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Charles Schwab – The World’s Best Debit Card For Travel

    Updated: August 19, 2022

    It pays to have the Charles Schwab debit card – literally.

    Rule number one when traveling abroad – Don’t carry lots of cash – especially if you are traveling long-term.

    Having loads of cash just doesn’t make sense for the long-term traveler – or any traveler really. There are higher chances of losing it, you’ll have to declare it at customs if you are carrying more than $10,000, and in the worst-case scenario, it will get stolen from you – leaving you with nothing. 

    That’s why debit cards exist, so you can access your cash that is stored safely in a bank account without worrying about someone stealing your money all the time.

    Charles Schwab Travel Debit Card

    As you prepare to go on your trip of a lifetime around the globe, you’ll want to make sure to choose the right debit card to take with you.

    And yes, there is a right debit card for traveling. 

    If you are planning a trip overseas, you need the Charles Schwab travel debit card

    How do debit cards work?

    First things first. A debit card is a payment card that deducts funds directly from your checking account to pay for a purchase or to get money from an ATM.

    In order to get a debit card, you need to open up a checking account at a bank. 

    You will absolutely need a debit card while traveling because, at some point, you’ll need to use the local currency by pulling out cash at the ATM.

    To get the Charles Schwab travel debit card, you’ll need to open a specific type of checking account called the Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking account. The name sounds intimidating, but it’s not, I promise. We’ll talk more about this specific account further down in this post. 

    What makes the Charles Schwab debit card better for traveling?

    There are four main reasons why the Charles Schwab debit card is the best debit card to use abroad.

    1. Unlimited ATM fee rebates worldwide
    2. No foreign transaction fees
    3. No service fees or account minimums
    4. No paying for unauthorized charges or withdrawals

    In other words – 100% free banking. Maybe that doesn’t sound like too big of a deal to you right now because you have free banking already. Most banks charge you ATM and foreign transaction fees while you are abroad – Charles Schwab does not. 

    Your expenses will add up quickly while on the road, and paying a fee to access money isn’t how anyone wants to spend their vacation budget. The good news is that with the Charles Schwab travel debit card, your account is free forever. 

    Kiss international banking fees goodbye

    The Charles Schwab travel debit card meets all of the criteria above – and more – which is why we recommend it as the number one debit card for any traveler, especially long-term travelers. 

    Let’s take a look at each of those four points a little more in-depth.

    Unlimited ATM fee rebates worldwide

    You’ll never have to pay an international ATM fee again, which is a huge perk for any traveler. 

    Instead of trying to calculate how much money you should take out at the ATM to make your withdrawal worth it, you can pull out $20 if you only need $20. Then, you can do it again and again if you want. 

    I used the ATM three times in one day while in Bali. If I had used any other debit card, that would have cost me at least $9.00. But with my Charles Schwab travel debit card, I knew I would get my money back. 

    In fact, we even pulled out money from our account for our friends when they were traveling with us so that they could avoid paying international ATM fees. Then they paid us back on Venmo.

    Charles Schwab reimburses you for any ATM fee you may have been charged at the end of the month. On our trip, we always saw this rebate come through on our bank statement. 

    Monthly ATM rebate from Charles Schwab.
    True to their word, Charles Schwab refunded us for ATM fees at the end of each month.
    Here you can see our $54.98 ATM Fee Rebate after one month of travel.

    No Foreign Transaction Fees

    A foreign transaction fee is when your bank charges you a fee for using your debit card abroad. The reason the bank charges you is because you are using U.S. dollars to pay for something in a foreign currency. Banks typically charge anywhere between 1% – 3% on each foreign transaction. Some banks even charge you a foreign transaction fee for withdrawing money from the ATM. 

    1% – 3% may not sound like much, but it can add up fast over the course of your vacation. 

    With the Charles Schwab debit card, you’ll never have to pay a foreign transactions fee – not at the ATM nor when you make a purchase with your debit card (which, we recommend keeping to a bare minimum – but more on that later).

    No Service Fees or Account Minimums

    Most banks have a minimum balance requirement of about $25,000. If you don’t have that much in your account, they will charge you a service fee. 

    These monthly fees can be anywhere from $10 to $25 per month. The Charles Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking account has no monthly fees, no minimum balance requirements, and no direct deposit requirements. For long-term travelers, this is a dream come true. Whether you have $3.00 or $3,000 in your Schwab checking account, you’ll never have to pay a monthly fee.

    Never Pay for Unauthorized Charges

    Fraud happens. But with the Schwab debit card you can have peace of mind that even if someone gets access to your account, you don’t pay for any unauthorized charges or withdrawals. With Schwab Security Guarantee, Charles Schwab will cover 100% of any losses in your account due to unauthorized activity. 

    That means if you see a withdrawal or purchase you didn’t make, just contact Schwab’s customer support and they’ll reimburse you for the fraudulent charges and withdrawals. 

    How to get your Charles Schwab debit card

    To get a Charles Schwab debit card, you’ll have to sign up for a Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking account. That name sounds pretty intimidating, but don’t let it scare you away.

    All that means is that when you open up your checking account, Schwab will automatically open up a brokerage account for you. It is completely free, and you aren’t expected to put any money into it. You can just ignore the brokerage account. Ours has always carried a zero balance, and I often forget it even exists.

    To get started, use this referral link: 

    **Note – we do not make any money off of this referral – but you can! Charles Schwab is giving you anywhere between $100 and $500 depending on how much you deposit into your new checking account. And who doesn’t love free money?**

    Bonus reward chart for the Charles Schwab travel debit card

    When should you use your debit card while traveling?

