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The best debit cards to use on your travels

lovemoney staff
by Lovemoney Staff lovemoney staff on 15 April 2014  |  Comments 23 comments

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

The best debit cards to use on your travels

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 cash fee

Cash transactions:

Non-sterling transaction fee

Barclays Bank

2.99%

Nil

£1.50

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

2.99%

Bank of Scotland

2.99%

£1 (free for Premier and Platinum account holders)

1.5%: min £2, max £4.50

2.99%

Lloyds TSB

2.99%

£1 (free for Premier and Platinum account holders) a payment not about cash

1.5%: min £2, max £4.50

2.99%

NatWest

2.75%: min £1

Nil

2%: min £2, max £5

2.75%

Royal Bank of Scotland

2.75%: min £1

Nil

2%: min £2, max £5

2.75%

First Direct

2.75%

Nil

2%: min £1.75, max £5

2.75%

Santander

2.75%

£1.25

1.5%: min £1.99

(free if using a Santander ATM in Spain)

2.75%

HSBC

2.75%

Nil

2%: min £1.75, max £5

(free for Premier and Advance account holders)

2.75%

Halifax

2.75%

£1.50

£1.50

2.75%

Clydesdale Bank

2.75%: min £1.50

Nil

3.75%: min £1.50

 

Ulster Bank

2.65%

75p

2.25%: min £3, max £5

2.65%

Nationwide BS

2.00%

Nil

 

2.00%

Metro Bank

1.90% (outside of Europe)

Nil

£1  (outside of Europe)

1.90% (outside of Europe)

Norwich & Peterborough BS (Gold Start)

75p

Nil

£2

Nil

Norwich & Peterborough BS (Gold Classic)

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'.

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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Comments (23)

  • sixhundred
    Love rating 0
    sixhundred said

    Nationwide have been offering this for quite some time and it was one of the reasons I switched to them. They also offer competitive interest on current accounts and their other fees are generally competitive. You'd expect them to try and claw back these fees from elsewhere, they probably do but not in an immediately obvious way. This leads me to ask why the other institutions can't do the same? Greed?

    Report on 24 June 2008  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • seagull104
    Love rating 2
    seagull104 said

    I have to agree that Nationwide have been the best for years for using plastic abroad. If only their other services could compare! At the end of March my wife and I transfered our ISAs from Barclays and Nationwide to the LLoydsTSB 6.5% "catch-all" cash ISA then on offer. The Barclays transfer completed in early May. My Nationwide ISAs completed on the 28th May (two months). My wife is still waiting to see her Nationwide ISAs at Lloyds. Throughout this saga LLoyds have been in constant touch. Nationwide haven't even bothered to acknowledge my letters and my emails solicit only a standard "complaints" response. How much longer must I wait before using legal means to find my wife's money?

    Report on 26 June 2008  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Gillgogs
    Love rating 0
    Gillgogs said

    Hi all, any one out there with Nationwide card.
    Are the Nationwide cards commonly accepted throughout Europe in shops and restaurants.
    Can you use all cash machines or do you have to search for certain Logos.

    Report on 26 June 2008  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Dave
    Love rating 52
    Dave said

    @Gillgogs - Yes...
    Mine has been accepted in every shop I've been to, it's a regular VISA debit card, there's no problem using them anywhere. The only place I've ever been stuck is at a chain of petrol stations in France, but they ONLY take French cards and nothing else - it is a real pain.
    You can use them in ATMs that take VISA too.

    All in all, I can't find anything to fault them on.

    Report on 26 June 2008  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Dave
    Love rating 52
    Dave said

    @seagull104 - I was informed by Nationwide that they were no longer dealing with my ISA and it is now being managed by Legal & General. Not sure if the same applies to you wife's, but it may be worth calling their Swindon HQ to chase it up.
    http://nationwide.co.uk/contact_us/telephone_numbers/telephone_numbers.htm#savings gives the number as 08457 30 20 10 but I have found that the only person they will speak to is the account opener.
    Good luck!

    Report on 26 June 2008  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • hookie16
    Love rating 0
    hookie16 said

    I travel in France a bit and I've had a lot of problems with all my UK credit cards. They're normally OK in big stores and on the motorway fuel stations, but have had quite a few embarassing moments in small shops and bars. I contacted Barclaycard who just kind of shrugged their shoulders blamed the French banking system and that was that. I eventually got a French CA Bank card which works fine. Message is always carry a some Euros with you!
    Another sore point is the outrageous charges our friendly banks charge to transfer money to my CA account in France and take several days to do it? How come I can pay someone in the USA instantly with Paypal...

