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Travel Credit Cards

One of the cheapest ways to spend abroad

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Helen S | Edited by Johanna

Updated Weekly

travel credit cardsGoing abroad or spending on foreign websites? There's one way to spend that smashes most others. Get a specialist travel credit card and you can spend overseas knowing you've got a near-perfect exchange rate worldwide.

This step-by-step guide includes best-buy cards, as well as the cards to avoid, and shows you how to check what your card's currently charging you when you use it overseas.

The 10 need-to-knows when spending abroad

Before you go on holiday, there are some things you need to know about how credit and debit cards work overseas. Get this wrong and it can cost you large, so please read the following (even if you only have time to read and remember the headlines, it should help protect your pocket).

  • Specialist travel cards are so good for spending abroad because they don't charge fees for it

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

    • Adding a non-sterling transaction fee onto the exchange rate, typically around 3%, so spending £100 of foreign currency costs £103
    • Cash withdrawal fees
    • Interest charges even if you pay off in full (on credit cards)
    • In some cases, charging a penalty each time you spend

    But there are credit and debit cards that don't charge these fees, making them ideal to use when you're on holiday or buying from overseas websites.

    Use this checker to find out what you'll pay when using your existing cards. If you're paying huge fees every time you use your card abroad, check out our best buy cards below to find cards that don't charge.

    How much does your card charge? Find how much you pay to use your card abroad

    Please select an credit or debit card from the list.

    Tool last updated: July 2016

    Your Results - {{tc.priceResults.provider}} {{tc.priceResults.cardType}} {{tc.priceResults.headingSubline}}

    Exchange Load ATM Charge Spending Charge Cash Withdrawal Interest
    (min £)

    If you think any cards should be added to the tool, please email us.

  • You can save £100s per holiday using a specialist card

    Ultimately, when abroad, you want to pay for only what you buy, yet using any bog-standard card means you're paying to pay, too. Here's how much spending €1,000 actually cost, in pounds, when we made comparisons on 26 June 2017 using our Travel Money Comparison tool (we assumed five €100 cash withdrawals and 20 transactions on the cards).

    • On a specialist credit card repaid in full: £881 (see cheapest credit cards)
    • Cash, via UK's cheapest bureau (pick up in London): £888
    • Cash from M&S (non-cardholder): £919
    • Using a debit card from hell: £942 (see debit cards from hell)
    • Change at airport (Heathrow T1 Travelex, not pre-ordered): £1,000

    As you can see, paying the wrong way could cost you over £100 more than paying the cheapest way. But the winner is simple: apply for a specialist overseas credit card, then use it every time you go.

  • If you're using a credit card, ALWAYS pay it off IN FULL every month

    As mentioned above, specialist overseas credit cards can be the best way to spend when you're on holiday. However, they can quickly turn into one of the worst ways if you're not disciplined enough to pay them off.

    Watch out for the interest trap. 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.

    See the travel credit card best buys section for our pick of the top credit cards.

  • Specialist overseas credit cards almost always beat their debit card counterparts

    We believe credit cards almost always beat debit cards if you're looking for the best way to spend overseas.

    Credit cards have the advantage that they're easier to get – you can apply for it whomever you bank with, whereas for debit cards you're likely to have to switch accounts or open a new account that you then have to manage.

    Credit cards also give you the powerful Section 75 protection – a legal recourse for anything costing between £100 and £30,000 that you pay for directly on the credit card, meaning the credit card company's liable along with the retailer if anything goes wrong – important if you buy something on holiday when it's not so easy to take items back if they're faulty.

    There's also more choice of credit cards – this guide features ten top cards you can apply for, whereas there are only two bank accounts that are open to all.

    However, there is one exception where credit cards don't usually win: if you mostly spend cash while you're on holiday. Most of the credit cards charge either fees or interest, or both, when you take cash out abroad (one of our top picks, Barclaycard is the rare exception – it doesn't have any providing you repay in full).

    But specialist overseas debit cards don't charge fees or interest for cash withdrawals, meaning they can often be cheaper.

  • If they ask 'want to pay in pounds or euros?', say 'euros'

    Many overseas hotels, shops & ATMs ask this when you pay by card, especially in Spanish tourist resorts. If you choose pounds, the retailer does the currency conversion – but rates can often be poor compared with letting your card do it (choosing euros). For a great comparison of rates, see Martin's euro analysis.

    If you've got a top overseas card, always choose the local currency, as your card does the exchange and it's unbeatable.

    If you're using a bog-standard credit or debit card, it's touch-and-go. Sometimes the card machine will show you the 'non-sterling cash fee'. If this is under 2.5%, go with pounds. If it's over, pick the local currency.

