Credit Cards for Belgian Travellers: In-Depth Review

This is a guest post by travel enthusiast Stefan Van der Straeten (@stefanvds) He wrote an in-depth review on credit cards available to Belgian travellers.  Full disclosure: This is an independent review, Stefan has no financial benefit from recommending any of the listed card issuers or banks.

Pic: Caution – Hidden Fees Ahead
When you travel abroad, you need a credit card. A Belgian Maestro debit card won’t be very useful in most non-EU countries.  So what do people look for when picking a credit card? I reckon the most important thing they’ll look for is the annual fee and the credit limit. Some might not even compare prices and just take the card from the bank with their debit account. After all, a credit card is a credit card, right? You’d think the difference between them is little to non-existent, but you’d be wrong. The difference between two Visa cards can be huge. Pick the wrong one as frequent traveller and you might end up paying €300-€400 more in hidden costs and fees.

The problem?

Using a credit card in shops is always free*. So in that respect all cards are indeed the same. So what’s the problem? Money withdrawals from ATMs and payments in foreign currencies often have (hidden) fees.
*Unless you use a prepaid card like Mobile Vikings where you pay 3% just to top it up

The Conversion Fee

When you use your credit card abroad (or online) and pay in a non-euro currency, your credit card issuer will convert the foreign currency into Euro using a certain rate. This rate (the conversion rate) is defined by The European Central Bank and is fluctuating all the time. If you’d use your card 5 times in 1 day, you might see 5 different rates on your statement. What you probably don’t know is that banks are charging you a certain percentage for converting foreign currencies into Euro, called the conversion fee.  This fee doesn’t show up on your statement as the conversion rate will already be lowered, except for American Express which shows the real conversion rate and separates its fees (online statements only). Belfius for example has a 1% fee on all its cards. That’s the lowest of the big banks. ING, Recordbank and Keytrade have 1.4%, BPN Paribas has 1.6% and American Express cards have a 2.5% rate. The mobile Vikings prepaid Mastercard has a whopping 5.75% rate. You don’t want to be paying a 5.75% extra on everything you buy, right?

Always make sure you are charged in the local currency.
The conversion fee only applies for non-euro payments. In some cases merchants might suggest to convert the foreign amount to Euro before you pay.  The additional conversion fee will be between 3% and 7%, a nice extra for the merchant! Paying in the local currency is always cheaper.

Withdrawing money from an ATM

Withdrawing money from an ATM abroad is something I personally do regularly. It’s the best way to get some local banknotes. The exchange offices in airports are usually huge rip-offs. The fee you pay for withdrawing money can, again, be very different between cards. E.g. Belfius has a fee of € 5,00 + 1% conversion fee per withdrawal. Record bank a 3.5% fee for withdrawing + 1.4% conversion fee makes a whopping ≈4.9%. Amex tops this easily: 3.5% fee for withdrawing and 2.5% conversion fee makes ≈6%. Withdrawing an equivalent of € 100.00 makes you € 106.00 lighter.

Choosing the right card

Surprised by the fees? They are usually very deep down in Terms of Service and Agreements. The fees are defined by the banks themselves. Only AMEX sets its own fees, and those are the same for all AMEX card in Belgium. VISA and Mastercard fees are set by the banks who hand them out. Within a bank, the fees for both these cards will be the same. A Visa classic from Belfius will have the same rates and fees as a Belfius Mastercard platinum. The only bank not applying this is Citibank.

When you are a frequent traveller and are spending lots of money in non-euro currencies you can see the annual fee is the least of your problems. Picking the wrong card can set you back €300-€400 annually. So is there a right card? Yes there is!

Some popular cards compared

For the comparison I am using the following numbers:

  • Withdrawal of €500 in a Euro country (but not Belgium)
  • Money withdrawn from ATM (non Euro): equivalent of €3000 in 6 withdrawals
  • Money spent with card (non Euro): equivalent of €4000

I don’t care about your Euro payments on the card, because those will be free for any card.

