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Foreign ATMs accept US debit cards, but carry backup

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Cashing In
Cashing In columnist Tony Mecia
Tony Mecia is a business journalist who writes for a number of trade and general-interest publications. He writes "Cashing In," a weekly column about credit card rewards programs, for CreditCards.com

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Question Dear Cashing In,
I have an international trip coming up in a few months, and I’m wondering if it is smart to use my Capital One debit card. Capital One’s website says you can use the debit card “anywhere you see the MasterCard logo,” but then I read a blog where the blogger said her card didn’t work even when an ATM had the MasterCard logo. Also, does the card waive foreign transaction fees on ATM withdrawals when using an Allpoint ATM or any foreign ATM? -- Daniel

Answer Dear Daniel,
Those of us over 40 or so might remember the days when an international trip meant stocking up on travelers checks. Then you would find an exchange booth abroad that would give a favorable currency conversion rate, show your passport and receive your cash.

Today, the process is a lot more straightforward. U.S. debit cards are widely accepted at ATMs, and credit cards can be used at many shops and most hotels in popular tourist areas. 

For your trip, it sounds as though you are trying to anticipate precisely where your card will work and exactly what the fees will be. It is understandable to want some certainty before you depart so that you will have access to money. However, cards are so widely accepted internationally – at least in major cities -- that I would say it is almost certain that you will not face significant problems.

Now, that doesn’t mean that every card will be accepted everywhere. Sometimes, for mysterious reasons, ATMs might decline transactions. So you’d have to find another ATM. Your success rate might not be 100 percent at shops or kiosks, either, although that might have more to do with the switch to cards with EMV chips, which is a separate issue. 

Instead of worrying about why a certain card might work somewhere but not somewhere else, it’s best to follow a strategy of taking a mix of debit and credit cards that give you the most flexibility.

Ordinarily, I would not recommend you use a debit card for international purchases, since almost all debit cards have foreign transaction fees. 

In your case, though, Capital One has a longstanding policy on charging no foreign transaction fees on debit and credit card purchases, says Capital One spokeswoman Amanda Landers. 

She says that Capital One cards have the MasterCard logo and can be used at ATMs that accept MasterCard. If you have an online Capital One 360 account, ATM cash withdrawals are free. But if you have a card from a bank branch in one of the nine states where Capital One has branches, you will incur a fee for using a non-Capital One ATM, just as you would if you did that in the U.S. (unless you have a high-yield checking account). 

Of course, the bank that operates the foreign ATM probably charges a fee. There’s no way around that.

So yes, I would say it is smart to take your Capital One debit card on your trip and have confidence using it for ATM withdrawals and at shops. 

However, it is also smart to have a backup plan. You might take along at least a couple credit cards – ones that charge no foreign transaction fees. Fortunately, there are more reward credit cards than there used to be that waive these fees. In addition, make sure you have adequate cash in the local currency, just in case.

Diversify your cards, be flexible, acccept a glitch or two … and have a great trip!

See related: On a foreign trip, should I use credit cards at ATMs?, What are the best debit cards for ATM withdrawals overseas?

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Published: June 14, 2016


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Updated: 12-10-2016


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