Traveling with a debit card abroad explained

How can you use your debit card abroad?

Debit cards can be used like normal or by visiting an ATM when abroad. Keep in mind, not all locations abroad will accept your debit card. Make sure you inform your bank of your travel plans and bring an alternate means of payment.

Debit cards are an easy way to access your money without having to carry cash or worry about credit card debt. If you’re traveling with a debit card, there are some factors you need to consider before using your card abroad. 

From calculating any international fees to finding partner bank ATMs, we cover it all and more below.

TFF22-032 - Traveling with a debit card abroad explained

This article may contain affiliate links which pay a commission and support this blog. Thank you for your support!

Can You Travel Internationally with a Debit Card?

You can travel internationally with a debit card, but you should first advise your bank of plans. If your bank is unaware that you’re traveling, they may think your account’s international activity is fraudulent, causing them to freeze your funds altogether.

Traveling internationally with your debit card means you can avoid carrying large amounts of cash with you, which could be dangerous. Instead, you can use your debit card at establishments that accept card payments or at partner ATMs to take out local currency for your spending.

The most commonly used debit cards while abroad are Visa and Mastercard. However, it is best if you verify the hotels, shops, and restaurants you plan to visit take debit ahead of time.

Your debit card will only be useful in cities where card use is common. For most major tourist destinations, your debit card will work fine.

However, if you plan to travel to a rural or underdeveloped area, you may have difficulties finding places or ATMs that accept your American debit card. In this case, you can bring your debit card and have an alternative source of income such as traveler’s checks, a credit card, or cash.

Always notify your bank before traveling

Call your bank before traveling overseas to avoid your debit card being blocked while abroad. Your bank is constantly monitoring suspicious activity. Making a purchase outside of your normal location can result in your bank freezing your account.

Call your bank should your account be frozen while traveling. Your bank will ask you a series of questions to validate your identity. Once validated, the bank will unfreeze your card.

Check your debit card expiration date before traveling

You should take a moment to verify your debit card will not expire while overseas. Failing to check the expiration date of your debit card can result in a lot of headache while you figure out how to get money.

Fortunately, this can be easily avoided by checking the expiration before you depart. Head to your local branch and ask for a new debit card if your current card is close to expiration. Your bank should be able to print you one on the spot with an extended expiration date.

A debit card that expires while abroad can be resolved by calling your bank. Your bank will mail you a replacement card.

However, mailing a replacement card may not work depending on your travel plans. You may need to figure out how to get money if your debit card is useless while abroad.

Another option is to wire yourself money through the nearest Western Union. Alternatively, you can PayPal or Venmo someone with cash.

How to Use a Debit Card abroad

Debit cards can be used at ATMs or swiped or inserted at point of sales systems abroad. Depending on your bank, you may be charged a foreign transaction fee which ranges from 1-3% ATM withdrawal fees may also apply.

Let’s take a look at both methods for using your debit card abroad.

Using Your Debit Card as Payment Abroad

Using your debit card as payment for food, shopping, or activities while traveling is common.

The payment terminal, also called a point of sale (POS) terminal, will ask you if you’d like to charge the payment in dollars or the local currency. The POS may also tell you the conversion rate it uses, and you can use that to determine which currency you select.

Most of the time, paying in local currency will save you more money than if you used dollars abroad because of the conversion rate.

Most banks will charge you a fee between 1%-3% to use your debit card in a foreign country. Here are some of the fees charged per foreign transaction by some popular U.S. banking institutions:

  • Alliant Credit Union: 1%
  • Ally: up to 1%
  • Bank of America: 3%
  • Chase: 3%
  • Citibank: 3%
  • TD Bank: 3%

If you travel often, you can save money by looking into debit card accounts with no foreign transaction fees. These accounts offer debit cards without this fee:

  • Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account (must have a Schwab One Brokerage Account)
  • Capital One 360 Checking Account (no monthly fees, minimum deposits, or balance requirement)

You can also check out these tips to save on debit card fees while traveling abroad.

Using Your Debit Card at a Foreign ATM

The second way to use your debit card abroad is by taking out local currency from your account at a foreign ATM. This is something you should coordinate before you travel, as foreign ATMs can charge flat fees or a percentage of your withdrawal for use.

Remember that you’ll need to pay both your bank’s international ATM transaction fee and the foreign institution’s ATM fee for use.

