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.
But the selection of good cards isn’t huge. Out of my 15 or so debit cards and five or six credit cards, only a handful are fee-free. And some of them have limits on top.
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 find 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.
Watch my video round up or keep reading
My top travel debit cards
The cheapest cards are usually specialist debit cards – and they have the added benefit of not being credit cards! That means you can’t spend what you don’t have. Plus the credit checks will be easier or non-existent.
Another benefit is you won’t get charged interest to take cash out of an ATM, though as you’ll see a couple do have monthly limits on your fee-free spending.
Here are my top four. If you already have one of these then you probably don’t need to open up another account.
Why get it? No fees and 1% cashback for a year
This digital-only account has no fees to use abroad. Plus for the first 12 months you’ll get 1% cashback on all purchases (though this will be capped ), 4% interest on savings and 5% interest on ’round-ups’ (though this latter one probably won’t add up to much). You won’t be hard credit searched. Here’s my full Chase Bank review.
Why get it? No fees and the best banking app
Since Starling has become my main current account it’s also been my main card to use overseas. 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. There’s only a soft credit check. Read my full Starling review.
Other fee-free current accounts
If you already have these accounts then you might be fine to just stick with them, and they might have extra benefits such as higher interest on savings.
- First Direct: Regular bank switching offer, 7% Regular saver, £250 0% overdraft. Hard credit search
- Cumberland Building Society: Fully fee-free but requires a £750 a month deposit to the account. Hard credit search
- Kroo: £200 cash withdrawal limit each calendar month. 4.35% interest on savings. Soft credit check only.
- Monese: Fee-free spending but a £1.50 ATM fee
- Monzo: Another with limits on cash withdrawals. Soft credit search and 4% interest.
- TSB Spend & Save Plus: Fee free and the potential to earn £5 cashback a month, but has £3 monthly fee.
- Virgin Money: Completely fee-free, and can be opened in branch, but still requires the app. Hard credit search.
Andy’s Top Tips
When you’re using one of these top travel cards, it’s really important you pay in the local currency. If you pay in sterling, it’ll be swapped over at an exchange rate of the local bank’s choosing – which won’t be in your favour!
Also, though many of the cards I’ve mentioned are fee-free to use in ATMs, that doesn’t mean the local bank won’t add its own fee. So you’ll need to research for any that don’t do this in your destination, or plan ahead by making as few withdrawals as possible.
My top travel smart debit cards
These cards aren’t technically debit cards, though they works just like one. Instead you get a smart card which links to your bank and credit cards in the same way you’d use Paypal or Apple Pay.
The benefit of this makes it cheaper to spend overseas through other bank accounts that would normally be very expensive.
This makes it a great backup card, or even your primary travel spending card if you really can’t be bothered to go through the hassle of opening new accounts. There’s also no credit check.
With both these cards you’ll want to go for the free plans, though they do have a few restrictions.
Why get it? Decent back up and the ability to change your underlying payment card
Curve is my top pick here thanks to its handy extra features, such as the ability to change which card you want to charge after purchase. It also allows pretty much all Visa and Mastercards, whether debit or credit.
You’ll get no charges on weekdays on up to £1,000 spend on a rolling 30 day period. At weekends there’s 0.5% added for USD and EUR, and 1.5% extra for other currencies. Spending over £1,000 will have 2% added.
You’lll get £200 of cash machine withdrawals every 30 days, then it’s the higher of 2% or £2 on top.
The free tier has a £4.99 card delivery fee. Read my full Curve review for more details.
Why get it? A decent backup card
Currensea does a similasr thing as Curve but you connect to your current account rather than add a card. It has a 0.5% fee on top of the exchange rates every day of the week, so it could work out more expensive.
However there’s no monthly limit on spending with the card, and a higher £500 monthly free ATM withdrawal limit. Plus the card itself is free.
The bigger issue could be the limits on which banks it works with. Right now that list is only the bigger banks:
- Bank of Scotland
- First Direct
- Ulster Bank
- Virgin Money
Currensea: Free £10 when you spend £150
When you sign up via this link you’ll be eligible for a £10 welcome bonus – however you’ll need to spend £150 in a foreign currency in the first six months to get the cashback.
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.
Credit cards are particularly handy for things like hiring a car or putting deposits down on hotel rooms. The money can be held on these without leaving your account. You’ll also get Section 75 consumer rights protection.
With all credit card applications do make sure you check your eligibility first if you can.
Why get it? Earn cashback on all spending abroad
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
Why get it? If you want a credit card but can’t get the Barclaycard Reward
This is the card I’ve had for years and I only stopped using it when slightly better options came along . But it’s still a decent card and comes with me as a backup.
The downside is you will get charged interest on cash withdrawals straight away. This can be avoided or minimised If you 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.
It’s a solid card and well worth sticking with if you already have it.
Best prepaid cards
For the most part it’s best to avoid prepaid cards. They’ll set their own exchange rates and often charge you “inactivity fees” that can eat up any cash left on cards after your holiday.
However they can be useful if you want to lock in at a set exchange rate, and if you want to do this the following cards are cheapest:
It’s free to exchange up to £1,000 per month into a different currency if you do it Monday to Friday. So plan ahead to avoid an extra 1% charge. You’ll get a slightly better interbank rate with Revolut, rather than the Visa or Mastercard rate.
Spending is free (you’re already in the local currency), though there’s a £200 ATM limit a month before a 2% charge is applied to cash withdrawals.
You can add your card to Apple or Google Pay straight away, though you’ll need to pay £4.99 to get an actual debit card delivered if you want one.
Though there’s a fee on top of the interbank rate with Wise, there are more currencies you can convert to.
Free cash withdrawals are capped at £200 a month
The best ways to spend when abroad
Cards aren’t the only way to spend. his article breaks down how I spend when I go away