If you’re going abroad, or spending on foreign websites, getting the right plastic could save you a small fortune. Pick up a specialist travel credit or pre-pay card and enjoy piece of mind knowing that you’re getting the best exchange rate possible for any currency in the world. Here’s our guide to the best credit card, debit, and pre-pay cards for travel.
Before we get started though, just a little reminder that up to 5m EHIC cards expire every year. The European Health insurance card is free and entitles the holder to free or discounted medical care in 28 EU countries, plus a few others. Despite Brexit current EHIC cards are still valid. New applications will be given UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC). To get a new or replacement card visit the EHIC website.
The best credit cards for travel
The best debit and pre-pay cards
We’ve spoken about travel credit cards before, but the industry moves fast, and many of the current crop of cards only launched in the past few years. While the Halifax Clarity, still remains a top pick, Barclaycard Rewards has leap frogged it to earn the title of the best traditional credit card for foreign spending.
Of course not everyone can get a specialist credit card. So we’ve also rounded up a few of the top debit and pre-pay cards for travel and foreign spending. Jump to pre-paid and other cards
The best credit cards for travel
The absolute cheapest credit card for overseas spending
The Barclaycard Rewards credit card is our new top pick for spending abroad thanks to its 0.25% cashback on spending, and no fees on spending online, at the point of sale, or for ATM withdrawals.
Also it doesn’t charge any interest on overseas spending or withdrawals as long as the balance is paid off in full. This makes it the absolute cheapest way to spend abroad, and being a credit card rather than debit card you benefit from Section 75 protection on purchases.
22.9% APR Representative (variable). Based on an assumed credit limit of £1,200 and a purchase rate of 22.9% p.a. (variable)
Still one of the best around
A top pick for years, the Halifax Clarity is probably the most well known specialist travel credit card. There’s no commission nor fees for spending or cash withdrawals. What’s more, you get the Mastercard Wholesale exchange rate, which tends to be ever-so-slightly better than VISA’s rates.
The card does charge interest on cash withdrawn abroad at 19.9% (21.9%-25.9% for poorer credit scorers), but this amounts to just £1.50 per £100 spent. This is only charged until you’ve repaid the balance, so you can minimise this paying it off as you go along.
Interest isn’t charged on point of sale purchases abroad provided you clear the balance by the end of the statement date.
Halifax are currently running a promotion (for applications before 29th August) offering £20 cashback on your first purchase with the card.
19.9% APR Representative (variable). Based on an assumed credit limit of £1,200 and a purchase rate of 19.95% p.a. (variable)
Santander Zero Credit Card
Free overseas spending and low withdrawal interest
The Santander Zero is a new addition to our cheap overseas spending list, but it has earned its place with free overseas spending (if paid in full) and low ATM withdrawal interest equivalent to 5p per day on £100 withdrawal or £1.50 a month. That matches the long time champion of overseas spending Halifax Clarity.
Santander’s Zero card though also offers some benefits in the UK too, such as 0% interest on spending for 12 months, and up to 15% cashback via its retail offers with Sky, Just Eat, Co-op, Costa coffee, and more.
18.9% APR Representative (variable). Based on an assumed credit limit of £1,200 and a purchase rate of 18.9% p.a. (variable) Some poor credit scores may be offered higher rates of up to 24.9%
Aqua Reward Credit Card
Best for poorer credit scorers – good for overseas spending
The AquaReward card is aimed at those with a poor credit history or who might have had problems obtaining a credit card in the past.
It offers near perfect exchange rates and 0.5% cashback on all purchases (up to a maximum of £100 p.a.)
Unfortunately it charges an obscene amount of interest, so always pay this card off in full, and never use it to withdraw cash from an ATM (44% interest and 3% fee).
Credit limits on the card also tend to be low, but for those that might otherwise struggle to get a card for foreign spending, this might still be worthwhile, especially if you want to benefit from Section 75 protection on larger purchases.
The top debit and pre-pay cards for foreign travel
Chase (UK) – currently invitation only
JP Morgan’s Chase bank account might be a newcomer to the UK, but is one of the oldest and largest banks in the US, with a customer base of over 50m households. This digital only account follows on the footsteps of Starling and Monzo. It is currently invitation only, so it’s still very early days yet, but all signs point to it being the new top choice when it comes debit card spending abroad.
The key features that make this account a winner are 1% cashback on spending, 5% interest on rounded up savings, Mastercard exchange rates, and fee free ATM withdrawals.
Understanding the features
Some of the features need a little qualifying. Firstly the 1% cashback comes with a long list of exclusions, few of these are relevant for holiday makers though, so you’d be able to enjoy money back on hotels, flights, travel, restaurants, and most other day to day spending. Unfortunately this offer is an incentive to draw in new customers. As such it is only valid for 12 months.
