Did you know that out-of-network ATM fees cost travelers an average of over $4.50 per transaction?
That adds up fast if you’re an international globetrotter, especially when you need to withdraw a different currency with each new country.
Before I discovered the Charles Schwab debit card for travel, I painstakingly calculated how much cash I thought I’d need to avoid paying outrageous ATM fees. After all, every ATM transaction equated to a meal, bus ride, or entrance fee in many countries.
It wasn’t until many years into my globetrotting career that I met a fellow traveler and realized there was a fee-free way to withdraw money abroad: The Charles Schwab Visa Platinum Debit Card.
Don’t get me wrong—I was skeptical at first. But switching to a Schwab checking account has been a finance-changing (and calculator-free) experience.
But it’s not all sunshine and roses. So, I’ll share the downsides I’ve experienced with the Schwab debit card throughout this article too.
Disclaimer (Schwab Isn’t Paying Me)
Related article: 21 Pros & Cons of the Charles Schwab Debit Card
It can be hard to trust a blogger’s motives these days.
So, let me make this clear: Charles Schwab didn’t pay or offer me incentives for writing this article. I doubt they even know it and I exist.
And now, let me give you some context for the basis of my experience and opinions throughout this article.
I started using my Schwab travel card in October 2018, sparked by a traveling friend’s recommendation. Since then, Schwab has become and remained my go-to checking account and debit card option when traveling.
I’ve traveled with it throughout Latin America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, never having an issue with availability (except for a couple of times when I was in a self-inflicted bind).
Like any banking service, Schwab isn’t without some downsides. But in my opinion, Schwab is the best international debit card for American travelers.
If you’re reading this, Schwab, you’re welcome for the free advertisement.
An Overview of the Charles Schwab Travel Debit Card
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of what a Charles Schwab international debit card entails, the chart below will give you an overview of what to expect.
|Who can apply?||U.S. citizens and residents|
|Eligibility requirements||Schwab brokerage account|
|Fee-free ATMs||Yes. 1+ million in 200+ countries and territories|
|Frequency of ATM fee rebates||Monthly|
|Foreign transaction fees||No|
|Minimum account balance||$0|
Nationalities That Can Use Schwab’s Travel Debit Card
Unfortunately, only U.S. citizens and residents can apply for a Charles Schwab travel debit card without jumping through extra hoops.
If you’re not a U.S. resident, I recommend visiting Schwab’s international page. They allow people from certain countries to open an account in the United States from abroad.
You’ll start by setting up a brokerage account. From there, it’s unclear whether you’ll be eligible for the Schwab travel card by opening a checking account.
So, if you’re a non-U.S. citizen and gain insight into this process, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section.
Psst! If you’re not a U.S. citizen or resident, check out my review of the best banks for digital nomads, which offers low-cost banking options for people across the globe.
Where in the World Can You Use a Charles Schwab Debit Card?
Popular article: 7 Best Debit Cards to Use Abroad
You can use your Charles Schwab travel debit card in over 200 countries and territories across the globe. They work with millions of ATMs and merchant outlets without charging fees.
If you happen to be in a place that doesn’t have a Schwab-compatible ATM or merchant, you can still use your card—you just won’t receive a rebate on the fees.
Personally, I’ve encountered few situations where I haven’t been able to use my Schwab debit card when traveling.
Since there are often two or more ATM providers within a small vicinity, I’ve been able to hop over to a nearby ATM that Schwab partners with so that I can be eligible for the rebate.
That said, I’ve paid Schwab debit card fees at ATMs a couple of times.
In those situations, it wasn’t because there wasn’t the availability of a Schwab ATM in the city I was in, but it was too far, and I needed the money immediately, so it wasn’t worth the effort to go there.
As an American, I’ve hands-down found Schwab to be the best debit card for Europe travel and all my other cross-continental travel thanks to its fee rebates.
Charles Schwab ATM Fees
By now, you’ve likely gathered that there aren’t Charles Schwab ATM fees if you select the right ATM.
Furthermore, many merchants accept the Schwab debit card.
Admittedly, I don’t use my debit card with merchants. I save those transactions for credit cards, given that if fraud is at play, the merchant would have direct access to my Schwab checking account.
