rate calculator
  2. Mastercard - Currency Exchange Rate Calculator
  3. OCBC - Fees & Charges for Credit Cards
  4. DBS Singapore - Overseas Card Transaction Fees
  5. UOB - Cardmembers Agreement
  6. Amex - How to use credit card abroad?
  7. Citibank - Pricing guide
  8. Maybank - Credit Card charges

Sources checked on 10 February 2021

This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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