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Travel Credit Cards The best credit cards to use abroad

Going abroad, or spending on foreign websites? You can save £100s by using specialist travel spending cards for the best possible exchange rates.

This step-by-step guide includes best buy credit, debit and prepaid cards, plus how to compare currencies with our free TravelMoneyMax tool.


Top facts everyone should know

How good is your current plastic?

Use your plastic overseas and you could be hit by a thwack of hidden charges (for full details, read the hidden holiday spending charges note). These charges include:

  • Adding a 'load' on the exchange rate - spending £100 of foreign currency costs £103
  • Cash withdrawal fees on both credit and debit cards
  • Interest charges even if you pay off in full
  • Some even charge a penalty each time you spend.

Previously, banks and credit card providers didn't have to show a breakdown of these charges on your statements. This all changed at the beginning of 2014, causing some confusion with consumers thinking they are only now beginning to pay. So we've done a report to show the true cost of overseas spending. For more information read the Overseas Credit & Debit Card Charges report.

The overall best cards are detailed below. First, find out how much the cards you already have charge abroad - as you may not have the time to switch before your hols, or you may find you don't need to switch at all. To help, we've built a checker to find out what you'll pay when using any cards in your wallet abroad.

 
Tool last updated: June 2014

If you think any extra cards should be added to the tool, please email us and we'll see what we can do.

Debit cards from Hell

Eight debit cards have nightmarish charges every time you use them overseas. With most debit cards, you pay a load fee for spending, and a charge if you withdraw cash abroad. These cards have another sneaky charge - a spending fee of between £1 and £1.50 every time.

Imagine you buy something for £5 in a shop. With the worst of these cards, it can end up costing you £6.65 after the load & charges are added on - an entire third more than you'd spend if you used a top card from this guide!

Which are the cards from hell ?

While the right card is absolutely the best way to spend abroad, the wrong one is absolutely the worst way.

Let's make this plain – do not use the following cards for spending overseas. Any of the methods below beat them.

Halifax Debit Card
Spending penalty: £1.50. Load fee: 2.75%. Cash withdrawal fee: £1.50

IF Debit Card
Spending penalty: £1.50 Load fee: 2.25%. Cash withdrawal fee: £1.50

Santander Debit Card
Spending penalty: £1.25. Load fee: 2.75%. Cash withdrawal: 1.5% min £1.99

Bank of Scotland Debit Card
Spending penalty: £1. Load fee: 2.99%. Cash withdrawal: 1.5% min £2 max £4.50

Lloyds Debit Card
Spending penalty: £1. Load fee: 2.99%. Cash withdrawal: 1.5% min £2 max £4.50

TSB Debit Card
Spending penalty: £1. Load fee: 2.99%. Cash withdrawal: 1.5% min £2 max £4.50

The cards below don't have a spending fee, but do charge at least £1 every time you spend making them hellish for small transactions - spend £5 and it'll cost you £6.

RBS Debit Card
Spending penalty: none. Load fee: 2.75% (min £1). Cash withdrawal: 2% min £2 max £5

NatWest Debit Card
Spending penalty: none. Load fee: 2.75% (min £1). Cash withdrawal: 2% min £2 max £5

Full list of charges for major UK credit and debit cards.


If you're using a credit card, that can also become a payment method from hell...

Any credit card which you’re not paying off in full is a nightmare and will cost you serious cash.

If you can’t pay it off in full, choose based on the lowest interest rate for spending, not the cheapest overseas card.

Cheapest overseas spending

If you're looking for cards offering more than overseas spending, see our credit card guides page.

The credit cards below avoid most hidden charges and push themselves as specialist overseas plastic, hoping you’ll also use them in the UK where they’re not so competitive. Simply get one for overseas spending only and you'll beat the system (do you have an overseas wallet?).

However, even on these cards, there's a trap. So always follow the golden rule:

Set up a direct debit to repay in full every month,
or the interest charges dwarf the cheap currency gains.

On these cards, it's far cheaper to spend on them than withdraw cash and spend it.

Check My eligibility for the cards before I apply

You can find out your odds of getting these best buy travel credit cards by using our eligibility checker tool. It works with all the cards below (except Nationwide).

