So, you’re finally going to take that long dreamed of vacation overseas. Maybe you’re going to Paris for the first time. Perhaps you’ve planned a trip to Spain to see the running of the bulls.
Or, if you’re the more adventurous type, maybe it’s a safari in Africa. Whatever place you’ve decided to visit, you’ve put a lot of thought into it.
Traveling abroad takes all kinds of prep work. You’ve likely checked the weather to know what clothes to pack. You’ve checked with your doctor to see if you need any vaccinations.
You have your passport in order, and the plane tickets are waiting for you at the gate. But have you thought about how you’re going to get access to your money once you arrive?
When traveling overseas, it’s not as simple as swiping your debit card at the register or hitting up the nearby ATM. We’ll let you in on the best debit cards for international travel so you can go abroad with confidence.
Best Debit Cards with No Foreign Transaction Fees
Many big banks may make you pay through the nose to take out some spending cash when you’re on an overseas trip. However, some banks offer debit cards with no foreign transaction fees.
Here’s a list of the top five banks you should use for your debit card if you’re going to be traveling outside the country.
- No credit check
- No minimum opening deposit or monthly service fee
- No overdraft fees
- Over 60,000+ fee-free1 ATMs
- Get paid up to 2 days early with direct deposit2
Chime® is an online financial institution offering low-fee checking and saving services. And if you travel a lot, you’ll want to check them out.
Chime offers a debit card with no foreign transaction fees, and while you will be charged $2.50 if you use an out-of-network ATM, you can withdraw money fee-free at over 60,000 fee-free1 ATMs.
Even if you can’t find those ATMs when you’re abroad, the Chime Checking account is easy to manage. There isn’t any monthly fee or minimum balance requirements. So if you have to pay those ATM fees when you’re in another country, your Chime account helps you save money in other ways.
This account comes with a few requirements, but they’re worth it if you travel abroad frequently. There is no foreign ATM fee, and they’ll even refund any operator fees each month.
When you sign up for a bank account, you’ll receive a Schwab Bank Visa Platinum debit card. You don’t have to worry about any foreign exchange transaction fees when you use it.
Plus, the checking account doesn’t have a minimum balance or opening deposit requirements. There’s not even a monthly service fee. Schwab reimburses you for all ATM and foreign transaction fees incurred.
So, what’s the catch?
It’s a pretty small one. You have to link your checking account to a Schwab One brokerage account. The good news is that as long as you have both accounts, you don’t need to leave any money in your brokerage account.
The only downside is that there is a $1,000 minimum opening deposit. But you can always transfer that out once you have both accounts set up.
Similar to Schwab, SoFi reimburses you for all ATM fees incurred, regardless of where in the world you use your Visa debit card. In addition, SoFi offers a cash management account that earns you 1.00% APY and has zero fees.
When they say “no fees,” they mean it. There are no ATM fees, no account fees, no minimum balance fees, no overdraft fees, and no foreign transaction fees.
The Capital One 360 checking account is easy to access for anyone. There is no minimum opening deposit or ongoing balance requirement and no service fee. And when you travel overseas, you aren’t charged any foreign transaction fees when using your debit card.
The same holds true when you use your MasterCard debit card to withdraw money from an ATM anywhere in the world. You will, however, have to pay the ATM operator fees.
However, if you’re traveling in Canada, the UK, Puerto Rico, Mexico, or Australia, you can find and use a fee-free ATM branded as either Capital One Bank or Allpoint.
Update: As of 01/10/2022, we’ve had reports of Betterment no longer accepting new accounts. Please check with them before attempting to open a new account.
Betterment is not a bank. Instead, it offers accounts through its affiliate banks. This means the company can offer banking products without the typical banking fees. And the account is FDIC-insured for up to $250,000, so you know your money is safe.
When you sign up for a Betterment savings account, you won’t pay any fees whatsoever. In addition, Betterment will reimburse you for any ATM fees, regardless of which location you use.
The checking account comes with a Visa debit card that’s equipped with tap-and-go technology. Plus, Betterment’s intuitive mobile app makes it easy for you to manage your account, regardless of where you are.
You can use your Betterment debit card for international travel, as long as Visa is accepted. Visa does charge a 1% fee on all foreign transactions, purchases, and ATM visits, but Betterment will reimburse you for all of these charges.
Before you go, make sure you contact the company to let them know you’ll be traveling abroad. That way, they can ensure that your debit card won’t get blocked during your travels.
Best Debit Cards with Low Foreign Transaction Fees
Ally Bank clocks in as the lowest fee percentage of any bank we’ve looked at. Some banks on the list only charge a flat fee. But if you won’t be withdrawing a lot of money, then 1% is about as good as it gets.
They’ll also refund you up to $10 a month in out-of-network ATM fees. An Ally Interest Checking Account can also yield up to a 0.60% return. With no monthly fees or service fees, it’s a good all-around bank account that you should check out regardless of where you vacation.
Citizens Bank is a great regional bank that serves a large portion of the northeastern United States. Based in Rhode Island, they service states from Vermont to Delaware.
The 2% foreign transaction fee is a bit more expensive than Ally Bank but is still worlds better than Bank of America or Chase. They do charge $9.95 for a basic checking account, and you’ll have to live in one of the 11 states that they serve, but it’s still a better deal than most.
Should you use your debit card for international travel?
The short answer to whether you should use your debit card is yes, you can. Visa, MasterCard, and other major credit card processors operate worldwide.
Your debit card will likely work in most countries you visit. There are, however, a couple of considerations to make before you travel to ensure your safety while getting the best deal.