    Report on 26 June 2008  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • dannytucks
    Love rating 0
    dannytucks said

    I also go to France quite a lot and regularly use my nationwide visa with no problems. I know there are no charges, but what I haven't worked out is whether the rate you get is the actual exchange rate or one set by the Nationwide. Can anyone enlighten me?

    Report on 01 July 2008  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • MrsD789
    Love rating 0
    MrsD789 said

    Slightly off post - Nationwide cancelled my credit card when on holiday a couple of weeks ago because of overseas transactions. Apparently you now have to tell them in advance when you are going abroad. Customer service can be quite poor - I was actually blamed for a) not telling them and b) not wanting them to help me prevent fraud! Nationwide have a good product but bad processes so be warned!

    Report on 07 July 2008  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • hookie16
    Love rating 0
    hookie16 said

    Thanks for the info about telling Nationwide before travelling. I wasn't aware of this and they haven't informed me. Incidentally, I've had HSBC call me in France when they've realised that I've used my Switch card there. I feel both reassured and a bit uncomfortable knowing that my movements can be so easily and quickly mouitored!

    Report on 07 July 2008  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • HelenHutchings
    Love rating 0
    HelenHutchings said

    I used my Nationwide debit card whilst travelling by car in the Dordogne last summer and in Eire this year, as well as for holidays in Spain, Italy and Scandinavia in the past. I have never had problems at any outlet or ATM and the exchange rate is always competitive. On Friday/Saturday 12/13 September the exchange rate used was £1=1.256 euros (1 euro=79.6p) and a couple of transactions that were delayed in the system until last Tuesday went through at £1=1.259 euros. I have never informed Nationwide that I am travelling abroad but the pattern of paying a largish sum from savings into the account before I leave and then a flow of smaller foreign withdrawals is clear.

    Report on 22 September 2008  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • canterburygirl1
    Love rating 0
    canterburygirl1 said

    I have used Nationwide for years but guess they've decided it's not worth having people using them only for foreign transactions... they are proposing free travel insurance if you make it your main account but from November non EU transactions will incur 2% commision and £1 charge... might still make them competitive but still a change for the worse.

    Report on 27 August 2010  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • phil-emup
    Love rating 1
    phil-emup said

    We have been using our Nationwide Gold Visa for purchase in France

    - excellent exchange rate and no fees. We use our Visa Debit card in ATMs

    for cash withdrawals - again an excellent exchange rate and no fees. This

    is about to change. Nationwide object to people loading their current

    account before a holiday, using the Visa debit card while on holiday for cash

    and then abandoning the Nationwide account once they return home.

    Our Nationwide account is our main account - it handles all income and

    expenditure, and we have savings accounts with them as well. At the

    moment we are renovating a house in France

    so will be spending a lot more (time and money) over here. Yes, we have a French bank account but Swift transfers

    cost.

    I see that Sainsburys is offering a Visa credit card with ‘no fees’ – yes it

    costs £5 per month but offers free travel insurance so we would save the £60

    per year we pay elsewhere (strangely to Sainsburys travel insurance). Presumably there is a catch – paying interest

    from the withdrawal date? Can I schedule

    my withdrawals to be the day before my statement and then pay in full?

    How about Lovemoney.com doing an update?

    Report on 30 September 2010  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • elcadobes
    Love rating 10
    elcadobes said

    Nationwide have now started charging and offer free travel insurance to make up for the change. However the travel insurance is only valid up to a certain age it seems.

    Report on 17 June 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • electricblue
    Love rating 769
    electricblue said

    Barclays cards are particularly good for the USA (Bank of America) and France (BNP Paribas). Yes, you do pay a conversion fee but exchange rates are good and no cash point fees at Global Alliance ATM's, as mentioned.

    Report on 17 June 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • GoodBloke
    Love rating 1
    GoodBloke said

    I used to use my Nationwide debit card for withdrawing cash from ATMs on trips to Thailand. My cash withdrawals were completely fee. Over the last 2-3 years Thai banks have introduced a charge and cash machines now charge 200B (about £4.50) per cash withdrawal. As Nationwide have also introduced a charge, I no longer use ATMs. Taking a stash of Baht, using Travel Budget http://travelbudget.onlinecurrency.co.uk to convert along with Travellers cheques for any further requirements, is the cheapeast way I've found. Unless anyone else knows better?

    Report on 18 June 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • EastExpert
    Love rating 30
    EastExpert said

    Nationwide cards are quite good, compared to greedy banks' cards. With proper planning, if you only withdraw amounts close to maximum, you will only pay £5 for each £200 of cash, or £7 for £300 (daily cash withdrawal limit from a debit card). Not much, eh?

