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How foreign transaction fees work

Learn what it is and how to avoid it when you travel abroad or shop at a foreign store online.

Updated

Accessing your money overseas — whether it’s online shopping at a foreign store from home or withdrawing cash at an overseas ATM — can get pricey. Familiarize yourself with the fees you could be facing, and consider switching to a more competitive checking account with no foreign transaction fee if the costs are starting to add up.

What is a foreign transaction fee?

A foreign transaction fee, also called an FX fee, is charged to your account when a currency conversion takes place. For example, if you buy something online from Canada and your bank needs to process the payment in CAD instead of USD, it’ll charge you a fee for making this exchange. Although foreign transaction fees vary by institution, they’re usually around 3%.

How to avoid foreign transaction fees

If you’re stuck paying a foreign transaction fee when you swipe your card, here are a few ways to avoid them:

  • Exchange currency before you leave the US. Converting money at your home bank before you head off overseas could save you the conversion fee.
  • See if your bank has any foreign partnerships. Some banks partner with other institutions to bring their customers fee-free access overseas. For example, Bank of America customers can withdraw money for free at any Scotiabank ATM in Canada, Chile, Mexico and Peru.
  • Get a new checking account. If foreign transaction fees are eating into your bank account, you may want to consider getting a debit card with no foreign transaction fee. That way you can avoid the fee and keep more money in your pocket.

What are the features of debit cards with no foreign transaction fee?

Checking accounts with debit cards geared toward users who make foreign transactions generally include features such as:

  • Low currency conversion fees. Some debit cards have low fees or waive these fees altogether.
  • Low ATM fees. Some cards don’t charge you to use foreign ATMs at all, while other have low fees or international ATM networks.
  • Competitive exchange rates. Using a debit card from a bank that charges exchange rates as close as possible to the mid-market rate can save you a considerable amount of money on foreign transactions.
  • Global money transfers. If you regularly make foreign purchases or payments then you may want to look for a bank that offers low-cost or free international transfers.
  • Rewards programs. Some debit cards let you earn rewards points for eligible purchases which you can use to claim travel benefits. Take a look at whether your card is linked to a frequent flyer program or a dedicated provider rewards program.

Compare checking accounts with no foreign transaction fee

Name Product Monthly fee ATMs ATM transaction fee Out-of-network ATM fee ATM fee rebates Foreign transaction fee
TransferWise Borderless
$0
Free at any ATM in the world
$0
$0
You can withdraw $250 every 30 days with no fees
0%
Send and receive 40+ currencies right from your phone, but with a better exchange rate and low fees.
Aspiration Spend & Save Account
$0
Fee-free ATM withdrawals at Allpoint ATMs
$0
$0
1%
A spend and save combo account with no monthly service fees, free access to every ATM in the world, unlimited cash back rewards and deposits insured by the FDIC. The Aspiration Spend & Save Account is a cash management account offering of Aspiration Financial, LLC, an SEC-registered broker-dealer. Aspiration is not a chartered bank.
Chime Spending account
$0
38,000 fee-free ATMs nationwide
$0
$2.50
0%
Linked checking and savings accounts from a mobile-first bank that’s light on fees.
TD Beyond Checking
$25 per month
1,900 ATMs across the country and Canada
$0
$0
Unlimited fee rebates when you maintain a daily balance of at least $2,500
0%
A checking account that offers interest plus three ways to waive the monthly fee, two overdraft paybacks a year and no ATM fees with a $2,500 balance.
Zero Checking
$0
No access to ATMs
$0
$0
At the Carbon level, all ATM fees, including what the ATM owner may charge, are refunded.
0%
A mobile banking experience consisting of an app, a credit card called Zerocard, and a checking account called Zero Checking.
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Compare up to 4 providers

Other fees to watch out for

In addition to foreign transaction fees, look out for the following when traveling abroad:

Other considerations

A foreign transaction fee isn’t the only debit card issue to be concerned about. If you’re a frequent traveler or you regularly use foreign currencies, you may want to consider:

  • Access. Check how easy it is to access your money while overseas. For example, does your bank have partner ATMs overseas? Do you have a debit card that’s widely accepted internationally, like a Visa or Mastercard?
  • Online banking. If you travel often, you’ll likely want access to online banking when you can’t get to a branch. Some banks will even let you add travel notices to your card online so your account doesn’t end up getting frozen while overseas.
  • Prepaid options. Card providers have come out with various prepaid debit card options for travelers that allow you to load your card with the money you want to spend. These cards let you save on currency conversions and also some foreign transaction fees. If you like your current debit card for everything other than foreign transactions, you can get a prepaid card to use when traveling.

Bottom line

Foreign transactions fees can get pricey, especially when they’re being charged on top of each other. For example, if you withdraw money at a foreign ATM, you can be charged an ATM fee, currency conversion fee and exchange rate markup. To make sure you’re getting the best deal, compare checking accounts to find one with a debit card that works for both your domestic and international purchases.

Frequently asked questions

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