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Cheap Travel Money Top cards for spending 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.

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: July 2013

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

Seven debit cards have nightmarish charges every time you use them overseas. With most debit cards, you pay a load fee for spending, and will a charge if you withdraw cash abroad. These seven 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!

The top cards for 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.

Pre-apply to check eligibility with NO credit file mark

You'll see that most cards in this guide have a link to our eligibility checker tool, which we've designed to allow you to see the probability of getting the card.

We do a 'soft' credit search which YOU can see, but lenders CAN'T, so it has no impact on your future creditworthiness - and lets you see the chance of you getting the card without applying for it.

We map the details you give us against lenders' criteria, and show your chances for all the cards on this page that we can do so for. You can now check all cards without having to following a link from a specific card.

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 bureaux, 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
Capital One Classic Extra* (new customers from June 2013 only) None £3 or 3% 34.9% 34.9% 0.5% 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
Nationwide* (current account custs only) None £3 or 2.5% 27.9% 15.9% 2% first 90 days, 0.5% after Not available
Post Office* None £3 or 2.5% 27.9% 17.8% - Pre-application eligibility check
Aqua Advance* None £3 or 3% 39.9%-59.9% 34.9% - Pre-application eligibility check
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 used right.

There are two 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 prepay card - effectively an electronic travellers cheque. You just load it up with cash in advance and use it when away, like a debit card.

The big gain over cash though, is if you lose the card you shouldn’t lose the cash, though you may need pay a replacement card fee (usually around £10).

While some offer rates almost as good as the best credit cards, its the rate on the day you load the cash up not spend. So hold the card a long time and if the exchange rate moves against you, you lose out (of course you could gain if it goes the other way).

They're accepted by most shops which take the Maestro network (the substantial bulk) both in the UK and abroad. Prepaid cards have a variety of different charges, but the two top cards keep these to a minimum. More info: Prepaid Card Fees

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

FairFX
  • Cash withdrawals: €1.50 / $2
  • Loading (exchange rate fee): 0%
  • Currencies: Euros/dollars
  • Top up: Free via debit card online
  • Exchange rate: FairFX's own rate, determined daily
  • Replacement charge: £6/$12/€9

The FairFX prepaid card charges no spending or foreign 'loading' fees, and can be topped up for free by debit card or bank transfer. You can get the card in euros, dollars or sterling to use anywhere, although the sterling one has much higher fees.

There are two offers available for new customers via comparison site MoneySupermarket - the links below take you there. With the FairFX Euro* or FairFX Dollar* card, the £9.95 application fee will be waived if you top up more than £50 worth of euros or dollars. Plus you'll get an £8 bonus when you load more than £500.

If you spend in a different currency to the one you selected, you'll be hit with a 1.4% charge for every transaction.

The next cheapest: CaxtonFXTop for withdrawals - no fees

CaxtonFX
  • Cash withdrawals: Free outside UK
  • Loading (exchange rate fee): 0%
  • Currencies: Euros/dollars/sterling
  • Top up: Free via debit card online / phone
  • Exchange rate: Caxton's own rate, determined daily
  • Replacement cost: £5/$10/€7.50

If you're likely to make more withdrawals, Caxton FX, again available online, has no ATM fees. You get Caxton's exchange rate, which is usually worse than FairFX, but beats the best you’d get for cash. It also has no spending or foreign load fees and can be topped up online or over the phone for free by debit card.

No fees, but not as good exchange rate

The euro and dollar versions of this card will charge less than the Global Traveller card, which can be used worldwide, and they are the ones described here. However, if you spend on a currency different to the one you selected, you'll be hit with a 2.75% charge for every transaction and cash withdrawal.

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

  • Cash withdrawals: FREE
  • Loading (exchange rate fee): 0%
  • Top up: Free (2% for sterling card)
  • Currencies: NZ $/AUS $/SA rand/euros/US/dollars/sterling
  • Exchange rate: Travelex's, determined daily
  • Replacement cost: Free

Not far behind is foreign exchange giant Travelex’s Cash Passport, which comes in euro*, dollar* and global* versions. There's no fee for spending abroad or to top up online, by phone or in stores.

No fees for foreign 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.

ICE Travellers Cashcard*Fee-free, but slightly lower rates

ICE
  • Cash withdrawals: FREE
  • Loading (exchange rate fee): 0% for euros/dollars
  • Top up: Free
  • Currencies: Euros/US dollars/sterling
  • Exchange rate: ICE's own rate, determined daily
  • Replacement cost: Free

The next best pick is foreign exchange bureaux ICE’s* Travellers Cashcard. There are no fees at all on the Euro or US dollar cards, and you'll get 1.5% cashback on all foreign transactions over $50/€50 made on the card between 1 Mar 2014 and 28 Feb 2015.

No fees and 1.5% cashback

The rate isn't as good as branch or online rates, but as there are no other fees, plus cashback, it works out as a good option. You'll be able to see the rate before you apply.

What happens if the prepaid card company goes bust?

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Currency Q&A


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

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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

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