Three debit card options for international travelers


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ATM and foreign transaction fees are the worst. These fees are especially prevalent and can be very high when traveling abroad.  Even with a no international transaction fee credit card, I find inherit risk in using my credit card abroad in certain situations.  As a result, I will often forgo the points and use cash abroad where it makes sense.

While many exist, I want to highlight three strong debit card options which can be useful for those who travel abroad frequently.

Bank of America Checking (member of the Global ATM Alliance)

The Global ATM Alliance is a great friend for obtaining cash abroad and avoiding those nasty ATM fees.  As a Bank of America debit card holder, I have access to each of the Alliance member bank’s ATM network in the country listed below with absolutely no fees.

The following banks are members of the Global ATM Alliance.

  • Bank of America (United States)
  • Barclays (United Kingdom, France, Spain, Portugal, Pakistan, Gibraltar, Ghana, Kenya, and other countries in Africa)
  • BNP Paribas (France)
  • BNP Paribas Fortis (Belgium)
  • BNL d’Italia (Italy)
  • Deutsche Bank (Germany, Poland, Belgium, India, Spain and Portugal)
  • China Construction Bank (China – Mainland Only)
  • Scotiabank (Canada, Caribbean, Peru, Chile and Mexico)
  • Westpac (Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Vanuatu, Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands)
    • Westpac Banking Corporation (Australia, Fiji, Cook Islands, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu)
    • Westpac New Zealand Limited (New Zealand)
    • Westpac Bank – PNG – Limited (Papua New Guinea)
    • Westpac Bank Samoa Limited (Samoa)
    • Westpac Bank of Tonga (Tonga)
  • ABSA (South Africa)
  • UkrSibbank (Ukraine)

I don’t see a formal Global ATM Alliance website but wikipedia does a good a job here explaining all the terms and conditions.  This is valid only for the country listed, so for instance, you would be charged no fee for using a BNP Paribas ATM in France but you would be charged for using one of their ATM’s in Denmark.

In the last few years, I can confirm using my Bank of America debit card at alliance banks in Australia (Westpac), Canada (ScotiaBank), South Africa (ABSA), Germany (Deutsche Bank), Peru (Scotiabank), and Chile (Scotiabank).  When traveling with friends or family, I always offer to take out all the cash for the group so I can spare them those extra fees.  Being an over-analyst, I calculated all transactions and found I was always charged the daily exchange rate and no additional fees.

There are various types of eligible Checking accounts from BOA.

Capital One 360 Checking (Formerly ING Direct Electric Orange)

  1. Capital One 360 Checking / Savings Account (Earn $50 through my referral link)

We have seen a positive trend lately from newly launched credit card products choosing to eliminate pesky foreign transaction fees which are generally a small percentage for using a card outside the US. The same can’t be said for debit card products.

For years I have been using a no-fee ING Direct Electric Orange checking account as my primary checking account which includes the ability to mail checks electronically and an ING Direct debit MasterCard. I don’t have the same motivation to jump around checking accounts for promotions and signup bonuses as I do with credit cards because of the higher switching costs (time!) involved. ING Direct (and now Capital One) has been good to me so I stick with them.

As part of a restructuring agreement of the Dutch financial behemoth ING Group, the company was forced to sell off ING Direct which was picked up by Capital One. One of the very first changes Capital One announced to its customers was that as of November 1st, 2012, the Capital One 360 debit card no longer charges any Foreign Transaction Fees. This used to be around 3% charge so for me this is a nice savings. The elimination of foreign transaction fees on the debit card means Capital One won’t charge a percentage of the total a customer takes out of the ATM abroad though the ATM itself may issue a surcharge which is generally a flat fee.

If you are in the market for a No Foreign Transaction Fee debit card, the 360 Checking account is currently offering a 50 USD signup bonus and my 20 USD referral link is here.

Schwab Checking

The Schwab checking account advertises unlimited fee rebates from any ATM worldwide and no foreign transaction fees. There are no minimums on the account but does require a link to a Schwab investment account which also does not currently have minimums. I am not a consumer of this product as I am the other two above so I can’t vouch for the product itself but it sounds like a great option for international travelers.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or suggestions expressed on this site are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.

About alex

Alex loves to travel and does so a lot. Logging 100,000 flight miles each year over the past 4 years, Alex uses points and miles to power his passion. Alex is continuously striving to experience the far reaches of the globe. In his day job, Alex is a Management Consultant frequently on the road advising Technology organizations. I love thinking about, reading about, and talking about all things travel. Feel free to reach me at pmmalex@gmail.com

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Comments

  1. Used the Schwab card in Germany and Belgium last summer- worked great as advertised, all atm fees were refunded for me and no forex fees. Very happy with product. I do have a few token dollars in their brokerage and keep a couple dollars in the checking acct when not traveling, since I dont use ot as a primary checking account.

  2. I can also vouch for Schwab. I’ve been using it since 2007 and have been very happy. Rebates post without having to follow up on anything and I’ve never been charged an fx fee. I currently have about $20 in my checking account (simply transfer in from my primary bank when traveling) and $0 in the required brokerage account.

