Editorial Note: Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.
No matter where you go or how long you travel, preparing for how you'll pay for things overseas is one of the easiest ways to save money while travelling, period.
Currency exchange booths at airports and banks can be convenient, but a lot of your money goes towards exchange fees (e.g. $10 per exchange) and hidden commissions padded into poor exchange rates. With a bit of research and planning, you can save hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in fees over the long-term!
Credit and debit cards are the cheapest, easiest ways to get money and make payments overseas. Credit cards are accepted worldwide, and when you need cash, ATMs are abundant in every country. ATMs are internationally networked through the Visa/Plus and Mastercard/Cirrus networks. You enter your PIN and withdraw your cash just like you would at home, while the exchange rates are automatically handled by the banks.
However, some credit and debit cards are better than others! Hidden in the fine print, banks still try to secretly add commissions and fees to each payment or ATM withdrawal made abroad. Even if you don't travel a lot, these fees add up quickly.
We've rounded up the best credit and debit cards around the world that minimize or eliminate these fees, putting more money back into your adventure funds!
The best travel credit cards: Our Roundup
Credit cards have various features that can make or break your travel savings. Ideally, these are the features to look for in a credit card:
- Foreign transaction rate of 0%
- No annual fee
- Competitive points or cash-back rewards program (at least 1% of the purchase price
- Included insurance on car rentals paid with the credit card
So what are the best credit cards for travel? Check your country below to see what's best for you!
|Name||Home Country||Network||Foreign transaction fee||Annual fee||Cashback / Points||Perks||Signup Bonus|
|28 Degrees||Australia||MasterCard||0%||$0||n/a||Price guarantee and merchandise protection for 6 months after purchase||n/a|
|Bankwest Zero Platinum||Australia||MasterCard||0%||$0||n/a||6 months of complimentary travel insurance with purchase of return flight tickets||n/a|
|Amazon.ca Rewards||Canada||Visa||0%||$0||Cashback: 2% on Amazon.ca, 1% anywhere else||n/a||Free $20 Amazon.ca gift card|
|Halifax Clarity||United Kingdom||MasterCard||0%||$0||n/a||n/a||n/a|
|aqua Reward Card||United Kingdom||MasterCard||0%||$0||0.5% cashback||n/a||n/a|
|Capital One Quicksilver||United States||Visa||0%||$0||1.5% cashback||Double the U.S. manufacturers warranty on items purchased with the card||$100 cash bonus if you spend at least $500 in the first 3 months|
|Barclaycard Arrival||United States||MasterCard||0%||$0||2 miles per $1 spent on travel and dining, 1 point per $1 spent everywhere else||Get 10% points back when redeeming points for travel||20,000 bonus miles when you spend at least $1000 in the first 3 months|
The best travel debit cards: Our Roundup
These are the ideal features to look for in a debit card:
- Foreign transaction rate of 0%
- International ATM withdrawal fee of $0
- Competitive points or cash-back rewards program (at least 1% of the purchase price)
Many banks around the world have come together to establish the Global ATM Alliance. If your card belongs to a bank in the alliance, you can make withdrawals from banks at other alliance member ATMs around the world without paying additional fees. Here's our roundup of the best debit cards for travel.
|Name||Home Country||Network||Global ATM alliance||Foreign transaction fee||ATM withdrawal fee||Monthly fee||Signup Bonus|
|Tangerine Thrive Chequing||Canada||Mastercard / Cirrus||Yes||0%||ATM Alliance: $0|
Other ATMs: $2
|$0||$50 signup bonus when you use Orange Key 16782070S1|
|Citibank Plus Everyday Account||Australia||Visa / Plus||All ATMs fee-free||0%||$0||$0|
|Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account||United States||Visa / Plus||All ATMs fee-free||0%||$0 + all third-party ATM fees refunded||$0|
|Virgin Money Essential Current Account||United Kingdom||Visa / Plus||No||0%||£1.50||$0|
Essential tips for using debit and credit cards while travelling
1. Pay using a credit card whenever possible.
Foreign ATMs can still inflate their exchange rates and charge withdrawal fees, but a direct credit card payment only involves the credit card you signed up with in your home country. And with a good points or cashback program, this beats any other method of foreign payment.
Bottom line? Always pay with a credit card, but NEVER withdraw cash from an ATM with one. Credit cards charge interest on cash advances from the moment you withdraw it at the ATM.
2. Never take the option of paying in your own currency
Card terminals at shops and hotels will often detect that your card is from another country and offer to bill you in your home currency. Never choose this option – always pay in the foreign currency! The exchange rate offered will be inflated by the card terminal, so if you’re using one of the credit cards recommended above, you will receive a much better exchange rate.
3. Inform your debit and credit card providers of your travels
Credit and debit cards are frequently being monitored by security departments for suspicious activity. If you're from the U.S. and you make an ATM withdrawal in Thailand when they don’t know you’re overseas, this could appear suspicious to your bank, and your card might be locked the next time you withdraw. Give your bank or credit card provider a call and let them know when and where you’ll be travelling. Take it from us – you do not want to be stuck without cash and a useless card!
4. Obtain at least one debit and credit card on each of the Visa/Plus and MasterCard/Cirrus networks.
Even if you follow the advice in tip #3, it’s possible your card could get locked anyway. On top of that, it’s easy to find yourself in a situation where an ATM accepts only one network and not the other. For example, when we travelled in Japan, the only ATMs we could find that would even accept international cards were at 7-Eleven, and they only worked with cards on the Visa/Plus network. I speak from experience – there’s nothing more stressful than needing more cash and not being able to withdraw it, so be prepared and bring multiple cards on multiple networks.
5. Consider a credit card with included insurance
The jury is still out on whether it's safe to rely on car and travel insurance that is sometimes provided by credit cards, and unfortunately, the only way to know for sure is to file a claim after the accident has happened. If you're concerned about insurance, its best to be safe and purchase it from the car rental company, but if not, you might as well pay with a credit card that offers car insurance and hope for the best if you do end up in an accident.
6. Keep backup cards in your hotel room
If you lose all your credit and debit cards while overseas, you're going to be in quite the pickle. Always keep at least one extra card back at your accommodation in case your main card or entire wallet is lost or stolen while you're out.
7. Bring $100 USD as backup cash
When all else fails, U.S. dollars are the closest thing to a global currency that we have today. It's the most commonly accepted currency, not only at exchange booths, but even at shops and restaurants in other countries. If there are no ATMs in sight or your cards have been stolen, an emergency backup of U.S. dollars will get you out an emergency situation.
Do you have another card recommendation? Know something we don't? Write it in the comments below!