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The best* debit card for traveling overseas

Save money on international transactions and foreign ATM fees.

When comparing the best debit cards, you’ll also want to look at the chequing account attached to the card. Look for an account that offers a Mastercard or Visa debit card, which are accepted worldwide. Choose a bank that belongs to a strong ATM partner network and has reasonable foreign ATM fees.

The best checking accounts for international travel offer fee-free foreign transactions, so look for an account that offers low foreign transaction fees.

How did we choose the best cards?

In determining our picks for the best debit cards to use while traveling outside Canada, a number of debit cards were primarily evaluated based on foreign transaction fees and branch or ATM access.

Best debit cards for overseas travel

Best for getting cash at foreign ATMs

When you’re hoping to withdraw cash abroad without paying your bank every time you use an ATM, an account with Scotiabank may be the solution. Scotiabank offers free ATM access worldwide due to their membership in the Global ATM Alliance. Note that the network and the bank the ATM belongs to can still charge a fee.

Foreign transaction (admin) fee:2.5%
Out-of-network ATM fee (with the Ultimate Package):$0
ATM NetworkGlobal ATM Alliance / Plus or Visa Network

Best for making foreign purchases

For making purchases abroad, you may want to look into an Visa debit card from CIBC. CIBC is part of the Plus Network around the world and using your Visa debit card gives you access to anywhere Visa is accepted. CIBC charges fees on par with the major banks. If you prefer to spend your money directly from your chequing account rather than your credit card, this option may be for you.

Foreign transaction (admin) fee:2.5%
Out-of-network ATM fee (with the Everyday Chequing Account):
  • Outside of Canada and the US: $5
  • Within the US: $3
ATM networkPlus or Visa Network

Best for using Mastercard debit worldwide

Use your BMO Debit Mastercard to make purchases abroad. Enjoy withdrawals from overseas ATMs in the Cirrus Network without worrying about foreign transaction fees. BMO charges fees on par with the major banks.

Foreign transaction (admin) fee:2.5%
Out-of-network ATM fee (with the Performance Plan):
  • Outside of Canada and the US: $5
  • Within the US: $5
ATM NetworkCirrus Network

What happens when you use your debit card overseas

When you use your debit card overseas, or while shopping at an overseas store, you’ll generally pay for extra fees.

  • For purchases

    Your chequing account will usually charge a foreign transaction fee when you purchase something in a foreign currency. You may also have to pay a margin on the exchange rate, which means that your bank sells you foreign currency at a higher price than you’d pay elsewhere.

    Debit card readers in stores and hotels can often detect that you’re using a card from another country, and they may ask to debit the purchase in CAD dollars rather than the local currency. While this can help you save on foreign transactions fees, it often means you’ll pay a significantly worse exchange rate, and it’s generally the more expensive option.

  • For ATM withdrawals

    Avoid making frequent ATM withdrawals while traveling. Even if you have an account that does not charge for you for international ATM withdrawals — local operator fees still apply.

    Your normal bank account will usually charge the following fees: foreign ATM fee, foreign transaction fee, exchange rate markup and, in most cases, the ATM itself will charge a third-party fee. These fees can make withdrawing money at a foreign ATM very expensive.

    • Tip. If your card doesn’t waive ATM fees, save by taking out the maximum amount each time you withdraw.

What are the benefits and drawbacks of using a debit card while traveling?

The benefits

  • Access your funds anytime, anywhere. A debit card with the Visa or Mastercard logo gives you instant access to money in your bank account, no matter where you are.
  • Avoid fees if you use the right ATM. If you use a partner ATM, you don’t have to pay any additional fees.
  • Avoid international transaction fees. Just about every Canadian debit card will require that you pay currency conversion fees every time you use your card overseas. Though, some cards will waive the international fee.
  • Safe way to spend your money with fraud protection. Debit cards give you a safe and secure way to access money when traveling overseas, given the multiple security layers that keep your information secure.

