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.
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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 was launched in September 2021 and has no fees to use abroad. Plus for the first 12 months you’ll get 1% cashback on all purchases (if not more), 3% interest on savings and 5% interest on ’round-ups’ (though this latter one probably won’t add up to much). 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. Read my full Starling review.
Virgin Money M Plus account
Why get it? Not as good as Starling but there’s access to competitive savings
The next best account offers the same benefits at Starling. No fees to spend abroad or withdraw money overseas. I don’t think the app is as good as Starling’s. Here’s my review of the M Plus current account.
Why get it? If you want the other budgeting and savings features that come with the account and won’t take out much cash abroad
Monzo has a better brand recognition than Starling, and people might wonder why I’ve put it last on my debit card list. The answer is very simple – you can only take £200 out of a cash machine outside Europe every 30 days.
Now for many people that’s not going to be a problem. I didn’t take out any cash on a trip to New York, let alone £200. But if you’re going to countries where cash is still king (or at least more prevalent) or are away for a long trip you could reach that limit. If you do you’ll be hit with a 3% charge.
But if that doesn’t bother you, Monzo has some great budgeting features. More details and in my full Monzo review.
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 is it is largely fee-free to spend overseas, even if the attached card you are using to spend isn’t.
This makes it a great backup card, or even your primary travel spending card if you can’t be bothered to go through the hassle of opening new accounts. There’s also no credit check, something only Starling Bank has in common.
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. However there is a £4.99 card delivery fee. Read my full Curve review for more details.
As with Monzo there are monthly limits on fee-free overseas spending (£1,000 a month) and cash withdrawals (£200 a month). After these limits 2% is added.
Why get it? A decent backup card
Currensea does the same as Curve but 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.
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.
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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.
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
13 thoughts on “The best travel debit and credit cards”
Hi, when I travel in Spain it is very difficult to find an ATM that doesn’t levy an ATM fee. Most Spanish banks charge to take cash out of an ATM. I use my Santander 123 debit card free in Banco Santander ATM’s in Spain. If I select Euros I get the near perfect Mastercard exchange rate and no ATM fee.
Even if I were to use my Starling card for ATM withdrawals in Spain I would be charged anywhere between 2 and 6 euros per transaction dependent on what bank ATM I use.
Hi,I ve got Flexplus Nationwide bank account and they dont charge me when I use my visa debit card abroad.They charge me 13 pounds monthly for travel insurance worldwide for my family,3 mobiles insurance,breakdown cover in UK&Europe,its great deal.
What about Revolut or did I miss it on your article. I’ve used them the last 8 years especially going abroad with zero fees helped save a fortune.
It’s fine, but if you’re starting from scratch the others are better in my opinion
I am not sure Relovut is to be dismissed. The advantage of it you can buy any currency you need during the opening hours of the exchange at a very competitive rate potentially making use of the daily / weekly fluctuations. Starling might be fine, but it wil not tell me – before I spend money – at which rate it exchanges my GBP into CZK if I am paying in Tesco in Prague.
Thanks for the link for the Currensea card. Going to give this card a try on my travels!
When do we get our £10 bonus after spending £150?
Hi Andy Webb,
Is Amex not a good card to use overseas ?
Hi Justin. You’ll get charged fees which far exceed the cashback you earn. So it’s best to not use them unless there’s some kind of additional offer (perhaps on a hotel) which will earn you a hefty amount of cashback.
Any thoughts about the Wise card (TransferWise) ? Even though there is a fee, exchange rates are good and money can be transferred in advance when the exchanges rates are low.
Hi Hari, I think Wise can be useful if you are paid in a different currency, such as Dollars. For Euros then Monese does this transfer for free. But for everyday spending, then you’re better off with one of the cards in this guide that are completely fee free.
I’ve got a specialist Barclaycard for traveling abroad which beats any of those cards you recommend
Why have you not mentioned it
Hi Richard, Sadly, the Platinum Barclaycard which had fee-free spending and also no interest on cash withdrawals is no longer available to new customers. As an existing customer, you’ll still be able to use it abroad at no cost for a good few years. I think it’s August 2023.