Card Action Fee Total fee
Belfius Mastercard RedMMI-Card-red-video_tcm_11-8029 Withdraw 500eur € 5,00 € 5,00
Withdraw 6x equiv 500eur € 5,00 + 1% € 60,00
Spend equiv 4000eur 1% € 40,00
Sum € 105,00
Record bank Visa Classicrecord Withdraw 500eur 1%
Min € 2,48
€ 5,00
Withdraw 6x equiv 500eur 3,5% fee + 1,4% conv rate € 148,47
Spend equiv 4000eur 1,4% conv rate € 56,00
Sum € 209,47
Brussels Airlines AMEXamex Withdraw 500eur 3,5% min € 5,00 € 17,50
Withdraw 6x equiv 500eur 3,5% fee + 2,5% conv rate € 182,63
Spend equiv 4000eur 2,5% conv rate € 100,00
Sum 300,13
Mobile Vikings Prepaid Mastercardmob Withdraw 500eur € 3,00 + 3% € 18,00
Withdraw 6x equiv 500eur € 3,00 + 5,75% € 192,98
Spend equiv 4000eur 5,75% € 233,30
Sum € 444,28
BNP Visa Classicbnp Withdraw 500eur 1% min € 5,00 € 5,00
Withdraw 6x equiv 500eur € 4,00 + 1,6% € 72,00
Spend equiv 4000eur 1,6% € 64,00
Sum € 141,00
ING Visa Classicing Withdraw 500eur € 4,96 + 1% € 9,96
Withdraw 6x equiv 500eur € 4,96 + 2,4% € 102,18
Spend equiv 4000eur 1,4% € 56,00
Sum € 168,14
Keytrade Visa Classickeytrade Withdraw 500eur 1% min € 2,50 € 5,00
Withdraw 6x equiv 500eur €5,00 + 3,4% € 132,84
Spend equiv 4000eur 1,4% € 56,00
Sum € 193,84
Citi Belgacom Club World Mastercardciti Withdraw 500eur 2,5% min € 5,00 max € 15,00 € 12,50
Withdraw 6x equiv 500eur 2,5% min € 5,00 max € 15,00 + 2,29% conv rate € 145,42
Spend equiv 4000eur 2,29% € 91,60
Sum € 249,52
BKCP Visa Classicbkcp Withdraw 500eur € 0 € 0,00
Withdraw 6x equiv 500eur € 5,00 € 30,00
Spend equiv 4000eur 0% € 0,00
Sum € 30,00

The ‘best’ card?

Clearly the BKCP Visa Classic card is the winner! This card is quite simply stunning compared to all other available cards. Withdrawing money from within the Euro-zone is absolutely free. This is basically a free cash loan! Withdrawing money from anywhere else in the world sets you back €5,00. On every non-euro payment there is a 0% conversion fee. This is the only card in Belgium with a 0% conversion fee!

The card has to be linked to a BKCP bank account. An account with a VISA classic card will set you back € 57,84 per year. You can also opt for Visa Gold. That’s €20,00 extra per year. This might seem like a lot of money, but in most banks an account is not free.

Runner up, and best of the big banks is Belfius. An account and Belfius Red card will set you back about €50,00 a year. Spending that same amount on a Belfius Mastercard Red will set you back € 105,00 compared to € 30,00 with BKCP

The Record Bank Visa Classic shows that free isn’t always as free as you’d think. A debit account and Visa Classic at Record Bank is completely free. But spending the amount on that Visa would cost you € 209,47!

Some travellers might already have the Brussels Airlines American Express card. Great to collect Lufthansa Miles and More miles when paying in Euro! Not so great outside the Euro zone. The card would have cost you € 300,12 in fees!

