5 On Your Side

Beware of foreign transaction fees

Posted September 2, 2009 5:58 p.m. EDT

— Consumers traveling outside of the United States are likely familiar with foreign transaction fees. But as Raleigh resident Sheila Beal found out, you might still have to pay the fee even if you never leave the country.

“It was beautiful. I really learned a lot about Alaska,” Beal said of her trip to Alaska.

However, the trip also taught her about credit card fees, specifically foreign transaction fees. After she paid for the vacation, $259 worth of foreign transaction fees appeared on her credit card bill.

“For the life of me, I couldn't think of anything we had purchased internationally that would have created this foreign transaction fee,” Beal said.

When Beal called the credit card company, she was told the fees steamed from her Alaska vacation. However, the travel agency she booked the vacation through was based in Texas, they flew on American Airlines and cruised in Alaska.

“The cruise company banks in Ireland, so that initiated the foreign transaction fee,” Beal said she later learned.

The credit card company told her that when a company banks in a foreign country, under their policy, they can add a fee of up to 3 percent of a charge.

“I don't think it is right at all,” Beal said.

Complaints over foreign transaction fees are rampant on the Internet. LowCards.com recently posted an online warning about the fees.

Bill Hardekopf, CEO of LowCards.com, told WRAL’s 5 on Your Side that while many credit card issuers list the fee in their policies; until recently, most only added it to charges made outside the country. But he said some credit card issuers have since expanded the fee to transactions processed outside the U.S.

However, Nessa Feddis, a spokeswoman for the American Bankers Association, said credit card issuers have always charged the fee because foreign transactions cost more. She said what is "rare" about Beal's case is that a U.S.-based company used a foreign bank. She said those rarities always involve Internet transactions.

Beal said she sees the fee as nothing more than a money maker for credit card companies.

“This is a shady fee,” she said. “It's padding the credit card company's pocket."

The cruise line has since refunded Beal's $259.

If something like this happens to you, contact your credit card company and explain you were in the U.S. when you made the transaction. If that doesn't work, call the merchant.