    With no fees to worry about, you may be tempted to use your debit card as your primary method of payment while you travel. I would highly recommend against that. 

    The main purpose of your Charles Schwab debit card should be to withdraw money at an ATM. This is simply because the less you use your debit card while traveling, the less likely you are to encounter fraud. While the Charles Schwab debit cards have the latest security protections, fraud is still a real possibility, and you don’t want to be left with a compromised card and no way to access your money. 

    Our recommendation is to use your credit card wherever possible. That way, if your credit card gets hacked, you can shut down your card quickly and the hacker does not have access to the sums in your checking account. 

    Online Banking

    Charles Schwab is an online bank – meaning there are no physical branches where you can go and deposit money into your account. 

    Everything is done online. So – how do you get money into your account? You can easily set up a secure connection to transfer money from your current bank account to your Charles Schwab account.

    Jenoa and I used this two bank method for an extra layer of security on our accounts while we traveled. We had one bank account with Chase – where we kept the majority of our money – and then a second account for Charles Schwab that would only hold the money we were needing for cash. 

    Our transfers from Chase to Charles Schwab have always been smooth and timely. 

    How much money should I keep in my Charles Schwab account?

    As a general rule of thumb, I’d recommend keeping about $1,000 – $2,000 in your Charles Schwab account and the rest in your primary bank account. 

    The most we ever had in our Schwab account at one time was $2,869.36. 

    You can transfer over more money as needed.

    Our experience with the Charles Schwab Debit Card

    In all honesty, I cannot think of a debit card that could possibly be better than the Charles Schwab bank card for world travelers. I give it a five-star review. 

    During our year abroad, we used our debit card nearly weekly – and in some countries multiple times a day – to pull out cash, especially in countries that did not often accept credit cards. Because of our debit card, we never had to exchange money at the airport for exorbitant fees, and saved on the exchange rate by using trusted ATMs.

    In our first three months of travel alone, Charles Schwab refunded us $106.35 just from ATM withdrawal fees. That’s a significant chunk of cash that we were able to use on better things like renting scooters, dining out, and couples massages. 

    Updated travel notices were a breeze and can be done online or in the Schwab app. We never worried about our card being shut down in a new country, which can happen if you use a smaller bank.

    Our experience transferring money over to our Schwab checking account was easy. It usually takes 2-3 business days for the money to transfer over, so prepare ahead of time if you know your balance is running low in Charles Schwab and you are going to need cash.

    I would recommend this card to any traveler. It is especially useful if you are visiting countries that rely heavily on cash, or where there are high fraud alerts and you are wary of using your credit card. 

    12 COMMENTS:

    1. Thank you for all the good info!
      I’m hoping to travel long term this spring and I’ve been looking for a new bank.

      The bank I use now is my local one and it’s so ill-equipped for international travel that every time I use an international ATM it charges me $5 USD PLUS whatever the ATM fee is.

      1. One Year Around The World

        Hi Sandra! We are glad that you found this helpful. We also used to have a card with our local bank, but since getting the Charles Schwab card, we haven’t looked back!

        Enjoy your travels this spring!

      1. One Year Around The World

        Hi Val,

        We haven’t run into any fees since transferring to the Schwab account. We don’t use Schwab as our primary bank. We just transfer over money every time we travel, so we can use the debit card.

        Let us know if you have any other questions!

        Jenoa

    2. Hello,
      Thanks for the post…its very helpful. I have a few questions/clarifications.
      1. If I’m in Europe and my balance in the schwab acct is running low how do I transfer money from my regular us bank acct such as chase or Bank of America?
      2. Do schwab have some form of debit card for teens? Our daughter is traveling to Europe in a group from her school and we wanted her to have a card we can easily transfer money to just in case she needs extra.

      1. One Year Around The World

        Hi Abi,

        We are glad that you found this post helpful! To answer your questions:

        1. Once you open an account, you can connect the account with Bank of America to directly transfer money to Charles Schwab. When you are abroad, you can either use the app or just go online and transfer money to the account. I’d recommend doing it at least a few days before you run out of money to make sure the money transfers in time.

        2. Unfortunately, since the Charles Schwab checking accounts come with a linked brokerage account, the minimum age requirement is 18 years old.

        Hopefully this helps! Let us know if you have any further questions.

        Jenoa

    3. So, I had unauthorized use of my Schwab ATM card in NYC, and I am in Vermont. The crooks took $2000. No idea how that happened as my debit cards were replaced and activated 3 weeks ago and had not even been used.
      We will see IF this Schwab security guarantee is no-hassle.

      1. One Year Around The World

        Oh no! We are so sorry to hear this. Hopefully you were able to get everything resolved quickly.

        Best,
        Jenoa

    4. Hello,

      I’m leaning towards our ending a Schwab account for my travels and your article makes it seem like a no brainer.
      My question is: Where is Schwab profiting from me?
      They don’t have fees, no minimum I’m the account, and I don’t have to put any money in the brokerage account… I find it hard to believe they would they offer this service if they aren’t profiting in some way.

        1. One Year Around The World

          Hi! As far as we’ve seen, there is no catch. We’ve had the card for 3.5 years now and haven’t been charged anything for our checking account/debit card. When you open your checking account, you also automatically get an investor account, so I’m sure they hope that you’ll eventually start investing with them.

          However, we’ve never done this and haven’t had any issues. Hopefully this helps!

          Best,
          Jenoa

    5. In the past, I have used TD as my card when travelling due to their lack of charges as well. The problem is that they have suspended my card for “potential fraud” after EVERY SINGLE use while overseas. I have been blocked from my money on countless occasions. I’m switching to Schwab. Thank you for the well written article.

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