Travel Credit Cards

One of the cheapest ways to spend abroad

Going abroad or spending on foreign websites? Get a specialist travel credit card for near-perfect exchange rates worldwide. This guide includes best-buy cards, the cards to avoid, and how to check what your card's charging you when you use it overseas.

How do travel credit cards work?

Specialist travel cards are so good for spending abroad because they don't charge fees. 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 of around 3%, cash withdrawal fees and interest charges even if you pay off in full (on credit cards).

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 card and check out our best buy cards below to find cards that don't charge.

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

Use our eligibility calculator to find cards you're most likely to get, without hitting your credit score

Making an application is recorded on your credit file. While a single one is not a big problem, especially if you've a good credit score, lots in a short time are problematic.

So use our Travel Credit Card Eligibility Calculator to show cards you're most likely to get, so you don't waste an application. And it's NOT recorded as a hard search on your credit file.

The 8 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).

  • 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 27 November 2018 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: £886.88 (see cheapest credit cards)
    • Cash, via UK's cheapest bureau (pick up in London): £892.86
    • Cash from M&S (non-cardholder): £921.74
    • Using a debit card from hell: £948.40
    • Change at airport (Gatwick South Terminal, ICE Travel Money, not pre-ordered): £980

    As you can see, the differences can be massive, yet the winners are simple. Apply for a specialist overseas credit card, then use it every time you go.

  • Specialist overseas credit cards can be the best way to spend when you're on holiday, but can turn into one of the worst ways if you're not disciplined enough to pay them off. 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."

    Direct debits may be marked 'inactive' if a card hasn't been used in a 13 month period – so if your hols have more than a year between them, check the direct debit is still in place. 

  • Many overseas hotels, shops and ATMs ask this when you pay by card. 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) - 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.

  • 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.

    How does the eligibility calculator work?

    It uses a 'soft search', which is one you will see on your credit file but lenders usually don't (and where they do they can't use the info), to give us an indication of your credit score. We then match this against lenders' criteria for acceptance so we can show you the odds of getting each card.

    Once you have this knowledge, it will allow you to make a smarter application. Therefore, you're less likely to be rejected and less likely to need to apply elsewhere, which would add another mark on your credit file.

    Or join our Credit Club for a full credit health check

    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 your Free Experian Credit Report and Credit Score, your Affordability Score, you Credit Hit Rate and much more.

  • 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 £1-£1.50 each time you use your card. Imagine you buy something for £5 in a shop. With the worst of these cards, it can end up costing £6.60 with the fee and charges.

    The cards from hell


    Santander Debit Card

    Spending penalty: £1.25 | Load fee: 2.75% | Cash withdrawal: 1.5% (min £1.99)

    TSB Debit Card

    Spending penalty: £1 | Load fee: 2.99% | Cash withdrawal: 1.5% (min £2 max £4.50)

    Bank of Scotland Debit Card

    Spending penalty: £0.50 | Load fee: 2.99% | Cash withdrawal fee: 1.5% (min £1.50 max £4.50)

    Lloyds Debit Card

    Spending penalty: £0.50 | Load fee: 2.99% | Cash withdrawal fee: £1.50

    Halifax Debit Card

    Spending penalty: £0.50 | Load fee: 2.99% | Cash withdrawal fee: £1.50

    IF Debit Card (existing custs only)

    Spending penalty: £1.50 | Load fee: 2.25% | Cash withdrawal fee: £1.50

    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.

  • 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, spending is still cheaper as 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.

  • 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.

    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 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.

  • With travel credit (or debit) cards, you get the rate when you spend or withdraw on the card. While there's nothing inherently wrong with this, if you're worried about currency swings a Prepaid Travel Card might be a better option.

    Some prepaid cards allow you to lock-in a rate ahead of time for certain currencies - so you can effectively convert your sterling into euros/dollars before you head away. While there's no way of knowing if buying currency in advance will work out cheaper than getting the rate on the day, it may give you peace of mind.

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.

Good if you spend AND withdraw cash plus 0.25% cashback on spending worldwide

The Barclaycard Platinum Cashback Plus card has no fees on spending or cash withdrawals overseas, plus gives 0.25% cashback on all spending, till 31 August 2023. Unusually, if you pay off your balance in full each month, you won't be charged interest on overseas cash withdrawals – unlike some other cards in this guide which charge interest straight away.

You can't get this card if you're an existing Barclaycard customer or have had a Barclaycard within the past six months.

