Travel money abroad

Going overseas with the wrong bank account can blow your budget before you even know it and ruin an incredible trip. In this article you’ll find out exactly what makes the ultimate travel bank account, the sneaky fees you need to look out for and some of the best and worst debit cards to use abroad. 

Ever got back from trip and been mortified to see your bank statement? You thought you had been careful with your spending but you’ve been stung by sky-high international rates. It’s happened to the best of us and makes the big banks a whole lot of money (sneaky so-and-sos!).  

Although an extra 2% here and 3% there might not seem like much it can add up very quickly. If you pick the wrong debit card to use abroad you can be paying up to a whopping 10% extra on international use. 10% is a big deal, especially if you’ve worked hard saving or you’re a budget traveller.

Don’t you want ALL your money to be spent on travels and adventures rather than some banker’s bonus?

If you pick the right debit card to use abroad you can be paying absolutely no international fees – a better deal than any travel credit cards or even the best prepaid travel cards. This means the money you’ve saved for travel experiences abroad can be spent on that and that alone. No more panicking when you’re staring at that VISA sign on the ATM in front of you…

In this article you’ll find:

 

Keep reading to save some money! 

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Using debit cards in a small shop abroad
“Do you take card?”

 

The easiest, cheapest and most reliable way to spend money overseas is with the ‘right’ debit card

Carrying wads of cash like Del Boy can make you an easy target to theft, credit card missed payments can be big trouble, prepaid debit cards can be expensive and what even are travellers’ cheques? Nowadays the best option for international travel is to find a debit card with the best rates possible.

Right now the best travel debit cards come with almost no international charges and can be managed conveniently from an app. This means if you want to quickly check your bank balance, see your last transaction, confirm how many drinks you bought last night or cancel your card, you can do so with the click of a button.

Finding a bank card with no foreign transaction fees or purchase charges is also going to save you some serious wonga (don’t worry if you don’t know what they are, you’ll find it in the next section). Ultimately this means you could travel the world for longer and more often – hell yeah!

Need help saving money for your travels?

 

I thought debit cards had high international rates?

You’re right, it can be risky business using a debit card abroad with some banks. Some of the most popular high street banks offer the worst service for spending money internationally, but not all of them. This article will help you pick the best of the best and you’ll wish you found out sooner.  

 

How to pick the right debit card to use abroad

Currently, there are a whole host of banks who advertise ‘affordable fees’ that might seem a good option at home but will NOT be a good debit card overseas. If you go with the wrong bank you can end up paying through the nose so you need to know what you’re looking for. 

To check the fees of your bank, put in an internet search for ‘your bank’ + international fees.

Hard to find them online? This probably means their rates are high. Although it’s not always true, if they did have good rates they would probably be bragging about it, right?

In the next section, you’ll find some important things to consider when picking a bank and the sneaky fees some providers may charge. We’ve also listed the best banking options available to travellers along with the debit cards you should definitely avoid.

Going abroad? You’d be crazy not to go with insurance! We compared policies from the top 17 backpacker travel insurance providers and found that some of the cheapest were actually the best

 

Making an international bank payment in Sri Lanka
Sari shopping in Sri Lanka

 

What to Look for When Picking a Travel Bank Card

1. Consistent exchange rates and method of exchange

How does your bank work out the exchange rates? Does it add on a service charge? Does it cost more on weekends or holiday?

2. Online banking features and support

The best debit cards to use abroad have good online facilities and hopefully an app. Trying to look for branches when you’re in a foreign country can be a nightmare so you want complete control of your bank and money from your phone or computer.

A 24/7 help service or web chat feature is also very useful should you need to contact your bank. 

3. Overdrafts and other perks

Having an overdraft to use whilst travelling can be helpful (albeit risky) for many wanderers. Some providers may offer other perks like signing-on gifts and rewards, interest on the account or even travel insurance

4. Debit card ATM fees abroad

These aren’t overseas charges from your bank but it’s still something to consider. Many ATMs have their own usage charges, sometimes it’s a flat rate of up to £3.50 and sometimes it’s a percentage. This means if you’re being charged ATM fees AND additional fees by your bank your money will be drained before you know it. Below you’ll find the bank fees to watch out for!

