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Fee-Free ATM Cards: The Best Way to Get Cash When Traveling Abroad

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Look, we love earning points and miles through credit card spending as much as the next person – but even in 2023, there are just some things that you can't buy with plastic. This is especially true when you're traveling abroad and credit cards aren't as widely accepted.

Thankfully there's an easy solution for this dilemma, as several banks and fintech companies now offer debit cards that reimburse both ATM and foreign conversion fees for making cash withdrawals at ATM machines anywhere in the world. What's more, this will also ensure that you're getting a fair exchange rate when converting from U.S. dollars to whatever local currency you're withdrawing.

If you've seen the currency exchange kiosks that are common in most international airports, you might be tempted by the convenience of exchanging cash right when you land at your destination, but these kiosks should really be viewed as a last resort. What they offer in convenience is completely nullified by their lack of value. With exchange rates far worse than the true market conversion and additional service fees on top of that, you'll end up getting much less of your desired currency than you would by withdrawing it from an ATM instead.

Picking the right debit card for your travel needs might be easier said than done, so we've rounded up the three best options to help you decide which is the right choice for you. We don't make any money promoting these checking products below. We simply think they are all great options for getting fee-free access to your cash while traveling abroad.


What is a Debit Card?

This might seem kind of elementary, but I think it's important to clarify just what a debit card is. Considering most people probably have one of these in their wallet already, it's probably not a brand-new concept, but it may not be something you think about very often.

We spend a lot of time talking about cards on this site, and how they can help you travel more for less- but most of the time the cards we're referring to are credit cards, whereby you're making a purchase on credit, or borrowing money from the issuing bank, with the promise to pay it back. In return, you're oftentimes rewarded with points, miles, or cash back as a way to incentivize your use of the card.

With a debit card, you're using your own money for purchases. Debit cards are linked to a checking account, but instead of writing a paper check for your purchase, you use your debit card as a form of payment. When doing so, you're electronically transferring funds from your bank account to the account of whichever merchant you made your purchase from.

Critically, you can also use debit cards to withdraw cash from your attached checking account. This feature is what makes them such a necessary travel tool for anyone heading abroad. But outside of that, you really shouldn't be swiping your debit card to make purchases abroad. If your card is compromised, you'll assume the liability of any lost cash in your checking account until the bank can investigate the situation and reimburse you, which could take weeks.

With credit cards, you won't assume any liability in the event your card is compromised. Just make sure you have a card that waives foreign transaction fees.


Charles Schwab Investor Checking

For years, we have declared the Charles Schwab debit card as the best for international travel and that's still true to this day. There are other contenders out there that might be better for some travelers, but it's impossible to beat the Schwab debit card's lack of fees, account minimums, and overall customer experience.

With the Schwab debit card, you can take out cash from any ATM anywhere in the world and you'll get refunded 100% of any withdrawal or ATM fees you pay. It's a foolproof way to avoid international ATM fees and get the best currency exchange rate possible.


schwab investor checking


To get the debit card, you'll need to open a Charles Schwab Investor checking account as well as a linked brokerage account – typically used for investing money. This brokerage account is opened automatically when you open a Schwab checking account, but don't worry: The brokerage account is also free and has no minimum deposit or fees. Really, you don't even have to use it.

Here's what you need to know about the Schwab debit card:

  • Unlimited fee rebates from any ATM worldwide
  • No minimum balance or monthly fees
  • No foreign transaction fees on debit card purchases or ATM withdrawals
  • Free Standard Checks and Visa debit card
  • Charles Schwab's mobile app allows you to deposit checks with your phone

Read our full review of the Charles Schwab debit card


charles schwab debit card


Learn more about the Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking Account & Debit Card (for full disclosure, this is not an affiliate link).


Almost the entire Thrifty Traveler team uses the Charles Schwab debit card for our international travels and we all swear by it. After years, we've never run into issues. Many of us treat our Schwab checking accounts as dedicated travel accounts, simply depositing some cash ahead of each international trip to withdraw while abroad.


Betterment Checking

Betterment is a relative newcomer in the financial services industry, offering digital investing, retirement, and cash management services including a mobile-first checking account, which includes a Visa debit card.


Betterment Checking sign up


Similar to the Charles Schwab Investor checking account, Betterment also reimburses an unlimited amount of ATM fees and doesn't pass along any foreign currency conversion fees, making it an excellent choice for travelers. The lack of a minimum balance requirement also makes it a perfect option for a dedicated travel account. Simply deposit funds before your trip and you're all set to withdraw when you get to your destination!