At the end of this article, I’ll share more information about this and money safety hacks I’ve learned throughout my years wandering the globe.
What Are the Schwab No-fee Symbols?
Charles Schwab doesn’t have ATMs because they’re a brokerage company and run 100% of its services online.
So, although you won’t encounter Charles Schwab ATMs, you’ll have access to millions of ATMs across the globe where Schwab will rebate you for the fees you pay.
Schwab guarantees fee rebates if you use ATMs that are compatible with one or more of the four networks:
Here’s some good news: You don’t have to memorize these names. Instead, look on the back of your Charles Schwab debit card and you’ll see them listed at the bottom with their respective symbols.
Note: Schwab issued new debit cards in late 2022. Unfortunately, they no longer show the network provider symbols they’re compatible with.
Below is a photo of an example of an ATM showcasing the (very faded) Plus symbol:
I zero in on ATMs with the Plus logo (usually labeled as simply “PLUS”). I find that they’re the most common ones I encounter when traveling, followed by STAR.
That said, Interlink is common for ATMs within the United States.
Getting Your Schwab ATM Rebate
I’ve had my Schwab Platinum Debit Card for over three years now, but I still get a thrill when I click “okay” with whatever fee the ATM shows me.
I don’t have to pull out my phone to calculate the fee from the local currency, and I no longer hop around to ATMs trying to identify those with relatively fewer fees.
That said, Schwab won’t immediately send your fee rebate (aka refund) to your checking account. Instead, they process rebates once per month, on the last business day of the month.
It’s easy to identify the rebates since Schwab lists them as “ATM Fee Rebate” in your checking account.
You’ll also see interest show up in your account for your month on the same date, labeled as “Interest Paid.” Hang tight, because I’ll be talking more about interest shortly.
Since I can use my Charles Schwab debit card for travel without fees, I err on the side of taking out small amounts of money at a time. That way, I’m not left hanging with lots of leftover currency at the end of my trip.
So, I’ve had rebates of $30+ over the course of a month.
That’s a nice little payday if you ask me.
Charles Schwab Foreign Transaction Fees
If you’re looking for an ATM card with no foreign transaction fees, Charles Schwab’s Visa Platinum Debit Card is it.
There aren’t any foreign transaction fees to use a Schwab debit card. That’s the case both when withdrawing money from an ATM and paying a merchant.
So, Schwab will charge you the U.S. equivalent of whatever currency you’re withdrawing money or paying a merchant in.
That said, the value of the U.S. dollar constantly fluctuates. Therefore, you might see slightly different charges when you order the same meal from your new favorite falafel place two days in a row.
The Non-Schwab Travel Fee Conundrum
Most banks charge hefty fees for using ATMs outside of their branch. While some banks have a stronger global presence, such as HSBC and Scotiabank, it’s still inconvenient to track down an ATM operated by them.
Before I signed up for a Schwab account, I easily averaged $5 per transaction for a non-Bank of America ATM withdrawal. The money I’ve saved since then has bought me many, many tacos and bus rides.
Admittedly, finding an ATM card with no foreign transaction fees isn’t as challenging as encountering a card that doesn’t charge out-of-branch ATM fees.
So, if you plan on primarily using your debit card for direct merchant purchases when you travel, it might not be worth switching your account over to Schwab.
Instead, sign up for one of the many credit cards with no foreign transaction fees.
The Low-down on the Schwab Brokerage Account Debit Card
Now you know you can use your Charles Schwab travel debit card without paying ATM or foreign transaction fees. But here’s where things veer off from typical banks.
Charles Schwab is first and foremost a broker.
Therefore, they require all Visa Platinum Debit Card holders to first open a Schwab brokerage account. From there, you can open a checking account. Upon your request, they’ll then mail you a free debit card as long as you deposit at least $100.
Schwab sets up its checking account like they do its brokerage account—showing you the highs and lows of your “investment” (the money in your checking account).
I’m not going to lie; even after traveling with my Schwab debit card for over four years, my heart still sinks when my checking account graph takes a nosedive after I withdraw a large sum of money.
I wish they’d change this.
But alas, it’s worth me having momentary fear that I miscalculated how much money I had in my account for the tradeoff of saving hundreds of dollars per year in ATM fees.
