Why the Charles Schwab debit card is the world’s best debit card for travel in 2023.
Rule number one when traveling abroad: Avoid carrying excessive amounts of cash.
The potential risks of carrying too much cash while traveling are far too great and are easily avoidable by using alternative payment methods such as debit and credit cards. In 2023, carrying too much cash just doesn’t make sense for smart travelers. 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.
As you prepare to go on your trip, you’ll want 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.
What is a debit card?
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.
It serves as a substitute for cash and helps keep you and your money protected from theft, fraud, or accidental loss.
When you travel, you’ll need a debit card as you may need to withdraw cash from the ATM in the local currency. Debit cards also serve as a safety net in case anything happens to your credit card.
How does the debit card work for Charles Schwab?
The Charles Schwab travel debit card works through a rebate structure. A rebate is a refund offered to a customer when a customer makes a purchase. You can think of it as a retroactive discount. How does this work for traveling and ATM fees? Initially, you pay the full cost for your ATM withdrawal (withdrawal amount + ATM fee). Then, at the end of the month, Schwab refunds you the total amount of all ATM fees charged to you over the course of the month.
If you look at your bank statement, you will see a deposit into your checking account from Schwab. You should see this on the last day of the month.
That is how the Charles Schwab debit card works for reimbursing ATM fees.
To get the Charles Schwab travel debit card, you’ll need to open a specific type of checking account called the Schwab Bank Investor Checking™account. The name sounds intimidating, but it’s not, I promise. I’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.
- Unlimited ATM fee rebates worldwide
- No foreign transaction fees
- No service fees or account minimums
- No paying for unauthorized charges or withdrawals
In other words: 100% free banking as you travel. Most debit cards and many credit cards charge for international transactions. However, the Charles Schwab debit card actively saves you money on your purchases and ATM transactions.
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.
Is the Charles Schwab debit card free?
The Charles Schwab travel debit card is 100% free. We’ll take a look at what that means and how that benefits you as a traveler who wants to get the most out of your money. This is why we recommend the Schwab card as the number one debit card for any traveler and especially for frequent and long-term travelers.
Let’s take a look at how the Charles Schwab debit card is actually free.
Charles Schwab has unlimited ATM fee rebates worldwide
As mentioned earlier in the blog, the Charles Schwab debit card allows unlimited ATM fee rebates from any ATM anywhere in the world. 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 one of our bank statements.
Does the Charles Schwab debit card have a foreign transaction fee?
No Foreign Transaction Fees
A foreign transaction fee is when your bank charges you a fee for using your debit card abroad. Banks charge foreign transaction fees 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 transaction fee at the ATM or when you make a purchase with your debit card.
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 monthly service fee.
These monthly fees can be anywhere from $10 to $25 per month. The Schwab Bank Investor Checking™ account has no monthly fees, no minimum balance requirements, and no direct deposit requirements. For frequent 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 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 ignore the brokerage account. Ours has always carried a zero balance, and I often forget it even exists.
Get your Charles Schwab debit card by using this link.
*Note – we do not make any money from Charles Schwab.
How long does it take to get a Schwab debit card?
Once you have opened your account with Schwab, your card will be mailed to the address you provided within 3-5 business days.
Because of this time limitation, you’ll need to open your account with plenty of time before your trip to ensure you get your debit card before you travel. We recommend opening your account at least 3 weeks before the start date of your trip.
If you leave on your trip before the 3-5 business days wait period, you can reach out to the Charles Schwab customer support team and request rushed mail delivery. However, due to time restraints, they may not be able to provide this service or guarantee that your card will reach you before your travel date.
Where can you withdraw cash with your Charles Schwab debit card?
The Charles Schwab debit card works at any ATM in the world and refunds 100% of any ATM fee that occurs. This gives you the freedom to travel anywhere in the world without the fear of hidden ATM fees eating up your budget.
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.
How do I deposit cash into a Schwab checking account?
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 new account? You can quickly and easily set up a secure connection to transfer money from your current bank account to your Charles Schwab checking account.
Be aware that bank transfers can take between 2-3 business days for the transfer to be completed. To ensure you have funds available when needed, monitor your Charles Schwab account regularly and plan bank transfers well in advance.
Our transfers from Chase to Charles Schwab have always been smooth and timely.
How much money should I keep in my Charles Schwab account?
How much money you keep in your Charles Schwab account depends on several factors including the length of your trip, your travel budget, and how often you plan on using cash. I’d recommend keeping around $1,000 – $2,000 in your Charles Schwab account and the rest in your primary bank account.
This gives you enough money for funds in case of an emergency and to use for cash withdrawals on your trip. However, this is just a suggestion and this is up to you as a traveler.
Remember, you can always transfer over more money as needed.
Our experience with the Charles Schwab Debit Card
I cannot think of a better debit card than the Charles Schwab bank card for international travelers. With free banking, ATM rebates, zero international transaction fees, and excellent customer support there are no downsides to the Charles Schwab debit card.
During our year abroad, we used our Charles Schwab debit card weekly, and sometimes multiple times per day to pull out cash. This was especially true 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 used on better things like renting scooters, dining out, and couples massages.
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 recommend the Charles Schwab debit 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.
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.
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!
So are there fees of any kind for transferring from our small local bank in us to the Schwab account?
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!
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.
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.
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.
Oh no! We are so sorry to hear this. Hopefully you were able to get everything resolved quickly.
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.
Where’s the catch?
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!
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.
Hello, does opening an account require a credit check? I recently opened a credit card so a credit check was just recently done.
Charles Schwab has varying levels of client authentication and in some cases that includes a soft credit check. There would be no hard checks/pulls.
Soft credit checks won’t affect your credit score. Hard credit checks can lower your credit score.
Hopefully that helps!