Exchange rate fee: Europe: 0% | Worldwide: 0%
Cash withdrawal fee: None abroad, 2.99% (min £2.99) in UK 
Important: Repay IN FULL every month to avoid interest on spending and non-sterling cash withdrawals
Interest on overseas cash withdrawals? No, if repaid in full every month
Representative APR (variable): 21.9% (see Official APR Examples)
Interest rate on ATM withdrawals: 27.9%
Card issuer: Visa (see Mastercard vs Visa vs Amex rates)

  • Any cash withdrawals in pounds will be subject to a 2.99% fee (min £2.99) and interest will be charged from the day you make them at 27.9% representative APR, so it's best to avoid.

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Good for overseas spending plus 0.5% cashback on every spend worldwide

The Tandem* credit card has no fees for overseas spending as long as you repay IN FULL and as an added bonus, you earn 0.5% cashback when you spend on the card abroad and in the UK. This is credited to your account on each statement date.

There are also no fees for withdrawing cash, though you will pay interest until you pay it off (5p-ish per £100 per day), so minimise this by paying as soon as possible – eg, via internet banking while away. If you get a lot of cash out, you'll likely be better off with the Barclaycard above.

Exchange rate fee: Europe: 0% | Worldwide: 0%
Cash withdrawal fee: None overseas, 2.5% (min £2.50) in UK  
Important: Repay IN FULL every month to avoid interest on spending
Interest on overseas cash withdrawals? Yes, until it's repaid in full (see FAQs)
Representative APR (variable)18.9% (see Official APR Examples)
Interest rate on ATM withdrawals: 18.9% to 24.9%
Card issuer: Mastercard (see Mastercard vs Visa vs Amex rates)

  • You're only charged it 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.

See how likely it is you'll get this card

MSE's Eligibility Calculator

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Good long-term track record for cheap overseas spending, but no cashback

The Halifax Clarity* has been one of our top picks for years due to its great feedback, near-perfect rates and no fees on spending or withdrawing cash abroad.
 
You don't get charged interest on spending abroad as long as you repay IN FULL, but do for cash withdrawals till paid off (5p-ish per £100 per day), so cut this cost by paying as soon as you can – eg, via internet banking while abroad.

Exchange rate fee: Europe: 0% | Worldwide: 0%
Cash withdrawal fee: None  
Important: Repay IN FULL every month to avoid interest on spending
Interest on overseas cash withdrawals? Yes, until it's repaid in full (see FAQs)
Representative APR (variable)18.9% (see Official APR Examples)
Interest rate on ATM withdrawals: 18.9% (poorer credit scorers may get 25.9%)
Card issuer: Mastercard (see Mastercard vs Visa vs Amex rates)

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Easier-to-get card that's good for spending, plus 0.5% cashback, but high withdrawal interest

The Aqua Reward* card is designed for those with poor or no credit history, but it still gives near-perfect rates worldwide. It also gives 0.5% cashback on all spending – even abroad (max £100/yr cashback).

However, primarily use this only to spend as it charges 44.9% APR cash withdrawals even if you clear in full, plus a 3% fee (some poorer credit scorers will pay up to 69.9%). Also bear in mind that credit limits offered on this card are low, from £250 to £1,200.

Exchange rate fee: Europe: 0% | Worldwide: 0%
Cash withdrawal fee: 3% (min £3) 
Important: Repay IN FULL every month to avoid interest on spending
Interest on overseas cash withdrawals: Yes, until it's repaid in full (see FAQs)
Cashback: 0.5% on all spending (max £100/yr) in UK and abroad
Representative APR (variable)
34.9% (see Official APR Examples)
Interest rate on ATM withdrawals: 44.9% to 69.9%
Card issuer: Mastercard (see Mastercard vs Visa vs Amex rates)

See how likely it is you'll get this card

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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 tends to beat Visa's rate, so factor this in when making your decision.

The cards above are our top picks 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

TABLE_CELL_STYLE CARD ISSUER ATM FEE CASH W/D INTEREST REP APR (IF NOT REPAID) CHECK YOUR CHANCES OF GETTING IT
Creation Everyday Mastercard None 12.9-21.9% 12.9% -
Santander Zero* Mastercard None 18.9% 18.9% Eligibility calculator
Post Office Platinum Mastercard £3 or 2.5% 27.9% 18.9% -
Aqua Advance* Mastercard £3 or 3% 44.9-69.9% 34.9% Eligibility calculator
Saga Platinum (1) Visa £2 or 2% None 11.9% (Cash 19.6% (2)) -
B Credit Card Mastercard £3 or 3% 27.9% 9.9% -
Nationwide Select* (current account custs only) Visa £3 or 2.5% 15.9% 15.9% Eligibility calculator
Virgin Money* Mastercard 3% 27.9% 19.9% Eligibility calculator
Curve (3)(4) Mastercard None (up to £200/mth) None None -

(1) Over 50s only – you may not be accepted if you've four or more credit/store cards. (2) You'll pay interest on cash withdrawals if you don't repay your balance in full each month. (3) Curve is an app-based card that lets you add your normal cards to it. It offers free overseas spending on up to £500/mth (2% fee above this). Free overseas withdrawals are available on up to £200/mth (higher of 2% fee or £2 above this). (4) Curve adds a mark-up on rates at weekends (0.5% for EUR/USD and 1.5% for other currencies).

