International debit cards are one of the most overlooked features when it comes to an international bank account. In fact, most people don’t even ask about obtaining a debit card until after a bank account is opened… and that’s a mistake.
Whether you’re working, traveling, or just need a convenient way to buy everyday essentials, having an international debit card connected to your offshore or international bank account can be an essential requirement.
- Debit cards give you immediate access to your money abroad
- Foreign banks offer free international debit cards with checking accounts
- Prepaid debit cards often have high fees for activating
- Anonymous cards offer privacy but lack security
- Most banks restrict the number of atm transactions per month
- Fees (e.g foreign transaction fee) for using a card can be very high
Unfortunately, not all banks offer debit cards, especially to non-resident foreigners or foreign businesses.
So if you’re after an international card, you’ll need to know which banks to apply to, which fees to watch out for, and how to actually obtain an international debit card that meets your requirements.
But, before diving in, if this is your first time visiting GlobalBanks, don’t forget to download your FREE Non-Resident Banking Starter Guide. It’s designed to help non-residents open accounts in top banking hubs around the world.
International Debit Cards
International debit cards offer tons of benefits, especially to individuals and business owners that travel frequently. But, to unlock these benefits, you first need to know which banks will open an account for you (or your business).
Then, you need to know which banks actually offer debit cards that meet your needs. Of course, it’s also important to know which benefits you want to unlock, which currencies you need to access, and the fees you’re comfortable paying.
Otherwise, you’ll end up wasting time and money applying for accounts that offer debit cards you don’t even want or need.
In this article, we’re going to break everything down for you, from start to finish – what you need to know when searching for the best international debit card for foreigners.
Table of Contents
- International Debit Card Options
- Debit vs Credit Eligibility
- Reasons to Get International Cards
- Important Considerations
- Challenges of Getting an International Debit Card
- Best International Debit Cards for Foreigners
- What You Should Know Before Applying
International Debit Card Options
Let’s take a look at the three main debit card options that international account holders can typically access:
International Bank Card
International bank cards refer to debit cards that individuals and businesses receive when they open a checking account or savings account with an international bank.
These debit cards typically have no fees for withdrawals at network ATMs, though they can (depending on the card) incur high foreign transaction fees and debit card fees for purchases at the point-of-sale terminals.
Prepaid Debit Cards
Prepaid cards are typically purchased from resellers and can then be used at ATMs, point of sale terminals, or to complete foreign transactions. However, they are not free. Most options have high fees, including activation fees before you can use the card or load your money onto them. For these reasons, they aren’t a suitable option for individuals simply looking to use a card to make transfers via online platforms.
Anonymous cards are basically a global international debit card that does not have any identity details associated with them.
They’re a popular choice for users who want to protect their identity, are concerned about identity theft, or generally don’t want to exchange their information when completing a transaction online (e.g. on a new eCommerce site). For these reasons, anonymous cards are often seen as more practical and accessible than anonymous bank accounts.
This type of card often involves a fee to reload money and can be expensive when used at an ATM. Additionally, there’s the risk that if you ever lose the card, your money is effectively gone because anyone can use the card if they find it.
Debit vs Credit Eligibility
Besides deciding between the three card types listed above, you might be wondering whether a debit card, credit card, or prepaid card is the way to go.
This can get confusing. Especially when you throw the secured credit (or just secured) card into the mix, which is essentially a combination of all three.
Fortunately, there’s a simple equation that 99% of applicants can use to determine which card they’re eligible for, which is this:
If you’re a non-resident with no credit history in a particular country, you will not be able to obtain a credit card in that country. That’s because credit card issuers require you to have local credit history before they’ll issue credit. So if that’s you, you’ll be eligible for a bank debit card.
Unfortunately, if you’re a non-resident, that means you won’t get a travel card that earns points towards your next trip every time you go shopping online. Likewise, you won’t benefit from reduced fx fees on your next foreign transaction.
That said, if your goal is to earn towards your next trip, it is possible to get US credit cards with travel rewards through FDIC-insured banks as a foreigner. This includes both the AMEX gold card and platinum card, which can be accessed after opening a checking or savings account and making a qualifying deposit.
Alternatively, if your goal is to regularly make foreign currency transactions, you may want to open a foreign currency account as a first step.
Reasons to Get International Cards
While you won’t be able to access credit, you can still benefit from other perks while working, traveling, or living abroad. In fact, any foreign non-resident leading an international lifestyle can likely benefit from an international debit card.
