Best debit cards to use abroad: foreign usage fees charged by Halifax, Barclays, HSBC and more

Best debit cards to use abroad: foreign usage fees charged by Halifax, Barclays, HSBC and more

Some banks charge foreign usage fees, so it’s worth checking what your bank charges to find out if you could get a better deal while abroad.

lovemoney staff

Banking and Borrowing

lovemoney staff
Updated on 6 June 2023

Spending on your debit card while abroad could see you hit with a raft of costly fees. 

While challenger banks like Starling, Monzo and Revolut offer fee-free spending and cash withdrawals abroad (some limits may apply), other banks still charge you for using your debit card abroad.

Foreign usage fees matter: if you're in any doubt, this guide sets out the charges for the major banks and building societies below.

You may be in for an unpleasant surprise!

If you don't fancy opening a new current account, check out these fee-free travel credit cards instead (which also offer extra protection on purchases over £100).

The sneaky fees to look for

There are a few charges to watch out for if you use your bank card abroad.

Use the wrong one, and you could be hit with four types of fees. It’s no wonder that banks look forward to your holidays almost as much as you do!

Non-sterling transaction fee

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

Most of the time when you use your debit card for a non-sterling transaction, a fee is applied. This is normally around 2.75% and is charged on the sterling amount spent.

Non-sterling purchase fee

Some banks and building societies also charge 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 takes the form of a flat fee.

Non-sterling cash withdrawal fee and cash fee

If you use a debit card to withdraw money from a foreign ATM, over the counter or to buy currency or traveller's cheques outside of the UK, you’re likely to incur a non-sterling cash withdrawal fee.

This can be a flat charge, but it is more commonly a percentage of the amount withdrawn.

Banks and building societies can also apply a non-sterling cash 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 (provided it's safe to do so).

Always pay in the local currency

Travel-friendly bank accounts are great – providing you pay in the local currency.

Shops and restaurants abroad may offer you the chance to pay in pounds.

This is known as 'dynamic currency conversion' and means you're likely to get a terrible conversion rate, ruining the benefits of your bank account.

What your debit card is charging you

Are you wondering what your debit card will charge you for spending abroad?

Here’s a breakdown of what to expect from some of the big names (listed in alphabetical order) when you make card purchases or withdraw cash from an ATM abroad.

Bank/Building society Card purchases (non-sterling transaction fee)  Card purchases (non-sterling purchase fee) Cash withdrawal (non-sterling transaction fee) Cash withdrawal (non-sterling cash fee)
Bank of Scotland 2.99% 50p* (free for Platinum and Premier debit card holders) 2.99% £1.50*
Barclays Bank 2.99% Nil 2.99% Nil
First direct 2.75% Nil 2.75% 2%: min £1.75, max £5 when using ATMs**
Halifax 2.99% 50p* 2.99% £1.50*
HSBC 2.75% Nil 2.75% 2.75% plus a 2% fee: min £1.75, max £5 (no 2% fee for HSBC Premier and Jade account holders)
Lloyds Bank 2.99% 50p* (free for Platinum and Premier debit card holders) 2.99% £1.50*
Metro Bank 2.99% (free inside Europe) £1.50 (free inside Europe) 2.99% (free inside Europe) £1.50 (free inside Europe)
Monzo  Nil Nil Fee-free for withdrawals up to £200/£250 every 30 days – 3% fee applies otherwise*** Nil
Nationwide 2.99%+ Nil 2.99%+ Nil
NatWest 2.75% Nil 2.75% Nil
Revolut 0.5% fee for spending of over £1,000 (for Standard and Plus members) Nil Fee-free for up to five withdrawals or £200 every month, then a 2% fee applies (min £1) Nil
Royal Bank of Scotland 2.75% Nil 2.75% Nil
Santander 2.95% Nil 2.95%  Nil
Starling Bank  Nil Nil Nil Nil
The Co-operative Bank 2.75% Nil 2.75% Nil
TSB 2.99% (does not apply to Spend & Save Plus cards) £1 2.99% (does not apply to Spend & Save Plus cards) 1.5%: min £2, max £4.50 (free if you withdraw Euros in the EEA or have a Spend & Save Plus card)

*Fee doesn’t apply for debit card transactions in Euros within the European Economic Area (EEA).

**Free for First Directory members, but non-sterling transaction fees still apply. 
***Withdrawals are free in the EEA of up to £250 every 30 days (a 3% fee applies over this amount) but you can get unlimited free withdrawals if you have a free account and meet certain criteria, while you'll get unlimited free withdrawals with a packaged account. For withdrawal fees outside the EEA, check here for more details.  
+ No fee for FlexPlus, FlexStudent, FlexGraduate and FlexOne account holders.
 There’s no fee if you have a Black, Reward Platinum, Reward Black or Reward Silver account.
 Free if using a Santander ATM with a Mastercard or Visa debit card in Spain, Germany, Poland, Portugal, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, and the US.
 Fee does not apply if you have a Spend & Save Plus, Platinum or Premium account or if you make a debit card payment in Euros in the EEA.

Are there any free to use debit cards?

Starling Bank offers unlimited fee-free foreign spending and cash withdrawals and its current account pays 0.05% interest on balances of up to £85,000.

Monzo and Revolut limit foreign fee-free cash withdrawals each month (the limits can vary), while the latter charges a fee for spending of over £1,000 for Standard and Plus members. Metro Bank is only fee-free within Europe.

New bank Kroo does not charge for spending or ATM withdrawals overseas until 31 October 2023 (after this date, you'll be charged a 3% fee for cash withdrawals abroad of over £200 in a calendar month).

Alternatively, you won’t get charged for using your card abroad with a Chase current account, plus you get 1% cashback for a year (a monthly cap and minimum deposit may apply), access to a savings account offering 3.3% interest and 1% interest on balances in your current account.

Virgin Money’s M Plus account offers fee-free spending and cash withdrawals worldwide, as well as access to a savings account offering 3.03% interest on balances of up to £25,000 (2.52% on balances over this amount). 

HSBC’s Global Money account is available via the mobile banking app, allowing you to spend money abroad with no HSBC fees. You need to have an eligible HSBC current account to apply.

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. By using a credit card, you’ll have extra spending protection under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.

For the best credit cards to use overseas, 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.

*This article contains affiliate links, which means we may receive a commission on any sales of products or services we write about. This article was written completely independently.

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