  • We'll check your details against what credit card firms are looking for in customers.
  • It's a 'soft' search. YOU can see it, but lenders CAN'T, so there's no impact on your credit file.
  • We'll show you your chances of being accepted for the card.

It's not a guarantee you'll be accepted - but you'll get a good idea of your odds.

The top overseas spending cards

Halifax Clarity*Worldwide 0% load & no cash withdrawal fee

Halifax
  • Loading (exchange rate fee). Europe: 0% | Worldwide: 0%
  • Cash withdrawals. Fee: FREE | Interest on cash withdrawals?: Yes, even if repaid in full
  • Representative APRs. Spending: 12.9% | Cash: 12.9% (see official rate example)
  • Card issuer: Mastercard

Top card for spending and ATM withdrawals abroad -
it gives a 'perfect' exchange rate and has few other fees

The Halifax Clarity* credit card has no foreign exchange fee anywhere in the world (you can use our pre-application eligibility checker for this card), so you can get the best rate possible.

The rate you'll get is set by Mastercard, which you can check here, although the most recent rate you'll be able to see is that from the previous day. Please also note that this rate is not connected to Halifax's own travel money bureau, which generally offers far lower rates.

There's no fee for cash withdrawals, though you'll be charged interest at a fairly low 12.9% representative APR, even if repaid in full. This works out at around £1/month per £100 withdrawn. Some poorer credit scorers will get higher APRs, of up to 21.9%

Monthly cost of £100 of Spending Cash withdrawals Total
Worldwide £0 approx £1/month £1

Capital One Classic Extra*0% load worldwide & 0.5% cashback too

Capital One Aspire World
  • Loading (exchange rate fee). Europe: 0% | Worldwide: 0%
  • Cash withdrawals. Fee: 3% (min £3) | Interest on cash withdrawals?: Yes even if repaid in full
  • Representative APRs. Spending: 34.9% | Cash: 34.9% (see official rate example)
  • Card issuer: Mastercard

A 'perfect' exchange rate abroad
and cashback on spending too

If you want a good, all-round card to use at home and abroad, saving you from having two separate credit cards and you're a new customer, Capital One's* Classic Extra card (you can use our pre-application eligibility checker for this card) has no foreign exchange fee on overseas spending, plus up to 0.5% cashback on UK spending.

It's also designed for those with an average credit rating - which means that if you've had past problems, you may be able to get this card where others would reject you.

But it's important to note credit limits are £200 - £1,500. If you need a higher limit, try a different card.

If you withdraw cash on the card, you'll be charged a fairly high 3% (min £3) fee. You'll also be charged interest on your cash withdrawal of 34.9% representative APR until it's paid off in full. The representative APR on spending is also 34.9%.

Monthly cost of £100 of: Spending Cash withdrawals Total
Worldwide £0 approx £2.50/month + £3 £5.50
Full 'perfect' exchange rate credit cards comparison
Includes alternatives to the top options - it's not worth switching if you have one
Worldwide load fee ATM fee Cash w/d interest
(fully repaid)
Rep APR
(if not repaid)
UK cashback Check your chances of getting it
Halifax Clarity* None None 12.9% 12.9% - Pre-application eligibility check
Post Office* None £3 or 2.5% 27.9% 17.8% - Pre-application eligibility check
Capital One Classic Extra* (new customers from June 2013 only) None £3 or 3% 34.9% 34.9% 0.5% Pre-application eligibility check
Aqua Reward* None £3 or 3% 39.9%-59.9% 34.9% 0.5% Pre-application eligibility check
Aqua Advance* None £3 or 3% 39.9%-59.9% 34.9% - Pre-application eligibility check
Saga* (over 50s, may not be accepted if you've four or more credit/store cards) None £2 or 2% None 11.9% (Cash 19.6%) - Pre-application eligibility check
Lloyds Avios* (has a £24 annual fee) None £3 or 3% 17.9% 22.7% incl fee (Cash 17.9%) - Pre-application eligibility check
Nationwide* (current account custs only) None £3 or 2.5% 27.9% 15.9% 0.5% Not available
Santander
Zero
None None 27.9% 18.9% - Not available
† Not accepting new applications. £10 dormancy fee, never been charged

Think before adding the 'insurance'

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Do you want a debit card instead?