    But there are tricks banks use to milk more cash from us. E.g. in Russia the limit for one cash withdrawal from a cash machine would often be set at ~£150 or £200 equivalent. Therefore if you need a lot of cash, suddenly £300 will be 2 times £150 transaction and you'll pay £8 (2*£4). Still only bigger shops would allow you to use your credit or debit card, and most routine average shops would be cash only, so charges can mount...

    What I did during my last business trips over there, was this. I planned the amount of cash I would need to spend there. I withdrew all this cash (in Sterlings) at home, off Nationwide branch (the Society had no problems counting me £1,000 at once at a branch!). Then once in Russia, I took my cash to one of numerous bureaux de change, and they even gave me a better than market exchange rate, AND no fees OR commission. Thus I was loaded with Russian money I needed without paying ANY withdrawal fees and being subject to stupid £300/day limit of cash machines.

    Savings: to withdraw £1,000 in cash I would require at least 4 days, and if the typical limit for one time withdrawal is ~£150 in a Russian ATM, I would require 8 transactions to get my mitts on the money, with a total transaction fee of 2%*£1000 + 8*£1 = £28. And the rate was seriously better so I got more Russian money for an amount equivalent of £20. (Yes, banks and even BS give you a worse or sometimes outright crappy exchange rate in addition!)

    Total savings: nearly £50 for an amount of £1000 and no waiting 4 days to withdraw. Simples :)

    P.S. I wish we'd use Euros - much less of that currency conversion crap and Euros are more welcome in Russia and in an entire host of other countries (holidays in Turkey anyone? ;-))

    Report on 18 June 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Karen1980
    Love rating 3
    Karen1980 said

    Does anyone know if the santander charges affect the zero account holders?

    Report on 21 June 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Simon Ward
    Love rating 8
  • eeeglow
    Love rating 0
    eeeglow said

    Hi, I am currently on LLoyds TSB current account with no overdraft set for my account. I'm considering to switch my bank account.

    I am considering to choose between MetroBank, Nationwide or Norwich and Peterborough Gold Lite. As I am previously with an account with no overdraft association at all. I really hope my new account to be like that too and I would also please if the future account has no monthly charges on it. Kindly if anyone read this can you please give suggestion please.

    Many thanks indeed.

    Report on 05 July 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Simon Ward
    Love rating 8
    Simon Ward said

    Hi eeeglow,

    Will you use the debit card abroad regularly? If so, then either the Metro or Norwich and Peterborough would be better than Nationwide. Bear in mind with the Norwich & Peterborough that you need to make a minimum of five transaction a month or have £5,000 in your account or you'll be charged £5. But you can open the account online, whereas you have to open the Metro account in person in one of its branches.

    If the foreign use isn't important, then Nationwide has no fee, no overdraft unless you ask for one and is probably the easiest to open and manage, as there are no usage conditions.

    Hope this helps.

    Best wishes

    Simon

    News Editor

    Report on 05 July 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Trevor D
    Love rating 9
    Trevor D said

    I have a large American Express advert over the top of the critical info on this page, I guess that hides the fact that their card is by far the most expensive to use!

    Report on 23 February 2013  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • moominp
    Love rating 0
    moominp said

    Im currently able to have the luxury of choosing between both the N&P and the Metro Bank current accounts as i have savings and am based in London.

    Does anyone know which would be preferable in terms of exchange rate? I'm going away to Asia for 5 months and thinking this is going to be the most efficient way to have my money while im out there (over pre paid cards).

    Report on 17 July 2013  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • peter48
    Love rating 5
    peter48 said

    Nationwide outside Europe are generally considered best of the main high street banks. In Thailand I have used all over at ATMs and Nationwide charge 2% as on the table above but also and maybe this is for non-Europe another £1 non-sterling cash fee. However there's more and you can not avoid this one; all Thai ATMs charge around £3 ( 150 baht) for foreigners. So if you draw £200 from Thai ATM its £3 to them, and about £5 to Nation Wide in charges. Remember most other cards charge more.

    To the gentleman above we would never buy baht in UK as its not a good rate; with Nationwide for example you would get nearly 54 baht to the pound in Thai ATMs. So nationwide(visa) do provide a good rate. Just take out large amounts like £200. If you are going abroad a lot its worth looking at some Credit Cards who do some good deals on foreign transactions - its worth doing the research. We also avoid money exchange in Thailand as rates are better using your Nationwide card at the ATM. Always take a few cards when you go abroad and I avoid small shop ATMs and stick to ones outside banks - only once in 10 years did i have a problem but I was lucky as I was with both Nationwide and Smile. In main tourist spots there are lots of banks; load up if you are going into say remoter places. Keep some cards separated when abroad in case of loss but that's common sense.

    Report on 21 April 2014  |  Love thisLove  0 loves

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