Best cards for overseas spending

Sterling has drifted lower during the second half of 2016 which is bad news for travellers, as wherever you're heading, you’re likely to get less foreign currency for your pound. 

Although the pound has recovered some ground in the last few weeks, finding a cost efficient way to exchange your cash can be a good financial move if you’re looking to keep your travel costs down.

The cards you’ll find on this page will give you a better rate than you’ll get at the vast majority of bureaux de changes, not to mention the security benefits plastic has over cash.

Remember, it's often sensible to pay for purchases when you're abroad by credit card – if anything untoward does happen, you will usually be covered by your provider for purchases over £100. But many cards charge extortionate rates of interest or per-transaction charges on spending outside the UK, so finding the right card is key. 

If you're given the choice to spend in pounds or the local currency, always pick the local currency. If you don’t, you’ll pay the expensive local exchange rate set by the retailer, which is a sneaky way to hike the price you’ll pay.

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Best credit cards

MBNA has stopped offering its Everyday Plus Card to new customers, but if you have one it's worth holding on to it. The card has no fees for overseas transactions or cash withdrawals, but you'll start racking up interest at 7.4% APR representative. 

The Halifax Clarity Credit Card remains a firm favourite with travellers as there are no fees to use it for purchases or cash advances anywhere in the world. Be aware that you  will pay interest on any cash withdrawn from the date of transaction (at a rate of between 18.9% APR and 25.9% APR depending on your credit rating). There are no promotional 0% balance transfers or 0% purchase deals with this card.

The Platinum Travel card, from Barclaycard, charges no fees on foreign purchases or ATM cash withdrawals until 31 August 2018. However be aware that for cash transactions you’ll start paying interest immediately, at 27.9% APR. For normal purchases the interest rate is 11.9% APR.

The Saga Platinum Credit Card is also very attractive, though its only available to people aged 50 or above. The card charges no fees to spend abroad, though you'll be charged interest on cash withdrawals, plus a 2% fee. The APR is 11.9% representative. There's also 0% interest to pay on purchases and balance transfers for the first nine months. The balance transfer fee is 3%, or £90 for a £3,000 balance. 

Best debit cards

Metro Bank's current account is free to use in mainland Europe. If you go any further afield you'll pay transaction fees of 1.9% on any debit card purchases, and a £1 fee for any cash withdrawals. You'll have to sign up for an account in branch, which are mainly in London and the South East. 

Finally, the Nationwide Building Society Flex Plus Account charges no fees to use cash machines in other countries, though there’s a 2% fee for any transactions in a foreign currency. This is a packaged bank account, which includes annual family worldwide travel insurance amongst its range of benefits, although the account does come with a £10 monthly fee.

Your Comments

With interest rates so low the best value is surely to be obtained by one of the prepaid conversion cards.  If you are happy basing things on your smart phone - though you still can have a card for use at retailers and ATMS you could try Revolut.  I have one and find it very efficient.

Thanks Pragmatical. 

This article looks at the best debit and credit cards, but prepaid conversion cards can be good value too.

Revolut is one of the better prepaid cards out there, but I do think it could be a little more upfront about its charges, particularly as it boasts 'zero hidden fees'. 

To be fair, the fees are low - nothing on debit card transactions, and 2% on any cash withdrawals over £500 each month. Replacement cards cost a fiver. 

But you need to dig into the small print to find the pricing structure, and these charges aren't included in the tools on Revolut's site that claim to show how much you'll save. 

We asked Revolut about this. A spokesperson said it is a fair point and they'll look into it.

 

I have post office credit card does that now charge you when you pay with it when abroad

Thanks Gene.

The Post Office Platinum card is good for spending overseas, with no fees like you say. It's more expensive for cash withdrawals though. You'll be charged a 2.5% fee if you withdraw cash (minimum £3), and the Post Office will start charging interest immediately. 

Outside of northern Europe & North America, American Express acceptance is thin to say the least. 

 

I appreciate that the article does make a reference to the acceptability issues with American Express; but with Visa or MasterCard credit card options around with zero non-Sterling transaction fees, surely the impracticability of using American Express cards must exclude any such card from top spot in a list of 'best travel cards'?

I am a bit puzzled that you haven't mentioned the Halifax Clarity card.  This is a very good overseas fee free card and you also pay a low interest rate if you need to use it to withdraw at an ATM

Hi Liz, 

Competely agree the Halifax Clarity Card is a good option for holiday spending. You're right it's fee free, but the interest rates are a little higher than the credit cards we've selected here.