It’s also possible to get load-free debit cards – but to do that, you’ll need to genuinely shift bank account. It’s questionable whether its worth it just for this (as you’re forgoing other bank account perks – see Best Bank Accounts) which is why we favour just getting a credit card and using it right.

There are a couple of current account providers offering load-free debit cards...

  • Norwich & Peterborough BS: The Norwich & Peterborough BS Gold Classic current account has 0% overseas spending fees and no cash withdrawal fee worldwide. You need to pay in £500 a month (£6,000 salary) or keep £5,000 in the account to avoid its £5/mth fee.

  • Metro Bank (London & SE only): The Metro Bank current account charges no foreign exchange loading or cash withdrawal fees when you use its debit card in Europe. In the rest of the world it will charge a load of 1.9%, and its ATM withdrawal fee will be £1. For full details, see Metro Bank to charge for debit card use outside Europe.

    This is a branch based account, so you have to go to one of its branches, which are in London or the south-east of England, to get one. More branches are opening - but in the same area.

  • Cumberland Building Society (NW England & SW Scotland): If you have a standard, Reward, Plus, Offset or Cumberland Plus current account with Cumberland Building Society, it charges no foreign exchange loading or cash withdrawal fees on the debit card that comes with the account. However, you need to live in its operating area - it has branches in Cumbria, Lancashire and Dumfries & Galloway.

Getting the cheapest foreign cash

If you want to get the best deal for spending overseas, it involves a combination of the best exchange rate and the lowest commission (read more on commission versus rate).

To cut through this, we’ve built a special daily (often hourly) updated free website at TravelMoneyMax.com. It whizzes to all the main online bureaux de change to compare who'll give you the most foreign cash, after all charges and exchange rates.

Though do remember if your money is held by a currency provider - if you're buying in advance for example - it's not protected if it goes bust, so be careful.

TravelMoneyMax.com

TravelMoneyMax.com can only search companies with an online presence, though luckily these usually undercut their high street competitors. It’s occasionally possible to get a better rate at some local specialist dealers.

However this is rare and they’re only located in areas with large amounts of overseas visitors where competition on rates is very high, such as Bayswater in central London.

Beware extra charges when using credit cards to pay for bureau de change cash

Pick it up at the airport, but always order it in advance

Top prepaid cards

If you can’t get the top credit card or don’t trust yourself with one, next best is a prepaid card - effectively an electronic travellers cheque. You just load it up with cash in advance and use it when away, like a debit card.

But, before you go ahead, there's five things you need to know

These are our top picks. We've deliberately picked cards with good exchange rates & low fees. We regularly compare cards to ensure the cards below are still top deals.

Top card for using abroad: Ukash* Top card for spending and withdrawing cash abroad

Ukash
  • Cash withdrawals: Free outside UK
  • Top up: Free via debit card online
  • Currencies: Euros/dollars
  • Replacement charge: $13/€9.50
  • Exchange rate: Ukash's own rate, determined daily

The new Euro and Dollar prepaid cards from Ukash* charge no fees for spending or for withdrawing cash abroad. They're also free to get, and free to operate - so you won't be charged to top it up.

Top pick: No fees, and top exchange rate - BUT limited feedback

As with all prepaid cards, it sets its own exchange rates, so there is no guaranteed consistency. Yet in our random surveys of rate, so far it has come out top every time.

It is worth noting this is a new card, from a company we have had little contact with, so we’ve no feedback to go on. However, as with all prepaid cards that are FCA regulated, the money you deposit is ring-fenced so in the event there were problems with the firm the money is safe.

Quick notes:

  • Spend in a currency other than the card’s and you’re hit by an additional 2.75% per transaction.
  • There's also a €12/$17 fee to close the card, but you don't get charged for not using it, so don’t close it

The next cheapest: CaxtonFXNo fees for withdrawing cash or spending

CaxtonFX
  • Cash withdrawals: Free outside UK
  • Currencies: Euros/dollars/sterling
  • Top up: Free via debit card online / phone
  • Replacement cost: £5/$10/€7.50
  • Exchange rate: Caxton's own rate, determined daily

The next best prepaid card is from Caxton FX, which also charges no ATM fees or spending fees when you use the card abroad. It's also free to get and free to operate - there's no charges to hold the card, spend, top it up, or make cash withdrawals.

