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charles schwab debit card

Stop Paying International ATM Fees: Get the Charles Schwab Debit Card

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Getting ready to head abroad? Or considering a big trip overseas next year? It's time for a change: Stop carrying loads of cash with you on your travels, exchanging currency at the airport, or paying exorbitant ATM fees abroad. There's a better way.

If you plan to travel internationally even once a year (or less), you need the Charles Schwab debit card. This free checking account is a must for any frequent traveler because it means you'll never pay ATM fees … in the U.S. or abroad.

To be completely clear: We don't get paid to promote this card – there's nothing in it for us if you add it to your wallet. We just know it's the best solution for travelers to get money while on the road – and it's something travelers should know about. Take it from us, we know the Schwab debit card well: Nearly every member of the Thrifty Traveler team has one in their wallets and makes sure to pack it anytime we head abroad.

Here's everything you need to know about setting up a Charles Schwab checking account for your travels.

 

Why the Schwab Card is the Best Debit Card for International Travel

Because no other readily available travel debit card will let you withdraw money around the globe for free. And to top it off, setting up an account is free.

The Schwab debit card allows you to take out cash from any ATM (anywhere in the world) and refunds 100% of the withdrawal or ATM fees you pay. This is a foolproof way to avoid international ATM fees and get the best currency exchange rate possible. Schwab reimburses you monthly for ATM fees charged by all outside vendors.
 

Charles Schwab Debit card in Japan 

We're begging you: Stop using the currency exchange counter at the airport. They exist for one reason and one reason only – to make money off of you. They profit by offering poor exchange rates, which is why you see them everywhere abroad. Always get cash out of an ATM with your debit card for the best exchange rate.

With the Schwab card, there's no need to visit those currency exchange kiosks or sketchy exchange rate counters – you get the absolute best currency exchange rate possible in every city by simply pulling cash out of the ATM. And since there's no ATM fee to withdraw your money – this is as good as it gets.

Thrifty Tip: If you're presented with the option to withdraw money or make a purchase in U.S. Dollars instead of the local currency, always choose the local currency. You always lose in the currency conversion when choosing U.S. Dollars.

This ATM reimbursement works at ATMs anywhere in the U.S. or abroad. So even if you don't have international travel coming up soon, you can save on ATM fees in the U.S. as well. There are also no fees or even minimum balance requirements for having a Schwab checking account.

There are some other banks out there that have offered some decent international travel debit cards over the years, most notably SoFi Money. But those accounts have taken a hit in recent years as they've limited fee-free ATM access.

And that leaves the Charles Schwab debit card as the #1 way to get cash abroad.

It's easy to apply: simply open a checking account with Charles Schwab and receive your debit card that unlocks free ATM use everywhere in the world. Keep reading for more information on how to open your account.

Read more: The Best Fee-Free Debit Cards for International Travel

 

Highlights of a Charles Schwab Checking Account

  • 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

 

How to Apply for the Charles Schwab Debit Card

The name of this account is technically the Charles Bank Investor checking account. But hang with us – it's much simpler than it sounds.

When applying for your Schwab High Yield Investor checking account, you will also be required to open a Schwab brokerage account if you don't already have one. This brokerage account (used for investments) 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.

That means you can use the checking account and never worry about the brokerage side if you don't want to. I leave my brokerage account empty and go on my merry way, getting reimbursed for ATM fees worldwide.
 

schwab investor checking 

In the past, Schwab would do a credit pull to obtain your credit report in order to approve your application, resulting in a small (and temporary) ding to your credit score. But it seems that has changed: Schwab is generally no longer doing a hard credit pull when you apply for one of these investor checking accounts. That's a big win, removing one of the few roadblocks for opening one of these accounts.

Schwab is an online-only bank, so you'll likely want to keep another account at a local bank or credit union to deposit cash. After depositing locally, you can transfer the cash deposit to your Schwab account – these transfers between banks take about four to five business days, on average.

