One of the most important things to do before travelling abroad is to make sure you can comfortably use your debit card overseas. Unfortunately, many a traveller has returned home from their holiday to be faced with expensive currency conversion and foreign transaction fees on their card statement.
You can find out all about spending money overseas here with Savvy and learn about whether you can use your everyday debit card whilst on your travels without getting hit by high fees. Compare card providers with Savvy today to find one that’s a perfect match for your holiday spending needs.
Can I use my debit card overseas?
Yes – the great news is that debit cards are accepted almost everywhere in the world where you see the Visa or Mastercard payment symbols. They can be used internationally to pay for meals and drinks, make tap-and-go purchases while shopping and withdraw cash from ATMs worldwide. However, it’s important to understand the terms and conditions which come with your debit card so you can avoid being charged costly overseas transaction fees.
There are several different types of debit card, with some of these being more suited to use internationally than others. Some of the cards which you might consider before you go overseas include:
Standard debit cards
These cards are issued free of charge when you open a transaction bank account. They’re mainly designed for use in Australia and offer free ATM access at your bank’s Australian terminals, plus at any other ATMs which your bank or financial institution has an arrangement with.
However, if you use your standard debit card overseas, you may be charged a fee of between 0.5% and 2% for each overseas transaction, as well as a conversion fee for changing your money into a foreign currency (which may be up to 3%. This can make using a standard debit card overseas expensive and may not be the best debit card for you.
International debit cards
These are debit cards (either Visa or Mastercard) which are issued by banks and financial institutions specifically for the purpose of being used in Australia and abroad. They’re linked to a transaction account which can be used for all your day-to-day banking needs, such as paying bills, shopping online and making tap-and-go purchases.
International debit cards often come with no overseas ATM fees and no international transaction fees. However, you’ll likely still be charged a currency conversion fee to transfer your Australian dollars into another currency. They’re also known as global account debit cards.
Prepaid travel debit cards
These prepaid debit cards are also specifically designed for use overseas, but they aren’t linked to a bank account. They’re generally offered by non-bank institutions, as well as international money transfer companies and are typically loaded and topped up via a mobile money app. They often allow you to transfer money into another currency in advance and store it until it’s needed when you’re overseas.
In this way, you can exchange your Australian dollars when the exchange rate is preferable and store them for later use. These prepaid travel cards often come with free ATM use too, but they can also come with account fees, spending restrictions and daily limits, which can make using them whilst travelling overseas more expensive than a standard debit card.
What are the alternatives to using my debit card overseas?
If you don’t want to use your standard debit card overseas, some of your alternatives include:
- fund your holiday with your credit card – this can be a rather expensive option, as overseas transaction fees on credit cards tend to be even higher than those on debit cards (between 2% and 4%), in addition to being charged currency conversion fees. You may also be charged high interest payments if you’re not able to pay off your credit card at the end of the month, an issue which isn’t present with debit cards.
- buy a standard prepaid travel debit card – some prepaid debit cards let you store foreign currency on them in addition to Australian dollars, so it could be one effective way of keeping a cap on your holiday spending. However, overseas transaction and ATM fees may still apply in addition to recharge and account fees, likely making them more expensive to use.
- withdraw and convert to cash – converting your cash into a foreign currency at the airport or after you arrive overseas comes with the risk of getting a poor exchange rate for your money. It also exposes you to the risk of the theft of your cash, which you probably won’t be able to recover.
The pros and cons of using your debit card overseas
Payment is accepted almost everywhere
Debit cards are widely accepted all over the world, so it’s most likely your debit card payment will be accepted almost everywhere you go.
No foreign exchange queues
With a debit card on hand, you won’t have to stand in queues at an airport or foreign exchange booth to convert your dollars into another currency.
Only spend what you have
A debit card will only allow you to spend what’s in your linked bank account, so you won’t be able to overspend and rack up credit interest charges.
Added security in case of card theft
Unlike cash, if your debit card is stolen, you should be able to lock it immediately to prevent thieves from using it to steal your money.
Overseas transaction fees
Unless you get a travel debit card, you may be charged overseas transaction fees of around 0.5% to 2% of the transaction amount.
Depending on the institution which issues you with your debit card, you may not be able to withdraw cash from an ATM overseas without paying ATM fees.
Currency conversion fees
If you pay with your debit card overseas, you won’t have a choice about the exchange rate you get for your Australian dollars, and you'll have to pay a currency conversion fee.
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