Here's what you need to know about the Betterment debit card:

  • Unlimited fee rebates from any ATM worldwide
  • No minimum balance or monthly fees
  • No foreign transaction fees on debit card purchases or ATM withdrawals
  • No overdraft fees
  • Cash back rewards at top retailers like Costco, Sam's Club, Adidas, and more


betterment checking features


But unlike the checking account from Charles Schwab, you don't need to have a linked brokerage account with Betterment. For those that invest elsewhere or don't ever plan to use the Schwab brokerage account, opening a checking account with Betterment may be a better option.

The only real downside with Betterment is that it's a relatively young company compared to its competitors so it's tough to say whether they'll be able to provide these same features and benefits for years to come.

Learn more about the Betterment checking account (for full disclosure, this is not an affiliate link).



Fidelity Cash Management

Fidelity is another long-standing financial institution with a variety of financial service products, ranging from cryptocurrency trading to life insurance. One of the products they offer is a cash management account with an accompanying Visa debit card.

Unlike the Betterment checking account or Schwab Investor checking account, the Fidelity Cash Management account is solely a brokerage account. So while you won't be getting two separate accounts as you would with Schwab, you'll be opening a brokerage account in order to have a Fidelity Visa debit card.

Fidelity reimburses you for all ATM fees anywhere in the world, which makes it a great option for international travel. And while Charles Schwab reimburses ATM fees at the end of your statement period, Fidelity will reimburse you on the same day the fee is debited. If getting your money back as soon as possible is a priority, it's worth looking into opening a Fidelity Cash Management account.


Fidelity Cash Management


Here's what you need to know about the Fidelity debit card:

  • Unlimited fee rebates from any ATM worldwide
  • No account fees or minimum balance requirements
  • Competitive Annual Percentage Yield (APY) on cash balances
  • 1% foreign conversion fee on debit card purchases and some cash withdrawals

Fidelity is a sort of middle ground between what you get with Charles Schwab or Betterment accounts. Fidelity doesn't waive the cash conversion fees for ATM withdrawals or purchases, which puts it at a disadvantage compared to the others. Still, if you already have investment accounts with Fidelity or just want to go with a financial institution that has decades' worth of experience, this can be a great option for a lot of travelers.

Learn more about the Fidelity Cash Management account (for full disclosure, this is not an affiliate link).


Bottom Line

When you're traveling abroad, it's important to have a little bit of the local currency on hand, whether you're paying for a taxi, tipping the bellhop, or something else.

While most debit cards will work for withdrawing cash abroad, only a select few will reimburse you for any third-party ATM fees and waive the foreign conversion fee on top of it. Having one of these debit cards in your wallet before your next trip will save you time getting access to your cash, and more importantly, can help save you from any unnecessary fees along the way.


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.

7 Responses

  • I might jump to Betterment after reading your article. While CS will reimburse ATM fees they don’t reimburse currency conversion fees. So glad to learn about Betterment will not pass any currency conversion fees.

  • Thanks for the article. I went with Betterment. I was needing something else to help with international travel money other than credit cards.

  • I love the French flea markets to find antiques at a great price. These vendors are not regular sellers , they are just cleaning out their attic so they require cash in small bills like 5 euro and 10 euro bills. I recommend ordering small denomination currency from your bank before going to Europe since these denominations are not offered in ATMs . If the ATM offers you a choice , select the smallest size like 20 euro rather than 50 euros.

  • @Michael Littman
    My recommendation is to opt for 80-euro withdrawals as needed, which will dispense four 20-euro notes, unless the ATM charges a withdrawal fee that you can’t get reimbursed with your FTF-free debit card.

  • Hi, this is an excellent guide, thanks so much! All the info in one place saves going to each website and going through complex financial info that appears so scary! As you cover the bank’s side of the fees, perhaps I also want to add some tip on the ATM side of the fees also and how to save it. Ive landed up using the mobile app – ATM Fee Saver – it helps find the fee-free or lower fee ATMs in many countries, and gives withdrawal limits too in some 30-40 countries! also gives withdrawal limits and helps calculate fees for my amount that I want to withdraw! i used it many times and saved a bunch on fees!! maybe you can create a guide on how to avoid ATM fees abroad and add this to the list, will definitely help many travellers like me!

  • I think this line should be more highlighted on the Fidelity Debit Card: “1% foreign conversion fee on debit card purchases and some cash withdrawals”
    This is really bad and I got hit by this 1% fee while withdrawing money abroad. I’d go with Schwab until Fidelity fixes that major problem w/ their card. If Schwab can do, why Fidelity can’t have a card with no fee whatsoever?

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