Top overseas debit cards

It's also possible to get non-sterling transaction fee-free debit cards, but you'll need to 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.

Fee-free spending & withdrawals worldwide with no full credit check

App-based Starling Bank* has a current account that charges no non-sterling transaction or cash withdrawal fees when you use its debit card worldwide. While it's a current account, you don't have to switch to it, pay in a minimum amount or have direct debits set up (so you can treat it like a prepaid card).

It's easier to get than a credit card and Starling won't do a full credit check on you (as long as you don't request an overdraft), so it could be a good option if you don't want other lenders to see it on your file. As an added boon, you'll also earn 0.5% AER interest on up to £2,000 and 0.25% AER interest up to £85,000.

Exchange rate fee: Europe: 0% | Worldwide: 0%
Cash withdrawal fee: None
In-credit interest: 0.5% AER interest up to £2,000, 0.25% between £2,000 and £85,000
Arranged overdraft cost: 15% EAR variable
Unarranged overdraft cost: 15% EAR variable
Card issuer: Mastercard (see Mastercard vs Visa vs Amex rates)

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Fee-free overseas spending & withdrawals, though withdrawals are limited

Monzo Bank offers an app-based current account that has no fees for overseas spending or cash withdrawals.

While it's a similar offering to the Starling card above, fee-free overseas cash withdrawals are limited to £200 in any 30-day period – a 3% fee applies above this.

Exchange rate fee: Europe: 0% | Worldwide: 0%
Cash withdrawal fee: None up to £200 per 30-day period, 3% above
In-credit interest: None
Arranged overdraft cost: £20 buffer, then 50p per day (max £15.50/mth)
Unarranged overdraft cost: £20 buffer, then 50p per day (max £15.50/mth)
Card issuer: Mastercard (see Mastercard vs Visa vs Amex rates)

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While the accounts above are our top picks, here are some other current accounts to consider:

  • Metro Bank: With its current account, Metro Bank charges no non-sterling transaction fees or cash withdrawal fees when you use its debit card in 34 European countries. Outside Europe, you'll pay a non-sterling transaction fee of 2.75%. You can open the account online or in branch. 
  • Cumberland Building Society: If you have a Cumberland Plus current account with Cumberland Building Society, it charges no foreign exchange fees or cash withdrawal fees on the debit card that comes with the account. However, you need to live in its operating area – it covers Cumbria, south west Scotland, West Northumberland and North Lancashire.

Currency & credit cards
Q&A

  • No. On all of these cards, there is a processing time. So, you actually get the rate on the day the transaction is processed by your card provider, which is usually a day or two after you used the card, but could be up to a week later.

    This is important, as if there are movements in the currency markets between you making the purchase and your card provider processing it, then you could end up paying more (or less) for what you bought than you thought you were going to.

  • Absolutely. You'll tend to pay the same costs on foreign websites as if you were actually abroad and spending there. If you're paying in a foreign currency, all the usual charges apply – the same cheap cards are cheap, the same expensive ones costly.

  • The best thing to do, unless you're a regular traveller who frequently spends overseas, is to call up the card company to let it know you're going abroad. Usually, though sadly not always, this stops any problems. If it happens to you while you're away, call the card company as soon as possible.

  • There's no right answer to this, which is why this guide focuses on how to get the best rate at any moment. If the pound is strong and the euro or dollar weak, many people think, "I'm not going away for a few months, but I'll grab my cash now." If the pound's weak, many want to hold off.

    There's nothing wrong with doing this, but you need to understand it's currency speculation and you're effectively gambling on exchange rate moves. Playing the currency market is something highly paid traders can't always get right. Those who do make a fortune; those who don't lose a fortune.

    For more on this, read Martin's 'Should I buy euros now?' blog.

  • If you're going to get the cash out on a specialist overseas card, then it's better to wait until you're there.

    However, if you're just planning to use a normal card or convert pounds when you're out there, there's no guarantee you'll get a better rate – and certainly changing in most hotels is normally a bad idea as they give poor rates. Overall it's safer to use TravelMoneyMax and get the cheapest rate while you're here.

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