Here are the international ATM fees charged by some major U.S. banking institutions. 

  • Alliant Credit Union: 1% foreign transaction fee
  • Ally: up to 1% foreign transaction fee
  • Bank of America: $5 withdrawal fee + 3% foreign ATM transaction fee
  • Chase: $5 withdrawal fee + 3% foreign ATM transaction fee
  • Citibank: $2.50 withdrawal fee + 3% foreign ATM transaction fee
  • Capital One: $2 withdrawal fee + 3% foreign ATM transaction fee
  • TD Bank: $3 withdrawal fee + no foreign ATM transaction fee

There are a few ways to avoid these fees. Firstly, you could open an account with a debit card that offers rebates for foreign ATM fees. You would likely still have to pay the withdrawal or transaction fee for your bank, but you would be reimbursed for the fee charged by the foreign ATM. Some examples include:

  • Alliant Credit Union: reimburses up to $20 monthly for out-of-network ATMs, including foreign ATMs
  • Fidelity: reimburses all ATM withdrawal fees charged by other institutions so long as the ATM has the Visa®, Plus®, or Star® logos.
  • USAA: reimburses up to 15$ per month in foreign ATM fees

The second – and the most popular – way to avoid fees is by withdrawing cash at one of your bank’s partnered ATMs. Various banks and credit unions have combined forces to create ATM networks worldwide. These networks allow clients to use a wide range of ATMs for free, so long as their bank is a part of that network.

By looking up “partner ATMs” on your bank’s website or calling customer service, you should be able to find out which bank ATMs at your destination may allow you to use your debit card for a low or no fee.

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

Choosing between using a debit or credit card while abroad is personal. Both cards tend to have foreign transaction fees. Credit card fees can vary from 1.5%-4% and debit card fees average at 3%. Generally speaking, online banks tend to offer lower fees than brick-and-mortar banks.

For avid travelers, you can invest in either a no-foreign-transaction-fee debit or credit card. Both are available from various institutions.

Pros and Cons of Using Debit Cards Abroad

Pros:

  • You are only using your funds (no debt accumulation)
  • Some offer rewards points for travel
  • Most require a PIN

Cons

  • If stolen, your funds may take longer to be reinstated
  • High ATM fees

Pros and Cons of Using Credit Cards Abroad

Pros:

  • Credit card exchange rates are usually better than ATM rates
  • Many offer rewards points for spending anywhere
  • Provides many anti-fraud measures

Cons

  • Some vendors require ID to confirm credit card purchases
  • You can accumulate debt

What to Do Before Using Your Debit Card Overseas

Before using your debit card overseas, you should check off the following list to make your trip smooth sailing.

  1. Alert your bank to your travel plans: You can do this through your online account or by calling your bank’s customer service line.
    1. If you don’t have your bank’s online app, download and get familiar with it before traveling.
  2. If your bank account has a 5-digit PIN, ask customer service about changing it to a 4-digit PIN for your travels. Many foreign ATMs do not accept PINs more than 4 digits long.
  3. Write down the toll-free 800-numbers for your bank in case you need to call them from abroad. Also, store your debit card number somewhere safe in case you lose it.
  4. Take note of any fees and partner banks you may incur abroad. Locate ATMs around your destination before arriving.
  5. Utilize tips for keeping your debit card transactions safe while traveling.

What to Do If You Lose Your Debit Card Abroad

In the busyness of travel, you may face the unfortunate situation of a lost or stolen debit card.

  1. Freeze your card, if possible. Many banks offer this option through their app or online banking site.
  2. Notify your bank immediately. Call their international number or file a claim online.
    1. Describe any fraudulent charges you have seen on your account.
  3. Wait for your replacement card, which will be sent to your permanent address.
  4. Use a backup form of payment, such as another debit card, a credit card, cashier’s checks, or cash.

Summary: Traveling with a debit card abroad

As you can see, it is possible to travel with a debit card, but debit cards are not always accepted everywhere. Therefore, you should always carry an additional payment method. Ensure you contact your bank before leaving so your funds aren’t frozen while you are overseas.

Typically, you can use your debit card through normal swiping or inserting or at ATMs. Foreign transaction fees may apply depending on your bank. You may also be charged an ATM withdrawal fee. Make sure you use an ATM that is within your bank’s network.

Recommended

Based on this article, we think you’ll enjoy the following: