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

Some banks are getting rid of foreign usage fees. Check what your bank charges below and find out if you could get a better deal while abroad.

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

Until recently, we took these charges for granted, or faced a long trip to a foreign exchange bureau, risking further rip-offs in the process.

Those days may be over as some banks such as Starling, Monzo and Revolut offer fee-free spending and cash withdrawals abroad.

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

You may be in for an unpleasant surprise!

Don't fancy switching current accounts? Check out these foreign usage credit cards

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. Small 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 directly for your purchases. 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 the 2.75% mark and is charged on the sterling amount spent.

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 takes the form of a flat value (typically around £1.25) but can also be a percentage of the overall spend (usually 2.7%).

Non-sterling cash withdrawal fee

If you use a debit card to withdraw money from a foreign ATM, over the counter or to buy currency or travellers' cheques outside of the UK, you’re likely to incur a non-sterling cash 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This can be a flat charge, but it is more commonly a percentage of the amount withdrawn.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 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.

Earn up to 5% on your cash: compare current accounts

Always pay in 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.

Always, always opt to pay in local currency.

What your debit card is charging you

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

Here’s a breakdown of what to expect from some of the big names when you make card purchases or attempt to withdraw cash from an ATM.

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*

2.99%

1.5%: min £1.50, max £4.50

Barclays Bank

2.75%

Nil

2.75%

£1.50**

Clydesdale Bank

Nil

2.75%, min £1.50

Nil

3.75%: min £1.50

First direct

2.75%

Nil

2.75%

2%: min £1.75, max £5 when using ATMs***

Halifax

2.99%

50p

2.99%

1.5%: min £1.50, max £4.50

HSBC

2.75%

Nil

2.75%

2%: min £1.75, max £5

Lloyds Bank

2.99%

50p

2.99%

1.5%: min £1.50, max £4.50

M&S Bank

2.75%

2.75%

2.75%

Nil

Metro Bank

2.99% (free inside Europe)

Nil

2.99% (free inside Europe)

£1.50 (free inside Europe) ****

Monzo (current account)

Nil

Nil

0% for withdrawals up to £200, then 3%

Nil

N26

Nil

Nil

1.7% (free in Euros) ᵃ

Nil

Nationwide BS

2.75%

Nil

2.75% ᵇ

£1 ᵇ

NatWest

Nil

2.75%: min £1

2.75%

2%: min £2, max £5

Revolut

Nil

Nil

0% for withdrawals up to £200, then 2%

Nil

Royal Bank of Scotland

Nil

2.75% – no min fees until 5 October (usually £1)

2.75%

2%: min £2, max £5

Santander

2.75%

£1.25

2.75%  

1.5%: min £1.99

Starling Bank 

Nil

Nil

Nil

Nil

The Co-operative Bank

2.75%

Nil

2.75%

2% (min £2)

Tesco Bank

2.75%

Nil

2.75%

1%

TSB

2.99%

£1 

2.99%

1.5%: min £2, max £4.50

Ulster Bank (Northern Ireland customers)

2.65%

75p

2.65%

2.25%: min £2, max £5

Yorkshire Bank

Nil

2.75%, min £1.50

Nil

3.75%, min £1.50

* Does not apply to credit cards

** Free if you're using a Barclays ATM or an ATM that belongs to a Global Alliance member bank

*** Free for First Directory members

**** For more information: Metro Bank

Free for all currencies with Black or Metal premium accounts

Free for FlexPlus account holders

 Free if using a Santander ATM with a visa debit card in Spain

Are there any free to use cards?

Starling Bank is the only bank that offers unlimited fee-free foreign spending and cash withdrawals. Starling's current account also pays 0.5% interest on balances of up to £2,000.

Monzo and Revolut limit foreign fee-free cash withdrawals to £200 a month, which may be too low for many destinations, whilst Metro Bank is only fee-free within Europe.

If you live in the area serviced by Cumberland Building Society, you could go for its Plus account, which offers free usage as long as your 16-digit Visa debit card number starts with 4658 5520 or 4909 71.

If your card number starts with 4658 5550 or 4751 48, there is a charge of 2.5% on the transaction amount.

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.

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 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.

More on travel:

How to get a cheap flight 

How to get a bargain hotel room 

What does an EHIC really cover? 

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