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Travel Smart: 9 debit cards ideal for use abroad

When booking a holiday or travelling overseas, one of the last things we think about is the cost of spending when we’re there. But ignore it and the fees soon add up. Get ahead of the game and take a look at some of the best debit cards to use abroad.

The best debit cards to use abroad


Debit cards to use abroad

Modern banking has done away with travellers’ cheques and the need to take large sums of cash with us when we travel abroad. Instead, we can just rely on our handy debit cards for our travel money. And although these cards make life easier, they don’t always provide the best value. You may be stung with all kinds of fees when using your card abroad, meaning you find yourself out of pocket.

Below are some of the better options available for spending away from your home country.

Fees to look out for

So, what kind of fees do you need to be careful of?

Foreign transaction fees – if you have a standard current account with one of the major banks, it will probably charge you a one-off fee every time you use your debit card for foreign transactions. This may be around £2-£3 and although it doesn’t sound like much, it can soon stack up.

ATM fees – along with transaction fees, some banks will charge you a fee for making cash withdrawals from a cash machine. Again, they’re not hugely expensive as a one-off expense, they will begin to add up. It’s also important to note that foreign ATMs may charge you for using them no matter which card you use. An ATM fee should be clearly displayed on the screen before you make a withdrawal.

Conversion rate – if you’ve ever converted cash at an airport, you’ll notice that they often do it ‘fee free’. That might sound ideal for international travel, but it probably isn’t. In this case, a company will usually set its own conversion rate, which will never be in your favour. It’s a crafty way for a company to charge you additional fees without you realising.

Annual fee – some of the cards below will charge you an annual fee for your account, although this can often be paid monthly. These kinds of accounts come with extra benefits, but you need to be sure you’re making full use of them. There’s no point in paying extra fees for something you don’t need.

So, bearing the above in mind, here are my top picks for the right card when spending abroad.


The best debit cards to use when travelling

Cash withdrawal fee*Purchase feeImportant to note
Starling Bank£0 £0£300 withdrawal limit each day
Chase Bank£0£0Earn 1% cashback
First Direct£0£0
Virgin M Plus Account£0£0
Revolut£0 up to £200 per month, then a 2% fee ( other limits apply, see below)£0Exchange rate fees at weekends
Monzo£0 in the EEA. Outside, £200 limit then a 3% fee£0
Wise£0 for the first 2 withdrawals up to £200, then 50 pence plus a 1.75% fee£0Debit card costs £5
Kroo£0 up to £200 per month, then 3% fee£0
Nationwide Flex Plus£0£0£13 monthly fee
*Please note that some ATMs charge their own fees


Starling Bank

Starling Kite review

Average EU holiday spend:

£800 card spending: £0 fee

£700 cash withdrawal: £0 fee (£300 daily limit)

Total fees: £0

Unsurprisingly, the first card to make the list comes from a digital bank. As these banks don’t have physical branches, they rely on attracting customers with great deals and excellent online service. Founded back in 2014, Starling has been named the Best British Bank multiple times and was recently awarded Which? Banking Brand of the Year.

A Starling account comes with many features, including roundup spending, a bill manager and a child’s account to rival GoHenry.

Of course, we’re more interested in how the account performs when we’re abroad. Well, this fee-free card is great for overseas spending and it’s all run from the mobile app.

Charges for using abroad:

  • No fees when you use your card to spend.
  • No fees for withdrawing cash.
  • Uses Mastercard exchange rates.


Starling Bank


Chase

Chase logo

Average holiday spend:

£800 card spending: £0 fee

£700 cash withdrawal: £0 fee

Total fees: £0

Although established in the USA for many years, Chase only started to offer current accounts in the UK in 2021. To attract customers, new members of Chase will receive 1% cashback for 1 year on purchases using their debit card. They also offer a round-up feature that pays 5% interest.

Charges for using abroad:

  • No fee when using your card to spend.
  • No fees for withdrawing cash.
  • Uses the Mastercard exchange rate.


Chase Bank


First Direct

Average holiday spend:

£800 card spending: £0 fee

£700 cash withdrawal: £0 fee

Total fees: £0

Often voted as one of the top-rated banks in the UK, First Direct is part of HSBC. It doesn’t only offer great customer service, but has good savings rates and gives new customers a switching bonus.

Charges for using abroad:

  • No fee when using your card to spend.
  • No fees for withdrawing cash.
  • Uses the Mastercard exchange rate.


First Direct


Virgin Money M Plus Account

Virgin Money

Average holiday spend:

£800 card spending: £0 fee

£700 cash withdrawal: £0 fee

Total fees: £0

If you prefer to operate an account with the option to pop into a branch, then Virgin Money could be your answer. The M Plus account also pays a generous rate of interest on credit balances up to £1,000 and often offers a switching bonus if you close your old bank account.

Charges for using abroad:

  • No fee when using your card to make purchases.
  • No fees for withdrawing cash.
  • Uses the Mastercard exchange rate.