So back to the BKCP card. The bank might not ring a bell to most but they do have privately run offices all over Belgium. They are slightly apprehensive on handing out Visa cards. The card is not something they advertise with, although it has awesome value. I had to request the T&C by mail! The office I opened an account at requested to see my last 3 payslips for requesting a Visa (Since I got no history there). The monthly limit is € 1250 by default but I have requested to up that permanently to € 1500. That wasn’t a problem. I’m going to apply for the Visa Gold in a few months’ time because of the higher limit (€ 3750) and better insurance.

A great website for currency conversion is XE.com They also have a great conversion app for all devices.

Conclusion by Bart Lapers

Stefan did an excellent job scouting the best credit card with the lowest fees for Belgians traveling outside the Euro zone.  I applied for (and received) the BKCP Visa Classic card myself and plan to use it for my non-euro payments and ATM withdrawals outside the Euro-zone.  However, I will keep my Brussels Airlines Premium American Express card for euro payments, as there are no payment fees involved and it earns me 1,5 miles per euro spent.  The Brussels Airlines American Express double sign-up bonus is still active (up to 12000 welcome miles), so if you consider applying of this card, feel free to use my referral form.  Thank you for your support!

57 Comments on “Credit Cards for Belgian Travellers: In-Depth Review

  1. Thank you for this great overview.
    But what about Deutsche Bank? Do you have some extra information?

  2. In addition to this fine, detailed report, I would like to add:
    Brussels Airlines Mastercard:
    Payment in currency other than euro: conversion rate + 2,5%
    Cash withdrawal ATM: 1% (min. 5 EUR)
    Cash withdrawal inside bank: 2% (min. 5EUR)

    • Thanks Sven! I’ve checked these in the ToS () and indeed, hefty fees on that card as well. With example usage used in the blog, this card would have cost you € 240,75!

  3. Interesting article, I always avoid withdrawing money using my Credit card, and made sure my bank (Belfius) permanently lifted the block on withdrawing money outside Europe using my debit card. The charges are much lower.

    (btw; using creditcards for payments is not always free, in Australia for instance I always pay an additional 1.5-3% fee on hotel bills using a creditcard, the same for taxis and in few occasions even in general stores)

  4. Pfoeh, a lot to take in! I’m still not sure what to do with my upcoming trip to the US this summer. I have an ING visa, so in comparison, that’s still ok. I don’t think I’ll register at BKCP because I don’t have a pay slip to show them and because of the lower maximum than I have right now on my credit card. Paying lots of trips with my visa card had my bank upping that maximum quite a lot.
    I mostly stay within the EU though, so applying for a new Visa for just this trip is maybe too much 🙂

  5. Apparently the Deutsche Bank Titanium card and Argenta Mastercard are more popular than I thought. Those 2 cards are free, and are not too bad in this spending example. They might be a good idea for less frequent travelers as the BKCP card does have an annual fee.

    Argenta Mastercard:
    Withdraw 500eur 1% min € 2,50: € 5,00
    Withdraw 6x equiv 500eur 1% min € 2,50+1,5% conv fee: € 75,45
    Spend equiv 4000eur 1,5%: € 60,00
    Sum € 140,45

    Deutsche Bank Titanium:
    Withdraw 500eur € 2,50: € 2,50
    Withdraw 6x equiv 500eur € 2,50 + 1,5% conv fee: € 75,00
    Spend equiv 4000eur 1,5%: € 60,00
    Sum € 137,50

  6. Thank you for the info. I have a DB Titanium.
    This article is really interesting as I am usually travelling outside Europe a few times a year. But I also order online in other currencies.
    Thanks again.

  7. The standard Argenta debitcard (with Maestro/Cirrus) does not offer you the same services as a VISA/Mastercard, but it does allow you to withdraw money, without any fees, anywhere. All you need to do is ask your bank office to activate it before going abroad. Limit is fixed at 650 euro a day and 1250 euro a week.
    Conversion fee is 1,5%.
    Card is free, account is free.

    So although it’s not the same product as a VISA/Mastercard, it does offer you a similar service for an unbeatable price.

