Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any credit card issuer.
Visa and Mastercard are by far the most accessible credit card networks, both domestically and abroad. Consumers who have one of these two types of cards will be able to pay at most businesses around the world. Discover, while accepted at close to the same number of merchants, thanks to various partnerships, is notably absent from countries including Mexico and Germany. American Express currently has the lowest acceptance rates. We recommend Amex cardholders carry a backup Visa or Mastercard, especially when travelling outside the United States.
Visa vs Mastercard vs Discover vs American Express: How Widely Accepted are They?
Visa and Mastercard are by far the most widely accepted cards, with Discover slightly behind those brands and American Express in a distant fourth place. Any retailer that accepts card payments likely takes Visa and Mastercard. In terms of number of countries serviced, Discover lags behind the other three cards.
Consumers who have Discover and American Express credit cards are likely to run into the most trouble finding merchants who accept their cards, especially when travelling outside the United States. Discover has leveraged international partnerships with other card networks, including UnionPay. As of 2015, these alliances have allowed Discover to become one of the most widely accepted international card brands. Still, as you can see below, Discover still has gaps in coverage when it comes to certain major countries.
Where are American Express Cards Accepted?
Consumers will find it more difficult to find merchants that accept Amex cards than any of the other networks. This is true both domestically and abroad. Approximately six million U.S. merchants take American Express cards, which is about 30% fewer than accept Visa, Mastercard and Discover. It's generally a good idea to have a backup card with you whenever out, in case you happen upon one of the merchants that doesn't take American Express.
Despite this, as noted above, millions of merchants still accept Amex cards. If you live in major cities or near tourist destinations especially, you will likely find merchants who accept American Express as payment. Amex is also increasing its cardmember base, and the number of sales with the company's cards is increasing. Over time, this growth helps counter Amex's high processing costs for merchants, and incentivizes them to accept American Express if they want to gain access to the growing number of customers who use these cards.
Some merchants refuse to work with American Express due to how expensive it is to process their transactions. Most Amex cards offer premium rewards, and each swipe from these cards can cost merchants 2.5% of the sale or more. In contrast, Visa, Mastercard and Discover can charge fees of between 1.7% to 2%. This provides a strong monetary incentive for store managers to favor using those networks over American Express.
Where are Discover Credit Cards Accepted?
Among the four major U.S. credit card networks, Discover has the third highest acceptance rate among merchants domestically. However, it does not lag far behind the two leaders, Visa and Mastercard. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. Mostly notably, Costco—America's largest membership-only warehouse club—accepts only Visa cards.
As mentioned above, a large number of international merchants accept Discover. However, this acceptance isn't evenly spread among all countries. If you have a Discover card and are planning to travel, consult the table below.
Discover has partnered with several other major card networks, which has helped to expand their reach abroad. In certain parts of the world, stores that accept Diners Club, China UnionPay or JCB will also accept a Discover-branded card.
|Where Can Discover Credit Cards be Used?|
|North America||Discover locations only.|
|Central America||Discover locations only.|
|South America||Diners Club International locations only.|
|Caribbean||Discover locations only.|
|Europe||Discover and Diners Club locations.|
|Asia||Diners Club, China UnionPay (Mainland China only), and JCB (Japan only).|
|Africa||Diners Club International locations only.|
|Oceania||Discover and Diners Club locations.|
Credit Card Acceptance by Country
Despite the fact that the total number of merchants accepting Discover is greater than the other three networks, there are certain countries where acceptance isn't the norm. We examined the card acceptance rate for the 25 most visited countries in the world. Merchants in certain places, including Italy, Germany and Mexico, don't accept Discover cards at all. American Express is listed in all the countries below, but that doesn't mean it is widely accepted in each of those. Before taking a trip abroad, we recommend looking at the acceptance rates for the countries you're about to visit, to ensure that you'll be carrying cards that are widely accepted.