Nearly every credit card in Canada charges an extra 2.5% on any foreign currency purchase. This is on top of the spread you already paid through your credit card’s exchange fees; you never get the true exchange rate.
This fee applies not only to purchases made while travelling (including to the States), but also online purchases made in any currency other than Canadian dollars. Since many online stores use USD as the default, and may not support CAD, this can mean you pay an additional 2.5% for some of your online purchases.
What’s worse is that a lot of bonus categories on credit cards either don’t make up the difference or don’t work on certain transactions. For example, shopping online for clothes on an American store will almost always result in negative rewards, since clothing isn’t a common bonus spending category. While travelling, purchases made at foreign gas stations will still earn at your accelerated rate, but you’d have to earn at least 2.5% in cashback just to break even!
There’s only a handful of cards in Canada that attempt to fix this glaring issue with credit cards in Canada, and even fewer that come with no annual fee. While I’m not personally against premium credit cards, it’s very hard to justify having two premium cards unless you’re mega-rich, so it doesn’t make sense to have a premium card just for foreign purchases: you’d have to switch over entirely.
I’ve made a distinction here for three different types of no-forex cards: true no-forex cards, semi-true no-forex card, and cards that just earn increased cashback to offset the forex fee.
These cards simply don’t charge any foreign exchange fees. Pretty simple. These are the best of the bunch if you ONLY consider foreign spending.
Home Trust Preferred Visa - $0 annual fee
Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite - $139 annual fee
Scotia Gold American Express (as of August 1, 2019) - $120 annual fee
HSBC World Elite Mastercard - $149 annual fee
HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard - $149 annual fee
HSBC Jade World Elite Mastercard – Good luck getting this card
Brim Financial launched three cards that all say proudly “No Foreign Exchange Fees,” and then in small print at the bottom they mention they use a special exchange rate, not the Mastercard exchange rate.
In typical financial institution fashion, that rate is listed nowhere online. However, some digging and conversations with other users reveal that the conversion rate is about 1.75% higher than the typical Mastercard rate, at least for USD purchases.
So while technically they don’t charge you a conversion fee, they still do. But to be fair, that fee is 30% less than the standard 2.5%.
Brim Mastercard - $0 annual fee
Brim World Mastercard - $99 annual fee
Brim World Elite Mastercard - $199 annual fee
The worst of the no-forex options, it’s still pretty good.
The reason that this is worse than simply not charging a foreign exchange fee is because of returns. When you return an item, you have to give up the rewards you earned when purchasing that item, but you don’t get refunded the foreign exchange fee.
It’s not a gigantic problem, but it’s something you should be aware of.
Rogers Platinum Mastercard - $0 annual fee
Rogers World Elite - $0 annual fee
Fido Mastercard - $0 annual fee
Meridian Visa Infinite Travel Rewards Card - $99
Now that we now the different categories, let’s take a look at the cards themselves.
This is the best no-forex credit card in Canada if you only need a supplementary card to make the occasional foreign currency purchase. I would not recommend this as your main credit card, for reasons we’ll get into below.
No annual fee. It’s the only true no-forex credit card in Canada without an annual fee, meaning you don’t have to meet a minimum level of spending to justify using the card, nor do you have to give up your preferred main card.
1% cashback on everything. Not only do you immediately save 2.5% on all your purchases, you also get 1% back on everything for a combined savings of 3.5% when compared to a typical 1% cashback credit card.
Free roadside assistance. It’s not the best roadside assistance program in Canada. It’s not even the best roadside assistance program from a credit card in Canada. But it’s free, and covers you within Canada and America, giving you some use for the card even when you’re not travelling.
10 transactions per day. You can only buy 10 things a day with this card. After 10 transactions, any subsequent transactions will be declined.
Personally this doesn’t affect me, as I rarely make 10 separate transactions per day, but while travelling it could come up – breakfast, a taxi, lunch, a couple attractions, dinner, and a taxi back could see you at or above 10 transactions fairly quickly.
Fixed PIN. For some reason, they assign a PIN to you when you get the card that cannot be changed. If you forget it, you’ll have to be mailed a new card.
