What is the best card to use while travelling abroad?

Apr 22, 2020

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As well as earning great rewards to reach your next travel goal, it’s important to stay on top of both costs and rewards while actually travelling. There are so many different options for both paying for purchases and accessing cash while travelling, so what are the best options?

The best card to use for travelling in Europe: Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Credit Card UK

While most cards will charge you a foreign transaction fee for purchases in foreign currencies, there is a bright spot. Virgin Money no longer charges this fee for purchases in the European Economic Area, which covers 30 countries from Austria to Sweden.

This means you can use this card (and its no-annual-fee Virgin Atlantic Reward Credit Card version) when you’re in most of mainland Europe and earn points without incurring a fee. Best of all, you’ll earn a generous 1.5 Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles per £1 or foreign currency equivalent spent.

You’ll still be charged a fee for cash withdrawals using this card whether at home abroad so stick to purchases in the European Economic Area.

This card has a representative APR of 63.9% variable, and a purchase rate of 22.9% variable with an assumed credit limit of £1,200.

You can read a full review of this card here.

Related: Should you use a credit card to withdraw cash while travelling?

The best card to avoid fees elsewhere: Starling Bank Debit Card

The bad news about this card is that it doesn’t earn any rewards, as it’s a debit card — not a travel card. You’ll also have to load sufficient funds onto the card before you travel.

But the great news is that it has no fees — both for purchases at home and abroad. And, more importantly, for cash withdrawals at home and abroad.

Most travel card issuers either charge for ATM withdrawals in foreign currencies, or at least put a monthly cap on the amount you can withdraw. For some destinations like Berlin that are still largely cash societies, this is a hugely valuable benefit for regular travellers.

This feature costs Starling some serious money to offer the benefit for free, so this generous offer may change. But right now, it’s a fantastic option to avoid expensive foreign transaction fees.

You can read a review of the Starling Bank card, as well as some of the other innovative travel debit cards available right now here.

Related: What is dynamic currency conversion and why should you avoid it?

Paris in the snow Eiffel Tower
Paris in the snow. (Photo by Orbon Alija/Getty Images)

The best card to earn maximum rewards: HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard

This card has some tough eligibility criteria — namely the requirements to have an HSBC Premier current banking account, which by itself does not sound onerous, but the requirements for opening this bank account are:

  • A minimum of £50,000 held with HSBC, either in a savings account, or otherwise invested; or
  • A ‘mortgage, investment, life insurance or protection product’ with HSBC and a minimum annual income of £75,000, which is more than twice the UK median income.

And there is a 2.99% foreign transaction fee for all purchases made in currencies other than pound Sterling.

So why did this card make this list?

Because it offers a very generous 4 HSBC Reward Points per £1 spent in foreign currencies. These points can be converted to several points currencies at a rate of 2:1. For example, you could be earning 2 British Airways Avios per £1 spent. TPG U.K. values Avios at 1.2p each, so earning two Avios per £1 spent would be around 2.4p worth for your 2.99% foreign transaction fee (or 3p per £1 spent).

If you wanted to top up a certain point balance by effectively buying points for 1.5p each, this could be a smart way to do it.

Representative rate: 59.3% APR variable and a purchase rate of 18.9% per annum variable with an assumed credit limit of £1,200.

You can read more about this card here.

Sydney Australia opera house
Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Darren Murph/The Points Guy)

The best card to use an American Express without the fees: Watch This Space for Curve

The Curve card is a unique product. Rather than being a credit or debit card, it’s more like a payment method, which allows you to use a Curve Mastercard to charge your favourite credit or debit cards without fees in foreign currencies.

So why do this? Because, in theory, you would avoid the foreign transaction fee imposed by card issuers like American Express while still earning the points. Best of all, Curve even codes ATM withdrawals as purchases, which is a game-changing benefit — especially since it’s for withdrawals both at home and abroad.

However, the big issue with Curve right now is that you cannot use your Amex card with Curve. Curve is trying to resolve this issue with American Express. For now, there is no way to use an American Express card without fees in foreign currencies. However, should the Amex functionality return to Curve, you can rest assured we will be covering that here at I UK, as it would make Curve an incredible product.

You can read a full review of the different Curve offerings here.

Related: The 5 best UK credit card sign-up bonuses

Featured photo by Cris Tagupa on Unsplash.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.