Amex has some great travel rewards credit cards like *amex platinum* and the *amex gold*, yet most travelers still make sure to pack a Visa or Mastercard before heading abroad. Overseas and even sometimes at home, paying with an Amex card isn't an option.
It's practically common knowledge with American Express, a widely accepted fault: Many retailers simply say “No Amex cards.” But that knock against Amex is also slightly outdated.
Amex lowered the merchant fees it charges retailers to process payment years ago, bringing them closer to its more widely accepted competitors. And since that time, Amex has steadily closed that gap with the likes of Visa, tripling its acceptance outside of the U.S. since 2017.
So while you may still want to keep that Visa card in your wallet, it's far less likely you'll actually need it in 2024 and beyond.
Are Amex Cards Accepted Abroad?
There's no guarantee you'll be able to use your Amex in every store, city, or country – there's still a way to go. But despite its ongoing reputation, it's undeniable that Amex cards are being accepted at more and more merchants worldwide. And the data proves it.
According to a recent Nilson Report, 119 million merchants accepted Amex worldwide as of September 2023. While that's still shy of the 130 million locations where Visa and Mastercard are accepted, Amex isn't too far behind anymore.
It's a massive improvement … yet it's gone largely unnoticed. Get this: Back in 2018, American Express was accepted at less than half as many worldwide merchants as Visa and Mastercard, according to that year’s Nilson Report as reported by LendingTree.
Last year's Nilson report went on to note that much of Amex's global growth since 2022 occurred in Latin America and Asia-Pacific – two regions where the bank sorely needed to gain ground. The “don't bother with Amex” mantra is perhaps stronger in Europe, but American Express has made strides there, too.
In Spain, for example, American Express cardholders make in-store transactions 1 1/2 times more often than customers using debit or credit cards from other banks. And in recent trips to Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, and beyond, members of the Thrifty Traveler team have rarely been turned away when trying to pay with an Amex card.
Down in Mexico City, a member of our team spotted this small café happily welcoming Amex as a form of payment, as pictured on a sign with the Amex slogan in Spanish, “Don't Leave Home Without It.” Naturally, you'll still run into the occasional cash-only, mom-and-pop shops where it doesn't matter which card you're trying to use.
When I was in Vietnam last year, I was able to use my Amex cards at a variety of businesses like shopping centers, restaurants, and rideshare apps. Of course, you shouldn't expect street food vendors to accept foreign credit cards – or any cards, for that matter – when paying for your meal.
Even in the U.S., you'll still occasionally run into businesses with “We do not accept Amex” signs by the register. Not long ago, I was dining at a hot pot restaurant and went to pay when suddenly, the staff member blocked the card reader after noticing my *amex gold* .
But for the most part, Amex is on par with Visa and other payment forms here in U.S. According to an Amex spokesperson, 99% of merchants in the states that accept credit cards take Amex as a payment option.
So is Amex on par with Visa or Mastercard when traveling? Not quite. But it's also clear the bank has grown to the point where it's a relatively reliable option both at home and abroad.
So long as you're armed with a debit card that reimburses international ATM fees and a backup Visa or Mastercard, you'll be just fine.
Related reading: The Best International Debit Card for Travel
Does Amex Charge the Highest Merchant Fees?
The entire reason why travelers believe they should leave their Amex cards at home boils down to how much it costs businesses to accept them. Retailers themselves will tell you that Amex simply charges too much for each swipe.
That information is out of date.
Closing the gap with Visa and Mastercard for broader acceptance required Amex to lower those merchant fees, and that's exactly what they've done. As of 2022, Amex's weighted average fee of 2.29% was a sliver higher than the 2.24% average of Visa/Mastercard credit cards, according to a March 2023 Nilson Report.
To be clear, Amex does still charge the highest merchant fees. But is it ridiculously more expensive for merchants to accept Amex as compared to the others? The data says no.
Which Cards Should You Bring Abroad?
When traveling internationally, the key is bringing along travel credit cards that don't charge foreign transaction fees. That department store credit card that you were pressured to open back in the day likely won't cut it. Neither will your go-to no-annual-fee travel card, for that matter.
And remember: It's best to head out on a trip prepared for the worst. Just bringing a single credit card could be a recipe for disaster. If possible, you should try to have an Amex, Mastercard, and Visa handy at all times in order to adapt to different merchants. It's also a good idea to have some of the local currency or a debit card like the one from Charles Schwab that doesn't charge ATM fees.
When in doubt, bring as many payment options with you as possible.
The American Express Gold Card
- Welcome Offer: *Amex Gold Bonus*, but be sure to check if you can get an even bigger bonus via CardMatch or through personal referral links!
- Earn 4x Membership Rewards points per dollar spent at restaurants worldwide.
- Earn 4x Membership Rewards points per dollar spent at U.S. supermarkets on up to $25,000 per calendar year.
- Earn 3x Membership Rewards points per dollar spent directly with airlines or at amextravel.com.
- Earn up to $10 each month in statement credits when you pay with the Gold Card at GrubHub, The Cheesecake Factory, Wine.com, Milk Bar, Goldbelly, and participating Shake Shack locations.
- Enjoy up to $120 in Uber Cash annually with your Gold Card. Just add your Card to your Uber account and you'll automatically get $10 in Uber Cash each month for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S.
- No foreign transaction fees
- Annual Fee: $250 (see rates & fees)
Learn more about the *amex gold*
The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
- Welcome bonus: *CSP Bonus*
- Earn 5x points on travel purchased through the Chase Travel Portal, excluding hotel purchases that qualify for the $50 Anniversary Hotel Credit.
- Earn 3x points on dining. 2x points on other travel purchases.
- Earn 1x points on all other purchases
- Get up to $50 in annual hotel credit for Chase Ultimate Rewards portal bookings.
- Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, primary rental car insurance, purchase protection, and more.
- 10% account anniversary bonus based on the total purchases of the previous year.
- Annual fee: $95
Learn more about the *csp*.
Capital One Venture Card
- Welcome Bonus: *Venture Rewards Bonus*.
- Earn 2x miles per dollar on every purchase. There is no cap to the number of miles you can earn each year.
- Earn 5x miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
- Up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
- Two free annual passes to visit the new Capital One Lounges, though this benefit is ending Dec. 31, 2024
- Fly on any airline or stay in any hotel with no blackout dates
- Capital One Venture Miles never expire
- The card does not charge foreign transaction fees
- Annual fee: $95
Learn more about the *capital one venture card*
For decades, travelers have left their Amex cards at home and told friends to do the same. “Amex isn't accepted abroad” has been a common refrain.
But in 2024, that phrase is out of date. Over the last few years, American Express has made moves to ensure it's accepted at more and more merchants at home and abroad. And that's exactly what has happened.
We're not telling you to ditch your Visa and Mastercard – it's smart to be prepared with a backup. We're simply telling you to not count Amex out of the game for your next trip abroad.