The 5% interest on savings, needs to be enabled in the app. This then rounds up your spending to the nearest pound, and deposits the difference in a virtual pot, where it earns interest which is calculated daily and applied monthly. After 12 months, or sooner if you wish to withdraw it. The money in this pot is moved back to your main account.
Chase customers will also benefit from fee free foreign ATM withdrawals. Unlike Monzo and Revolut that impose tight restrictions on ATM use abroad in order to up sell the customer to their paid accounts, Chase allows up to £700 per month to be withdrawn at ATMs whilst abroad. It also goes one further in allowing customers to use Chase ATMs in the US for free, a great way to avoid ATM fees over there which can often be up to $5 a time and otherwise difficult to avoid.
The account is currently invitation only, so whilst you are waiting checkout our full account review using the link below. The full launch is schedule for late October/early November, so until then Starling remains our top bank account for travel. To open a Chase account you will need to be over 18, a UK resident, and provide proof of ID.
The rise of the mobile-first challenger bank could spell the end for pre-pay cards as free currency withdrawals and foreign spending become the norm. At Money Saving Answers we’re championing Starling Bank as the best card for foreign travel. Check out the video below by broadcast journalist and travel vlogger/blogger, Pommie Travels.
Starling really stole a march on the competition by being the first digital challenger bank to launch its current account nationwide, and continues to impress with its well developed app and current account features. What’s more, the company is committed to fee-less foreign currency. Here’s what it says:
When we say zero fees, we mean exactly that.
We won’t charge you to use your debit card abroad – and we won’t add ATM fees. Just so you’re aware: some ATM providers may charge their own fee.
Great exchange rates.
You’ll benefit from Mastercard’s globally accepted exchange rate…and no, we won’t add anything on top.
You shouldn’t have to pay to access your money.
Unlike some other travel cards, we don’t charge you to deliver your card or to top it up.
Another great feature of the Starling account is that it fully integrates with Moneybox, meaning you can save whilst you travel, by rounding up transactions in realtime and setting the sum aside for transfer via direct debit to one of the Moneybox investments.
Sounds great to us, and it’s not put a foot wrong in our tests. The Starling app is available on Android and iOS, but to find out more visit starlingbank.com
One of the pre-digital challenger banks, Metro has always faired kindly when it comes to foreign spending. The standard current account doesn’t have any fees at all for using the debit card at the point of sale or for ATM withdrawals whilst in Europe.
The account can now be opened online via the Metro Bank app (previously is was only available in-store), but you’ll need smartphone or tablet with a camera in order to take a self-portrait during the application process.
Outside of Europe Metro charges You’ll pay a hefty 2.5% non-sterling transaction fee, and a £1.50 fee for using ATMs.
Unlike it’s digital competitor Starling, Monzo started life as a pre-pay travel. At the time it was a breath of fresh air and was considered the best pre-pay option. The pre-pay card was always just a beta trial until the bank could roll out its current account. Now that it has done so, and new cards have been issued to those who’ve upgraded, Monzo has taken the disappointing decision to start charging for foreign ATM withdrawals.
Fee free ATM withdrawals are limited to just £200 per 30 days, after which a 3% free is charged. Point of sale use will still be free, though we can no longer recommend Monzo for use as a main travel card, but it would make a good back up.
In addition Monzo has launched a number of paid accounts, such as Plus, and Premium. As the company desperately tries to increase its revenue flows, the free offering seems to see less love and attention, compared to its competitors. In our opinion it’s a good back-up but probably not worth using as your main travel card.
The next generation pre-pay travel card
The Revolut card is a mobile app based account, that came hot on the heals of the ill-fated Travelex Supercard. It was slicker and more user friendly than the competition, and is still adding new features and functionality. You can use the Revolut account to pay for online purchases without the actual card, but best to order a physical card and test it a little before your travel.
Like traditional pre-pay cards the Revolut account first needs loading with currency. You can do this via ApplePay/Android pay, bank transfer or credit/debitcard which is handy. Loading is done in pounds, dollars, and euros and you are able to convert between the three instantly from within the app. Spending is not limited to these currencies though. All in all there are 90 currencies you can spend in, and receive the Mastercard exchange rate.
Speaking of rates, when using the card on a recent trip to Ireland, I noticed that the exchange rate listed in the Revolut app, was actually better than those shown on XE.com. Additionally, Revolut is one of the few accounts that continued to allow its customers to trade during the volatility and currency fluctuations caused by the Brexit vote.
ATM fees kick in
It almost sounds too good to be true right?
Revolut changed its terms and conditions since the original launch, and now only allows £200 per month free from ATM, and charges a 2% fee for any withdrawals over that. that’s £20 per every £1000 withdrawn over and above the first £200. Customers have the option of signing up for Premium £6.99 per month, and Metal, £9.99 per month. These allow fee-free ATM withdrawals up to £400, and £600 respectively, as well as host of other benefits, such as medical/travel insurance, priority support, and even cashback (Metal only).
