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The best debit cards to use on your travels

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Last updated on

27 June 2014

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23 Comments

When it comes to spending abroad, all debit cards are not created equal! Find out which ones you should be using.

What happens if you want to use your current account debit card when you're on holiday? Many people assume they won’t be charged... but unfortunately, they’re mistaken.

In fact, overseas charges on debit cards can really mount up. However, there are a couple of providers that charge you nothing, although they won't be suitable for everyone.

A host of sneaky fees

There are a few fees to watch out for if you use your debit card abroad. Use the wrong one, and you could be hit with three types of fees. Eeek!

Non-sterling transaction fee

You might think you can avoid fees by paying by debit card directly for your purchases. Unfortunately, most debit cards will charge you to do this.

Whenever you use your debit card for a non-sterling transaction a fee is applied. This is normally around the 2.75% mark and is charged on the sterling amount spent on the card.

Non-sterling purchase fee

Some banks and building societies also slap on a non-sterling purchase fee when you pay for things using your debit card.

This is charged in addition to the non-sterling transaction fee and usually take the form of a flat value (typically around £1.25), but can also be a percentage of the overall spend.

Compare current accounts

Non-sterling cash fee

If you use a debit card to withdraw money from a foreign ATM or over the counter, or buy currency or travellers cheques outside of the UK you’re likely to incur something called a non-sterling cash fee. This can be a flat charge or a percentage.

Banks and building societies can also slap on the non-sterling transaction fee on top of this charge for cash transactions.

This means that customers withdrawing lots of small amounts will be the hardest hit. So, it’s worth planning ahead so you know how much money you’re likely to need, and withdraw larger amounts all in one go.

In summary

Are you wondering what your current debit card will charge you? Here’s a breakdown of what to expect from some of the big names when you make card purchases or attempt cash transactions like withdrawing cash from an ATM.

Bank/Building Society

Card purchases:Non-sterling transaction fee 

Card purchases:Non-sterling purchase fee

Cash transactions: Non-sterling transaction fee

Cash transactions: Non-sterling cash fee

Barclays Bank

2.99%

Nil

2.99%

£1.50 (free if you're using a Barclays ATM or an ATM that's part of the Global Alliance Member Bank)

Bank of Scotland

2.99%

£1 (free for Premier and Platinum account holders)

2.99%

1.5%: min £2, max £4.50

Lloyds Bank

2.99%

£1 (free for Premier and Platinum account holders)

2.99%

1.5%: min £2, max £4.50

TSB

2.99%

£1 (free for Premier and Platinum account holders)

2.99%

1.5%: min £2, max £4.50

NatWest

2.75%: min £1

Nil

2.75%

2%: min £2, max £5

Royal Bank of Scotland

2.75%: min £1

Nil

2.75%

2%: min £2, max £5

First Direct

2.75%

Nil

2.75%

2%: min £1.75, max £5 (free for First Directory members)

Santander

2.75%

£1.25

2.75% (free if using a Santander ATM in Spain so long as you pay in £500 a month into your current account)

1.5%: min £1.99 (free if using a Santander ATM in Spain so long as you pay in £500 a month into your current account)

HSBC

2.75%

Nil

2.75%

2%: min £1.75, max £5 (free for Premier and Advance account holders)

Halifax

2.75%

£1.50

2.75%

£1.50

Clydesdale Bank

2.75%: min £1.50

Nil

3.75%: min £1.50

Nil

Yorkshire Bank

2.75%: min £1.50

Nil

3.75%: min £1.50

Nil

Ulster Bank

2.65%

75p

2.65%

2.25%: min £3, max £5

Nationwide BS

2.00%

Nil

2.00% (free for FlexPlus account holders)

£1 (free for FlexPlus account holders)

Tesco Bank

2.75%

Nil

2.75%

1%

M&S Bank

2.75%

Nil

2.75%

Nil

Metro Bank

1.90% (free inside Europe)

Nil

1.90% (free inside Europe)

£1 (free inside Europe)

Norwich & Peterborough BS Gold Classic account

Nil

Nil

Nil

Nil

The free to use cards

Only Norwich & Peterborough offers an account that doesn’t charge any fees for using your debit card abroad. However, the account requires you to pay in at least £500 each month or maintain a balance of £5,000 or you will have to pay a £5 'underfunding charge'.

If you live in the Cumberland Building Society area then its Plus account also offers free usage overseas but you need to pay in at least £750 a month or pay a £2 fee.

The next best alternative is Metro Bank, which offers an account that allows 0% on overseas spending within Europe. Outside of this area transactions are subject to charges. You need to visit a branch (or store, as they prefer to call them) to open an account. At the moment, all of its branches are in the south-east of England, with the majority in London. But if you're planning a trip to the capital anyway, you could spend half an hour opening an account and then manage it online.

Compare current accounts

The alternatives

Of course, there are certain circumstances when a debit card won’t do the trick.

For example, some hotels and car hire companies insist you pay by credit card. And using a credit card mean you’ll have extra spending protection under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.

For the best credit cards to pack, take a look at The best credit cards to use abroad.

Or if you want to leave your normal plastic at home and take a prepaid card instead, read The best prepaid cards for spending abroad.

This is a classic lovemoney article that is regularly updated

More on travel and holiday money:

How to get a cheap flight 

How to get a bargain hotel room 

What does an EHIC really cover? 

The best websites for bargain holidays 

 

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