The drawbacks

  • No backup. Replacing a lost or stolen debit card while traveling overseas can take up to 10 business days, and can be costly.
  • No emergency cash. There’s no access to cash through a cash advance facility if you find yourself in trouble and in need of funds. We recommend having a credit card on hand for emergencies.
  • Fees and charges. Unless you have an account that waives the foreign transaction and international ATM fees, using an debit card overseas costs a fortune, especially for frequent ATM withdrawals.

Alternatives to using a debit card overseas

If you want to avoid relying on a debit card while travelling abroad, there are a few other options to consider:

  • Send a money transfer to loved ones in your destination country. There are many online money transfer services that support sending money internationally in a wide range of currencies. If you’re visiting friends or family, consider sending them funds in the currency you intend to spend. When you arrive, they can withdraw the money from their accounts or arrange for a cash pickup.
  • Use a credit card. Charge expenses to a travel credit card with no foreign conversion fee. You can avoid putting yourself at risk by carrying cash on your person, plus you can earn travel rewards that can be applied to your credit card bill or your next trip. By charging travel costs to your card, you may also be able to take advantage of complimentary travel insurance for lost baggage, flight delays, medical emergencies and other contingencies. Note that credit cards come with different terms and rewards, so compare your options carefully before applying for your next card.
  • Load funds onto a prepaid travel card. Prepaid travel cards are much like debit cards in that you only spend the money you have. There is no credit involved. However, unlike debit cards prepaid cards don’t draw funds directly from your bank account. Instead, you withdraw or transfer funds from your bank account and load up your prepaid card. See what types of prepaid travel cards your bank offers, or check out the Visa Travel Card, which can be used anywhere Visa is accepted worldwide.
  • Traveler’s cheques. These used to be one of the most popular options, but they’re quickly fading from favor. While each cheque comes with a unique number and it’s not difficult to replace if lost, the bulkiness of carrying around multiple cheque does not work in their favor. In addition, you have to cash these cheque before you get access to funds.

Travel money options

What should I consider?

Before you open a new travel-friendly chequing account with a debit card, consider the following:

  • International ATMs. Check if the bank is part of the Global ATM Alliance, a group that allows account holders to use international ATMs with no added fees.
  • Travel insurance. Some debit cards come with complimentary travel insurance that comes in handy if you lose or misplace luggage or are confronted by a medical emergency or flight cancellation.
  • Travel rewards. Visa and Mastercard debit cards give cardholders access to a range of special global offers and promotions.
  • International money transfers. Check what options the account has for transferring money overseas — and how high the fees are.
  • Zero liability. Some cards — like Visa and Mastercard — have zero liability policies in place, so that you’re not held liable in the case of fraudulent or suspicious transactions. You should always notify your bank when you plan to leave the country. This way they can expect purchases from abroad.

What happens if I think my account has been scammed overseas?

If you think you’ve been a victim of fraud, contact your bank or card issuer immediately to cancel the card and begin the process of recouping any lost funds.

How do I send funds to someone overseas?

Check what options the account has for transferring money overseas — and how high the fees are.

How do I link a debit card to a PayPal account?

Should I use a debit card or a travel card?

Which option is best for you depends on whether you favor affordability or convenience — and whether your chequing account and linked debit card are travel-friendly.

You can continue to access your regular account with a debit card without having to pre-plan or convert any cash beforehand. The drawback depends on the account you have, withdrawals, transactions and currency conversion fees which can all add up. If your account has low or no foreign transactions fees, this tends to be the best option.

A travel card is a prepaid card you can load with multiple currencies. This is useful if you’re traveling to multiple places in one trip. You can reload the card, but it can incur a fee. These cards are useful for people who have chequing accounts with unreasonably high foreign transaction fees.

Are you searching for travel cards instead?

Bottom line

Use a globally accepted debit card to gain access to your money without the temptation of overspending. The fees and rates that come with using your card will vary, so compare your options to ensure the cost doesn’t outweigh the benefits.

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