No-fee debit and credit cards

This item appears on page 34 of the February 2017 issue.

For people wanting to purchase something while traveling in another country, the option that will save them the most money is making the purchase with a credit card that charges no foreign transaction fee, or FTF. The second-best option, usually, is making a direct purchase with a debit or credit card that DOES charge an FTF or spending cash retrieved from an ATM by using a debit card that charges an FTF.

After reading that in our September 2016 issue (page 2), Jane Holt of Hinesburg, Vermont, informed us about her debit card that charges neither an FTF nor an ATM fee (Nov. ’16, pg. 60). Wondering what other debit cards are out there that do not charge extra fees, ITN made the following request of ITN subscribers: 

“If you have a debit card that charges no foreign transaction fee (FTF) or no FTF and no additional fees for an ATM withdrawal or a purchase transaction, please share with ITN readers the card’s exact name and the name of the bank or credit union through which it was issued. Likewise, if you have a credit card that charges no FTF or no FTF and no fees on purchases, please provide the same information about the type of card it is and where you got it.”

While, among the subscribers’ responses printed below, only the first letter meets the requirements of a debit card that charges absolutely no FTFs or ATM fees, the other subscribers told us about the debit and credit cards that they appreciate using, some of which do NOT charge fees and some of which do. 

My Visa debit card from Charles Schwab Bank charges no FTF and refunds any ATM fees charged to me. The ATM-fee-refund feature saved me money when I made a mistake by withdrawing a small amount and then repeated the transaction to get the amount I intended. Both fees were refunded. 

While I do not have a savings account with Schwab, only a checking account, when I was in Antigua in November 2016, for unknown reasons my debit card was denied at the ATM until, at the suggestion of a local, I selected the option “withdraw from savings.” I don’t know why, but it worked.

Tony Leisner
Tarpon Springs, FL


I have a Capital One 360® debit MasterCard associated with an online interest checking account. It charges no FTF. 

Also, most of the time, an ATM withdrawal goes through with no fees and at the going exchange rate.* I have checked the exchange rates I have had, and they are typically what you see on the Internet. 

I have run into cases where the ATM informs you that a fee will be charged. If that happens, I reject the transaction and try a different bank’s ATM.

For credit card purchases, I use the Capital One Venture® Rewards Visa card. Again, no FTF.

George Sonnichsen
The Villages, FL

* For an ATM withdrawal or on a purchase with a debit or credit card, the exchange rate is determined by the sponsoring credit card company.


My wife and I have been using a Fidelity Visa debit card, linked to a Fidelity investment account, since 2007. Fidelity refunds ATM fees.* The card has been reliable and trouble-free in Europe, the Middle East, India, Cambodia and Central America. 

By the way, you should always call card issuers and banks and alert them to the countries you will be visiting so that any unusual activity will be stopped by the card issuer. 

Also, one caveat about debit cards is that if you get the card stolen and you do not report within a certain amount of time that you are a victim of fraud, then you are out the money.** If you are a victim, you should call the bank or card issuer right away and report it so the investigation starts at the financial institution. That has worked for us on two occasions, preventing catastrophe. 

At the end of a trip to France, thieves probably skimmed our card number and details, and in a matter of minutes they had extracted $1,500 from the account. The theft occurred the day we flew home, and I discovered the theft the next day when checking accounts online. I called Fidelity.

Since we contacted Fidelity immediately, they made us whole and reported the theft to French authorities. They also issued new cards.

Jim Randall, Sequim, WA

*Fidelity does charge a one percent FTF on ATM withdrawals and foreign transactions.

**With a purchase made with a debit card, the money comes directly from the card holder’s bank account, unlike with a credit card purchase, where the credit card company accrues the debt and the card holder simply owes the money to the credit card company. If a fraudulent purchase is made with a debit card, the card holder’s money might not be refunded to him until the card holder’s bank has conducted an investigation and ruled in his favor.


I have used my Morgan Stanley debit MasterCard on five trips to Costa Rica (2006, 2008, 2010, 2013 and 2015) to get local currency from a Banco de Costa Rica ATM in order to do my shopping, dining, etc., with colones. 