  • Use our eligibility calculator before applying for a speedy check of which cards you're most likely to get - and protect your credit score

    Usually, the only way to know if you'll be accepted is to apply, but each application marks your credit file. But our Travel Credit Cards Eligibility Calculator quickly shows your odds of getting almost every top travel credit card so you can find the ones most likely to accept you, thus minimising applications.

    Quick questions

    How does the Eligibility Calculator work?

    Will my credit score affect the deal I get and my credit limit?

  • Or join our Credit Club for a full credit health check, including your free Experian Credit Report, Affordability Score and Credit Hit Rate

    The MSE Credit Club is a game-changer. For years the credit market has been shrouded in mystery but our revolutionary tool brings together the key components to give you the full picture, and crucially, what it means for your acceptance chances and how to boost your creditworthiness.

    A credit score alone isn't enough to borrow, as there are other factors at play (it's why many with perfect scores still get rejected). Credit Club shows you...

    1. Free Experian Credit Report - your credit accounts & how you've managed them.
    2. Free Experian Credit Score - how lenders rate your past credit behaviour.
    3. MSE Affordability Score - how lenders assess if you can afford a product.
    4. Your Credit Hit Rate -
    how likely you actually are to be accepted when you apply.
    5. Credit Card & Loan Eligibility Calcs
    - what your odds are of getting specific top deals.
    6. How to improve your credit profile - we show where your profile's strong and weak, & how to improve it.

  • Beware your debit card – it could be the worst way to spend

    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 in this guide beat them.

    Nine debit cards have nightmarish charges every time you use them overseas. With most debit cards, you pay a non-sterling transaction fee for spending, typically around 3% of the transaction, and a charge if you withdraw cash abroad.

    But these cards have another sneaky charge: a spending fee of between £1 and £1.50 each time you use your card in a shop overseas.

    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 non-sterling transaction fee and charges are added on – an entire third more than you'd spend if you used a top card from this guide!

    The cards from hell

    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 specific spending penalty, but instead charge a minimum exchange fee, meaning these are hell for small spends. Without this, a £5 spend on these cards would cost £5.14, but this minimum exchange fee bumps it up to £6 or £6.50...

    Clydesdale/Yorkshire Debit Card

    Spending penalty: none | Load fee: 2.75% (min £1.50) | Cash withdrawal: 3.75% (min £1.50)

    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.

  • Is spending or withdrawing cash cheaper when I'm on holiday?

    This all depends on what card you have. If you've a top overseas credit card, spending is always cheaper. Even on cards with no cash withdrawal fees, you'll usually still pay interest on the withdrawal until you pay it off (the Barclaycard below is the rare exception to this).

    This goes double for non-specialist credit cards. You'll pay the non-sterling transaction fee on all transactions overseas, but you'll also pay a fee and interest on cash withdrawals.

    On debit cards, perhaps counter-intuitively, spending is still cheaper. That's because while there's no interest on a cash withdrawal, there's usually still a fee (as well as the non-sterling transaction fee) when you use a cash machine. So, again, spending is cheaper.

    If you're looking for a new card to give the cheapest way to spend overseas, check out the best buy specialist overseas cards.

  • Not all cards are equal – check if the card you're applying for has the Mastercard, Visa or Amex logo

    When you spend abroad, your bank gets an almost perfect rate when it does the exchange for you. It exchanges at Mastercard's, Visa's or Amex's wholesale rate, all of which are pretty close to the spot rate that the currency markets suggest (the perfect rate) – though Mastercard's rates tend to be slightly better than Visa's and Amex's.

    However, most banks then charge you for having them make the exchange for you, and this is where the up-to-3% non-sterling exchange fee comes in.

    But some banks and credit card providers waive these fees. They give you the near-perfect Mastercard, Visa or Amex rate without any non-sterling transaction fee. It's these cards that are in this guide, as they allow you to spend the right way overseas. And of these, cards using Mastercard's rate will usually give you the biggest saving.

Best Buys: Top travel credit cards

These specialist cards have near-perfect spending rates but tend to charge fees or interest on cash withdrawals. We've picked out the top credit cards that allow you to spend for free overseas here.

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

Near-perfect rates everywhere, cheap withdrawals and £20 cashback

Halifax Clarity Mastercard*

The Halifax Clarity* has been one of our top picks for years due to its great feedback, low rates and no fees on spending or withdrawing cash abroad. It's a Mastercard too, which pushes it ahead of cards - including Barclaycard below - from other issuers with lower interest rates.