  8. Great research!! Thanks Bart & Stefan!! I live in Singapore I could surely use that BKCP Visa Card!! Hope I can open an account during my upcoming holidays!!

    Just out of curiosity … ever compared Visa & MC Gold from KBC?

    Good to read that my instinct was right about paying in local currency and not converting to euro 😉

  9. Stefan,

    How do you explain the €60.00 costs for €4,000 payments?
    “Deutsche Bank Titanium: Spend equiv 4000eur 1,5%: € 60,00”

    from spaargids.be: “Betalen buiten eurozone: gratis”

    • Brecht,

      To pay in a shop is always free. No card charges you per-use
      However, you are forgetting that there is a 1.5% conversion fee. So you buy something in Singapore for 100SGD, they will add another 1.5% on the sum for converting the SGD to EUR.
      It’s these hidden and sneaky fees no one really knows about.
      Basically, everything you buy in Singapore, you’ve been paying 1.5% extra.
      I live in Kuala Lumpur. The BKCP card is THE card for paying, withdrawing, …

  10. Wonderful review! Bart do you know if you have to pay extra fees when you link your Brussel Airlines A.Express to your paypall account and make non european transactions? Or if you pay online with non-european shops?

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  12. I tried to open an account at the BKCP branch in Hasselt, but my request got denied.
    They wanted me to have my salary transfered there and only after three months I would be able to request a VISA card.
    Salary transfer is not an option due to the mortgage deal I have with my current bank.

    • Thanks for your feedback Bart. Each branch of BKCP independently decides if they approve a card application or not. You might have better luck with other branches. The BKCP branch in Vilvoorde approved my application after seeing my payslip. The only requirement was to open an account.

  13. Bart, did you check the beobank visa card where you get 3% discount on every online purchase? Card is only 5euro per year and requires no account.

    • Wim,

      Thanks for your input. Yes, we reviewed the Beobank cards and they are definitely not a good choice for several reasons. The main pitfall: the 3% return is limited to a maximum return of 100€ per year.

      • Now it’s €200/year, if you spend €6667 online at 3% return then you have the €200. Can be an interesting option, at least for me it is.

        And to withdraw money abroad I just use Maestro (Argenta) which doesn’t have any charges.

    • Beobank is the old Citi bank. The 3% might be nice, but as Bart said it only counts for the first 3333euro you spend (max 100eur cashback).
      On top of that this card is more of a loan than a credit card, meaning you will get hefty fee’s if you don’t pay your card on time.
      It might be good for some online purchases. But for a traveller I would not consider this card. 1.9% commission on conversion rate and a 2.5% commission on cash withdrawal (with a minimum of 5 euro) means a cash withdrawal will set you back a whopping 4.4% extra. Since you get 3% cashback you might be able to use this for some online foreign bookings but the cashback would be reduced to 1.1% since you are paying 1.9% extra in the first place. Taking into account this is a ‘loan’ card. It might pay off, but the use of it is limited, and you need to be very wary of extra charges.

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  15. Thanks for this interesting article Stefan and Bart. Would be great if you would review it each year so it stays a up-to-date go-to-source for this subject.

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  17. Interesting article! What do you think about the Beobank Club Belgacom Mastercard because this Mastercard allows you to transfer your Premium Club tot Miles&More?

    • Hi PJ, the Beobank Belgacom Club Mastercard looks interesting IF your are a Belgacom Business customer and member of their Premium or Bizz Club (free). If you have high invoices to pay at the Belgacom Shop, Belgacom.be or Proximus.be this could become a lucrative deal. Spending +€7500 in the first three months (4 points per euro) equals 25000 M&M miles (see http://www.miles-and-more.com/online/portal/mam/be/earn/telecom/offer?nodeid=3212992&l=en&cid=1000188) Just be VERY careful with the T&C of Beobank when you sign-up for the card. They tend to automatically put you in a credit formula where they do not ask you to pay your balance in full at the end of the month and instead spread it over several months subject to high interest rates. I’ll do some more research and will let you know if anything important came up. Thanks!