Virgin M Plus Account


Monzo

Monzo logo

Average EU holiday spend:

£800 card spending: £0 fee

£700 cash withdrawal: £0 fee

Total fees: £0

This digital account began back in 2016 as a prepaid Mastercard. After becoming a full bank, Monzo has added features such as a salary sorter, the ability to buy now and pay later with certain purchases and the option to receive your pay early. It also provides you with a very good travel debit card.

Charges for using abroad:

  • No fees when using your card abroad.
  • No fees for withdrawing cash in the EEA. 3% fee if you withdraw more than £200 from non-EEA countries in 30 days. You can withdraw up to £600 fee-free if you upgrade to Monzo Premium.
  • Uses the Mastercard exchange rate.

*Free £5! Use the button below and make a card transaction within 30 days for a £5 bonus.

Monzo


Revolut

Revolut logo

Average holiday spend:

£800 card spending: £0 fee

£700 cash withdrawal: £10 fee

Total fees: £10

Although granted a banking licence in many EU countries, Revolut is still not classed as a full bank in the UK. Even so, this digital account and prepaid card come with plenty of benefits. Set monthly spending budgets, round up your spending, earn cashback, interest on your money and even receive your pay early.

Charges for using abroad:

  • No fees when using your card to spend.
  • Up to £200 fee-free cash or 5 withdrawals each month (excluding fees charged by ATMs). This can increase up to £800 if you upgrade to a paid account, which also comes with other travel perks.
  • Uses the real exchange rate. However, during the weekends, Revolut charges a foreign transaction fee of 0.5-2.5%, depending on the currency.


Revolut


Wise

Wise logo

Average holiday spend:

£800 card spending: £0 fee

£700 cash withdrawal: £9.25 fee

Total fees: £9.25

Formerly known as Transferwise, Wise was originally created to reduce the cost when it came to making international transfers. But the introduction of a debit card means that this account is now worth considering when travelling abroad.

Charges for using abroad:

  • No fee when spending using your card.
  • No fee for the first 2 ATM withdrawals up to £200 / month. After this, a charge of 50 pence per withdrawal and 1.75% of the transaction.
  • Uses the mid-market exchange rate.


Wise


Kroo

Average holiday spend:

£800 card spending: £0 fee

£700 cash withdrawal: £15 fee

Total fees: £15

Kroo switched from an e-money account to a full bank in 2023 and offers the ability to spend without fees abroad. When it comes to cash, you can withdraw £200 per month and will be charged a 3% fee for anything over. Interestingly, when Kroo was an e-money account, you could withdraw up to £250 per day, fee-free, in 75 countries across the globe.

Charges for using abroad:

  • No fee when using your card to spend.
  • Can withdraw up to £200 per month fee-free. Then, a 3% charge.
  • Uses the Mastercard exchange rate.


Kroo


Nationwide Flex Plus

Average holiday spend:

£800 card spending: £0 fee

£700 cash withdrawal: £0 fee

Total fees: £13 per month

If you’re looking for a more traditional establishment with branches, then Nationwide has around 700 across the UK.

Although this account comes with a £13 monthly fee, it also includes worldwide travel, mobile phone and European breakdown cover.

Charges for using abroad:

  • No fees for using your card to make purchases abroad.
  • No fees when withdrawing cash.
  • Uses the Visa exchange rate.


Nationwide Flex Plus


Or try a credit card

You may be surprised to hear that another great option comes from travel credit cards. And one of my favourites is the Halifax Clarity Mastercard.

For purchases, you won’t be charged a non-sterling transaction fee using nor interest as long as you clear your balance in full when your statement arrives.

There are no cash withdrawal fees, but you will be charged interest immediately. However, there is nothing stopping you from paying off your balance straight away through online banking. And you really should as interest rates charged by credit card companies are always quite high.

Take a look at my Halifax Clarity credit card review.


Which is the best debit card for overseas travel?

If you’re looking for a card with fee-free spending and free ATM withdrawals, then Starling, Chase, First Direct and Virgin are all great options.

If you don’t need to withdraw lots of money and want an account that gives you some added bonuses, then consider giving Revolut a try. It’s also worth noting that Revolut charges the real exchange rate, which is slightly better than the Mastercard rate charged by Starling and Virgin.

Please note that all of the above cards are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

Interbank (real exchange) vs Mastercard vs Visa exchange rate

Although we’re trying to avoid unnecessary fees, it’s important to note that both Mastercard and Visa will charge a markup fee for currency conversion. So, the best exchange rate from debit cards comes from those that use the interbank rate.

But the markup fee is relatively small and shouldn’t be a major concern when choosing your card.

Are debit cards protected when making purchases abroad?

Yes, you have the same rights when using your debit card, whether in the UK or overseas. If you have an issue, you can use the chargeback scheme by contacting your card company.

Do you need to let your card company know you’re travelling?

Many years ago, you needed to let your bank know if you were travelling abroad. Otherwise, there was a good chance that your travel cards would be blocked the first time you used them and you would be left stranded.

Nowadays, most companies have scrapped this requirement. However, it’s still worth checking online to see if you should give your card issuer the heads-up before you leave.

Further reading

If you find that you return home from abroad with a lot of loose change, why not find out what you can do with your foreign coins?