  3. Can anyone please confirm if the Schwab required a credit pull or not?
    The website says so and their CSR says so but I’ve heard conflicting reviews online.
    Thanks!

  4. FYI: China Construction Bank says “Mainland Only”, but it works in Hong Kong and Macau just as well.

  5. @LeeinDC

    Thank you! That’s what I wanted to find out.
    Can’t justify a hard pull for a checking account.
    I’ll have to look into another bank…

  6. For Schwab, is it only up to $9 per statement? I thought I have heard it being unlimited. Doesn’t sound like $9 would go very far, that would covers only 2-3 ATM withdrawals a month? I will visit 4 countries in my next Asia trip (France, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand) in August, looks like Schwab won’t cover all the fee, assuminly only 1 ATM withdrawal per country.

  7. E-Trade Bank also refunds an unlimited amount of ATM fees (domestic and foreign) for their Max-Rate Checking account, immediately after the transaction. And they charge a 1% fee over market exchange rate for foreign ATM withdrawals.

  8. Thanks for reminding me about BofA and its corresponding international banking network. I will certainlyl be taking my BofA card with me this weekend when I head to Europe. Great write up!

  9. Happy Schwab and Cap1 customer. Recently had $10.25 refunded in atm fees (all domestic). Not sure what light that shines on the $9 comment above.

    Also, Cap1 offers check deposit via smartphone or web interface, which when it works (most of the time) is a great way to get pesky paper into an account. Schwab sends free envelopes, but who doesn’t love fairly instant gratification?

    Both include overdraft lines of credit, not overdraft fees, so if you miss a step and overdraw, you’re paying a reasonable rate, not $30 a hit.

    Recommend both.

  10. I was told by ING Capital One(for 360 checking ATM card) that though they don’t have any foreign transaction fees, Mastercard may charge up to 0.2%. Can anyone confirm who is using this card? Thanks!

  11. I called Capital One 360, and the “no fee” rule is for debits only, NOT CASH WITHDRAWALS (just a few countries qualify, such as Canada and Mexico). There are no ATMs, for instance, in continental Europe that fall within the 360 network.

  12. @Miriam, yes they don’t have allpoint network ATM’s outside of few countries. But in many asian countries(not sure about Europe), typically ATM owners don’t have any usage fee like in the US.

  13. In response to Pam’s question about Schwab’s $9 reimbursement limit per month, that is only true if you sign up for a checking account only at schwabbank.com. However if you sign up for Schwab’s High Yield Investor Checking at schwab.com, you are also required to open up a brokerage account at the same time. That has unlimited ATM reimbursements.

  14. Well, after reading all the comments, I am now more uncertain of which card to get. I am Canadian, planning of spending a year (or so) in Costa Rica. I am reading this because I was hit with a lot of fees last time I went there. I know there are Scotia and HSBC in both countries.
    My Scotia debit card from Canada did not even work on Scotia ATM in Costa Rica, it worked everywhere else.
    So Scotia is out of the question.

  15. Bank of America just started charging fees on China Construction Bank ATM’s last week. Now I need to change to another bank.

  16. Bank of America now charges 3% for funds withdrawn on foreign ATMs, and that includes ATM Alliance machines.

  17. Of course CapitalOne360 doesn’t charge fees on international transactions. That’s because their debit card DOESN’T WORK IN FOREIGN COUNTRIES!!!!! After being declined 5 times at separate ATMs in Mexico they locked me out of my account, even though I never entered the wrong PIN.

  18. Update for angry comment posted from Mexico above: Turns out it works great in Mexico, no fees like they promised. I was having difficulty because they locked my account (entered wrong PIN). A short call to customer service got it going, and I never had any trouble after that. Sorry for doubting you CapitalOne360.

  19. I have had all three, and currently still use two. You should re-order your list.

    Bank of American should not even be on this list (side question, was this article sponsored?). You may be able to avoid ATM fees while using particular banks, but they’ll stick you on foreign transaction fees, currently at 3%. Say you want to withdraw $300… not an absurd amount of money, but that will cost you $9 with Bank of America, even with an “in-network” ATM.

    With Capital One 360, you would just be charged what the ATM you are using charges (i.e. Capital One doesn’t charge you anything). This used to be my go-to until I heard about:

    Schwab is by far, hands-down the best. They’ve repaid every single ATM fee I’ve ever used abroad, and don’t charge a foreign transaction fee. BofA is a joke by comparison. It’s actually an injustice that you write so much about BofA, put it first, and then write a paragraph about Schwab halfway down the page.

  20. I live in Costa Rica, & now am charged 3%/day (1095% APR) to spend my own money. So I talked to a Schwab bróker, filled out the forms, sent in a check to open my account, got hundreds of pages of jargón to read-&-sign, & now my check is over 90 days old & stale-dated. Schwab wasted a great deal of their time-&-money, & mine for NOTHING!

  21. Charles Schwabb free ATM is also good with their savings account. No minimums, no fees. I’ve had it a year and love it! Used it at 6 ATMs in a week this Summer and all the ATM fees were deducted. There is a hard pull when opening though.

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