No fees, but slightly poorer exchange rate

You get Caxton's exchange rate, which is decent, but it doesn't beat Ukash's prepaid card above. The card can be topped up online or over the phone for free by debit card.

As with all other prepaid cards in this guide, Caxton's authorised & regulated by the FCA, so the chance of you losing your money if Caxton FX had problems is lessened.

Quick notes:

  • There's a Global Traveller version of the card which you load in sterling. However, that card will charge a 2.75% fee for every transaction & cash withdrawal not made in sterling, making it a bog standard travel card.
  • You need to load at least £100/€150/$200 of currency.

Good for spending: FairFX*Good card for spending, no transaction or 'load' fees

FairFX
  • Cash withdrawals: €1.50 / $2
  • Currencies: Euros/dollars
  • Top up: Free via debit card online
  • Replacement charge: £6/$12/€9
  • Exchange rate: FairFX's own rate, determined daily

If you're not going to be making cash withdrawals, the FairFX Euro* or FairFX Dollar* cards may beat Caxton FX above as it tends to have a better exchange rate. It's free to spend, hold & top up, but does charge a fee on all cash withdrawals.

The card usually costs £9.95 on application, but this will be waived if you use the links above and top up more than £50 worth of euros or dollars.

Good if you're spending, not making ATM withdrawals

You can get the card in euros, dollars or sterling to use anywhere, although the sterling one has much higher fees.

Quick notes:

  • There's a 1.4% transaction fee if you spend in a different currency to the one you loaded up.
  • You get an £8 bonus if you load more than £500 of currency using the links above

Travelex Cash Passport*Available for more currencies, good if you need a card quicktravelex

  • Cash withdrawals: FREE (2.49% for global card)
  • Top up: Free (2% for sterling card)
  • Currencies: NZ $/AUS $/SA rand/euros/US/dollars/sterling
  • Replacement cost: Free
  • Exchange rate: Travelex's, determined daily

Not far behind is foreign exchange giant Travelex’s Cash Passport, which comes in euro*, dollar* and global* versions.

On the euro or dollar versions of this card there's no fee for spending abroad or to top up online, by phone or in stores. The global card charges a 2.49% fee for each cash withdrawal and purchase made regardless of the currency.

Has the largest range of currencies

You’ll get the prevailing Travelex exchange rate, generally not as good as FairFX/Caxton, or the exchange rates you get on the best credit and debit cards.

Quick notes:

  • However, if you spend on a currency different to the one you selected, you'll be hit with a massive 5.75% charge for every transaction and ATM withdrawal.
  • It charges £2/€3/$3.50 each month if the card goes unused for a year. If you’re heading towards that, simply cancel the card as it’s rarely worth the extra cost.

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Currency Q&A


Spending overseas: Q&A with Martin Lewis
Filmed on 4 April 2011

Glossary

Join in the Forum Discussion:
Travel Credit Cards
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If a link has a * by it, that means it is an affiliated link and therefore it helps MoneySavingExpert stay free to use, as it is tracked to us. If you go through it, it can sometimes result in a payment to the site. It's worth noting this means the third party used may be named on any credit agreements.

You shouldn’t notice any difference and the link will never negatively impact the product. Plus the editorial line (the things we write) is NEVER impacted by these links. We aim to look at all available products. If it isn't possible to get an affiliate link for the top deal, it is still included in exactly the same way, just with a non-paying link. For more details, read How This Site Is Financed.

Duplicate links of the * links above for the sake of transparency, but this version doesn't help MoneySavingExpert.com: Caxton, Halifax Clarity, Nationwide, Nationwide FlexAccount, Post Office, Saga, Travelex

Cheap Travel Money

Find the best online rate for holiday cash with MSE's TravelMoneyMax.

Find the best online rate for your holiday cash with MoneySavingExpert's TravelMoneyMax.