Is It Better To Use Debit or Credit Card Abroad?

Planning a trip overseas and wondering is it better to use a debit or credit card abroad? While you’ll run into similar caveats using either, each has pros and cons.

Whether you choose to use a debit or credit card overseas is a matter of personal preference. However, credit cards do offer you more protection against fraud and errors. But debit cards may help you stick to your budget better.

Luckily for you, I’ll help show you if it’s better to use a debit or credit card abroad. I’ll show you if you can use both cards and some tips for traveling. 

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Is It Better to Use a Debit or Credit Card Abroad?

When it comes to using a debit or credit card abroad, travelers have different preferences. Some like to use a credit card because they can easily dispute errors and won’t lose money in the meantime. Others use debit cards because they like paying for things upfront.

You won’t necessarily save more by using a debit card over a credit card. Or vice versa. Whether you pay ATM and foreign transaction fees depends on your card issuer.

If you have a debit and credit card from the same bank, you’ll probably pay the same fees. But if your debit card is from a different issuer than your credit card, there could be a big difference. You may not pay international transaction or ATM fees at all.

Before you decide to use one card type over another, here are some things you should look at.

Available Budget for Expenses

Figure out how much you can afford to spend while you’re traveling. This includes anything you haven’t already paid for. If you’ve prepaid your airline ticket, hotel, and transportation, cross these items off your list.

While these expenses are part of your overall vacation budget, they won’t necessarily impact your credit or debit card spending. Unless, of course, some of those items are taking up a portion of your credit card limit. And you won’t have them paid off before you go.

Beyond these details, think about whether you’ll have enough money set aside in your checking account. If you think you’ll only spend $500 on your trip, set aside $800 to $1,000 as a cushion. But if you know you won’t have enough in your account and need to pay later, use a credit card.

On the other hand, maybe your credit card has a running balance. You don’t want to add to it and pay more interest. As long as you have enough in your account, take out that debit card.  

Security and Fraud Protection

When someone steals your credit card, all you have to do is dispute the charges. You don’t have to pay them while your card issuer investigates. And as long as there’s evidence you didn’t use the card, those charges are taken off.

Your card issuer will also freeze the account. You’ll get a different card if the original one is lost or stolen. Instead of your debit and checking info, there’s only one account number to change.

You also won’t lose money out of a checking or digital wallet account. There’s no waiting for it to be returned to you by the card issuer. And no one gets access to your cash with a credit card.


Doing a little research about your cards’ fee structures can save you money. When you make international purchases with a credit or debit card, you’ll face three types of extra fees. These are foreign transactions, ATM withdrawals, and currency conversion charges.

International transaction fees are usually between 1% and 5% of your purchases. However, not all card issuers charge them. Others reimburse you.

It’s worth checking with your bank to see if the checking account or credit card you have qualifies. If not, see if you can upgrade your account or take out a second one that meets the requirements. Also, compare fee schedules between cards to see which one’s lower.

ATM withdrawal fees are other possible charges you’ll face. Again, banks that are part of global partnerships may waive some or all of these. Check to see which card has the best options.

Avoiding Currency Conversion Charges

You can avoid currency conversion fees with either a debit or credit card. All you have to do is always pay in the local currency. Whatever you do, don’t pay in U.S. dollars when given a choice.

Can I Use Both Cards While Abroad?

Absolutely! It’s good to take more than one card with you on international trips. If one stops working or gets shut off, you’ll have a backup.

Plus, you can pay upfront for some purchases like your meals. You can then use your credit card for more expensive items or things you’d like to pay for overtime. Or if you want extra insurance or protection on some items, you might use a credit card.

But before you take your debit and credit cards with you, there are some steps you’ll need to take. 

Inform Your Bank of Your Travel Plans

Most card issuers will cut your card off if they suspect fraud. Using your card in a foreign country is going to raise red flags. They’ll think someone stole your card or its information.

The card issuer will disable the card to protect your account and its financial interests. You can get around this by letting them know about your travel plans before you go. Call them or sign in to your online account to provide your trip’s itinerary.

Your bank doesn’t need every detail, but your travel dates and locations do need. However, some card issuers and banks don’t require you to notify them. Capital One is an example.

Check your card issuer’s travel notification policies. Then provide the proper notice if you need to. Try to do this weeks or months before your trip.

Record Your Card Information

If your card gets lost or stolen, you need a record of its information. Some people take pictures of the front and back. They either keep these on a locked smartphone or in a secured cloud account.

Others write down the card number, expiration date, and CCV number. They leave this information with someone they trust back home. You’ll also want a record of the card issuer’s international customer service number.

Check Your Expiration Dates

Before you travel, make sure your cards won’t expire during your trip. If so, ask your bank to expedite replacements to your home address. And activate any new or replacement cards you’ve gotten recently.

Things to Keep in Mind While You’re Traveling

You might not think much about protecting your debit or credit card when you’re at home. However, traveling with your cards is a whole different story. You should take some measures to protect your cards and financial information.

Keep Your Receipts

As you’re making purchases abroad, ask for copies of your receipts. Keep these organized in a separate section of your wallet or a plastic sleeve. You can compare the charges or transactions on your card’s statement with your receipts later.

If you notice any discrepancies, you’ll have the evidence you need to reverse or correct those transactions. Without proof, you’ll have a harder time getting your card issuer to erase or fix unauthorized purchases. And then you’ll be out of some hard-earned cash.

Separate Your Cards

If you plan on taking one card as a backup, keep it in a separate, secure place. This can be a compartment in your luggage or carry-on. During the day, you can lock the card up in a hotel safe.

Many hotels have in-room safes or ones near the front desk you can use. If you don’t want to do this, carry one card in your purse or wallet. Place the other one on you by securing it in your clothes or front pockets.  

If one card or your wallet gets stolen, you’ll still have access to the other one.

Use POS Machines

Whenever possible, use POS machines and card readers yourself. Try to minimize handing your debit or credit card to sales reps and restaurant workers. You can also process debit cards as credit transactions so you don’t have to enter your PIN.

However, some merchants and card issuers make this difficult to impossible. If you need to use your PIN, make sure you cover the pad. Also, try to establish distance between yourself and anyone in front or behind you.  

Use ATMs Cautiously

There may come a time when you have to withdraw cash from an ATM. Some retailers or restaurants may not accept debit or credit cards. Before you use an ATM, observe a few others using it first.

Do they get their cards back, or do there seem to be problems? Does the ATM look like a reputable bank or company owns it? What about the location and its surroundings?

If you feel unsafe or think an ATM looks sketchy, move on to the next one. Be sure to shield the screen and keypad when entering your information. If all else fails, you can go into a bank and make a withdrawal with a teller present.

ATM Cash Advance Fees

Another thing to keep in mind is that credit cards often treat ATM withdrawals as cash advances. You might pay a cash advance fee and different interest rates on withdrawals than purchases. You won’t pay these separate charges or fees with a debit card.

That’s because you’re withdrawing money you already have in the bank. Using a credit card in a foreign ATM may give you an added sense of security. But be sure to check your card’s fees for withdrawals and make sure your budget can handle it.

Final Thoughts

The answer to “is it better to use a debit or credit card abroad” is subjective. Many travelers take and use both when they travel. That’s because you never know what will happen on a trip, especially in a foreign country.

When you take both, you have a backup if there’s a problem with one of your cards. You can also split purchases between the two. A debit card helps you pay upfront, but a credit card buys you time and extra fraud protection.

Which card you ultimately end up using is up to you. And you may not know until you get to your destination. So why not bring both and enjoy your vacation to its fullest?


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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.