Nearly everyone on the Thrifty Traveler team uses the Charles Schwab debit card for our international travels and we all swear by it. After years of use, 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.

 
charles schwab debit card
 

Learn more about the Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking Account.

 

Alternatives to the Schwab Card

The Charles Schwab debit card has been our go-to recommendation to travelers heading abroad for years. But it's not the only game in town anymore.

In the last year or two, a handful of alternatives have come on the market that are also worth considering – especially if you're leery of the admittedly convoluted setup process with Charles Schwab.

 

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, with a Visa debit card.

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.

 

Betterment Checking sign up

 

Best of all, 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.

 

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 

On the downside, Fidelity doesn't waive the cash conversion fees for ATM withdrawals (which you shouldn't be paying anyway) on purchases.

 

Choosing a Credit Card for Travel Abroad

While a debit card is great for getting cash out of ATMs, you'll still want a good credit card when traveling internationally.

We recommend using a credit card for all other purchases – especially because credit cards come with liability protection against fraudulent charges. Most importantly for international travel, you'll want to make sure you use a credit card with no foreign transaction fees.

Fortunately, most of the top travel credit cards on the market don't charge foreign transaction fees. But just in case, here are a few of our favorites.

  • The *chase sapphire preferred* has been a mainstay in traveler’s wallets for years thanks to earning 2x points per dollar spent on travel and 3x points per dollar spent on dining, solid travel insurance protections, and no foreign transaction fees … all on a card with just a $95 annual fee.
  • The *venture x* is our new favorite travel card, period. On top of a stellar welcome bonus, earning 2x miles on every purchase, and great benefits like lounge access, you won’t pay foreign transaction fees either.

 

capital one venture x vs chase sapphire preferred

 

Bottom Line

We don't have any ties to Charles Schwab, nor do we get any kickbacks for promoting this debit card. We just think it's an insanely useful and lucrative card that every traveler should be aware of. It's one of our top recommendations to save money on travel.

Stop paying ATM fees or terrible currency exchange rates. Apply for a Schwab checking account and get the best debit card out there for your next trip.

 

Check out more on the Charles Schwab Debit Card

 

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.

46 Responses

  • Thanks for sharing this info. I’ve never used my schwab debit but I’m heading to Japan where they still use cash so this is helpful.

    • oh…. 2018… 6 years ago. Well, reply may help someone else. Japan is one country (unlike virtually all of Europe and even other Asian countries I have visited) where your American ATM card will only work in ATM machines located in the Japanese post office. They won’t work at your typical Japanese bank ATM (which won’t have instructions in English anyway) This was my experience in 2019, and I was warned and still didn’t believe it.

  • Need a debit or credit card I can use in multiple Countries with out calling it in as to what Country I am in. As hard of hearing. As I travel oversea’s. Now retired.

    • This card should do the trick. I have used it to get cash in over 15 countries and have never had any issues.

    • You can also log into your on line account and there is a place for you to list all the countries and dates you will plan to visit.

  • Hey Mr TT

    Great article! I bank with Wells Fargo & the 3% international transaction fees really add up. As a solo female traveller carrying a lot of cash hasn’t ever felt like a safe option. You mentioned they pull your credit when you apply. What is the minimum credit score to qualify?

    • Hello, I don’t believe they have this posted anywhere on the card’s landing page. I would call 800-540-6718 and ask the question.

      • Can you tell me how to successfully use this card in China? I was there in March 2019 and tried many times to get cash from an ATM, and called Schwab many times for help, to no avail. Schwab was not sure what the issue was, they guessed it was due to having a four-digit pin when China pins are 6 digits. They told me to try leading zeros, and when that didn’t work, trailing zeros. Nothing worked, I was never able to use this card at an ATM in China, even at an international bank’s ATM…store purchases were fine, and accepted the 4 digit pin.

        • The Debit Card is VISA. Be aware: the ATM must accept VISA!!!. Few years ago, I was in Japan and couldn’t get cash from several ATMs, then I called Schwab, the Rep. told the ATM must accept VISA!!! From Schwab website, I found the VISA locations, limited locations for VISA, smaller the city, less availability for VISA.
          This article didn’t mention such key important info.

