What's the best way to get your money out abroad?

What’s the Best Debit Card to Use Abroad 2018?

Some of the most tedious and frustrating tasks on our travel checklist are the financial ones. After much research, we finally found the best travel credit card on offer, but we then had to consider how we were going to access our money while we’re away. Turns out that the fees for using your debit card abroad can end up seriously eating into your savings, so we set out to find the cheapest option. So, what’s the best debit card to use abroad? 

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The best debit card to use abroad – 2018 update

We sadly cannot use our fantastic Norwich and Peterborough debit card (see below for details) anymore because the bank have closed their current accounts. We now use the new UK bank Starling, an app-based bank that has zero transaction and withdrawal fees anywhere in the world. Starling uses the Mastercard exchange rates and you don’t have to pay a certain amount into the account every month.

We’ve been using Starling since autumn 2017 and find it’s great for travel, the app tells us exactly what we’ve spent in real-time, including exchange rates. It also allows you to easily transfer money into the account using your mobile. Read this post for more about our top cards and banks for travel in 2018 and the best credit card to use abroad here.

Best debit card to use Abroad

We want to avoid debit card charges abroad – we’ve been saving money for this trip for years and don’t want our hard-earned cash to go straight into the bank’s back pockets in overseas fees. So, we did a bit of research to find out what’s the cheapest debit card to use abroad:

CardOverseas cash withdrawal feeOverseas purchase feeHandling fee
HSBCUp to £502.75%
Norwich & Peterborough Building Society000
LloydsUp to £4.50£1
NatwestUp to £5£1.252.75%

*Sources: Norwich & Peterborough, HSBC Website

As you can see, using debit cards abroad can be an expensive business – unless, of course, you opt for a Norwich and Peterborough current account.

Could we use a Prepaid Card Instead?

We could choose to avoid the hassle of applying for a new debit card by simply opting for a prepaid travel card, also known as a travel currency card, which we load with cash before we leave and top up while we’re on the road. Here are a couple of the top options:

CardOverseas cash withdrawal feeHandling fee
CaxtonFX prepaid card0 (if outside UK)
FairFX prepaid card$20

*Source: Money Saving Expert

Travel Debit Card vs. Prepaid Card

Since both the Caxton Prepaid card and the N&P debit card both have the most favourable rates, how do we choose between them? Here’s our comparison:

  • Interest rates – rates for both the Caxton and N&P card fluctuate daily but are about the same; £1 is equal to 1.97 NZD when exchanged by N&P, whereas £1 is equal to 1.96 NZD when exchanged by Caxton October 2012)
  • Currencies – the N&P debit card lets you take out money in more currencies than the Caxton card does
  • transactions– the main benefit of a debit card is that you can use it for both cash withdrawals and transactions, whereas the prepaid card can only be used for withdrawing cash.
  • Topping-up – the Caxton prepaid card can be easily topped up online and we can transfer funds to the N&P account just as easily with internet banking.

Which Card did we Choose?

So, what’s the best debit card for travel? We went for the Norwich and Peterborough debit card in the end. We preferred the option of having a card we could also use for transactions rather than just withdrawing cash (as is the case with a prepaid card).

So, we’ve applied to open an N&P Gold Light current account; the only downside is the application process takes a while and has to be done via phone and post as there aren’t many branches in London. Before we leave we’ll probably shut down our other current accounts at HSBC and just keep the N&P account to try and keep things (relatively) simple.

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How do you access your cash while you’re travelling? What do you think is the best debit card to use abroad?

  • The Guy
    Posted at 17:56h, 31 October Reply

    I’m always amazed in China how it is cheaper for me to withdraw cash from a local banks ATM rather than a HSBC one with my First Direct debit card (First Direct are part of HSBC).

    I find it useful to have a mix of credit and debit cards as well as some local currency before you begin to travel. I’ve always found the Nationwide Visa credit card to be the best for the exchange rate and lowest for foreign purchase transaction fees.

    • Amy
      Posted at 19:40h, 31 October Reply

      Yes, I think it’s sensible to have a mix of payment methods too – it’s really annoying that banks charge so much just to access your own money! We heard that the Nationwide card was good, not quite as good as the N&P card though.

  • Stuart
    Posted at 17:00h, 08 June Reply

    Planning our first trip, and finding this site entertaining and incredibly useful.
    Discovered Metro Bank (springing up all over London like wildfire) Credit and Debit cards also fair very well according to the useful checker on this site. http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/travel/cheap-travel-money
    My current bank doesn’t do so well.

    • Amy
      Posted at 05:10h, 10 June Reply

      Glad you find the site helpful Stuart, thanks for stopping by and commenting. We hadn’t looked at Metro bank, thanks for mentioning it and good luck with your planning.

  • Stephie
    Posted at 00:17h, 01 November Reply

    Your website is great! We are so envious that you’re already enjoying your adventure. We are doing something very similar, but are still in the planning/saving/waiting phase right now, with about 6 months to go before our much-anticipated departure date in May 2014.

    We are having a lot of trouble finding a cheap debit card option for Canadian travellers. Since we are going to be travelling to countries in Africa and Asia, it is very difficult as there are not many options for Canadians in this respect. If you or anyone who reads this has any tips, we are desperate!

    Thank you! Keep on living the dream.


    Stephie (one half of The Wandering Soles)

    • Amy
      Posted at 06:18h, 01 November Reply

      Hi Stephie, thanks for reading and commenting. Sounds like you have an exciting adventure ahead of you; these last few months of planning will fly by I’m sure. I’m afraid we can’t help much on the debit card front as all our research was UK-based. However, if I were you I’d check every single Canadian bank account to try and find one which offers zero fees abroad – you’ll save so much money on ATM fees once you’re on the road. Good luck with the rest of the planning, look forward to hearing more about your trip!

  • J
    Posted at 10:27h, 12 November Reply

    I’ve been using the Norwich & Peterborough debit card abroad and have been disappointed. N&P profess fee-free usage abroad, and in many ways this is true: no charges or handling fees crop up on my statement. Yet N&P make up for this with, in my experience, horrendous exchange rates. I lose approximately 8-9% of any cash withdrawal or spending relative to the exchange rate I receive on my Halifax credit card.

    N&P merely hide their charges in terrible exchange rates.

    • J
      Posted at 10:32h, 12 November Reply

      I should note, this was for a west African currency. Rates could be better on major currencies.

    • Andrew
      Posted at 12:08h, 12 November Reply

      Hi J, As far as I’m aware, it is the card issuer who sets the exchange rate e.g. Visa Issue our N&P card and MasterCard issue our Halifax card so that may be where the differences lie. We have had a quick look at Visa’s exchange rates and our withdrawal costs and they tally up. I think the only thing the banks can change is their usage fees. Perhaps the difference is much bigger between issuers in West Africa?

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