Getting ready to to head abroad soon? It's time for a change: Stop carrying loads of money 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 want the Charles Schwab debit card. This free checking account is a must in any traveler's wallet because it means you'll never pay ATM fees, in the U.S. or abroad. We don't get paid to promote this card – it's just the best solution for travelers to get money while on the road.
We know the Schwab debit card well: Almost every member of the Thrifty Traveler team has one in their wallets. 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 from 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 any 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.
Always avoid the currency exchange counter at the airport. They exist for one reason and one reason only: to make money off of you. They profit from the poor exchange, which is why you see them everywhere abroad. Always take money out of an ATM with your debit card for the best exchange rate.
No airport 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 if there's no ATM fee to withdraw your money? This is as good as it gets.
Thrifty Tip: If you are ever asked if you want to pay for an item in U.S. Dollars or the local currency, always choose the local currency. You will lose in the currency conversion if you pay in 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.
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 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.
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 for 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.
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.
Click Here to learn more about the Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking Account & Debit Card.
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. And when you leave the country, 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® Card has been a mainstay in traveler’s wallets for years thanks to earning 2x points on all 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 Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card is our new favorite travel card, period. On top of a stellar welcome bonus, earning 2x points on every purchase, and great benefits like lounge access, you won’t pay foreign transaction fees either.
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
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.
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.
I haven’t yet been to China so I don’t have any specific experience attempting to use the card there.
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?
How does this work if you are Canadian?
I don’t think you would be offered the same version. I would call 800-540-6718 to get more information.
Is there a referral code? It’s asking me for one when I click on the link…
Hey Heather! Apologies – we’ve now added the code to the post: REFER6TZU4YTF
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!
Where does your credit score need to be to get an account?
Zero, there’s no rule to get an acct
There is no credit minimum for a Schwab acct
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.
Will the credit pull have any effect on 5/24 status?
Hi Linda, good question. It should not impact your 5/24 status as it isn’t a new line of credit.
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?
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.