Schwab Bank Visa Platinum Debit Card for Travelers
Once you sign up for a Schwab brokerage account, getting your Visa Platinum Debit Card—the one and only type of debit card that Schwab offers—is easy.
Simply follow these steps on their website:
- Click on “Accounts and Products” at the top of the page.
- Select “Checking” under “Banking and Borrowing.”
- Click “Open a Checking Account.”
I received my free debit card in the mail within ten days of creating a Schwab bank account.
And then, when I got robbed, Schwab was fantastic with blocking my card and sending me a new one ASAP.
Schwab High Yield Investor Checking Account
If you’re looking for Schwab checking accounts with multiple banking choices, you might be better off going elsewhere. That’s because they only offer two options: The Schwab High Yield Investor Checking Account (0.40% APY) and the Schwab Bank Investor Savings account (0.43% APY).
Yes, as of right now, there really is only a 0.03% difference.
In a world where U.S. bank interest rates are pitiful, Schwab’s 0.40% APY for a checking account can feel like gold.
But the truth is that it’s nowhere near it. Just ask the measly few cents that show up in my account at the end of each month.
Nevertheless, I use my Charles Schwab debit card for travel. And as you’ll soon learn, I intentionally keep little money in my Schwab checking account for safety reasons.
Note: Like most banks, Schwab’s APY rates fluctuate. So, check their website for the most up-to-date number.
Using Your Schwab Visa Platinum Debit Card
You can use your Schwab Visa Platinum Debit Card as you would with any debit card.
Employers and clients can send money to Schwab checking accounts electronically. You can also use your Schwab contactless debit card to perform the following:
- Make Venmo transfers
- Pay merchants directly
- Pay bills
- Wire money
- Pay with ApplePay and other mobile wallets
- Transfer money between your Schwab checking and brokerage accounts
As mentioned earlier, I don’t love my Schwab bank account since it showcases the rollercoaster chart of my deposits and withdrawals.
But I love that despite this odd brokerage feature, I can use my debit card as I would a debit card from a traditional bank.
Notifying Charles Schwab of Travel
With your new Charles Schwab debit card in hand, you’re likely ready to hit the road. And from my experience, you can do just that without prior preparation.
I’ve never notified Schwab of my upcoming travel dates. While that’s traditionally terrible practice, many banks and credit card companies have somehow lost the need in recent years for people to tell them when they’re going to be out of the country.
It’s a little scary how Schwab determined my ATM withdrawals in the U.S., Mexico, and Peru within a couple of weeks of each other weren’t fraud. But that’s a topic for another day.
Ironically, when I was browsing through my Schwab account to get my facts straight for this article, I noticed they have a “Debit card travel notice” button.
So, I’ll play it safe and recommend you use it.
But if you forget to notify Schwab of your travels, from my experience, you won’t be left empty-handed at the ATM machine.
Perks of the Schwab Debit Card
You already know that Schwab debit card foreign transaction fees are non-existent, as are ATM fees. But there are many other aspects that offer peace of mind.
Some other advantages to using Schwab’s Visa Platinum Debit Card include:
- No account minimums
- Unlimited rebates for ATM fees
- Option to set up transaction alerts
Of these perks, the Charles Schwab debit card limit being $0 is what stands out to me.
I switched over to Schwab from Bank of America, where I had to keep a $5,000 minimum in my account if I didn’t meet a certain value in monthly direct deposits. Ouch.
Using a Charles Schwab Online Checking Account
Related reading: How to Use the Charles Schwab Mobile App
Now that you have the gist of how to open an account with Charles Schwab and the perks that come with owning a Schwab Visa Platinum Debit Card, let’s explore online banking.
At first glance, Schwab’s online banking platform on both a desktop and app can look intimidating.
That’s because they make you have a brokerage account and list your checking and brokerage accounts on the homepage when you log in. Plus, since Schwab is first and foremost a broker, they have that dreaded chart showing your deposits and withdrawals as if you invested in a highly volatile stock.
Nevertheless, I find it easy to do my Schwab online banking.
They offer links on the right-hand side of your account to help you navigate to the most common items you need to manage your debit card.
My only piece of advice is that if you need to look up your routing number, choose “Checking” as your account type, not “Brokerage.” I accidentally selected the wrong account to pay taxes, resulting in late tax fees.