      • This is not true, I have a Beobank MC as well (on top of the amex I got after reading your blog) and you have 3 choices for payement:

        – transfer the amount when you get your invoice (most used)
        – domiciliation of minimum amount (dumbest choice)
        – domiciliation of total amount

        They don’t really push people to one of these choices; it’s up to the customer in my experience.

        • Yoni, it’s up to the consumer to be ‘smart’ enough to make the right choice. Unfortunately, many financially weak individuals tend to make the wrong choice… the majority of personal debt cases at Belgian courts involve Citibank, Europabank, etc… as these banks keep providing credit to people who already have heavy debts.

  18. Hi, guys.
    It was very interesting and useful information.
    As a traveller, besides the merits of mileage accumulation, the benifits of travelling insurance might come up with it together, in that terms Beobank World Travel Master Card shows a deal on the insurance cover for delayed flight or baggages, etc.

    I have a few insurances, but these are quite attractable, do you have any ideas on these?

    I am still wondering which credit card I should choose, beside using the debit card any more.

    Blessings,

    Stephen

    • Hi Stephen, did you read the T&C of the travel insurance offered by the Beobank card in detail? I didn’t review them yet, but in most cases the insurance offered is very limited.

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  20. This post is gold!! Thanks Bart & Stefan!
    I read this review and got myself a BKCP visa card. Though I have to pay for the account and card, the amount will be no problem since i’m a long term traveller…
    I also use the Maestro function of a free Argenta bank-account.
    I’ve noticed that at Banco de America Central (BAC) you don’t have to pay ANY commission to the local banks on a withdrawal at an ATM. So in this case the withdrawal is completely FREE! ( I must say that this is the only banc that i know so far)
    I also met a couple from Australia that have got an account at the dutch ING, they said it took them ages to have the card all the way to Australia but, according to them, it only costs 2,5 euro for eacht withdrawal… Maybe there are other European banks out there that have a credit card that don’t have any costs for a withdrawal?

    If anybody knows any other banks in South-America (Colombia, ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chili, Argentina, Paraguay, Brasil) that don’t charge any commission, please let me know, cause i’ve got some travelling ahead 🙂

    Greets from Costa-Rica

    • Well Joris, The fee you pay for withdrawing money is usually the least of your problems, as you can see from my blogpost, it’s the charges on exchange rate that usually get you. ING might only charge 2.5euro, but what percentage do they take from the exchange rate….

      It is true that some banks in some countries charge you extra for withdrawing money with VISA. In Thailand it is 150THB (or 180). These local charges will always be on top of everything else, so they don’t replace the card charges you pay on withdrawing.

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  23. Hi Stefan,

    Great post! Like Joris above, i will be travelling long term starting mid-august. Since i quit my job to do this, i unfortunately dont have a payslip to show to BKCP . I was wondering if you now of any alternatives for credit cards in belgium? In the UK for example there are companies who have travel cash cards (as an alternative for travel cheques). You pay a fee to top them up, but withdrawal of money etc. will be free of charge they claim..

  24. Hi Bart,

    You said last year (December 27, 2013) “Stefan will do a review and update early 2014.” – have you guys done that? Haven’t found the link. If not, I guess a 2015 review should be coming soon anyway, right? Thanks!

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  26. Hi
    Very interesting post to read. Like a few others, Im a long term traveler and always looking for the best package available in regards to managing my money when on the road.
    I recently came across this https://revolut.com.
    I think it might be the way forward when traveling a lot.
    The currency exchange you get is the daily one, there is no charge when doing a transfer, payment or WD.
    Is this just to good to be true? I’m i missing something?
    Second opinion would be greatly appreciated 🙂

    • Hmmm this does look like something interesting. The 30 000 pound limit annually also shouldn’t be a problem.
      They seem to be promising great exchange rates. better than the banks (even with 0% fee) so I’m gonna have a look at the app.