        • The Debit Card is VISA. Be aware: the ATM must accept VISA!!!. Few years ago, I was in Japan and couldn’t get cash from several ATMs, then I called Schwab, the Rep. told the ATM must accept VISA!!! From Schwab website, I found the VISA locations, limited locations for VISA, smaller the city, less availability for VISA. This article didn’t mention such key important info.

          • Hi, I’m from Argentina and I’m going to live in Italy next year. Can I withdraw EUR with this card at an ATM or can it only withdraw USD? Can it be activated while in another country or can it only be activated at an ATM in the US?

    • I don’t think you would be offered the same version. I would call 800-540-6718 to get more information.

  • Not only purchases, but also ATM cash withdrawals are exempted from foreign transaction fees (FTF). That’s the most important point to make about the Schwab account (which I think you missed). Almost every other U.S. bank charges a foreign transaction fee of 1-to-3% for international withdrawals (in ADDITION to any other ATM fee). The only other bank that doesn’t charge an FTF (that I’m aware of) is Capital One, with its Capital One 360 checking account. (PS: For overseas purchases, use a credit card or cash, not a debit card, which doesn’t offer as much protection.)

  • Do your ATM cards work in countries, specifically: Egypt, Belgium, Germany, New Zealand, and Australia?

    • Hi Estelle! To clarify, these aren’t our ATM cards — they’re debit cards through Charles Schwab. And yes, you can use a debit card at any ATM worldwide. Happy traveling!

  • I was in Pakistan from March to July of 2021. I used Charles Schwab debit card to withdraw cash up to 160,000 RS ($1,000) from an ATM daily. The currency conversion rate was better than any currency exchange rates in the market. There were no ATM fees. BTW, the only bank in Pakistan where this card worked was Allied Bank. Card was denied at other banks. I been to over 20 countries and I don’t leave home without his card.

  • I was just googling to solve this problem today when I got your newsletter!!! Just opened my account, I will definitely be using this for my trip to Greece in late May!

  • This was a great tip!

    I spent almost a month in Jamaica this summer and made sure I had this card before I left. I got reimbursed over $13US for ATM fees, and I calculated that I saved about $80US on $500 worth of withdrawals over the dismal rate the hotel was selling Jamaican dollars. Cambios and Western Union probably gave a better rate than the hotel, but not as good as the Schwab card, and who wants to carry around a lot of cash when you can just withdraw money as you go?

    But the real bonus was when I accidentally left my bank card in an ATM, and of course it was not there when I went back to look for it. I called Schwab on a Friday and I received my new bank card in Jamaica via Federal Express by the following Tuesday!

    Oh, and a new checkbook was waiting for me in the mail when I got back!

    Thanks for the tip! This debit card now permanently resides in my passport holder.

  • Capital One 360 debit card also does not charge an international transaction fee, although the ATM owner might impose a regular ATM fee. Cap1 does reimburse ATM fees in certain networks, though. And there is no credit check for opening an account.
    ===
    Fortunately, where I travel most (Italy), I’ve only ever encountered one bank that wanted to charge an ATM withdrawal fee; it’s just not common in Italy yet. So I canceled the transaction and went to another bank’s machine a few meters away.

  • I’m a U.S. citizen, retired, living in China. I am receiving monthly Social Security benefits being deposited to my Direct Express debit card. After having no problems with Direct Express for the past 8 years using ATM’s in China, now, Direct Express won’t activate my new debit card for use in China. Can I have my monthly Social Security payments deposited to a Charles Schwab debit card account for use in China? If so, what is the procedure? I would appreciate any comments regarding this topic.

    • Hi Jim. I am not sure how Schwab would handle that. It would be best to call them and get an answer from them directly.

  • “get the best currency exchange rate possible” that’s incorrect, it uses the Visa rate, which is a hidden fee as the Visa rate is on average 0.30% more expensive than the mid-market rate.