The Downsides of Using a Schwab Debit Card for Traveling
Although I genuinely feel using the Charles Schwab debit card for travel is the best choice for American residents, I’d be remiss not to point out some downsides.
Some disadvantages of setting up a Charles Schwab checking account and debit card include:
- There’s no in-person bank branch unless you want to deposit checks at a Schwab brokerage office
- Money transfers to and from your account can take days
- The graph of your deposits and withdrawals is unnecessary
- You have to create a brokerage account before setting up a checking account*
*Charles Schwab doesn’t require you to fund your brokerage account to use your checking account and debit card. I’ve had a $0 balance in my brokerage account for years.
The fact that bank transfers take so long isn’t something unique to Schwab—that’s a bank problem. We can only hope a digital, decentralized system like cryptocurrency will improve banking for travelers someday.
What About a Schwab Credit Card?
Charles Schwab offers two American Express credit cards—the Schwab Investor Card and Platinum Card.
The difference between these Charles Schwab credit cards is enormous. Whereas the Investor Card has a $0 annual fee, the Platinum Card tacks on a $695 fee.
Of course, you’ll receive more benefits with the Platinum card.
Personally, the only Schwab travel card I’ve used is their debit card. So, I can’t comment on what it’s like to use their credit card, but I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments section if you have one.
I can say this much, though. American Express credit cards used to be a nightmare to travel with. Most merchants only had credit card machines that accepted Visa and MasterCard.
From my experience in more recent years, this has changed dramatically.
I currently travel with an American Express card and now keep my Visa backup card at my accommodation rather than my wallet since AmEx has become so reliable for me when I’m abroad.
Tips for Saving Money With a Debit Card When Traveling
Using a Charles Schwab travel debit card is already a huge step towards saving money when traveling domestically and internationally.
But if you can’t get a Schwab card or are looking for other ways to save money on bank fees, below are some tips I’ve learned throughout the years.
- Decline ATM conversion offers
- Never sign up for a card with foreign transaction fees.
- Ask merchants if they charge a fee on their end*
- Always choose to pay in the local currency with your card, not your home country’s currency
- Fee-free ATM transactions are usually a cheaper way to get cash than from in-person currency exchange offices
*It’s illegal for merchants to charge customers a fee for paying by card in the U.S. However, not all countries have such a policy.
ATMs often offer the “opportunity” to convert the amount you want to withdraw from USD to the local currency.
Don’t fall for this.
In almost all cases, you can expect ATMs and the card machines merchants use to charge you higher currency conversion rates than your bank provider (Schwab).
Many banks offering debit cards don’t come with foreign transaction fees. So, even if you don’t end up going with Schwab, frequent travelers would be silly to use a card with foreign transaction fees, which usually range from 1% to 3% in fees.
Travel Safety Tips for Your Charles Schwab Debit Card
I’ll admit it—before I switched to Schwab, I was already on the market for a new bank because I wanted a temporary debit card for travel.
I wanted a burn card. Something I could keep $500 or less on in case someone pointed a gun at me, took me to an ATM, and held me captive until the excruciatingly long periods passed of maximum daily withdrawal limits so they could deplete the money on my card.
It may sound extreme. But my travels don’t typically involve sipping wine in places like the Almafi Coast. Plus, #solofemaletravelerlife.
As it turned out, someone pointed a gun at me after I got my Schwab card.
Thankfully, it was a grab-the-bag-and-go situation. And while I was able to promptly cancel my debit card with Schwab, I felt comforted knowing the robber would only have had access to a few hundred dollars if he managed to get into my account.
The moral of the story?
The best travel debit card might be one that you keep a small amount of money on. Enough to pay for your expenses, no more. You can always transfer more money onto it from another bank account.
Other Money Safety Tips
- Keep a copy of your card and bank contact information in a safe
- Leave those same copies with someone you trust at home
- Only take money out of an ATM inside of a bank, not at some public ATM on a street corner
- Use a debit card for withdrawing money from an ATM and a credit card for merchant purchases
Other Travel Banking Options
If you’re still on the fence about whether Schwab is the best ATM card (or if you don’t qualify because of your residency), many other travel-friendly banking options exist.
I’ve put together a detailed post on the best banks for digital nomads, which offers 12 options that cater to people across the globe.
