5 Best Debit Cards for International Travel - A Comparison

Travel cards are often linked to online or digital accounts which you can top up in USD.

You’ll then be able to convert your funds to the currencies you need and spend when you travel using a linked debit card. This makes for easy ATM withdrawals, as well as giving you a cheaper way to pay when you’re on vacation or buying products from retailers based overseas.

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How do travel cards work?

Travel cards are often linked to online or digital accounts which you can top up in USD. You’ll then be able to convert your funds to the currencies you need and spend when you travel using a linked debit card. This makes for easy ATM withdrawals, as well as giving you a cheaper way to pay when you’re on vacation or buying products from retailers based overseas.

Does my debit card work internationally?

our regular bank debit card probably will work internationally - although you may need to tell your bank you plan to travel to stop the account being blocked for security reasons. However, regular debit cards aren’t really designed for international spending and so can come with a few extra fees for foreign currency use. 

You’ll often find a foreign transaction fee which can push up your costs by up to 3%. It’s also important to check that the network your card is on is accepted in your destination. While Visa and Mastercard are global brands, American Express can be trickier - and depending on where you’re headed, you may find that using your Discover card internationally isn’t possible.

Getting an international account and linked debit card can help you avoid fees and hassle when you spend abroad. We’ll cover a few great travel debit cards for you to consider in just a moment.

What to look at when choosing an international travel debit card?

International debit cards are often linked to online or mobile accounts which let you manage your money easily on the go. There are several great providers available - and the card that suits you will depend on how you expect to use it. Here are a few things to consider when you choose:

  • How can you access and manage your money - is the app or online service intuitive and easy to use?
  • Can you hold and spend the currencies you need with your selected card?
  • Is there a monthly fee for your account - or a minimum balance you need to know about?
  • What are the currency conversion fees and how easy is the process?
  • What exchange rate is used when you convert currencies?
  • Is there a cost for making ATM withdrawals with your card - at home or abroad?
  • How can you get customer support, and what languages is help available in?

One of the most important things to look at when selecting an international travel debit card will be the costs of currency exchange. The full fee you pay for converting currencies can be spread across an upfront conversion fee and a markup added to the exchange rate. If markups are used on the exchange rate that can mean you’re paying more than you think for your foreign spending - make sure you know the full details for your chosen account before you sign up.

Looking for the best travel money cards? Compare 5 of them

To help you decide which travel debit card suits you, we’ll compare some great top picks. First we’ll look at a general introduction to the account and card options - keep reading for a side by side comparison of some key costs and features.

1. Wise

Open a Wise multi-currency account and get a linked Mastercard debit card. Wise customers get currency conversion which uses the real mid-market exchange rate with no markups - which can mean you save 3x compared to your normal bank.

Customer service support options: Phone and online support in a range of languages, website and app available in 15 languages. Get FAQ and troubleshooting help online.

Currencies supported: Hold 50+ currencies, send payments in 80+ currencies, spend with your linked card in 200+ countries

Am I eligible? US citizens and residents can apply for a Wise account and card. Wise accounts are also available in a growing range of other countries - check availability where you are, on the Wise website

2. N26

Use your N26 account to earn cashback when you spend, grow your savings and even set up direct deposits to your account to get your paycheck early. At present there is a waitlist for new customers in the US to get an N26 card and account - sign up to be notified when accounts are available to new customers again.

Customer service support options: Choose your region when you create an N26 account, to get customer support in your preferred language

Currencies supported: Your N26 balance will be held in USD, but you can spend internationally with your linked card

Am I eligible? Accounts available in the US, Europe and Brazil

3. Revolut 

Revolut offers multi-currency accounts you can top up in dollars and use to hold 28 different currencies. Choose between different plan types to find the one which suits your needs - from a free standard plan which comes with lower free transaction limits, to paid plans which come with more perks.

Customer service support options: Online and phone support, FAQs and social media contact options in several languages

Currencies supported: Spend in 150 countries with your Revolut card, hold and exchange 28 currencies

Am I eligible? US citizens and residents are eligible to apply for a Revolut account and card. The account is also available in other regions of the world - check for your location online

Travel money cards fees

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Some traditional banks partner with other providers to offer prepaid travel cards - but the norm is for banks to expect you to use your regular card when you travel. This can mean you pay fees for international spending and withdrawals.

Using an international travel card can mean you cut the costs of spending when you travel or shop online with retailers based overseas. Depending on the card you pick you may access better exchange rates and cut out foreign transaction fees. You’ll also be able to see and lock in the exchange rate before you spend

Check what you need to do if your card is lost - before you travel. The process varies by provider, but it’s common to be able to lock your card using the provider app, to give you time to contact the issuer and cancel the card. You may need to file a police report to confirm the loss if you think your card has been compromised. 

You can send international payments from most foreign currency accounts. It’s worth checking the terms and conditions of your account to confirm, as some savings accounts may have limits on the withdrawals and transfers you can make from them. You’ll also want to check the costs and exchange rates applied when you make international transfers from your foreign currency account, as these may be higher than you expect.

Get the right multi-currency account and it can help you to grow your savings, cut the costs of international transactions, and send or receive foreign currency payments more conveniently. Check out the range of accounts highlighted above as a cross section of some of the best options in the US for 2021 - and do your research to find the perfect product for you.

 

By Ileana Ionescu Updated September 30th, 2021