Can you use a credit card abroad?

Yes, you can use almost any credit card abroad where they are accepted, including shops, restaurants and cash machines.

Credit cards can be a convenient way to pay abroad and:

  • Are less risky than carrying cash as they can be cancelled and replaced if stolen or lost

  • Offer protection on your purchases through Section 75 even when you spend abroad

How much does it cost?

You could be hit with several fees if you spend on your credit or debit card abroad or use it to withdraw cash, including:

  • The exchange rate you get

  • Non sterling transaction fees: up to 2.99%

  • Cash withdrawal fees: up to 5%

  • Interest on any cash you withdraw: up to 69.9%

They also charge interest and all the same fees that other cards charge; here is a look at how much credit cards can cost you.

However, if you get a credit card that comes without some of these fees, you can save money every time you use your card.

Exchange rate

You can spend in any currency on your card - each time you use it outside the UK, your card issuer will convert what you spend into pounds and add the amount to your credit card bill.

How much you get per pound depends on the exchange rate, which is set by MasterCard, Visa or American Express - whichever company processes your card's transactions.

For example, if you withdrew €250 with an exchange rate of 1.369 euros to the pound, this would cost 182.61 before any fees.

Their rates can change daily and you can check them on their websites:

Non sterling transaction fees

Also known as...

These fees are also known as exchange rate loading fees, foreign usage fees, load fees and foreign exchange fees.

Most credit cards charge a fee for spending in a foreign currency.

It is calculated as a percentage of the amount you spend, so a card with a fee of 2.99% would charge 2.99 for every 100 you spend.

This fee also applies to online purchases that are not in pounds sterling.

For example, if you withdrew €250 (182.61 with an exchange rate of 1.369), a card transaction fee of 2.99% would come to 5.46, meaning it would cost you 188.07 in total.

Withdrawing cash

Using your credit card to withdraw cash abroad is expensive because you will be charged both a withdrawal fee and interest on the cash you take out.

  • The cash withdrawal fee is a percentage of the amount of cash you withdraw. For example, if you took out €250 (182.61 with an exchange rate of 1.369) with a cash withdrawal fee of 5%, the fee would be 9.13.

  • You are charged interest straight away* when you withdraw cash - often at a higher interest rate. If your card charged 69.9% on cash withdrawals and you did not pay back the €250 until you got your bill 56 days later, you would be charged 30.91.

*You usually get around 56 days before you are charged interest on normal credit card purchases.

Including the withdrawal charge and the interest, in our example above you would pay fees of 40.04, so the €250 would cost you 222.65.

How to find the best card

There are many credit cards designed for use abroad, which can offer:

  • No transaction fees

  • No cash withdrawal fees

  • A lower rate of interest for cash withdrawals

You can use our comparison to find out how much each credit card will charge you when you use it abroad.

Work out how much you are likely to spend and withdraw abroad and we will show you the total amount you would pay in fees with each card.

Apply for the cheapest card several weeks before you travel to make sure your card arrives in time.

How to use your card abroad

Before you travel

Before you travel tell your credit card provider when you are going and what countries you will visit by:

  • Phoning your provider

  • Logging into your online banking

  • Visiting a nearby branch

If they do not know, it could look suspicious when you spend in another country, and they could block your card if they suspect fraud.

Bring a backup with you in case you lose your card, such as cash, travellers' cheques, a debit card, another credit card, or a payment service through your phone (like Apple Pay) or a fob.

While you are away

If your card is stopped while you are away, phone your card provider to ask them to take the block off.

You can keep track of your spending by logging into your online account or setting up balance alerts by text or email.

If your card is lost or stolen, report it immediately. Your provider will be able to stop any further transactions on the card.

When you get home

You will need to be able to pay your credit card bill in full when it arrives if you want to avoid interest. Here is how to manage your card, and how to pay it off.

Look for cheaper ways to spend abroad

You can also spend abroad with a debit card, cash, prepaid card or travellers' cheques.

The cheapest and easiest option depends on how you will spend. Here is a closer look at the pros and cons of each way to spend abroad and how much they cost.