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


Updated on 26 February 2019 | 0 Comments

A new generation of banks are getting rid of foreign usage fees altogether, so check what your bank charges 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 just took these charges for granted, or faced a long trip to a foreign exchange bureau, risking further rip-offs in the process.

Those days are over, however, with the launch of three new banks that offer fee-free spending and cash withdrawals abroad.

Starling, Monzo and Revolut are app-based banks that all offer fully-fledged current accounts.

Starling has no foreign fees whatsoever, whilst Monzo and Revolut allow fee-free spending and cash withdrawals up to £200 a month.

Metro Bank - which has a number of branches - also has zero fees within Europe.

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? These credit cards charge no foreign usage fees

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 three 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.

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

Non-sterling cash withdrawal 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.

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

What your debit card is charging you

So, 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 withdrawal: non-sterling transaction fee

Cash withdrawal: non-sterling cash fee

Bank of Scotland

2.99%

50p*

2.99%

Debit cards: £1.50 / Cashpoint cards: 1.5%: min £1.50 no max

Barclays Bank

2.75%

Nil

2.75%

£1.50**

Clydesdale Bank

2.75%: min £1.50

Nil

3.75%: min £1.50

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%

Lloyds Bank

2.99%

50p*

2.99%

Debit cards: £1.50 / Cashpoint cards: 1.5%: min £1.50 no max

M&S Bank

2.75%

Nil

2.75%

Nil

Metro Bank

2.75% (free inside Europe)

Nil

2.75% (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 ᶜ) Nil

Nationwide BS

2.00%ᵃ

Nil

2.00% ᵃ

£1 ᵃ

NatWest

2.75%: min £1

Nil

2.75%

2%: min £2, max £5

Revolut

Nil

Nil

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

Nil

Royal Bank of Scotland

2.75%: min £1

Nil

2.75%

2%: min £2, max £5

Santander

2.75%

£1.25

2.75% ᵇ

1.5%: min £1.99 ᵇ

Starling Bank 

Nil

Nil

Nil

Nil

Tesco Bank

2.75%

Nil

2.75%

1%

TSB

2.99%

£1 

2.99%

Debit card: 1.5% min (£2, max £4.50) ATM card: 1.5% (min £1.50, no max)

Ulster Bank (Northern Ireland customers)

2.65%

75p

2.65%

2.25%: min £2, max £5

Yorkshire Bank

2.75%: min £1.50

Nil

3.75%: min £1.50

Nil

*free for Premier and Platinum account holders

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

***free for First Directory members

ᵃ free for FlexPlus account holders

ᵇ free if using a Santander ATM with a visa debit card in Spain

ᶜ free for all currencies with Black or Metal premium accounts

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 under £2000.

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 are 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% of 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. 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.

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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