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Is Amex Still a Bad Option When Traveling Abroad?

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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 But that knock against Amex is also slightly outdated.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.
 

Merchant Credit Card Acceptance graphic
 

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.
 

Amex Mexico City Cafe
 

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.
 

Nilson Report 2023
 

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)

 

*amex gold card*
 

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

 

*chase sapphire preferred*
 

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

 

*capital one venture card*
 

Learn more about the *capital one venture card*

 

Bottom Line

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.
 

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

11 Responses

  • I was just in St. Martin and almost every place was no Amex. I could use it at the big grocery store but any restaurant or shop it was a no go.

  • You may want to rethink this article. Having been in Europe continuosly for the past two years I can safely say that AMEX is not accepted in most places. They simply say no AMEX. AMEX is mot accepted anywhere in Andorra for instance. I am presently in Italy and it is very uncommon to be able to use AMEX anywhere other than most large grocery store chains. You can forget about AMEX in most restaurants in Europe. I think you should have done more research on this article. It is inaccurate.

    • Just came back yesterday from a trip to the Netherlands and France, and I’d say maybe 1 in 10 actually accepted AMEX, even though I asked at every place we went to.

  • In Thailand it is accepted in some restaurants but it is the exception. Where we live, NE Thailand, you can forget about using AX

  • Good day.

    While I agree with you on some points. It has been my experience that Visa and Mastercards are indeed the go-to cards almost everywhere internationally. They are a ubiquitous form of payment from Ireland, to Egypt, to Padua New Guinea, to Ushuaia, Argentina. I am a U.S. citizen working as an international pilot. I fly on 6 continents and I rarely carry cash because most merchants everywhere will accept Visa or Mastercard. I still find it quite difficult to use my AMEX card and therfore in most instances I don’t even try. The larger retailers, businesses and the like, eg. hotels, car rentals, malls or large shopping centers, more upscale restaurants etc will accept AMEX. However smaller venues even here in the U.S. will not.

    I’ve been traveling for 33 years and it simply makes good sense to have a Visa or Mastercard as your preferred, go-to credit card when traveling. I’ve exchanged my AMEX cards except the platinum, for either Visa or Mastercard because of the difficulty of use. If one can obtain an AMEX, then one can most certainly obtain a Visa or Mastercard.

  • My experience with a month in Europe was that my Amex was not taken very often at all. In fact, regular stores almost never took my AMEX. Hotels yes. Major purchases yes. But regular small transactions virtually never. I just gave up and use my Capital One Visa.
    This was for travel through France, Germany, Luxembourg, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Switzerland.
    I have had the same experience before as well. Traveling to other European countries. Even in train ticket offices in all of those countries, they refused to take AMEX. Small stores just don’t like AMEX.

  • I live in Costa Rica. Been here 4 years. Hotels, supermarkets, big box stores (I’ve bought dishwashers, a motor bike, and stoves) all take AX. Don’t eat out much, so, don’t know how many take AX. Wherever I’ve tried to use it Bingo!! No problem.

  • Currently in Puerto Rico. While P.R. is a U.S. territory, most of the local restaurants outside San Juan and not in resorts do not accept Amex. Neither does the small inn we stay in. Amex is still too expensive for many small businesses and local merchants outside the urban U.S.

  • We were exclusively in France and Italy for two months and whatever stigma AmEx had attached to it has survived, especially in smaller villages or family businesses.
    Even though I saw less signs fending off the card, I saw that my wife’s Discovery card was far more agreeable to people in most places we went.
    I do like your advice for the Chase Sapphire! Time to switch.

  • I’ve got an Amex Gold that I like to use domestically for restaurants, grocery shopping, and some flight purchases, but I almost never pack it when I’m abroad. It just doesn’t make much sense because so many places still don’t take it. At that point, why risk it or waste time asking? I just bring a Visa (usually a Venture X or Sapphire Preferred) and charge everything to that. I don’t want to run the risk of losing cards, so I usually just bring my ID, one credit card, and my debit card for ATM withdrawals.

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