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Travel credit cards

Compare the best credit cards to use overseas

  • Compare deals from popular providers
  • See the cards you’re mostly likely to get
  • A small step towards Money Calm

What are travel credit cards?

Travel credit cards are designed specifically to use abroad. Most ordinary credit cards come with hefty fees when you use them overseas, as well as below-par exchange rates – which is why many people prefer to take other forms of payment when they go on holiday, such as cash or travellers’ cheques. 

That’s where travel credit cards come in – because you can use them while you’re away without costing you an arm and a leg. Where other credit cards end up being very expensive in other countries, travel cards save you from the usual pitfalls of spending abroad. In fact, they’re one of the cheapest methods of holiday spending – provided you can pay it all off afterwards.   

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What are the features of travel credit cards?

Travel credit cards are designed with one thing in mind: spending money while you’re abroad. Here are the features should expect from one:

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No spending fees

Most cards apply a flat fee every time you use them abroad, usually called a foreign purchase fee, a conversion fee or a loading fee. It’s often around 3% on every purchase, so it can really mount up if you use your credit card frequently. Travel cards do away with this fee, instantly saving you a hefty sum

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Better exchange rates

Exchange rates are one of the hidden dangers of spending on plastic when you’re away. Most card suppliers do not offer advantageous exchange rates – at least, not advantageous to you – so for every pound you spend, you’ll be stung on top of the transaction fee. Travel cards usually have better rates

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Cheap cash withdrawal

You’ll usually be charged to use an ATM when you’re abroad if you use your regular credit, while you’ll also be charged interest on the money you take out as it counts as borrowing. Many travel cards waive this fee or charge a nominal amount, though chances are you’ll still accrue interest for your trouble

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Travel rewards

Some travel credit cards also offer benefits for people who travel frequently. These include better rates on cash you buy beforehand, discount deals on travel insurance, or even reward points for flights in some cases. If you’re often overseas, these extra savings can mount up even if you use the card at home 

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Other things you need to think about

You can save a lot of money

The lack of fees and beneficial exchange rates on travel cards make them one of the cheapest spending options – sometimes cheaper even than cash

Pay them off in full

The flip side of this cheap overseas borrowing is that they inevitably charge high interest on your outstanding balance, so make sure you pay the card off in full

Never pay in pounds

Many shops, hotels and ATMs will ask if you want to pay in sterling or the local currency. Always pick the local currency, because it uses the lender’s rate

Try not to withdraw

Withdrawals from foreign ATMs might be cheaper on travel credit cards, but they’re never cheap. If you want currency, buy it before you get to the airport

Spending rewards

Certain card issuers can bundle rewards like cashback or vouchers in their travel card offers. These won’t make you a fortune, but they’re a nice bonus

Acceptance not guaranteed

Not everyone will be accepted for a travel credit card – providers might need you to have a certain credit score or even salary to qualify

Don’t use them at home

Travel credit cards won’t penalise you for making purchases in the UK, but their terms will be worse than practically any card designed to be used in the UK

Alternatives to credit cards for overseas spending

Travel credit cards can be very useful, but with relatively high APRs they’re not for everyone. Luckily, there are several useful alternatives for spending while you’re abroad 

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    Prepaid currency cards

    You top these cards up with your chosen currency and spend on them when you’re away. A particularly good option if you’re on a strict budget, but watch out for top-up fees

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    Challenger banks

    Some of the so-called challenger banks – new banks which tend to be based on apps and don’t have branches – offer good terms on their debit cards if you use them overseas

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    Good old cash

    A trip to your local bureau de change is often as good an option as any. That way you can control the exchange rate you pick, and you can limit  your spend – plus cash is accepted everywhere

Don’t forget to sort out travel insurance before you go away

With your travel spending sorted, you’ve taken a big step towards Money Calm on your upcoming holiday, but there are a few other things you need to prepare before you set off. Possibly the most important – aside from making sure you’ve got your passport before you’ve left the house – is travel insurance.

Travel insurance is an absolute must when you’re on holiday. Medical bills are no joke in a foreign
country, while you’ll need protection in case your baggage is lost or stolen, your tour operator goes bust, or you need emergency repatriation.

The best way to get a good deal on travel insurance is to compare offers with MoneySuperMarket. All you need to do is supply us with a few details about you, your family and your holiday destination, and we’ll do the rest.

 

You can, both when you’re at home and abroad. You can buy foreign currency from a bureau de change before you leave with a regular credit card at no charge.

You can do the same overseas, but you’ll be charged transaction fees on a non-travel card. And even if you use a travel card to avoid the fees, the chances are that the local exchange rates will be a little less favourable.

Many credit cards come with perks, and travel insurance is one of the more popular offers. Check the small print from your card issuer to see if you have a travel insurance package with your current card.

Travel cards work in the same way as all other credit cards: when you spend money on it, you are in effect borrowing it from the card issuer. You have to pay off at least the minimum listed repayment the month after or your credit rating will take a hit, making future borrowing harder. You’ll be charged interest on any balance you don’t pay off that month.

Travel credit cards are among the cheapest ways to spend money abroad, but it’s not obligatory to bring one. Travel money is another fine option, as are prepaid cards and even travellers’ cheques, though these are declining in use.

You don’t need to let your card supplier know when you’re travelling, but it’s not a bad idea if you’re planning to bring it. A sudden spike in spending in another country may set off automatic alarm bells on your account – and it’ll be helpful should the worst happen and your card is stolen.

Some travel credit cards offer rewards like cashback or vouchers worth a percentage of what you spend.

There are also airline credit cards available. These are designed for domestic spending, but they offer a specific reward: frequent flier miles that can specifically be redeemed on air travel. If you travel often, this type of card can be useful as your main credit card when you’re at home.

If you’re applying for a credit card, you might be able to find a better deal if you look through offers from different providers before taking one out. With MoneySuperMarket you’ll be able to search through multiple credit cards and compare them by a range of factors, including their interest rates and any benefits and rewards they come with.

All you need to do is answer a few questions about yourself and your financial situation, and our Eligibility Checker will show your chances of being accepted for different credit cards. This won’t affect your credit score, so you can run a check without any worries.

Once you know which card you want, you can normally apply by phone, online, or in person if the provider has a high street branch. However, when you do apply, the provider will usually run a hard credit check – which will show up on your credit report – to confirm whether they’ll give you the card. If you’re accepted they’ll tell you your credit limit and interest rate, and soon you’ll be ready to start using your credit card.

MoneySuperMarket gives you lots of clever ways to save a lot, by doing very little.

  • Take control of your credit score by checking and improving it for free with Credit Monitor
  • Never overpay again with Energy Monitor, our energy monitoring service
  • Over 50 ways to Get Money Calm

So how do we make our money? In a nutshell, when you use us to buy a product, we get a reward from the company you’re buying from.

But you might have other questions. Do we provide access to all the companies operating in a given market? Do we have commercial relationships or ownership ties that might make us feature one company above another?

We commit to providing you with clear and informative answers on all points such as this, so we have gathered the relevant information on this page.