Charles Schwab FAQs
If you still have questions about the Charles Schwab ATM card and using Schwab in general for traveling, the information below should help.
What are Charles Schwab ATM fees like?
Charles Schwab doesn’t charge ATM fees. It’s one of the best ATM cards for travelers on the market because you can use millions of ATMs from over 200 countries and territories across the globe.
What are the Charles Schwab debit card international fees like?
The Charles Schwab foreign transaction fee for their debit card is $0. Schwab will never charge you international fees for using their card. However, you should check with merchants, as they sometimes tack on extra fees for using a debit or credit card.
Is Schwab online banking easy?
Opening a Charles Schwab bank account and using their online desktop or mobile app is easy. You’ll need to have both an online brokerage and a checking account to be eligible for a Schwab debit card.
You can check out my guide on the Charles Schwab mobile app for eight tips before using it.
Is a debit card or travel credit card better?
It’s best to travel with both a debit card and a credit card. A debit card for travel abroad will let you withdraw money for little or no fees. Meanwhile, it’s safest to use a credit card for merchant purchases so they don’t have access to your checking account via a debit card.
Is there a Charles Schwab prepaid debit card?
No, there isn’t a Schwab prepaid debit card. However, you can open a Charles Schwab checking account and fund your debit card with a small amount of money. That way, you can use it as a prepaid debit card when you travel, keeping the rest of your money in a different bank account.
Does Schwab offer debit card travel rewards?
The Charles Schwab international debit card doesn’t come with traditional travel rewards. But if you withdraw money from ATMs frequently while traveling, the money you’ll save by not paying ATM fees will likely be higher than the travel rewards you’d receive from a different card.
What’s the best debit card for international travel?
Charles Schwab is the best debit card for U.S. citizens and residents traveling internationally. They have no foreign transaction or international ATM fees. Thanks to their partnership with top ATM network providers, you’ll have fee-free access to your money in nearly every crevice of the world.
How long does it take to get a Schwab ATM rebate?
The Charles Schwab debit card for travel will offer you an ATM rebate on the last business day of each month. The rebate is the sum of all ATM fees you accumulated throughout the month as long as you used your Schwab travel card at eligible ATMs.
How do travelers open a Charles Schwab account?
Travelers can open a Charles Schwab account when they’re on the road, but they’ll need a U.S. address so that Schwab can mail you a debit card. You can click here to learn more about how to open a Schwab account.
The Bottom Line: Charles Schwab Debit Card for Travel
In my opinion, the best travel debit card for Americans is Schwab’s Visa Platinum Debit Card. Having access to millions of fee-free ATMs is something that most banks can’t claim. And it comes from the most unlikely source—an online brokerage company.
The Schwab travel card is still a secret in much of the travel space, so you’ll be getting in on the ground floor.
Like any company, there are opportunities for improvement. But I’m grateful to have been using my Schwab debit card for all these years and hope it can help you save hundreds of dollars too.
Do you have questions? Leave a comment, and I’ll do my best to help.
I’d also love to hear your experience—positive, negative, and neutral positions are all welcome—if you’ve traveled with Schwab’s debit card.
P.S.—If you’re interested in learning more about a Schwab card, check out my guide on 21 pros and cons of using the Charles Schwab Debit Card and eight tips for using the Schwab mobile app.
2 thoughts on “Charles Schwab Debit Card for Travel: The Low-down”
Thanks Laura! Great info. Looks like it is still as good as when we lived in E. Europe 10 years ago. BUT I’m seeing Schwab wanting $5000 minimum brokerage acct (from the investment side of the site, anyways) now. I think we had to have $1000 before. Never noticed the $0 requirement for that acct.
How strange that Schwab is showing you need a $5,000 minimum brokerage balance. I’ve always maintained a $0 balance in my Schwab brokerage account, including during the checking account setup process. I recommend reaching out to Schwab to see how you can get around this, for this is what they say in their FAQ section for the question, “Are there minimum balance requirements?”
“No, there are no minimum balance requirements for either account when you open an Investor Checking account linked to a Schwab One brokerage account.”
My guess is that entering from the investment side of Schwab’s site versus applying for a brokerage account through the checking account side of their site has something to do with this.