Let Your Bank Know
When traveling abroad, it’s a good idea to let your bank know where you’ll be going. It’s one thing to have your debit card declined at the Starbucks around the corner from your house. It’s another thing to have your card declined and frozen while exploring the bazaars in Calcutta.
If you tell your bank when and where you’ll be traveling, their fraud alerts won’t be triggered when you purchase falafel thousands of miles from home.
Download the Mobile App
You should also download and activate your bank’s mobile app. Banks and credit card processors can use your phone’s GPS location to determine that you’re in the same location as the card you’re attempting to use.
Visa’s Mobile Location Confirmation software is built into most banking apps. It can confirm your physical location and allow a transaction to occur.
Make sure you accept all the terms and conditions of your banking app if you want to activate this feature. Again, contact your bank if you’re unsure and give them a heads-up that you’ll be out of the country.
Are there additional fees for using your debit card internationally?
Banking fees can vary widely from institution to institution. So, your bank may make it easier and safer to make debit card purchases when you’re out of the country. However, they could be charging you a lot on the back end.
Have you ever withdrawn cash from an out-of-network ATM when you’re in your hometown? Many banks will charge you $3 to $5 to do that, even if you’re just blocks from home. Those fees can increase even more when you leave the country.
Making an ATM withdrawal when you’re out of the country is no different from when you’re in the States. The fees you pay, though, will depend on the bank, and you should check before you go on vacation.
You can expect to pay fees that range from $2 to $5, plus an additional 2% to 3% of the total withdrawal amount.
Foreign Transaction Fees: What the Big Banks Charge
Ready to see how your bank stacks up? Here’s a list of nationwide banks that charge relatively hefty fees for international ATM use.
|BANK||SERVICE FEE||FEE PERCENTAGE|
|Bank of America||$5||3%|
If you make an ATM withdrawal of $100 from an ATM in another country and you use any of these banks, you could be paying up to 8% just for the privilege of accessing your money. Sure, some customers have premier checking accounts and preferred cards, but you can expect to pay a lot if you don’t.
Debit cards are the easiest way to access cash when you’re out of the country, but it will cost you — unless you pick the right bank.
Other Payment Options for International Travel
While using debit cards for international travel is probably the best option, you do have other options.
You may be thinking about other payment options besides your debit or credit card for your trip overseas. Remember when your grandma used traveler’s checks back in 1982 for her trip to London? It probably worked out great for her.
After all, traveler’s checks are safe and are backed by companies like American Express. In addition, they have a network of thousands of exchange locations worldwide.
But this is 2022, and we have so many more options.
The problem with traveler’s checks and other similar options is cost and convenience. Traveler’s checks can be pretty expensive these days. You’re charged a commission fee when you make the initial purchase, and then charged a percentage on the day you make the exchange.
They’re also a clunky and awkward way of carrying money. You can’t just use them at the local Starbucks. You’ll have to take them to an exchange to convert them to local currency.
Prepaid Debit Cards and Gift Cards
Prepaid debit cards used to be a great way to move money across borders. They’re cheap, anonymous, and you can purchase and redeem them almost anywhere. While they had limits on the amount of cash you could load onto them, you could just buy a bunch of them at once.
The problem is that the anonymity and ease of use with prepaid debit cards weren’t just popular with tourists and travelers. They were also incredibly popular with drug dealers.
So, in 2009, Congress got wind of this and passed the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility Disclosure (CARD) Act. Unfortunately, besides enacting consumer protections against hidden fees and expiration dates, it also made prepaid debit cards essentially unusable outside the United States.
You can still use a prepaid Visa or MasterCard; they just have to be associated with a name and ID and are typically issued by a bank.
Watch Out for Higher Exchange Rates
You can use these cards just like a debit or credit card to make purchases or a cash withdrawal. However, a brief look at rates reveals that the exchange rate for these debit cards is about 5.5% higher than the actual exchange rate.
At the time of writing, a comparison showed an exchange rate of $1,000 USD to €769.60 EUR on Travelex.com, backed by MasterCard.
The actual exchange rate of the day was $1,000 USD to €834.70 EUR. That’s a pretty hefty sum, and while it changes daily, most companies are very vague about what they charge.
Exchanging Currency at the Airport
The same goes for exchange rates at the airport. You can go to a currency exchange like Travelex to swap your dollars for whatever foreign currency you’ll be using for your visit. It’s fast, easy, and you can likely do it on your way to pick up your luggage.
The issue is that you’ll now be carrying large amounts of cash in an unfamiliar place, and there’s still the issue of large foreign exchange fees. Exchange rates at airports are the worst. You have to pay a hefty currency conversion fee and very high exchange rates that can leave your wallet empty.
On the other hand, a debit card can be safely tucked away and easily replaced if it’s lost or stolen.
When deciding on the best debit card to use internationally, it’s not always about the money. Talk to your bank and find out what security services and protections they offer. Transaction fees are important considerations, but so are fraud protection and safety procedures.
The best debit card for you may just be the one that keeps you happy and hassle-free while visiting the port of your dreams or that mountain you’ve always wanted to climb.
Enjoy your vacation!
Chime is a financial technology company, not a bank. Banking services and debit card provided by The Bancorp Bank N.A. or Stride Bank, N.A.; Members FDIC. Credit Builder card issued by Stride Bank, N.A.
1. Out-of-network ATM withdrawal fees may apply with Chime except at MoneyPass ATMs in a 7-Eleven, or any Allpoint or Visa Plus Alliance ATM.
2. Early access to direct deposit funds depends on the timing of the submission of the payment ﬁle from the payer. Chime generally make these funds available on the day the payment ﬁle is received, which may be up to 2 days earlier than the scheduled payment date.