That said, not everyone can access the best international debit cards. In fact, not all banks offer them to foreign non-residents when opening checking accounts.
So, before applying, it’s crucial you know which banks offer international debit cards to foreign non-resident individuals.
Now, if you’re looking to obtain a debit card for business purposes, it’s also important you know which banks cater to foreign businesses and which debit cards match your specific business banking needs.
With that said, let’s look at the many reasons why foreign non-resident individuals (and businesses) are looking to get an international debit card.
Reasons to Have International Cards
- Frequent international traveler
- Own international real estate
- Regular travelers in need of access to multiple currencies
- Currently living abroad
- Working in a foreign country
- You run an international business
In addition to the reasons mentioned above, there are other benefits non-residents can unlock when getting the best international debit card for their client type, including:
Benefits of an International Card:
- Access to foreign ATMs
- Ability to make quick purchases
- Avoid extensive transfer fees
- Access to funds instantly
- Save money on international purchases
Now, depending on your client type and banking needs, both the type of international debit card and bank available to you can vary.
And, like banking anywhere, opening a checking account can be a difficult process for a foreign non-resident, let alone getting an international debit card as a foreign non-resident.
So, before applying, it’s important you’re well prepared and understand the specific steps you should take before getting an international debit card. This way, you’ll avoid applying to the wrong banks.
But first, let’s look at the important considerations that many foreign non-residents face when applying for debit cards.
Of course, to get an international debit card, you’ll first need to open a bank account. And, that can be a challenging process in itself.
That said, for the purpose of this article, we’re going to focus on the specific challenges non-residents face when applying for an international debit card (not credit).
But, if you’re looking for information on how to open an international bank account as a foreign non-resident, you can get started with our most popular international banking article Offshore Banking available above.
Now, if you don’t have the right information or understand the challenges you’ll likely face, you’ll hurt your chances of obtaining the card you want. Not to mention, restrict your chances of unlocking the benefits you’re after.
So, with that said, let’s dive into the challenges non-residents face when getting an international debit card…
Challenges of Finding an International Debit Card
- Obtaining a debit card that can be used wherever you travel
- Finding an affordable card with no foreign transaction fees
- Finding a debit card with low (or no) maintenance fees
- A card that does not force you to convert into local currency
- A card with low (or no) services charges
- A card that can be used at an international atm
- Cards with unlimited monthly transactions and atm limits
- Cards that can help you work towards credit in the future
- Receiving a clear fee schedule from the bank
As you can see, there are some challenges foreign non-residents face when trying to find the right international debit card for their needs.
In fact, one common mistake many non-residents make when applying for debit cards is not requesting a breakdown of the fees. Instead, they’re often left with a list of charges they weren’t aware of.
Here’s a list of some of the fees you could be charged when using your international debit card overseas…
Debit Card Fees
- Debit card issuance fee
- Nonbank usage fee
- ATM withdrawal fee
- ATM conversion fee
- ATM operator fee
- Monthly maintenance fee
- Service charge fee
- Mid-market exchange rate fee
- Lost debit card re-issuance fee
Local & Foreign Transaction Fee
Transaction fees can be divided into local transaction fees and foreign transaction fees, the key distinction being whether a transaction takes place in the country where the card was issued (local) or not (foreign).
Local transaction fees are usually reasonable, as long as the cardholder doesn’t exceed their limit of transactions per month (e.g. ATM usage). Once that amount is reached, higher fees normally apply.
On the other hand, foreign transaction fees refer to the fees that you will be charged when you use the card outside of the country that the card was issued. If you are a foreign non-resident, this can obviously result in a lot of fees being charged.
Of course, some fees are unavoidable. That said, depending on your client type, some banks will offer low-fee options.
So, to avoid any surprises, ask your bank for a breakdown of the fees associated with the debit card you’re interested in, including any relevant foreign transaction fee that might be applied. This will help determine whether or not it’s the right debit card for you and your banking needs.
That said, if you’re not sure where to get the international debit card you want, we outline a few options below.
Best International Debit Card for Foreigners
Knowing where and how to apply for the best international debit card are two important factors foreigners should understand.
In fact, successfully obtaining a debit card highly depends on where you apply. And, of course, whether or not the bank accepts your client type.
But, since not all banking institutions offer international debit cards to foreigners, knowing where to apply can be a difficult task.