 

Sneaky Bank Fees Abroad

Whether it’s foreign transaction fees, withdrawal transaction fees, purchase transaction fees… there are many ways banks can charge you whilst you’re travelling. Not all banks do (we’ll show you them further down) but it’s still important to know about them so you can avoid them.

 

International purchase transaction fees (a.k.a fees when paying on card abroad)

Nearly all high street debit cards add international transaction fees, which they charge to pay for converting the local currency. A rate of 2-3% will be added to the final cost of any payments made abroad. 

International purchase cash fees (a.k.a more fees when paying on card abroad)

Many extra sneaky banks will add on a cash fee on top of the transaction fee for payments made in international currencies. This can be anything from 50p to £3.50 but can also be a percentage of what you spend. Ouch.

International withdrawal transaction fees (a.k.a ATM cash withdrawal fees)

When you withdraw money overseas banks may add a transaction fee for converting the local currency. These fees are usually around 2-4%, or a flat rate. 

International withdrawals cash fees (a.k.a more ATM cash withdrawal fees)

On top of the transaction fee, you can also be charged a cash fee when you withdraw money from an international ATM. This can be up to a shocking £3.75 or sometimes a percentage.

Maximum withdrawal/transaction limit

Some banks offer low international usage rates up until ‘X’ amount a day/week/month and then charge a higher fee afterwards. Other banks may simply have a daily/weekly/monthly cap which you can’t go over – an important one to check for big spenders!

Monthly costs or cost for the card

You might have to pay monthly fees to maintain your card or there may be minimum monthly deposits to keep the account active. Whilst they might be easy to keep up with at home, it could be difficult overseas. Some bank providers may also charge you when setting up the account or for sending you the card. 

Need some adventure inspiration for your trips abroad?

 

Paying from drink in local restaurant
Here’s to no international bank fees – woohoo!

 

The Worst Debit Cards to Use Abroad

Regardless of where you’re going or how much money you have, there’s no point in wasting cash on international card fees. It all adds up incredibly quickly and even short trips can turn into expensive affairs if you don’t go with the right provider. These are the absolute worse debit cards to use abroad. 

 

Bank International purchases transaction fee International purchases cash fee International ATM transaction fee International ATM cash fee
Santander Debit Card 2.75% £1.25 2.75% Percentage of total transaction value 1.5% of the value (Minimum £1.99)
Bank of Scotland 2.99% 50p 2.99%  £1.50
Lloyds Debit Card 2.99% 50p 2.99% £1.50
TSB Debit Card 2.99% £1 2.99% 1.5% min (£2, max £4.50)
Halifax 2.99% 50p 2.99% £1.50
Natwest 2.75% min £1 Nil 2.75% 2% min £2, max £5
RBS 2.75% min £1 Nil 2.75% 2% min £2, max £5

 

Beautiful sunset
Spend smart and enjoy your travels

 

The Best Debit Cards to Use Abroad

Not all banks have international fees to make you cry, the selection below are almost completely free. Saving more than 10% from other competitors, these guys are particularly awesome for long-term travellers or big spenders. Definitely the best debit cards to use travelling in Europe and most of them still have incredible cheap rates for the rest of the world too. The banks with a * are explained in further detail on the next section. 

 

Bank International ATM fee International transaction fee International withdrawal limit Extras
Monzo* Nil Nil £200 per month. 3% charge for foreign withdrawals after. Includes charged overdraft, 1% interest in ‘savings pots’ and uses Mastercard exchange rate with no additional fees. 
N26* 1.7% Nil No limit No overdraft, no interest
Revolut* Nil but 0.5-2% on weekends Nil £200 a month. 2% charge for foreign withdrawals after. Card delivery £4.99 but free with this link, no overdraft
Starling* Nil Nil £300 a day. Maximum of 6 withdrawals a day.  Has overdraft, saving pots, spending insights, 24/7 support
Metro Bank Current Account Free in Europe, 2.99% + £1.50 outside of Europe Free in Europe, 2.99% outside of Europe No limit Has arranged overdraft

 

The Best and Worst Debit Cards to Use Abroad
Market shopping made easy with no international fees!

