Cheap cards to use abroad

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If you’re thinking of booking a summer holiday, which credit and debit cards are free or cheap to use? Here are some cheap cards to use abroad. There’s also a guide to fees you could be charged if you don’t pick one of these cards.

Cheap cards to use abroad

If you’re going abroad, you’ll probably take at least one credit or debit card. But the card you take could make a huge difference to how much you spend. Most standard credit and debit cards charge two or three different fees if you use them for spending abroad.

How card fees add up

If you don’t choose a card that has no or low fees, these are the fees you could pay:

  • Non-sterling transaction fee, foreign purchase fee or foreign usage fee: Most credit or debit cards charge you up to 3% for purchases you’ve made in a currency other than pounds sterling. There’s often a minimum fee of £1 or £2.
  • Cash withdrawal fees. Most credit and debit cards charge you for using a cash machine overseas. This is often up to 3%, with a minimum charge of £2 and a maximum charge of £5.
  • Cash withdrawal interest. Most credit cards charge interest from day one on cash withdrawals – including cash withdrawals made abroad.

No or low fees credit cards

Most credit cards charge one or more of the extra fees I’ve mentioned above if you use them to pay for things while you’re on holiday or to take out cash. However, a few credit cards have much lower fees.

SAVVY TIP: The advantage of paying for something by credit card is that you get Section 75 protection if things go wrong. That means that you can make a claim against the credit card company if, for example, you buy something that falls apart and the shop won’t sort it out or you order something and it doesn’t arrive.

Barclays Platinum Travel Credit Card has none of the usual fees (although one fee is due to be introduced in 2022).

Non-sterling transaction fee: 0%, although it will impose a non-sterling transaction fee after 31st August 2022. The fee will be 2.99%.

Non-sterling cash withdrawal fee: 0%

Cash withdrawal APR: 0% – but only if you pay off your card balance in full within 56 days.

Introductory APR: 0% on purchases overseas for 22 months (you must pay for them in the local currency).

APR on purchases: 19.9% after the introductory offer runs out.

SAVVY TIP: You can check if you’re eligible for this card (or any other Barclaycard) on Barclaycard’s website.

Creation Card’s Everyday Card

This card charges interest if you use it to take cash out when you’re abroad, but you don’t pay a fee for using it to pay for things or a separate fee for withdrawing cash.

Non-sterling transaction fee: 0%.

Non-sterling cash withdrawal fee: 0%

Cash withdrawal APR: 12.9%.

APR on purchases: 12.9%.

Halifax Clarity Credit Card 

This card uses the standard MasterCard exchange rate (namely, it doesn’t add a percentage on top).

Non-sterling transaction fee: 0%.

Non-sterling cash withdrawal fee: 0%

Cash withdrawal APR: 18.9%.

APR on purchases: 18.9%.

Santander Zero Credit Card

Non-sterling transaction fee: 0%.

Non-sterling cash withdrawal fee: 0%

Cash withdrawal APR: 18.9%.

APR on purchases: 18.9%.

SAVVY TIP: You get cashback at a range of retailers once you switch on ‘retailer offers’ with mobile or online banking.

Tandem Credit Card

This card uses the standard MasterCard exchange rate. You also get cashback of 0.5% on all spending, whether that’s in the UK or abroad.

Non-sterling transaction fee: 0%.

Non-sterling cash withdrawal fee: 0%

Cash withdrawal APR: 18.9%.

APR on purchases: 18.9%.

SAVVY TIP: Tandem is a relatively new online only bank. You can read more about Tandem Bank in our article Online-only banks – six digital-only banks  

Cheapest debit cards

You might think that paying by debit card is a cheaper option than using your credit card abroad, but that’s not necessarily the case. Many debit cards charge a non-sterling transaction fee or foreign usage fee, a purchase fee and/or a fee for taking cash out of overseas cash machines.

The cheapest debit cards include:

Starling Bank  This mobile-only bank has a debit card that has no fees at all if you use it abroad. Starling Bank uses MasterCard’s exchange rate and doesn’t add anything on top.

Non-sterling transaction fee: 0%

Purchase fee: 0%

Non-sterling cash withdrawal fee: 0%

Metro Bank 

Metro Bank’s debit card is a good option if you’re travelling in Europe, but it imposes a charge if you travel outside Europe.

Non-sterling transaction fee: Free in Europe, 2.75% elsewhere

Purchase fee: 0%

Non-sterling cash withdrawal fee: 0%

Nationwide Building Society 

There are several current accounts that you can have with the Nationwide. I’ve looked at the main ones and the charges imposed by the debit card are the same in all cases.

Non-sterling transaction fee: 2%

Purchase fee: 0%

Non-sterling cash withdrawal fee: £1

M&S Bank 

M&S Bank charges a higher non-sterling transaction fee than Nationwide, for example, but there’s no fee for withdrawing cash from a cash machine while you’re abroad. So, depending on how you use the card while you’re abroad, it may be cheaper than Nationwide’s.

Non-sterling transaction fee: 2.75%

Purchase fee: 0%

Non-sterling cash withdrawal fee: 0%

Prepaid travel cards

Prepaid travel cards have three big advantages. Firstly, they’re a good option if you’re worried about fraud. Secondly, you can lock into a good exchange rate and thirdly, they help you budget because you can preload them up to certain limits and once you’ve spent the money, it’s gone. There are a number of prepaid travel cards. The one that’s best for you will depend on where you’re going and how you plan to use it (main source of spending money or for emergencies only).

SAVVY TIP: The main disadvantages are that they don’t give you Section 75 protection like normal credit cards do and some outlets, such as car hire, won’t accept them. Don’t rely on them as your only source of money while you’re abroad.

Revolut 

Revolut is one of several relatively new names in banking and finance. You can sign up for an account in minutes but you’ll need a smartphone to use it. However, if you want a physical card (rather than a virtual one), you’ll have to order it and it will cost £5. If you have a Premium Account, which you pay a monthly fee for, the card is free.

SAVVY TIP: You don’t pay fees if you exchange up to £5,000 a month, but you’ll pay 0.5% on money you exchange above that.

The real benefit of Revolut is that, with most currencies, you pay an exchange rate that is linked to the interbank rate. That’s the rate that banks exchange foreign currency with each other, which is very different to the rate that most of us get when we change money. Revolut says this rate is typically 3-5% better than the rate you’ll get from a bank. Over the weekend, the rate at midnight on Friday is used with a small mark-up.

SAVVY TIP: Revolut is FCA authorised and your money is held in a ring-fenced account.

WeSwap

As it sounds, WeSwap swaps your money with that of other travellers. The card is free, but there are fees for loading the card. You have a choice of loading the card and waiting seven days before you can spend your money, where you pay 1%, waiting three days, where you pay 1.3% and being able to spend money straightaway, where you pay 2%.

SAVVY TIP: There are no transaction fees if you spend money in one of 18 currencies, but you’ll pay a 2% fee on other currencies. WeSwap says this means you’ll actually pay the MasterCard exchange rate.

If you take cash out, it’s free if you withdraw more than £200, €200 or $200, but you’ll pay a fee of £1.50 (€1.75 or $2.25) if you take out less than this. Be aware that you’ll also pay £5 to get any unspent money off your card.

SAVVY TIP: There’s a full guide to fees on WeSwap’s website.  Be aware that WeSwap isn’t regulated by the FCA. The company that issues its cards is regulated, but in Gibraltar. However, your money is held in a ring-fenced fund.

Related articles:

Your rights if your travel company goes bust

When can you get flight delay compensation?

Complaining about a holiday you’re not happy with – what you can do’

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