        • The exchange rates they seem to be using are very very good. better than the banks or normal inter bank exchange rates.

          The forex rate of a bank has usually a difference of about 3.5% between the Buy and Sell rates of a currency. This depends on the stability of the currency and other factors. This would be the Base exchange rates.
          for example: My bank in Malaysia exchanges EUR to MYR at the following rate (not cash, just convert in bank account)
          Sell 1 EUR for 4.81 MYR
          Buy 1 EUR for 4.65 MYR
          difference is 3.5%

          The app seems to be using what they call SPOT forex rates.
          which can be seen here: http://www.fxstreet.com/rates-charts/forex-rates/?default=y

          EUR vs USD for example is:
          sell 1 EUR for 1.1033 USD
          buy 1 EUR for 1.1032 USD

          This is pretty much 0% between buy and sell. So the exchange is as cheap as it gets.

          Sadly for me, in the app you can only convert USD/EUR/GBP.
          But using the card you could withdraw or pay very cheaply.
          another downside is that it’s a debit card, which never works as well as a credit card for travel. Since it’s free, well worth a try i guess.

  27. An update of this article – including Argenta and some new ways of currency exchange (like Revolut) – would be very welcome.

    Any chance to see that in the near future?

  28. I have just returned from an extended trip to various parts of Canada, US and Mexico. I spent the last part of the trip with a dead Brussels Airlines corporate mastercard. This is not the first trip to Noth America where this has happened. Nope every trip the card has locked up. Not only is there no 24 hour number to call for assistance (just a number to cancel the card) but if something happens to the pin then the only way it can be fixed is that they will happily mail you a new pin which you will receive (at your billing addess) in three business days. Lot of good that does me when I live in Belgium and I am in Florida. Yes I also contacted them prior to the trip to ensure they had my travel details and was assured that all would be well. It came down to the card terminals in the US actually. It would take the card ask for your pin and then say the pin was incorrect (which it was not). So let this be a warning to you. If you do travel overseas Brussels Airlines credit card company is only available during regular Belgium business hours and if something should happen to your pin code even though you were entering the code correctly you will find youself without a card until you get back home. Also I was told not to slide the card in a machine as that would automatically stop the card from working. US is very slowly starting to bring in chip pin readers but those new machines are not fond of EU cards. Make sure to always carry more than one credit card (which I do) and cut up the Brussels Airmiles card…… Not worth the agro it will give you.

    • Thank you for your valuable input Brandy. I’m sorry to learn you had so much trouble using the Brussels Airlines MasterCard. I don’t have the MasterCard myself, only the Brussels Airlines American Express cards. Amex has a 24-hour support line, but not always helpful. What alternative did the MasterCard helpdesk provide? Imagine you wouldn’t have access to any other payment means, you would be stuck abroad! So indeed, bringing multiple credit cards is never a bad idea! I would escalate this returning issue with MasterCard (BCC Corporate) and demand a compensation. Please keep us updated!

      • I have just called BCC Corporation regarding the situation I found myself in while travelling in North America and the best they could provide is to mail me a new pin code to the place I was staying within 3 business days. Funny how it would take only 3 business days to reach me in North America but it will take 4 to 5 days for me to receive my new pin code here in Belgium. They also tried to blame the card (which works perfectly fine anywhere in the EU). The best I can do is to in writing contact BCC Corporation and launch an official complaint. I have lived in Belgium for 8 years and am well versed in how this situation will turn out if I do write a letter to complain however I do plan to write the letter just to say that I have done so. I just hope to pass the word along that if you travel outside of the EU to not depend on the BCC Corporate Miles & More business mastercard.

    • Hi Wouter, Brussels Airlines also offers a MasterCard to collect Miles & More miles. Flying Blue miles aren’t as valuable in my opinion.

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