Can you use a debit card abroad?

You’ve had your plane ticket and hotel in the Mediterranean booked for months. You can’t wait to start packing your bags and go. But you know you’ll have to figure out a way to pay for things once you land.

You’re thinking of using your debit card abroad, but you want to check things out first. Can you use it without running into any problems? 

In most cases, you can use your debit card overseas.  

However, you may need to talk to your bank before boarding your flight. And there might be some precautions you’ll want to take. Let’s get into the details!

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Can You Use a Debit Card Abroad?

You can use a debit card abroad if you have enough money in an associated account. Most debit cards are linked to a checking or digital wallet account. If you’re not familiar with digital wallet accounts, think PayPal.

Digital wallet accounts work like checking accounts in the sense that you can receive and send money. The difference is that you receive electronic and peer-to-peer payments and do not use checks. However, you can request a check to cash out funds.

But the easier way to access your money is with a debit card. As long as a debit card has a Mastercard or Visa logo, you can use it overseas. That said, individual retailers may have different policies.

Overseas Retailers

Some might not accept debit or credit cards, while others will. Check with the restaurants and shops you want to visit. If some don’t accept debit cards, make plans to withdraw currency from an ATM.

You might also see if the retailers accept traveler’s checks instead of debit cards. You can purchase a few of these checks for these scenarios. It’s also not bad to have traveler’s checks on hand for backup. 

Should I Notify My Bank of My Travel Plans?

Double-check your bank’s policies. While most card issuers require you to notify them of your travel plans, a few don’t. But the risk you take in not notifying your bank is having your cards and funds cut off.

The notification process should only take a few minutes. And many banks and card issuers let you enter your travel plans online. Sign in to your account, and there might be a section for travel plans.

You’ll need to enter your travel dates and destination(s). You shouldn’t need a list of every city you’ll be in, just the countries. Although you can usually get away with last-minute notifications for domestic travel, don’t try that with overseas trips.

Try to give your bank a few weeks’ heads up and a few months. Contact customer service if your card issuer doesn’t have online travel notifications. The rep will make a note on your account, so your foreign transactions don’t trigger a fraud report.

Are There Fees for Using a Debit Card Abroad?

Additional fees may be added to your purchases when using your debit card overseas. The bulk of those charges will be foreign transaction fees. This is usually a small percentage added to the final purchase price.

International Transaction Fees

You buy $20 worth of items at a bookstore in France. You may get an international transaction fee of $2 to $4. Your card issuer will deduct between $22 and $24 from your checking account.  

You can avoid these fees with some checking account products or with some card issuers. Typically, premium checking accounts will help you avoid transaction fees or get reimbursed for them. If your bank doesn’t offer these options, shop around! 

ATM Withdrawal Charges

Taking money out of your account via an ATM can result in fees. You might get a withdrawal fee, an out-of-network charge, and a few from the ATM’s owner or bank. So that $100 you take out could turn into $130 or $140.

Some banks will waive some of these fees if you use in-network ATMs. Many card issuers have partnerships or agreements with international ATM owners and banks. Using in-network ATMs will save you a bundle!

Currency Conversion Fees

When you use your debit card abroad, you’ll be asked to pay in the local currency or USD. If you choose USD, you’ll pay a currency conversion charge. This can vary between merchants and might be as high as 12%.

Instead of paying these charges, always choose to pay in local currency. Your card issuer will convert it to USD for you, and you won’t pay extra.

How Can I Protect My Card and Its Information?

If you’re worried about losing your debit card or having it stolen overseas, you’re not alone. Many travelers worry about exposing their debit card information while traveling. However, there are some things you can do to protect yourself.

1. Limit Debit Card Use

The first thing is not to use your debit card for every purchase. Plan on having another means of paying for things overseas. It doesn’t hurt to have at least a couple of backups, like a credit card and traveler’s checks. 

2. Check POS and ATM Machines

In addition, try to use POS machines to insert your card rather than handing it to a person. You should also observe others using POS and ATMs before you do. Verify whether it looks like transactions are going through successfully and people are getting their cards back.

3. Record Your Card Information

Another important step is to have a record of your debit card information and the card issuer’s customer service number. If your card becomes lost or stolen, it’ll be easier to report it and cut it off. The trick is to keep the information in an area other than your wallet.

You can try storing it in a secure cloud account. Or leave your card information with someone you trust back home. Another possibility is storing it on your smartphone as long as you lock or password protect the device. 

Is It Better to Use a Debit Card versus a Credit Card Overseas?

It really depends on your preferences and risk tolerance. Fraudulent transactions on credit cards are easier to stop and you don’t lose money. At least not immediately.

The problem with fraud on debit cards is that it may take a while to get your money back. But you could end up paying interest charges on credit card purchases. Since a debit card is like paying with cash, you won’t pay interest.

You may pay different fee percentages with a debit card versus a credit card. Each card issuer or bank has separate fee structures and policies.

Final Thoughts

So, what’s the answer to can you use a debit card abroad? Absolutely! As long as international retailers accept your card type and you have funds in your account.

However, you’ll want to keep some things in mind before you plan on using that plastic. First and foremost, check with your bank and let them know about your travel plans. Second, get a list of the bank’s fee structures and policies.

Third, make a backup plan and keep a copy of your debit card information. Bon voyage!


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John is the founder of TightFist Finance and an expert in the field of personal finance. John has studied personal finance for over 10 years and has used his knowledge to pay down debt, grow his investment portfolio, and launch a financial based business. He is committed to sharing content related to personal finance based on his experience in his career, investing, and path towards reaching financial independence.