The best debit and credit cards to use abroad

The best debit and credit cards to use abroad

Monzo, Starling, Curve, Halifax Clarity and more compared for overseas spending.

If you’re heading out of the UK then one of the best ways to spend money is to use a specialist card. Use the right one and you could be getting near perfect exchange rates. Use the wrong one and it could be hit with extra fees and charges on every transaction.

There aren’t a huge number of options, and though I’ve accumulated around five cards I could use, I tend to just use one for the bulk of my spending, and another if I need to get cash out. That’s two out of 14 debit cards, and three out of six cards. The vast majority of my credit and debit cards just aren’t suitable for spending abroad.

Which means it’s more likely than not that your existing debit or credit card is going to be an expensive way to spend abroad. It’s worth having a look online to see what your bank charges. If you already have a fee-free card then great. There’s probably no reason to switch to one of those listed below. But for most of you, it’s well worth opening up an account to get your hands on one of my top picks below.

My top travel debit cards

Unlike credit cards, you can’t spend what you don’t have with a debit card making them easier to manage for many people. You can also take cash out of an ATM without interest charges, though as you’ll see a couple do have monthly limits on your fee-free spending.

Starling Bank

Now I don’t use Tandem, Starling will be the card I intend to use. There are no limits for spending abroad or taking cash out (other than the daily cap you get with all debit cards), making it the best of the new breed of internet banks. Along with Monzo, you can only open and manage your account via an app. 

Monzo

Monzo has a better brand recognition than Starling, and people might wonder why I’ve put it second on my debit card list. The answer is very simple – you can only take £200 out of a cash machine abroad every 30 days.

Now for many people that’s not going to be a problem. I didn’t take out any cash on a trip to New York last year, let alone £200. But if you’re going to countries where cash is still king (or at least more prevalent) or are away for a long trip you could reach that limit. If you do you’ll be hit with a 3% charge. 

But if that doesn’t bother you, Monzo has some great budgeting features. More details and in my full Monzo review.

Curve

This isn’t technically a debit card, though it works just like one. It’s actually a smart card which links to your bank and credit cards in the same way you’d use Paypal or Apple Pay. However it is largely fee-free, even if the attached card you are using to spend isn’t. 

This makes it a great back up card, or even your primary travel spending card if you can’t be bothered to go through the hassle of opening new accounts. There’s also no credit check, something only Starling Bank has in common.

As with Monzo there are monthly limits on spending and cash withdrawals before a fee is added, so do check those. There’s also a free fiver for signing up. Read my full Curve review for more details.

My top travel credit cards

Specialist credit cards can be great for overseas spending as long as you pay off the debt before any interest is charged.

Even with these fee-free cards you’ll likely get charged interest on cash withdrawals straight away. If you can, clear the balance on a daily basis to avoid these extras. If you can’t get online then you can set up a standing order before you go. 

Sadly the Tandem cashback credit card stopped being free in early 2021, so it’s no longer a recommendation.

With all credit card applications do make sure you check your eligibility first if you can.

Barclaycard Reward

This Visa card from Barclaycard offers fee free spending and ATM withdrawals – and there’s no interest on cash you take out.

There’s also 0.25% cashback on purchases at home and abroad. That’s great for holiday spending but there are better alternatives for spending in the UK.

Halifax Clarity credit card

This is the card I’ve had for years and I’ve only stopped using it because of Tandem’s cashback. Though I’ll be using my Starling account primarily, this is going be my backup.

It’s a solid card and well worth looking into if you’d like to go with a more established bank or want to go into a branch to apply.

The best ways to spend when abroad

This video from series three of Shop Smart Save Money shows “how low you can go” with the different options for holiday spending

And this article breaks down how I spend when I go away

Travel money: my top ways to spend on holiday

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