Which Credit And Debit Cards Are The Best To Use Overseas?

Spending money costs money when you’re abroad, but a list of cards and fees compiled by USA Today can help you decide which card to pack before you leave.

The same general rules of spending apply when you’re traveling: put large purchases on your credit card for the usual consumer protections, and withdraw cash with your debit card. Just make sure you won’t get slapped by outrageous fees.

Credit Card Foreign Transaction Fees

American Express: 2.7 percent
Bank of America: 3 percent
Barclaycard/Juniper: 2 to 3 percent
Capital One: 0 percent
Citibank/Diners: 3 percent
Diners Club: 3 percent
HSBC: 3% (most)
JP Morgan Chase: 3% (most)
US Bank: 3 percent
USAA: 1 percent
Wells Fargo: 3 percent

Debit (ATM) cards for cash

Bank of America(a) : $0/0 percent
Bank of America: $5/1 percent
Citibank(b): $0/1 percent
Citibank $1.50/1 percent
JP Morgan Chase: $3/3 percent
US Bank $2/1 percent
USAA: $0/1 percent
Wells Fargo: $5/0 percent

Small banks sometimes won’t charge withdrawal fees, and might even be willing to refund charges from other banks. Your bank might also be part of global alliances that lets you withdraw fee-free cash from a local partner bank. If you’re staying in one place for a bit, it might make sense to open a local bank account with a check drawn from your U.S. bank.

Regardless, visit your bank before leaving and ask about your options.

Which credit and debit cards are best overseas? [USA Today]
(Photo: frankieleon)

Comments

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  1. ecwis says:

    OK, looks like they left out the best cards. The Schwab Bank Debit and Invest First Visa cards charge no fees whatsoever, not even the fee that Visa charges them. I just recently used the credit card in Rome and London with no problems at all.

  2. gStein_*|bringing starpipe back|* says:

    what’s the difference between the 2 Bank of America cards listed, and the 2 Citibank cards (under the Debit/cash withdrawal section)

    • KMan13 still wants a Pontiac G8 says:

      @gStein:
      i think the (b) next to citibank might signify that it’s a business card?

    • cordeliapotter says:

      @gStein: From the article:
      (a) At ATMs operated by members of Global ATM Alliance
      (b) At ATMs in overseas CITI branches

  3. Anonymous says:

    And don’t bother with traveler’s checks…we went to Italy a few years ago armed with several hundred in checks that we had paid all kinds of fees to get in the first place.

    Then we got there and no one would take them. NO ONE. So we had to spend more money getting them converted back to euros, which our hotel was kind enough to do. I just wish someone had told me that traveler’s checks, while safe, are also totally useless these days.

  4. Stickarm says:

    An overriding issue might be whether or not a given card will be accepted in the place to which you’re traveling. Low fees won’t mean much if you can’t use the card.

    • bohemian says:

      @Stickarm: My biggest fear is a card we discover is not usable when we get there or having the card fraud locked because charges are coming from out of our home area. Are travelers checks even an option? I just keep having pictures of being stuck in Europe half way through an extended vacation without access to our money.

      • gStein_*|bringing starpipe back|* says:

        @bohemian: my brother recently went to spain for a study abroad program, and before he did, he contacted bank of america’s fraud department – they told him to go to the local branch and fill out some forms to prevent the card from being flagged while he was in spain

      • johnva says:

        @bohemian: You should definitely bring more than one card, from different banks.

      • eelmonger says:

        @bohemian: Call your issuer ahead of time and let them know where you’ll be and when, that should stop the fraud issue. Usability shouldn’t be a huge concern as long as you have a Visa and Mastercard, that should cover a lot. However, I did manage to break several self-checkout machines at Sainsbury’s in London when I tried to use my yankee credit card in them.

  5. salviati says:

    FYI, I have traveled significantly in Europe and Taiwan, and I have never been able to use anything but VISA or Mastercard. I prefer AMEX and Discover while I’m here in the States, but I won’t even bother bringing them on my next overseas trip.

    • jamar0303 says:

      @salviati: Think twice about the Discover if you head to mainland China. They’re even more widely accepted than Visa/MC there because they got an agreement with the local CC network. If you find a store that doesn’t take Discover in China chances are they’re cash-only (McDonalds and KFC are two such establishments).

  6. Anonymous says:

    ING Direct has very few fees for anything, and international ATM transactions are free.

  7. t325 says:

    FYI, if you have a Bank of America ATM card, they have an alliance with some overseas banks where they won’t charge you fees for using their ATMs. I recently got back from a trip to the UK and Germany, and was able to use Barclays ATMs in the UK and Deutsche Bank ATMs in Germany without any fees…no fees from BoA and no fees from the ATM owners. It was definitely the cheapest way to get cash over there (airport currency exchange counters rip you off)

    • kepler11 says:

      @t325: I would echo this — BofA is good in that if you withdraw cash overseas at their network of partner banks, there’s no fee, so that you don’t have to overestimate the amount of cash you need to withdraw. Here is the list, from [locators.bankofamerica.com] :

      ” * Barclays (United Kingdom)
      * BNP Paribas (France)
      * China Construction Bank (China)
      * Deutsche Bank (Germany)
      * Santander Serfin (Mexico)
      * Scotiabank (Canada)
      * Westpac (Australia and New Zealand)

      Just one caution — each bank only works in the country named (at least I have experienced). I.e. you cannot get the fee-free withdrawal at Deutsche Bank while in Italy, for example. Otherwise, it’s great.

  8. mannyv says:

    Capital one: why would you use any other card overseas?

    • newyorkjerry says:

      Yes, Capital One doesn’t charge many fees that others do, but they are otherwise not very consumer oriented, with less than stellar customer service.