  • I was told by Schwab that only ATM fees are reimbursed. I had ATMs charge a commission (percentage of the withdrawal) or a transaction charge which Schwab does not automatically reimburse.
    Anyone else have this issue?
    Thank you

  • I’m actually not looking for an ATM withdrawal card, though that would be great, but rather for a POS debit card. I understand that the French don’t like to honor Credit Cards, because of their fees, and that most restaurants in the larger cities will honor “Les Cartes Bleues”, as they call their debit cards for POS use, will this Schwab card be honored at POS venues, and will their be any fees for POS use?

    • Hi Tom, there should be no issues using it as a debit card at POS terminals. However, I would recommend using a credit card if possible as it will limit your liability if your card number is compromised for any reason.

  • Best account ever! We have had an account since my daughter was in high school worked perfectly for 2 high school trips to Paris & Barcelona. Loved it for her College years as well. ATM no fees perfect for college students away from home just fed the account $$ to cover her extra expenses. It is solely used now for her post college checking account & bill paying. Trust me, when we go to London later this year will throw more $$ in it to save on FTFs. Love, Love this account. Also, love my Chase Sapphire for no FTFs too.

  • Sadly, had I read this yesterday I would have told you no, schwab is not the only one with that benefit. I had a first republic account and one type includes a checking /mm account with no fee international atm which I had enjoyed for a good 6-7 years until today as they are no more.

  • I have been using it for years also. The last time I was in the office for some investment stuff. I mentioned the card for international travel.. He said they were fixing to limit it to customers with 25K min. If it fall below that you will be charged.. But, I have not seen it yet. I also have PNC card. If you keep 5K minimum in it they let you do two or three withdrawals and rein verse you. But, when I use it the exchange rate is not as good as Schwab.

  • Can you confirm that you can’t deposit cash to the account at any ATM machines?

    Also is there savings account rate competitive?

  • I am confused; at some point, they have to convert the currency; you send dollars, and they give you Thai Baht, or Indian Rupees, etc. At that point, they may give you a dramatic reduction in the number of Baht or Rupees by the bank that administers the ATM. The real rate, is approximately the midpoint between the buy and the sell price for the currency. Does Schwaab give you that markup back? That can be a significant cost of 1/2-2 per cent. Capital One cards and Citi Premier give you the midpoint rate I believe, not the marked up rate. Please comment. The Betterment card, sounds like they somehow avoid this-is that what you are saying? You said “reimburses an unlimited amount of ATM fees and doesn’t pass along any foreign currency conversion fees” That sounds like the U.S. bank is the one who receives this markup profit-and that Betterment may not charge that? It’s not the ATM company/bank that determines this? I am guessing, that Schwab, if they make hidden profits from the ATM transaction, will charge more for smaller ATM withdrawals. This may represent a very substantial and profitable business, if that’s what they are doing. What do you say?

  • After reading a similar article last year I opened a Charles Schwab checking account and got my debit card. I first used it at a Milwaukee Brewers ballpark ATM. I checked my statement at the end of the month and saw that the fees had been refunded. So then I also used it in Canada and Mexico later in the year and those fees were also refunded.
    The bonus that I hadn’t planned on was that the interest rate on this account was SO much better than my regular checking and savings account. When I got 24 cents interest on one account in January I moved most of that money to my Charles Schwab checking account and the last couple months my interest paid was $9.00. Nice.

  • You forgot to mention that Fidelity and Betterment pay approximately 5% interest in your balances held in their fee-free ATM accounts, and Schwab pays nearly 0%, which makes them a better choice than Schwab for larger balances helg.

  • I have had accounts at Schwab for many years and the only time I use their ATM card is when I go overseas. My son was in Thailand and I reprimanded him for using his Schwab ATM card for withdrawing $10 worth of local currency at a convenience store ATM. I explained it didn’t make sense to pay up to $8 in fees for $10. Much to my surprise even the convenience store ATM fee was reimbursed at the end of the month.

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