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Best debit cards to use abroad

In this guide we outline the fees and charges you face when using your debit card for purchases and withdrawals overseas.

In this article
Which debit cards are cheapest to use abroad? Charges for using your debit abroad Will I be charged for using my debit card on non-UK websites? Am I protected against card fraud on holiday?
What should I do if my debit card is lost or stolen abroad? Should I convert to sterling? Should I pay with a credit card instead? What about prepaid travel cards?

Which debit cards are cheapest to use abroad?

Many banks charge a range of fees for spending with your card abroad.

Others may claim that their cards are free to use abroad, but you'll still be charged for withdrawing cash, which can be unavoidable in many countries.

Here are the only providers that are truly fee-free to use abroad (within limits) ranked by provider customer score:

Provider  Account Name  Customer score Cash withdrawal fee - worldwide Purchase fee - Worldwide Transaction fee - Worldwide Total

Recommended provider

Starling Bank
Current Account 88% £0 £0 £0 £0
Monzo Bank

 

More info

3% fee if you withdraw more than £200 from non-EEA countries in 30 days, or £250 from EEA countries

Current Account 82% 0%

 

Within limits - see 'more info'

0% £0 £0
Virgin Money

 

More info

Account also comes with 2.02% AER (2.00% gross per annum variable) on up to £1,000, interest paid monthly.

Current Account 61% 0% 0% £0 £0

Cumberland BS

 

More info

 Minimum funding - £750.00 Per Month. If your 16-digit Visa Debit Card number starts with 4658 5520 or 4909 71, Cumberland BS will not charge you to use your card, or Apple or Google Pay for transactions in a foreign currency. However, if your card number starts 4658 5550 or 4751 48, Cumberland BS will make a charge of 2.5% of the transaction amount.

Cumberland Plus - £0 £0 £0 £0

 

Data correct as of November 2020

Which? Customer Score: Our rating for customer satisfaction, based on feedback from real customers. The score is made up of a customer's overall satisfaction with the brand, and how likely they are to recommend that brand to a friend. We surveyed 4,501 members of the general public in September 2020. A dash (-) indicates that we did not get enough responses to generate a score. Our full table includes scores and star ratings for all banks. 

 

Charges for using your debit abroad

You can use your debit card abroad to make purchases and to withdraw local currency from cash machines just as you would at home (look for the Visa or Mastercard logo) but you’ll generally be charged one or all of the following fees: 

  • For purchases, you’ll usually pay a non-sterling transaction fee for converting the local currency, which applies every time you use your card to pay. 
  • The worst cards - Halifax, Lloyds Bank, Santander and TSB - add a non-sterling purchase fee on top, often of fixed value (e.g. £1.50) but can also be a percentage of what you spent. 
  • Cash withdrawals at a foreign ATM incur a non-sterling transaction fee for the conversion as well as a non-sterling cash fee (as a flat fee or a percentage). 

Avoid using a debit card to make lots of small payments, as the charges can quickly escalate (unless you have one of the fee-free cards at the top of our table). 

 

Will I be charged for using my debit card on non-UK websites?

Yes, if you're paying online in any currency other than sterling, this will be classed as an overseas transaction (whether or not you are in the UK when you do so). 

For example, if you book train tickets on a French website, your bank will charge a non-sterling transaction fee and, in some cases, a purchase fee - unless you have one of the fee-free cards listed at the very top of our table above

Am I protected against card fraud on holiday?

Yes, whether you’re using your debit card at home or abroad, you are still protected under the Payment Services Regulations and through a process called chargeback

Equally, section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act applies to credit card transactions made abroad, as long as the sterling equivalent is within the £100 to £30,000 limits.

What should I do if my debit card is lost or stolen abroad?

Call your bank or card issuer as quickly as possible to cancel your card. 

All banks have an emergency telephone line, with an overseas or reverse charges number. In some cases, you can cancel cards via your mobile banking app to save time and avoid a lengthy and potentially costly phone call. 

Any charges made to the card after you’ve reported it will be refunded. 

Report theft to the police, especially if you plan to make an insurance claim as you will be asked for a crime reference number as part of the claims process.

Your insurer may also ask to see cashpoint or currency exchange receipts too, so keep hold of these. 

Some banks offer a free emergency cash service, for example, Barclays will transfer funds to a local bank within one working day. Or, you can ask a friend to send you money using a service like Western Union and MoneyGram. 

Should I convert to sterling?

If you’re withdrawing foreign cash or paying for items in shops and restaurants, it’s almost always best to pay in the local currency - not in pound sterling - when prompted. 

Choosing to convert to sterling will mean that the merchant or ATM sets the conversion rate instead of your bank,  known as dynamic currency conversion (DCC).

This typically means you’ll get an unfavourable exchange rate, and in some cases, you’ll have to pay both your bank and the ATM operator a fee.

Check your receipt carefully as some merchants automatically select sterling when they give you the bill.

Should I pay with a credit card instead?

Credit cards come in handy if your hotel or car-hire firm asks to temporarily hold a specific amount of the available balance, upon booking.

This is known as pre-authorisation - no funds are debited from your account, but firms use this to ensure that you will be able to settle the bill if you incur any additional charges.

There are a number of specialist travel credit cards that are far cheaper than the average debit cards.

Credit cards can be handy when you’re abroad, as you get top exchange rates and purchases between £100 and £30,000 benefit are covered by Section 75 (meaning the credit card company is jointly liable if the product or service is inadequate). 

The downside is that you’ll typically be charged interest as soon as you withdraw cash from an ATM until you pay it back. 

What about prepaid travel cards?

Prepaid cards are useful if you want to limit the amount of cash you take on holiday or stick to a budget, but Which? members have reported occasional technical glitches using them abroad, so it’s advisable to bring another card as backup. 

Revolut is one of the top prepaid cards for travellers, with no fees on foreign spending and free cash withdrawals up to £200 per month (a 2% fee applies after this). 

Your account is managed via an app - so you’ll need a smartphone - but once you’ve loaded it with sterling, Revolut automatically converts to the local currency at the best available rate every time you use your card abroad. 

You can also hold up to 23 currencies in-app, exchanging between them instantly. Additional features include real-time notifications of your transactions and instant card freezing for extra security. 

Prepaid cards offer no protection against losses under Section 75 (this covers credit card transactions only) but you can still ask for payments to be reversed under the Visa and Mastercard chargeback schemes. 

If a prepaid card provider goes bankrupt, your money isn’t covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS), although regulated firms must hold funds in ring-fenced accounts to protect customers.

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