This is one of the best travel rewards cards in Canada, if you meet the minimum income requirement. Everything about this card seems geared towards travelers, from the bonus categories to no foreign exchange fee.
And while it’s a very good travel card, it’s not suitable as a “daily driver” for foreign purchases unless you travel a lot.
Bonus points for travel-related purchases. Aside from grocery purchases, the bonus categories on the Passport are aimed at travelers. Dining, entertainment, and transit are all things you’re likely to buy while on vacation.
Complimentary lounge access. You get 6 free visits to an airport lounge per year with this card. Obviously you can only use this if you actually go to an airport.
Few good-at-home bonus categories. We all eat at restaurants and go out for entertainment while we’re in Canada, too, but the lack of mainstay categories like gas, recurring bills, and now the popular subscription/streaming services, it isn’t as good for people who spend nearly all of their time within Canada.
High annual fee. If you don’t spend thousands of dollars a year on bonus categories, you might just break even at the end of the year.
High income requirement. You need to make $60,000 per year to get approved for this card.
Scotiabank is finally bringing another credit card to market with no foreign-exchange fee, and it’s a strong contender for the best credit card in Canada.
The no-forex fee makes this still a good choice for travelers, but its bonus categories also make it a good choice for those of us that only go on one vacation per year.
5 points per dollar on groceries, entertainment, and dining. Yes, those are the same categories as the Passport Infinite, but you actually get more points per dollar. In addition, you get 3 points per dollar on gas and subscription services, 3 times as much as with the Passport.
The rewards offerings are good enough that I could suggest switching your current main card for this one. The lack of a income requirement (common among American Express cards) means that this is one of the best premium cards you can get even without a high income. But beware that you actually earn enough money to reach the level of spending required to be worth it.
It’s no secret that Amex isn’t as widely accepted as Visa or Mastercard. In Canada the problem isn’t quite so bad, with mostly smaller shops and certain grocery stores (Loblaw’s, Costco) not accepting Amex, but abroad the problem could be much worse depending on which country you visit.
I won’t get into too much detail here about the HSBC Jade World Elite Mastercard, since it’s invite-only. You have to not only be a current client of HSBC’s, you also have to be making big bucks to get noticed.
As for the HSBC World Elite and Premier World Elite, they are very similar to the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite in terms of travel insurance and rewards earning. You get a bonus category of 3% on travel purchases and 1.5% back on everything else.
The Brim family of Mastercards all have the same no-forex claim, with the more expensive cards giving better base rewards earning and better travel insurance.
Like I said earlier, the Brim cards appear to be semi-true no-forex cards. Without the ability to actually see the exchange rate, we can only rely on the experiences of current customers to estimate the actual exchange rate.
We currently peg it at 1.75%, which is still lower than 2.5%, making this an alright card for foreign spending when combined with the base rewards earning (1 points = 1 cent, so the effective foreign exchange fee is brought down to just 0.75%). The world elite nets 2 points per dollar so you would actually earn a net benefit.
The straightforward rewards structure is great even for Canadians that don’t travel much, making the no annual fee version easy to recommend. The travel insurance and higher rewards values of the upper tier cards could also entice you to switch to a Brim card as your main card, but that’s for you to decide.
These are all run by Rogers Bank, a financial subsidiary of Rogers Communication, and all operate in basically the exact same way. You earn 1.25% - 1.75% cashback on all purchases, and 3% – 4% cashback on all purchases made in a foreign currency for a net benefit of 0.5% - 1.5%
These make excellent stay-at-home cards, too, since it’s a simple 1.25% - 1.75% back on everything. That’s better than some premium cards, and none of these cards have an annual fee.
The best card, Rogers World Elite, does have a very high income requirement of $80,000, but the other two are still excellent cards.
With this card you get 1.5 points per dollar spent on everything, and 3 points per dollar spent on foreign currency purchases.
This makes the card slightly worse than the Platinum Rogers Mastercard despite it having a slightly higher earn rate on every transaction because of the annual fee. In order to offset the annual fee on this card, you’d have to spend an additional $6,600 per year over the Rogers card.
Otherwise, this card is just as good as the Rogers cards.