How to Choose and Protect Your Debit Card When Traveling Abroad

Traveling to a foreign country is quite the undertaking. From packing your bags to updating your vaccinations, you have a lengthy list of to-dos before you head to the airport. Even when traveling in the states, figuring out what you are going to do can be tedious and time consuming. Searching something like “things to do in South Carolina” can help a good deal, but compounding multiple “vacation hacks” will make your life many times easier, especially when dealing with money internationally.

If saving money matters to you, how you access your money should be at the top of that list. While most U.S. debit cards work internationally, many come with foreign ATM fees and a conversion fee of 3%. While that might not sound like a lot of money, even single-digit fees add up quickly. 

You shouldn’t have to pay to spend your own money. Choose the right card, and you won’t have to.

Travel-Friendly Debit Cards

 The good news is, there are banks that offer cards with few or even no foreign transaction fees:

1. Chime 

Chime is an online banking app every international traveler should know. Not only does it offer low-fee checking and saving services, but it also doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. 

You can use the Chime Visa Debit Card anywhere Visa is accepted, even internationally. Plus, you can withdraw money free-fee at Moneypass ATMs, which are located globally. If you can’t find a Moneypass ATM, you can use an out-of-network ATM for a $2.50 charge.

2. Capital One 

With a Capital One 360 checking account, you won’t be charged any foreign transaction fees when you use your debit card internationally. With that said, if you need to withdraw money, you’ll be charged ATM usage fees. The only fee-free options are Capital One and Allpoint ATMs, which are located in the United Kingdom, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Canada, or Australia. 

3. Charles Schwab

Charles Schwab offers a Schwab Bank Visa Platinum debit card that lets you withdraw cash anytime with no foreign exchange fees. The company will also reimburse you at the end of the month for any ATM fees incurred.

Beware that, in order to get this card, you have to link your account to a Schwab brokerage account. But don’t worry: There are no fees or minimum balances required to open an account. 

4. Ally

Unlike the options above, the Ally Interest Checking Account charges a foreign transaction fee. But it’s a very reasonable rate of 1%, as opposed to the standard 3%. 

Depending on the ATM you use, a surcharge may be assessed when you withdraw money. If so, Ally will refund you up to $10 a month in out-of-network ATM fees, which you’ll receive within two days. 

5. Fidelity 

The Fidelity Visa Gold Check Card is one of the best debit cards for international travelers. With this card, you gain access to over a million ATMs globally. 

Similar to Ally, Fidelity charges a 1% foreign transaction fee. And while you’ll be charged ATM usage fees, Fidelity will reimburse you for out-of-network withdrawals. The Fidelity Visa Gold Check Card also has other perks for travelers, including travel accident insurance and a 90-day extended warranty.

6. SoFi Money

SoFi Money is an online-only cash management account that makes traveling abroad easy. SoFi Money reimburses ATMs worldwide, as long as they accept Visa. 

The company advertises its no foreign transaction fee policy, but that’s not 100% accurate. While SoFi won’t charge you, Visa will charge 1% as a foreign exchange fee. Even still, SoFi Money’s online presence makes it easier for travelers to manage their finances regardless of their location.

Using Your Debit Card When Traveling

Traveling internationally doesn’t put you at higher risk for bank fraud, but that doesn’t mean you should let your guard down. Here’s how to protect your wallet while you’re on the go: 

  • Let Your Bank Know

Banks carefully monitor their customers’ accounts for any suspicious activity. If you suddenly buy your morning coffee from a cafe in Paris instead of the Starbucks near your home, your bank might assume the worst and lock your card. 

When you’re vacationing abroad, a locked card can be a real hassle. It’s a good idea to let your debit and credit card company know so you’re not stuck with an unusable piece of plastic.

  • Travel With Cash 

The U.S. dollar is the most commonly accepted currency in the world. You might not like the idea of traveling with cash, but it’s important to be prepared. What if you lose your debit card? What if your ride from the airport only accepts cash?

Carrying some bills in case of emergency is never a bad idea, but make sure you keep it in a safe place. Your shoe is a smart option. Never keep it in your back pocket, which can be easily picked.

  • Bring More Than One Card

You need options when traveling internationally, including in how you pay. Bring at least one backup card. Doing so means that if you lose your debit card or if it’s declined, you’ll still be able to enjoy your vacation. 

Consider bringing widely accepted credit cards, like Visa or Mastercard. Because American Express has high merchant fees, it’s not as accepted as the other two. Discover isn’t as popular outside of the U.S., so leave it at home. 

  • Don’t Swipe if You’re Suspicious 

Tools like card skimmers, as well as the low-tech method of copying the card numbers down for later, can result in a stolen identity. If you worry a merchant isn’t on the up and up, trust your gut. Either take your business elsewhere, or pay in cash. 

What if you see a transaction you don’t recognize posts to your account while you’re traveling? Call your bank or card issuer as soon as possible. Explain the situation, and ask that they freeze your card — another reason to bring a backup card with you. If you’ll be there for at least a few more days, go ahead and request a replacement card. 

Before you jet, check your debit card. Otherwise, you may wind up paying a lot more than you’d planned. And while you’re there, be smart with your card. A lot can happen in a foreign country, and whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure, your finances shouldn’t stress you out.