Plane ticket, check. Hotel reservation, check. Transportation and airport parking reservation, check.
But what about your debit card and the money you’ll use on your trip overseas? Many travelers forget to plan out this detail because we’re so used to swiping our cards everywhere we go. Yet, you need to figure out what debit card can I use abroad before you go.
You can usually use any debit card overseas that bears the Mastercard or Visa logo.
Some international retailers may accept others, but most U.S. banks issue debit cards under Mastercard and Visa. That said, here are some things to watch out for.
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What Debit Card Can I Use Abroad?
You can use most U.S. debit cards overseas if you check with the card issuer first. Many banks let checking account customers complete foreign transactions if clients say they’ll be traveling. Even many digital wallet accounts like PayPal and Wise let you do this.
Mastercard and Visa Debit Cards
Like the U.S., many restaurants and shops overseas accept debit cards backed by the Mastercard or Visa logo. If you’re unsure, you can always do some research before going. As you plan out your trip, look up restaurants and retailers online.
You should find a list of acceptable payment methods on merchants’ websites. While a few may not accept debit cards, you can make a note to skip them. Or you could plan on using a different payment method, such as cash.
To do that, you’ll need some additional planning. You could take out cash before you go and convert it to the local currency at the airport. Another option is to use an ATM at your destination once you arrive.
How Do I Notify My Bank I’m Traveling?
To use most existing debit cards, you need to give your bank your travel dates and destinations. You can do this by calling the number on your card or logging into your online account. Let the rep know you’re going to be vacationing abroad.
The rep will ask you for the countries you’re going to and what dates you’ll be there. If you’re only going to one country, it’s an easier process. You can simply give the bank your departure and return dates.
Online self-service works similarly. After you sign in, find the link that says “report travel plans,” “travel center,” or something along those lines. Put in your travel dates and destinations.
Also, give your bank a heads up well in advance of your departure date. A good rule of thumb is at least two weeks. But a month or so leeway is better.
Which Debit Cards Don’t Have Fees?
Some of the best-known international debit cards that don’t carry transaction or ATM fees are tied to checking accounts. These products include:
- Capital One 360 Checking
- Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking
- Varo Checking
- NBKC Everything Account
Other debit cards with low or no fees represent some new market entrants and unconventional financial products. Some of the debit cards with the highest ratings include:
- Ally Bank
- Citizen’s Bank
How Do I Choose the Best Debit Card to Use Abroad?
Like you choose debit and credit cards to use at home, look at the pros and cons. Waived or reimbursed fees are the first perks to consider. This can save you quite a bit if you plan on using your debit card a lot.
Second, look at whether any of the debit cards offer rewards or cashback. Those that give you points for what you spend can help. While these rewards are usually a small percentage of what you spend, it’s better than nothing.
For instance, you spend $500 and get $10 cashback. The real cost of those purchases is now $490. Some cards also offer cash you can apply toward future purchases or other accounts.
Then there are the cards that offer you rewards in the form of future travel. You can start saving for your next trip abroad by treating yourself to your current one.
Another thing you want to consider is the protection a card will give you. That protection can include travel insurance and waived liability. If you have an emergency overseas or your flight gets canceled, the insurance will help cover expenses.
While you might be able to replace lost luggage, having insurance coverage saves you money and inconvenience. And you can usually get the money quicker through debit card insurance. That way, you can replace your belongings while on your trip.
Liability protection on a card covers you in case of fraud. No one wants to think about ID theft or a stolen card. But it happens, and liability protection can prevent you from losing your hard-earned money.
Using a Checking Account Debit Card
You may be wondering if it’s safe and wise to use your checking account’s debit card overseas. Many travelers do so but on an occasional basis. This is because international purchases on a debit card can result in extra fees.
Those fees include foreign transaction and currency conversion charges. The foreign transaction fee is typically between 1% and 3% of the purchase. However, currency conversion charges are often higher and vary between retailers.
There are debit cards that do not charge any foreign transaction fees or reimburse you for them. Others have extremely low fees of less than half a percent. Before taking off on your trip, don’t be afraid to shop around to find a debit card without fees.
You can also ask your current bank or digital wallet provider for a fee schedule. But to save transaction charges, it might be worth it to set up another account with a different provider. You can avoid currency conversion fees by paying in the local currency instead of USD.
Prepaid Debit Cards
Consider a prepaid debit card if you don’t want to risk exposing your checking account information. You can load these with funds before you go on your trip. While they help you stick to a budget, there are some drawbacks.
One of those disadvantages lies in the exchange rate. You’ll get the exchange rate for your destination’s currency when you load the card. That exchange rate could go up or down.
So let’s say the value of the U.S. dollar is lower than the Euro when you load. You won’t get as much value if the value of the U.S. dollar increases on your trip. Essentially, you won’t have as many Euros to spend than if you had waited.
On the other hand, the exchange rate could work in your favor. The value of the U.S. dollar could be higher than the Euro when you load versus when you’re vacationing. It truly is a gamble.
Using Your Debit Card in an Overseas ATM
While you can use a debit card to withdraw money from international ATMs, you want to be careful. You could rack up a lot of fees quickly by doing so. Even if your bank waives the ATM fee, the operator or owner may charge one.
To avoid this, look for ATMs that are a part of the Global ATM Alliance. However, you’ll also want to verify your bank or card issuer is a member. This will help you avoid those pesky ATM fees that can drain your checking account.
Regardless, try to withdraw the amount you need for at least a few days. It can be inconvenient and unwise to carry large amounts of cash on you. So, you may not want to withdraw everything you need for a week or two.
Only use ATMs if you absolutely cannot use your debit card to pay. Check your surroundings before using ATMs abroad. Keep a record of your transactions and inspect the machine for suspicious things like plastic sleeves that capture cards.
What If I Just Want to Take My Debit Card as Backup?
Travelers take their debit and credit cards with them all the time. However, that doesn’t mean they use them on every trip. You can carry and keep them in a safe place just like you do at home.
You still want to notify your bank or card issuer of your travel plans. If you do use the card, the bank won’t shut down your account. Without notification, banks will flag overseas transactions as potential fraud.
The answer to what debit card can I use abroad is nearly every card. As long as it has the Mastercard or Visa logo, you should be in the clear. You just want to verify with the merchant whether they take debit cards.
However, you don’t have to stick with the debit card that’s tied to your checking account. You can choose a low or no-fee debit card. Or you can get a prepaid one.
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