Using debit cards for international trips can save you 10% on better exchange rates and minimize the risk of cash getting lost or stolen.
Advantages of using debit cards on international trips
1.Best exchange rate. The spread (difference between the buying and selling rate) charged by Visa and Master Card is 0.4% for the Euro. Exchange rate kiosks located at airports charge close to 10%. While the spread varies by currency, the rates charged by Visa/Master Card are consistently the best.
2. Debit cards minimize the amount of cash that can get lost or stolen.
The right debit card
No foreign transaction fees
No ATM fees for using the card at other banks
Nice to have
Full reimbursement of fees charged by the bank operating the ATM
Some ATMs will limit the amount per transaction forcing you to make several transactions. At $5 each, 20 transactions will cost $100 on fees.
Here is a summary of typical ATM fees by country:
Europe: low (free in Switzerland)
Middle East: $5
Fiji, Pacific Islands $5
In the US, the best debit cards are issued by brokers (TD Ameritrade, Fidelity, Schawb) and provide full reimbursement of ATM fees in the US, but not overseas.
Charles Schwab offers the best debit card for overseas transactions, providing full reimbursement of ATM fees anywhere in the world, and no maintenance or minimum fees of any kind.
Fidelity Investments, HSBC and Citi offer similar products for their Private Group, Premier and Gold customers, but their offer is not as good as Schwab's offer. Fidelity charges a 1% foreign transaction fee, HSBC's reimbursement is valid only at some ATMs.
The wrong debit card
Using the wrong debit card overseas can become very expensive. Things to watch out for:
Foreign transaction fees. Some banks charge 3%. Shinsei Bank, in Japan, charges 4%.
ATM fees for using the card at other banks. Some banks charge $2.50 to $5.
No reimbursement of fees charged by the bank operating the ATM.
Note: I don’t accept any compensation of any kind from anyone. The cards I recommend are the ones I use myself.