 

* Introducing digital banks

The starred options (Monzo, N26, Revolut and Starling) are what’s known as digital banks. A digital bank is one with no physical branches but instead is managed online through a mobile app. They function just like a normal bank – you have a card and account, make payments the same, can send and receive money and set up direct debits – there’s just no physical bank for you to visit. Oh, and they’re a lot bloody cheaper to travel with.  

We think they’re pretty damn cool and as travellers you probably will too, especially when you look at those international fees (or lack of).

Besides the almost non-existent fees, digital banks are ingeniously managed right from your mobile phone. You have control over all aspects you would with a regular bank and can see up-to-date spending reports and insights which help you plan and budget your money. 

Digital banks rarely have restrictions and most are free to set up. It takes 5 minutes to fill in your details online and your card can be in the post the next day.

Sounds too good to be true right? We’ve used the Revolut card for nearly 5 years and have recently started using Starling – they’re both excellent!

So What is the Best Debit Card to Use Abroad? A Winning Combination! 

Our personal advice: take the bank card you use at home and combine it with one of the digital banks we listed above or the Metro Card if you’re just travelling in Europe. This way you can transfer money to your digital bank when it needs topping up and avoid carrying excessive amounts at any point. 

Splitting your money between the two cards is a sensible option as you’ll have one as a backup in case the other is lost, stolen, not working etc. You can leave your regular bank card safely in your accommodation and take the digital bank card around each day. 

Currently, we have money on our joint debit account from the UK and transfer money between the two digital banks (Starling and Revolut). It’s a good way to keep an eye on spending and helps to stop you from blowing your budget without realising.

Although many of the digital banks of similar services, we’ve found Starling and Revolut to be the overall best debit cards for international travel. This is mainly due to almost non-existent fees, ease of use and because you can send, receive and pay in multiple currencies – very handy!

Sign up to Revolut with this link and get your bank card sent to you completely free!

 

The Best and Worst Debit Cards to Use Abroad
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The Best and Worst Debit Cards to Use Abroad

There we have it, why pay more when you can pay less, and up to 10% less! The international charges from some banks is frankly appalling – there’s no need to put up with it! Use this guide, know what you’re looking for, and pick the best card option for your adventures. Keep your money for travel and travel alone.

 

Keep exploring…

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10 Responses

  • Nice article , i use N26,STARLING,MONZO METROBANK and until recently REVOLUT , just to add you can also access N26 on the web which is handy if you lose your phone .

      • simply i use nationwide flex plus as main account because of the benefits which i use ,however the new fintechs I’m experimenting with, its nice to have instant transaction info pop up on phone when traveling , the various card security options .

        • We’ve heard the Nationwide flex plus is also good, you have to pay a monthly fee right? Yes the updates are very useful, I also like how it breaks down your spending which makes travel budgeting and planning a lot easier.

          • yes nationwide is superb for me with family travel insurance ,phone insurance ,European breakdown and free worldwide atm withdrawals. Another handy thing with starling you can also use the app on a tablet as well . There is one thing that does worry me when travelling overseas with the app only banks ,and that is if i have a problem i can ring nationwide or metro bank and they can transfer money for me to other accounts that are set up or i can do it on the web .where as unable to do this if lost mobile phone . So i travel with my nationwide ,metro bank starling,n26, best of both worlds

          • That is a bit of a concern, got to keep an eye on your phone. I’m also dubious of having everything app based for similar reasons. With Revolut Sarah and I both have the app installed on our phones so it’s a bit safer so we really should do the same with our Starling card.

            Am I right in thinking that Nationwide has a refer a friend deal?

  • Hi guys, and a great post. Was just looking for something like this as heading off for 3-5 years in Oct 19. I take it that once you’ve transferred money to either digital bank that cash withdrawals are free too where ever you may roam?
    Thanks for the heads up and happy travels

    Ian & Chris

    • Hey Ian, 3-5 years sounds like an awesome trip. Where will you be going?

      Yes, with most of them. We have a Revolut card and a Starling which both have free withdrawals from almost all countries. The Revolut card has a slightly worse conversion rate on weekends and the Starling card can only be used free at ATMs working with Mastercard (most ATMs). Together they’re the winning combo.

      Let us know if you have any other Q’s and interested to hear about your trip!

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