With that said, let’s look at three options where foreigners can apply for an international debit card…
Many foreigners can obtain an international debit card through offshore banks. In fact, whether you’re working, traveling, or hoping to retire offshore, there are many offshore banks to choose from.
That said, not all offshore banks offer foreign non-resident international debit cards. Let alone, open non-resident bank accounts.
But, with the right information, foreign non-residents can open bank accounts offshore, obtain international debit cards, and benefit from banking offshore.
If you want to learn more about how you can get the best international debit cards for foreigners with offshore banks, you’re in luck. We share everything you need to know in our premium members-only report “International Banking Blueprint – How to Start Banking Overseas”.
This report shares the dos and don’ts of the offshore world. Including everything, you need to know to start opening accounts today. Including, how to unlock international debit cards.
You can access this report immediately when you join GlobalBanks IQ.
Another alternative for foreigners to obtain international debit cards is through traditional brick-and-mortar banks. Specifically, banks that have multiple branches.
That said, while some traditional banks don’t accept remote account opening, many do accept foreigners to open accounts in person.
Additionally, non-residents are more likely to experience fewer withdrawal fees as many traditional banks operate and carefully place their own ATMs across several countries.
Of course, like banking anywhere, opening accounts with traditional banks as a foreign non-resident has its challenges. For instance, it can be difficult to know which traditional banks offer international debit cards that fit your client type and banking needs.
EMIs & Fintechs
Lastly, many foreigners that struggle to open with traditional or offshore banks, look to open accounts with online banks. Specifically, EMIs and Fintechs.
Especially, for foreigners interested in EU banking.
Not only do many online banks offer clients free worldwide ATM withdrawals and less expensive international transfer fees, but they allow foreigners to obtain international debit cards.
That said, opening accounts with EMIs and Fintechs, as a foreigner, has its challenges. But, these challenges can be overcome and sometimes completely avoided if you have the right information.
We share everything you need to know in our two in-depth premium members-only reports “European EMIs for Non-EEA Residents” and “European EMIs for Non-EEA Businesses”.
These reports include everything you need to know to find and open the best online bank accounts in Europe as a non-resident. Including, the account opening process, which jurisdictions are acceptable, which clients benefit the most, and how to obtain an international debit card as a foreigner.
You can access these reports immediately when you join GlobalBanks IQ – more information is below.
What You Should Know Before Applying for a Card
Now, before you start applying for an international debit card, you should get familiar with the important questions you’ll need to ask the bank.
In fact, by asking questions, you’ll be able to get a better understanding of what the debit card can and cannot do for you. In other words, understand the restrictions the card has and what fees are associated with using the card.
This way, you’ll be able to ensure you’re choosing the best international debit card that’s suited to your banking needs. First, let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons.
Cons to Consider
- Very difficult to access credit options as a non-resident
- ATM charges are usually very high out of network
- You will not be able to earn travel rewards towards your next trip
- Very difficult to find cards with cash back option for savings
- Even if you have a credit history, free credit options are rare
- You need to be aware of each foreign transaction in terms of fees
- Money on the prepaid card can quickly disappear via fees
- Money on anonymous cards is very easy to lose
- Exchange rates are usually very high
To help you with this, we’ve put together a list of key questions you should ask the bank before applying. Again, this will help you decide whether or not the bank you’ve chosen has the best international debit card for your client type.
Questions to Ask Before Applying for an International Debit Card:
- Does the bank have ATMs in multiple countries?
- Does the debit card come with travel insurance?
- Are there restrictions on where you can and cannot use the debit card?
- Does the bank charge foreign transaction fees when a debit card is used?
- Does the bank charge exchange rates when a debit card is used?
- Is there a monthly or annual fee? If so, how much?
- What currencies are available to you?
- What security services and protections come with the debit card?
Of course, the process of calling banks to ask these questions can be annoying and time-consuming.
Fortunately, we can help.
So, if you’re looking to get the best international debit card for you today, here’s how to start…
Find the Best International Options Today
Whether you’re ready to get an international debit card today or you’re just starting to explore your options, we can help.
GlobalBanks IQ gives you everything you need to start finding and opening accounts.
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And, you get access to our library of premium (members-only) reports. These include proven account opening strategies, country-specific banking options, and lists of banks for specific client types.
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To get started, click here to see if GlobalBanks IQ is the right choice for you.