I have used my Chase United MileagePlus Explorer credit card for some large-amount purchases. 

Neither of these cards charged an FTF at the time, but Morgan Stanley now does.* 

Joyce Conklin
San Mateo, CA

* ATM withdrawals or purchases made with a “Premier Cash Management Account” Morgan Stanley debit card still are not charged an FTF; all other accounts are now charged a two percent FTF.


I have two ways to cut the cost when I am out of the country.

1. I use my PNC bank debit card to withdraw money from any ATM that is connected to either the Plus or Star network. PNC reimburses you if another bank imposes a fee*. (It takes a few weeks to process the refund, and they put it in your checking account.) You do need to keep a minimum balance in your checking account, though.

2. My credit card does not charge a foreign transaction fee. It is an American Airlines AAdvantage Aviator MasterCard (so I get frequent-flyer miles on every purchase), provided by Barclaycard. It does charge an annual fee of $99.

I also make any charge in the local currency, as I understand that that is better than having the charge made in US dollars, since you get a better conversion rate.

David Anderson
Meadville, PA 

* A PNC Performance Select checking account will reimburse $10 of the total ATM fees per month. The Performance Select account requires keeping a minimum balance of $5,000. All PNC debit cards impose a three percent FTF on foreign ATM withdrawals and purchases.


I keep touting the no-FTF Capital One Venture® Visa credit card. I use my Venture® card for everything and can’t imagine why people stick to their airline-sponsored cards. I have had this card for years and have never had any problems.

For all purchases made with the Venture® card, the number of miles awarded is double the number of dollars spent, and they can be redeemed for travel on any airline plus many other items. 

It’s very easy to use. When you want to book a flight, you go to the airline’s website, book it, pay for it with the card and then go to Capital One and follow the instructions for deducting the miles. The cost, in miles, corresponds to whatever the price of the ticket is. 

For example, I recently flew to Maine on American Airlines. The ticket cost about $279. I purchased it from American with the Venture® card, then went to Capital One’s website and paid the charge with 27,900 miles.

I also use my miles, accumulated with my Venture® card, for purchases of magazine subscriptions and other goodies.

The website is clear and easy to use, and there are no blackout dates or seat restrictions when redeeming miles. The only drawback to the card is the annual fee of about $59, which is quickly made up. 

On average, I charge about $10,000 per year on the card, which translates to 20,000 miles. I have redeemed miles earned with the card only when purchasing domestic flights, since I do not spend enough to accrue enough miles to go out of the country.

I encourage all travelers to give this card a try. 

Ellen Jacobson
Centennial, CO


For years, I have been using the cards from Capital One. I now have a Venture® Rewards credit card. Not only does it not charge FTFs, but I get double points on every dollar I spend.

When I travel to Europe [where chip-and-PIN cards are predominant — Editor], I also carry my Barclay “Arrival+” card. It is a chip-and-PIN card that does charge fees.

George Lauscher
Pocono Summit, PA


I have had a State Department Federal Credit Union (SDFCU) Visa credit card, which charges no annual fee, no FTF and no fees on purchases, since 2013. 

While I applied for the card in person at an SDFCU office, a friend of mine applied for his online. The website ( provides a list of eligible organizational affiliations and states, “If you are unable to join through any of the other methods, as a consumer you may be eligible to join our credit union through the American Consumer Council (ACC), a nonprofit advocacy group. When opening your SDFCU account you will need to choose ‘ACC’ on your application.”

When I did that, the credit union enrolled me in the ACC at no charge. They opened a $1.00 SDFCU account for me — also at no charge — which made me a member. I soon received my SDFCU [chip-and-PIN] credit card, which I have used with no problems in England and Switzerland.

Note that ACC membership “is available to any American consumer who currently uses or has purchased a major consumer product or service….” Their list of categories of products and services includes “motor vehicle, housing, medical services, financial services, insurance, education, transportation, personal services, apparel, recreation and communications or technology equipment.”

S. King
McLean, VA