Plus, while Barclaycard below is cheaper for cash withdrawals, apply by 3 Sep 2017 and you'll get £20 cashback after making your first purchase in a foreign currency on the card by 30 Sep 2017. The cashback will be credited to your card account within 90 days.

Need-to-knows
  • There's no fee for cash withdrawals, yet you'll be charged interest at 18.9% representative APR even if you pay it off in full. So it works out at about £1.50/month for each £100 withdrawn (if you get this APR).
  • To get the bonus, you need to spend on the card in a currency other than pound sterling, whether abroad or paying for something online.
  • You can minimise this cost: you're only charged interest until you've fully repaid the balance, so if you pay off the withdrawal amount as soon as you can (via internet banking while abroad, or when you get home) you can minimise interest.
  • You don't get charged interest on spending abroad, provided you pay this off in full by the date shown on your statement.
  • The rate you'll get is set by Mastercard, which you can check here – it tends to be higher than Visa's & Amex's rate, making this (along with Creation above) the joint top card for spending.
  • This rate is only for the Clarity credit card, not Halifax's own travel money bureau, which generally offers lower exchange rates.
  • You can get the Clarity credit card even if you already have a Halifax credit card.
  • Some poorer credit scorers will get 21.9% or 25.9% APR, which will make cash withdrawal interest more expensive.
Eligibility Calculator
(MSE's free tool)
APPLY*
(at lender site)

Protect your credit score and check chances of getting card

Stats box
  • Exchange rate fee: Europe: 0% | Worldwide: 0%
  • Cash withdrawal fee: None | Interest on cash withdrawals? Yes, until it's repaid in full
  • Representative APR on spending: 18.9% (see Official APR Examples)
  • Interest rate on ATM withdrawals: 18.9%
  • Card issuer: Mastercard
Key questions

Are there any limits on cash withdrawals? If you're making a lot of ATM withdrawals, be aware that you can only withdraw a total of 50% of your credit limit as cash. So, if your credit limit is £1,000 on the card, you'll only be able to withdraw the equivalent of £500 as cash. Therefore it's best to prioritise spending where you can.

Barclaycard card image* - Worldwide 0% load & no cash withdrawal fee

Not-as-good rates as Halifax above but better for cash withdrawals

Barclaycard Platinum Travel Credit Card*

The Barclaycard* Platinum travel card card offers no fees on spending or cash withdrawals overseas. And, while it has a high interest rate on cash withdrawals abroad, if you pay off your balance in full each month on or before your statement date, you won't actually be charged any interest making it the top way to spend overseas.

The card's fee free overseas until the end of August 2022. Although that puts a time limit on it, it's five years away which makes it better in the long term than the card above, especially if you frequently withdraw cash. It is a Visa though, which means the exchange rate you get on overseas spending tends to be very slightly lower than the rate on Halifax above, so factor that into your decision.

Need-to-knows
  • There are no fees for spending or withdrawing cash abroad until 31 August 2022.
  • You don't get charged interest on spending or cash withdrawals abroad, provided you pay them off in full by the date shown on your statement.
  • Any cash withdrawals in pounds will be charged interest from the day you make them at 27.9% representative APR, so it's best to avoid.
  • The rate you'll get is set by Visa, which you can check here – it tends to be slightly lower than Mastercard's rate.
  • Make sure you pay off any purchases IN FULL or you'll be charged 18.9% interest, which'll quickly wipe the gain from this being fee free overseas.
Eligibility Calculator
(MSE's free tool)
APPLY*
(at lender site)

Protect your credit score and check chances of getting card

Stats box
  • Exchange rate fee: Europe: 0% | Worldwide: 0%
  • Cash withdrawal fee: None | Interest on cash withdrawals? Only if not repaid in full
  • Representative APR on spending: 18.9% (see Official APR Examples)
  • Interest rate on ATM withdrawals: 27.9%
  • Card issuer: Visa
Aqua Reward* - Great for spending,  but high fees for cash withdrawals

Easier-to-get card that's great for spending, but high withdrawal interest

Aqua Reward Mastercard*

The Aqua Reward* card is designed for those with lower credit scores, but it still gives unbeatable rates worldwide. As an added bonus, it gives 0.5% cashback on all spending – even abroad (max £100/yr cashback).

However, primarily use this only to spend as its 44.9% rep APR is charged on cash withdrawals even if you clear in full.

