Watching the sunset in Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka

Our top credit and debit card for travel

How do you bank when you’re abroad? If you’re anything like me, trying to figure out overseas card fees and exchange rates makes your head spin. If you don’t take the time to research the best credit and debit card for travel though, you’ll end up losing hundreds of pounds in fees. Luckily, we’ve done the hard work for you with this guide to the best debit and credit cards for travellers.

A pile of money, coins and notes

You can read our original posts comparing the best travel credit and debit cards from 2013 here:

Here’s an update on which cards we now use for travel in 2017.

What’s the best debit card for travel?

We’ve been using our Norwich and Peterborough debit card since we left the UK in 2013 and it has saved us hundreds of pounds in fees. N&P has zero cash withdrawal, purchase and handling fees abroad, yet sadly they’re closing their current accounts this year so we have to search for a new travel debit card. Unfortunately, all the major banks we checked in the UK charged whopping fees abroad, but we did find a new app-based bank, Starling, which fit the bill.

Watching the sunset in Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka

Starling has zero fees for cash withdrawals and transactions anywhere in the world and it uses MasterCard’s exchange rate. Unlike other current accounts, you don’t have to pay in a certain amount each month or set up direct debits either, and it has safe card-locking functions and in-app support. It was easy to download the Starling app on our iPhone and open an account, then we received our new card in the post. Easy!

I like the idea of having the app on our phone and getting notifications stating what exchange rate we’ve been charged every time we make a transaction. We’ll start experimenting with our Starling account when we begin our Europe road trip this autumn and we’ll update this post to let you know how it goes.

Top travel credit cards

If you’re from the USA, you can find some great travel reward credit cards. Being from the UK, we don’t have such great options and many credit cards charge hefty fees for using them abroad. The best travel credit card option in the UK is the Halifax Clarity card which offers zero cash withdrawal and purchase fees abroad. However, the interest rate for overseas cash withdrawals ranges from 12.8% APR, so we avoid using ATMs with it.

Find out what our top credit and debit card for travel is and which cards won't charge you fees for transactions and withdrawals abroad.

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Want to know more about travel finance? Get more tips in this guide to managing finances while you travel and our savings account comparison.

Which credit and debit card do you use when you travel?

  • James
    Posted at 04:43h, 05 September Reply

    Such a shame about your account. No surprises that the UK banks are squeezing customers though. We use metro which is free across Europe but of course charges outside the EU. Halifax has a credit card that’s perfect but hard to get without a full-time job in the UK. Will definitely look into the Starling account. Thanks for the tip.

    • Amy
      Posted at 17:26h, 05 September Reply

      Hi James, Metro sounds like a good choice for Europe. Yes, we applied for the Halifax card years ago while living in London, not sure they’d give it to us if we wanted to apply now! Yep, Starling seems great so far!

  • Leila
    Posted at 09:42h, 19 September Reply

    Hi Amy, I’ve been following your page for a year now and always find it really informative 🙂
    We currently use a FairFX pre loaded credit card for our holidays and it seems to work well for us as I like being able to track our spend on the app and stick to a budget. What are your thoughts on FairFX for long term travel? Not sure about their ATM charge. We are planning our travels for in 4 years so it would be good to know 🙂

    • Amy
      Posted at 10:14h, 19 September Reply

      Hi Leila, thanks for following and commenting. We did consider pre-paid cards like FairFX before we left the UK in 2013, I think we decided against it because the exchange rates weren’t as favourable as N&Ps at the time. As long as you can reload your card easily enough online as you travel, it seems like a good option. Are you from the UK? If so, I’d definitely recommend checking out Starling too.

  • Leo Tat
    Posted at 21:27h, 01 October Reply

    We try to avoid using a credit card and get enough of travel money to exchange in the country itself.

    However, in times of need, we do use our Barclaycard. On this card we don’t get charged interest on spending or cash withdrawals abroad provided we pay them off in full for that particular month (otherwise charge 18.9%). The exchange rate fee is zero too.

    • Amy
      Posted at 09:52h, 02 October Reply

      Hi Leo, thanks for sharing that information, Barclaycard sounds pretty good, we weren’t aware of that.

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