The best travel debit and credit cards

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.

best travel cards

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.

Starling Bank

Why get it? No fees and the best banking app

Since Starling has become my main current account it’s also 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 2.02% interest on 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 account is as good as Starling’s but you do get 2.02% interest on the first £1,000 you have in the account and if you switch over you’ll also get 12 free bottles of wine and a £50 charity donation. Here’s my review of the M Plus current account.

Monese

Why get it? The limits on how much you can spend are probably ok for most trips, and you can get £15.05 bonus for opening it

This is another digital bank. Though it’s not got a full UK banking licence it’s safe to use and regulated by the FCA. Its key selling point is you can also open a Euro account and move money between it and the GBP account without any charge.

As far as using it overseas there are no charges, though there are limits if you are on the free “Simple” plan. You’ll be able to spend up to £2,000 a month without charges and withdraw £200 a month. After these limits there’s a 2% surcharge.

The reason to consider this one is there are often small welcome bonuses available, worth up to £20 – though you do need to factor in the card delivery charge of £4.95.

Monese: Free £15.05 welcome bonus

Sign up to Monese with the code CLEVERCASH21 and you’ll get £5 credit after your first card transaction (not ATM withdrawal) and another £15 after spending £15.

You do however need to factor in the £4.95 delivery charge for the debit card, which means you’re really looking at £15.05 profit. The offer ends 6 June 2021 but could be extended.

Monzo

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.

Curve

Why get it? £10 welcome bonus and 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. Read my full Curve review for more details.

As with Monzo there are monthly limits on fee-free overseas spending (£500 a month) and cash withdrawals (£200 a month). There’s also a 0.5% fee added at weekends.

Make sure you get the free £10 bonus for signing up.

Curve: Free £10 welcome bonus

When you sign up via this link you’ll be eligible for a £10 welcome bonus – double the standard referral offer of £5. There’s no need to enter a promo code as the link has tracking which will register the offer.

Once you’ve signed up you then need to spend with your card to get the bonus.

To use this £10 reward you need to use the app to select the Curve Rewards option before you pay

Currensea

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.

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.

Barclaycard Reward

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

7 thoughts on “The best travel debit and credit cards

  1. Thanks for the link for the Currensea card. Going to give this card a try on my travels!

  2. Hi Andy Webb,

    Is Amex not a good card to use overseas ?

    1. 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.

  3. Hi Andy,

    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.

    1. 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.

  4. I’ve got a specialist Barclaycard for traveling abroad which beats any of those cards you recommend
    Why have you not mentioned it

    1. 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.

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