Need-to-knows
  • This card's designed for those with poor credit history and will accept those with past CCJs or defaults providing they're a year old, or bankruptcies over 18 months old.
  • Credit limits are low, from £250 to £1,200.
  • You can earn a maximum of £100 cashback each year.
  • The rate you'll get is set by Mastercard, which you can check here.
  • You don't get charged interest on spending abroad, provided you pay this off in full by the date shown on your statement.
  • This card charges 44.9% rep APR on cash withdrawals from the date they're made, plus a 3% fee, so avoid if you can.
  • Some poorer credit scorers will get higher APRs of up to 59.9%, which'll make cash withdrawal interest much more expensive.
  • If you do withdraw cash, pay it off as soon as you can (via internet banking while abroad, or as soon as you get home) so you minimise interest costs.
Eligibility Calculator
(MSE's free tool)
APPLY*
(at lender site)

Protect your credit score and check chances of getting card

Stats box
  • Exchange rate fee: Europe: 0% | Worldwide: 0%
  • Cash withdrawal fee: 3% (min £3) | Interest: Yes, until it's repaid in full
  • Cashback: 0.5% on all spending in UK & abroad | Card issuer: Mastercard
  • Representative APR on spending: 34.9% (see Official APR Examples)
  • Interest rate on ATM withdrawals: 44.9% to 69.9%

Best of the rest

There are a few other cards that don't charge non-sterling exchange fees when you use them to spend overseas. If you're choosing a card, remember that Mastercard's exchange rate almost always beats Visa's rate, so factor this in when making your decision.

We've included Creation, Halifax Clarity, Barclaycard, Santander and Aqua at the top of the table for comparison, but if you already have one of the cards below, it's usually not worth switching as the gains are small. Here are the 'best of the rest' of the cheapest overseas spending cards.

Top travel credit cards that charge no fees on purchases
Card issuer ATM fee Cash w/d interest Rep APR (if not repaid) Check your chances of getting it
Halifax Clarity* Mastercard None 18.9%-25.9% 18.9% Eligibility calculator
Barclaycard Platinum Travel* (1) Visa None None 18.9% (Cash 27.9% (2)) Eligibility calculator
Creation Everyday Mastercard None 12.9%-21.9% 12.9% N/A
Santander Zero* Mastercard None 18.9% 18.9% Eligibility calculator
Aqua Reward* Mastercard £3 or 3% 44.9%-69.9% 34.9% Eligibility calculator
Post Office Platinum* Mastercard £3 or 2.5% 27.9% 18.9% Eligibility calculator
Aqua Advance* Mastercard £3 or 3% 39.9%-69.9% 34.9% Eligibility calculator
Saga Platinum (3) Visa £2 or 2% None 11.9% (Cash 19.6% (4)) N/A
Lloyds Avios Rewards (£24 annual fee) (5) Amex/
Mastercard
£3 or 3% 18.9%-25.9% 23.7% incl fee (18.9% on spending) N/A
B Credit Card* Mastercard £3 or 3% 27.9% 9.9% Eligibility calculator
Nationwide Select* (current account custs only) Visa £3 or 2.5% 27.9% 15.9% Eligibility calculator
(1) No non-sterling fees until 31 August 2022 (2) You'll pay interest on non-sterling cash withdrawals if you don't repay your balance in full each month. Sterling cash withdrawals attract interest from the day you make the withdrawal. (3) Over 50s only – you may not be accepted if you've four or more credit/store cards. (4) You'll pay interest on cash withdrawals if you don't repay your balance in full each month. (5) New card holders from November 2013.

Best Buys: The top overseas debit cards

It's also possible to get non-sterling transaction fee-free debit cards, but to do that you'll need to genuinely shift bank account. It's questionable whether it's 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 four current account providers offering debit cards without non-sterling transaction fees, although two of them are restricted to certain areas or are only non-sterling transaction fee-free in Europe.

Starling Bank Debit Card

Fee-free spending and withdrawals worldwide (but there's a wait to get a card)

Starling Bank

New app-based Starling Bank's current account charges no non-sterling transaction or cash withdrawal fees when you use its debit card worldwide. It's only been open to applications for a few weeks, and there's currently around a two week wait between downloading the app and receiving your card, but initial feedback has been positive. Let us know your experiences with it.

Starling Bank is a new challenger bank, which opened applications to its current account in May 2017. It's regulated by the FCA, and has the full £85,000 FSCS protection. For now it has no fees, though it's possible that this'll change in the future.

