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The best* debit card for traveling overseas
Save money on international transactions and 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 Network||Global 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):|
|ATM network||Plus 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):|
|ATM Network||Cirrus 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.
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?
- 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.
- 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.
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.
Alternative travel money options
Many travelers like to have more than one way to access their money while overseas. Other popular options include:
- Credit cards. Using a credit card overseas makes sense if you need access to credit, and in such a scenario you should look for a card that charges little to no foreign transaction fees. Plus, a credit card is handy if you need more funds than expected in the case of an emergency. However, avoid overspending and keep in mind that everything you buy will need to be paid back, usually with interest.
- Prepaid travel cards. A prepaid travel card can be a good way to load multiple currencies on one card. Plus, you can avoid the negative impact of fluctuating exchange rates by locking the rate in at the time of loading. Keep in mind though that loading and reloading your card can incur a fee and it can take up to a few days for the funds to appear on your card.
- 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.
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.
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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