      The Schwab and Fidelity cards are also without fees, but provide much better customer service. And give a 2% cashback.

    • Sodypop says:

      @mannyv: I have used CapitalOne for all my travels and I have never had a problem. That is the only reason that I have that card.

  9. Mikael Vejdemo Johansson says:

    Do note, by the way, that most banks I’ve ever been in any contact with (i.e. German and Swedish banks) charge high fees for cashing foreign checks – especially non-european checks. It might, depending a lot on the situation of course, that opening a new bank account and filling it with a US bank check might cost more than just using your Visa or Mastercard instead.

    Also, banks can be picky about your residency. I had to prove residency in Germany before I was able to open up a bank account there.

  10. rawsteak says:

    also, if you go to japan, GET A VISA CARD. mastercard is very rare, except in lawson grocery stores and most restuarants… but ATMs are almost all VISA, and others. well, just in case any one goes to japan, thats what i learned :P

  11. subtlefrog says:

    Some banks also require you to inform them that you will be traveling outside the US. My credit union won’t let my ATM card work in other countries unless I’ve told them I’ll be out of the country ahead of time (which can be a pain in the butt). It’s not a bad idea to let credit card companies know, as well, though.

    Also, as mentioned above, many countries are finicky about residency and only residents are allowed to have accounts, which also can be a big pain in the butt.

    • dragonpup says:

      @subtlefrog: @rawsteak: My sister ran into a similar problem in Vienna a few years ago. She figured since Visa and MC are interchangeable here that it was over there. Not quite.

    • chocolate1234 says:

      @subtlefrog:
      For security, most banks require you to let them know when you’ll be traveling. Otherwise, they have no way of knowing if those transactions are legitimate or fraudulent. This goes for both travel within and outside of the US. I’ve never had problems traveling within the US without notifying my bank, but I’ve heard it can be a problem sometimes.

    • MsAnthropy says:

      @subtlefrog:

      That’s pretty good practice with any card/bank, if using the card overseas would represent out-of-pattern spending. Calling ahead to let them know your plans can save you all manner of headaches.

  12. I Love New Jersey says:

    If you are a TD Bank customer, you can use all Toronto Dominion ATMs without fee in Canada.

    • nybiker says:

      @I Love New Jersey: I would have expected that since that’s what “TD” is the abbreviation for: Toronto Dominion.

    • shepd says:

      @I Love New Jersey:

      Same thing for just most banks in Canada (I know from experience this includes Bank of Montreal and Royal Bank, I expect the rest, as well). You can use that bank’s ATM for no added fees (although if your plan charges them you will be charged–I had an expensive plan at TD so I didn’t). However, other ATMs will bill you, including TD ATMs when I put in my Royal Bank card.

      You are better off going to a store that offers cash back (Loblaw’s brand stores with self-checkouts are great–$200.00 maximum! WalMart is $60. I *think* Canadian Tire offers it as well.). Just buy a pack of gum, bottle of water, or whatever else is cheaper than the ATM fees that you know you’ll be using and abuse them as an ATM. :D

  13. Anonymous says:

    Don’t waste your time with any of the cards mentioned above. The Schwab Visa card is 0% for foreign transactions with no fine print of any kind. In fact you can get 2% back on all purchases if you open a Schwab Brokerage account at the same time 0$ required for the Investment Account.

  14. jasonof2000 says:

    Navy Federal FCU.

    I have used them on 3 deployments and in many countries.

  15. MooseOfReason says:

    I love how Visa’s slogan is “Life takes Visa,” yet Visa is notably missing from this list.

    • ecwis says:

      @MooseOfReason: That’s because Visa does not directly issue credit/debit cards. The list in the article shows the banks that issue the cards. Capital One and Schwab Bank both have Visa cards that charge no fee at all.

  16. QuickBASIC says:

    Never had any issues using my USAA debit card abroad without notifying beforehad, but I assume since USAA is generally for servicemembers, they assume that oversees transactions aren’t that out of the ordinary.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Some US banks have deals with “sister” banks in other countries. I have worked in London the past year and, as an example, BofA has free cash withdrawls at all Barclay’s banks. I personally used my local credit union card and they were free at all ATMs.

    I would also advise people to be extra careful. We had an office of about 60-70 Americans using their debit cards, and about 40 of them got ripped off at some point. The UK banks use safer chip-and-pin cards; our US credit/debit cards often fall prey to the ATM card reader scams. I avoided this by using machines in bank branches as opposed to random machines on the streets.

  18. misterfuss says:

    Here is a more comprehensive list that I like to reference:

    [flyerguide.com]

  19. ekasbury says:

    This is how I like to do it:

    ~10% in foreign currency from a local bank before leaving
    ~50% in travellers’ checks which can be had for free from AAA (if you’re a member), or oftentimes from your own bank. Change these at a BANK at your destination, not a change booth. Sadly, that can mean waiting a couple days for a bank to be open.
    ~40% Debit/Credit card use abroad. Find the right card and use for the big things – hotels, train tickets, etc. Some fees can’t be avoided, but certain things you need a credit card for. American Express has always treated me brilliantly and is a truly awesome card for international travel.

    That has always worked for me. Oh, and remember to call all your credit cards and debit cards and notify them of your travel dates and destinations.

  20. Anonymous says:

    It doesn’t really matter what the charge is considering how many businesses are starting to refuse non chip and pin cards.

    It’s getting more difficult all the time for people who split their time between the US and Europe to find places that accept swipe cards.

  21. Triterion says:

    If you have a Bank of America account you can get cash out for free in Mexico at a Santander ATM. Santander just charges you 7 pesos (50 cents) but there’s no other fees.