Need-to-knows
  • Starling Bank is app-only - you can download it for iOS and Android.
  • The exchange rate you'll get is set by Mastercard, which you can check here.
  • You can make up to three cash withdrawals a day, totalling a maximum of £300.
  • Money in your account will earn 0.5% AER interest (max £85,000). The rate's dropping to 0.25% on balances above £2,000 from Sun 4 Jun 2017.
  • You can apply for an overdraft if you want one – you won't automatically be given one.
  • Starling Bank has the full £85,000 UK savings safety guarantee.
Stats box
  • Exchange rate fee: Europe: 0% | Worldwide: 0%
  • Cash withdrawal fee: None
  • Card type: Mastercard debit | In-credit interest: 0.5% (dropping to 0.25% on balances above £2,000 from 4 June)
  • Minimum monthly pay in: N/A
  • Arranged overdraft cost: 15% EAR variable.
  • Unarranged overdraft cost: 15% EAR variable.
Metro Bank Debit Card

Also fee-free on spending and cash withdrawals but only in Europe

Metro Bank Mastercard

The Metro Bank current account charges no non-sterling transaction fees or cash withdrawal fees when you use its debit card in Europe.

But to open the account, you need to go to a Metro Bank branch, all of which are in London or southeast England, meaning not everyone will be able to take advantage. More branches are opening, but in the same areas.

Need-to-knows
  • The exchange rate you'll get is set by Mastercard, which you can check here.
  • Outside Europe, you'll pay a non-sterling transaction fee of 2.5%, and its ATM withdrawal fee is £1.50.
  • You need to pass a credit check to open the account.
  • You can apply for an overdraft if you want one – you won't automatically be given one.
  • Metro Bank has the full £85,000 UK savings safety guarantee.
Stats box
  • Exchange rate fee: Europe: 0% | Worldwide: 2.5%
  • Cash withdrawal fee: No fee in Europe, £1.50 in the rest of the world
  • Card type: Mastercard debit | In-credit interest: None
  • Minimum monthly pay in: N/A
  • Arranged overdraft cost: 15% EAR variable.
  • Unarranged overdraft cost: 15% EAR variable. £10 paid/unpaid item fees (max 6/mth).
Key questions

Is this bank account any good? It's a bog-standard bank account, as there are no real perks apart from the free spending & withdrawals in Europe.

If you're looking to switch, there are bank accounts that will pay you interest or give you introductory bonuses for joining that could beat this. Read Best Bank Accounts to see what's on offer.

Fee-free spending worldwide, £1.50 per cash withdrawal and easier-to-get

Virgin Money

If you can't get the accounts above, then another good option for overseas debit card spending is the Virgin Money Essential current account. It has no fee for worldwide spending, but charges a flat £1.50 per overseas ATM withdrawal so try to keep these to a minimum.

It's also a good account for those with previous credit issues such as serious defaults or CCJs as you'll be ID checked but not credit checked in the same way you would with standard bank accounts, meaning it's open to all.

To open the account you need to go into a branch but after opening you can operate it online. As an added bonus, this account pays 0.75% interest on balances but this can be beaten – see Best Bank Accounts for more options (though all of these are subject to a full credit check).

Need-to-knows
  • The exchange rate you'll get is set by Visa, which you can check here. This rate tends to be very slightly lower than the Mastercard rate that many of the credit cards above use.
  • Spending on the card is fee-free, but cash withdrawals cost £1.50 regardless of amount withdrawn. Also watch out for any extra fees charged by the ATM provider.
  • There is no overdraft facility as this is a basic bank account which means that anyone can get it, regardless of past credit history.
  • You need to pass an ID check to open the account.
  • Virgin Money has the full £85,000 UK savings safety guarantee.
Stats box
  • Exchange rate fee: Europe: 0% | Worldwide:0%
  • Cash withdrawal fee: £1.50 worldwide
  • Card type: Visa debit | In-credit interest: 1%
  • Minimum monthly pay in: N/A
  • Arranged overdraft cost: N/A
  • Unarranged overdraft cost: N/A
Key questions

Can I apply for this basic account with a good credit score? This account features in our Basic Bank Accounts guide. It's regarded as one of the easiest bank accounts to get, but there's nothing stopping good credit scorers getting this account for overseas spending too.

We've found one other account that is useful if you travel a lot, though you'll have to live in the northwest of England or southwest of Scotland to get it.

  • Cumberland Building Society: If you have a standard, Reward, Offset or Cumberland Plus current account with Cumberland Building Society, it charges no foreign exchange fee 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.

Currency & credit cards Q&A

  • Do I get the rate on the day that I spend on the card?

  • Do the same rules apply when buying off overseas websites?

  • If I spend abroad and they let me pay in pounds, is it worth it?

  • My card was blocked while I was abroad. Can I prevent this?

  • When's the best time to buy currency?

  • Should I get my travel money out in the UK or overseas?

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