Overall the standard offer is still a great card, but due to the low fee-free ATM limits we prefer Starling. Your usage of course might vary though and it’s a great card as a backup.
Wise (formerly Transferwise)
Wise like Revolut is not so much a dedicated bank account, but a multi-currency account specifically aimed at travellers, digital nomads and those needing to transfer money across borders.
Whilst it grew to prominence as a money transfer service previously known as Transferwise, but it’s the Wise Multi-currency account that will be of interest to holidaymakers and travellers.
The account is free open, and comes with account numbers, sort codes, IBANs, and routing numbers for UK, Eurozone, US, Australia, New Zealand and a number of other countries. Unfortunately it costs £5 to order the debit card which immediately wipes out some of the advantage of using the account over the short term. And while spending online or at the point of sale is free if your account holds that currency. If you need to exchange currencies for example Sterling to Euros there is small fee. Up to two ATM withdrawals are free up to £200 after that fees kick in similar to Monzo and Revolut.
Despite offering many of the same features as Revolut above, the Wise account can be a little more complicated to use and its fee structure makes it a more expensive option. Probably why Wise is more popular with US travellers and those in countries that can’t open a Revolut account. That being said it never hurts to have a back up.
- £5 ordering first debit card
- 0.35% conversion fee on popular currencies e.g. Euro, USD, (higher on less popular ones)
- 1.75% fee card fee if withdrawing more than £200/month
- 50p card fee if making more than two ATM withdrawals a month
There’s no fee to open the account and no credit checks, but you will need to be over 18 and have proof of address and ID.
The best small business account for foreign spending
Revolut for business
There aren’t many accounts that balance the needs of small business with freedom offered by enjoying fee-free foreign exchange and spending. The Revolut for business card does just that. It picks up where the personal account left off and offers a fully fledged business bank account, with fee-free currency and the ability to hold money in any one of 24 different currencies.
The account also comes with a myriad of other features, as this article is mainly concerned with travel and foreign currency, these will have to covered in a separate post.
One drawback of the Revolut for business is account, is the cost. Unlike Tide below, the Revolut business account carries a cover charge of between £6.99 – £25 for small businesses depending on their structure and requirement.
If you run a small business and regularly need to travel abroad, or pay for goods and services in a foreign currency, then Tide might be worth considering.
Tide is a new mobile-first account aimed at small business, freelancers, contractors and other self-employed professionals. Although not specifically a currency card (it is a fully fledged account in its own right), Tide, is following the ‘challenger’ norm and does not charge commission, fees, or loading on foreign purchases, and users benefit from the MasterCard exchange rate.
How to maximise your spending power abroad
Whether it’s a relaxing two week holiday, or a city break, it’s all too easy to be a bit too frivolous with your cash aboard. If you already have one our ‘top pick’ specialist travel cards listed above, then you’re are to a winner, but there are few other little tricks that can help you stretch for holiday money a little further.
- Never change money at the airport – Sometimes you just need/want to carry cash. If so be sure not to change it at the airport. You’ve left it too late, they’ve got you over a barrel and they know it. You’ll be lumbered with the worst rate, and that’s no way to start a holiday. If you absolutely must change money at the airport, ferry terminal, or train station, always pre-order. You can usually do this up to four hours in advance and you’ll enjoy a better rate. Instead try to leave yourself plenty of time to change money. That way you shop around for the best rate.
- Get the right credit card and enjoy the cheapest rates – most credit card providers add roughly 3% to the exchange rate they get when changing money themselves, this is called loading. None of the cards above load so any of those listed above are a safe bet.
- Debit cards are the worst offenders – While many credit cards load, nearly all debit cards load and charge a £1.50 per transaction. The worst offenders are: Barclays, Lloyds TSB, Halifax, RBS, Co-op, Santander and NatWest. Avoid using these cards abroad.
- Always pay in the local currency – Many overseas ATMs, restaurants, and shops will ask you if you’d like to pay (or withdraw) in pounds, when using your credit/debit card. If you pay in pounds, what happens is that the retailer does the currency conversion for you. Rates are almost always worse than letting your own lender do the conversion. ALWAYS always pay in the local currency. This trick is used extensively in Spain and can be a nice little earner the banks/retailer.
- Don’t ‘buy’ cash on a credit card – Almost all credit cards charge a fee for withdrawing cash (Halifax Clarity, and Creation excluded), even if you repay in full. Buying foreign currency from a bureaux de change, even if it’s online, will count as a cash withdrawal. Use a debit card instead.
- Spain and Portugal – In some countries ATMs charge for withdrawals. This is nothing to do with your bank, but solely down the owner of the ATM. Machines in Spain and Portugal are terrible for this. In Spain always look for a ING or Deutsche Bank machines these are free. In Portugal, use the MB ATMs outside Post Offices. Never use Euro ATM, or Santander. These have some of the highest chargers around.