International travel is often filled with the excitement of getting to know a new country, trying its food and learning about its traditions. However, it also comes with a plethora of headaches, such as how to communicate with locals without speaking their language, how to buy a SIM card to post all your Instagram photos and how to get cash without being ripped off.

Before you get too excited, I’m not here to help you with the first two—at least not in this article—I’m here to talk about money. Learning how to spend less to travel is our main goal, right?

Background of international currency notes.

What Not to Do When Exchanging Currency

One of the most common mistakes travelers make in a foreign country is purchasing another country’s bills in their home country. Yes, big banks are able to get all kinds of currency for you, but it comes at a cost. You see, your local bank will sell you, say, euros at a less-than-favorable rate and you end up losing money on the transaction. The rate depends on the bank, but follow the tried and true advice here—just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Another terrible way of obtaining currency is at an exchange kiosk that charges hefty commission on top of offering reprehensible rates. This happens in Europe a lot. Not only do you get ripped off on the exchange rate, but you also pay the business a fee for the opportunity to get robbed. No, thanks.

How to Avoid Paying Too Much for Local Currency

One of the best ways to avoid the need to get local currency is to pay for everything with a credit card that carries no foreign transaction fees. The problem with this approach is that you can’t avoid cash forever. What happens when you have to use public transport that doesn’t accept credit cards? Or you find yourself in a country where cards aren’t widely used, such as Japan or Thailand?

My advice is to drop what you’re doing right now and get your hands on a Charles Schwab Debit Card! The free checking account comes as an add-on to an also-free brokerage account you open with the bank. It costs absolutely nothing to maintain either account, and there’s no minimum deposit requirement.

charles schwab bank visa platinum card
Photo Credit: Charles Schwab Bank

Reasons to Sign up for a Charles Schwab Checking Account

No Foreign Transaction Fees: Of course, the main reason to get the Charles Schwab Debit Card is so you can use it abroad. The card charges no foreign transaction fees and saves you 3% on every currency conversion you would have paid with other cards without this feature.

No ATM Fees: When you use the card to withdraw cash, it’s completely free, even when an ATM itself applies a withdrawal fee. Not only does the account not charge for ATM transactions, it refunds any amount you’ve accrued in ATM costs for that month. Depending on the usage, you receive a deposit back to your account at the beginning of each month.

Fair Exchange Rates: If the above sounds too good to be true, wait until I tell you that the exchange rate you get is the most up-to-date bank rate for the day you make the cash withdrawal. No more walking around town in search of the best exchange kiosk with no commission.

No Membership Fees: As mentioned above, the best part of the account is that it costs zero dollars to open and maintain.

withdrawing cash abroad using charles schwab debit card

Don’t have a Charles Schwab Checking Account? Signup using this link to earn $100.

My Experience with a Charles Schwab Debit Card

I’ve held the Charles Schwab Debit Card for more than a year, and every time I see an ATM fee rebate, I wonder why I didn’t open the account sooner. However, the refunds are all fine and dandy until you have to deal with the bank’s customer service…

I was recently in Guatemala where I took language classes at a Spanish school in Antigua. The school didn’t accept credit cards as payment, and I made sure to withdraw enough cash to pay for the first week of classes, accommodations and have some money left over for personal expenses.

Before arriving in Antigua, I spent several days in a different town near Lake Atitlan where I relaxed before getting in the full-on school mode. After covering various transportation costs and accommodations, I was running a bit low on cash and needed to make another withdrawal. The lakeside town isn’t full of ATMs, so I went to one of only two that I’d seen.

I inserted the card, selected the amount, and the machine sounded as if it were counting out the bills. A few seconds later, the ATM flashed the words “Out of Service” on the screen and spat out my card. There was no receipt either, so I thought the transaction was canceled. Without suspecting a thing, I wandered over to the second ATM, made a withdrawal and breathed a sigh of relief. Not being able to pay for something in a country where cash is king is one of my worst fears.

You probably already know where this story is going… A few days later, I noticed that my Schwab account had less money in it than I remembered. I looked at the list of transactions, and there it was—a duplicate charge staring at me from the phone screen.

In a panic, I dialed the number on the back of my card to speak to customer service. I explained the situation, and the agent was more than accommodating. She took down the specifics of both transactions, asked which one to dispute and said that a provisional credit would be issued. She mentioned that it normally takes a week to get the funds back, but she could tell I was worried and told me that she’d request an expedited credit.

It probably helped that I was down to about $30 in the account, and the agent understood that I was in a foreign country with almost no money to my name. I don’t keep large amounts of cash on that debit card as a precaution in case it gets stolen, and the two transactions nearly wiped out the entire balance.

I checked the account the next day, and lo and behold, the provisional credit had already been issued! The speed with which the bank took care of the problem was commendable.

Reasons to Sign up for a Charles Schwab Checking Account

Final Thoughts

Like cash, debit transactions usually are the least protected, which is why I prefer paying for everything with credit cards. I also like the security and the points as well. Having the Charles Schwab Debit Card is already something I’ve recommended to friends and fellow travelers because of its awesome ATM usability, and knowing that the bank has your back in case of an emergency only solidifies that recommendation.

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Disclosure: 10xTravel has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. 10xTravel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.

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Anya Kartashova

About the Author

Anya Kartashova is a travel junkie who wants to visit everywhere in the world. As she crosses destinations off her list, that list grows even larger with new places being added. There’s no way to determine whether her wanderlust will ever subside. Probably never.

Learn More About Anya

33 Responses to “My Experience with a Charles Schwab Debit Card in Withdrawing Cash Abroad”


Been traveling with the Schwab card for years and it has worked from Bali to Argentina to Japan to Croatia without ATM fees. I carry it in my wallet and a similar Fidelity ATM card in my checkbook that stays in the hotel safe. Nice to have two in case one doesn’t work — this happened to me at Kilimanjaro airport last month, Fidelity worked and Schwab didn’t temporarily.

Anya Kartashova

My credit union debit card is my backup. It costs some money to perform ATM transactions, but not a lot: $1 per withdrawal plus 1% in currency conversion fees.

I always prefer to exchange currencies with a local money lender at the airport. There are usually dozens of people willing to do this between baggage pickup and the official Money Booths.

I have used the Schwab debit card for years, with only minor glitches. Like the author, I had occasion to see a duplicate charge once and Schwab made it right pronto. Good for them.

However, you need to be cautioned that the Schwab card does NOT always work reliably, and you’d better have a secondary card with you for withdrawals if it doesn’t. Case in point: I’ve just gotten back from a few weeks in Israel, Malta, the UK and Spain. When our plane from the US landed in Israel, I tried getting cash with the Schwab card thru several ATMs in the Tel Aviv airport. ALL uniformly denied me the cash. At first, I thought this had something to do with arriving on Shabbat, but my Chase ATM card worked just fine.

I remembered that in the past I had called or entered my travel plans on the Schwab Bank website, so I immediately sat down and put in all my countries and dates on their website, figuring this would work its way through the system in a day or two. It didn’t.

I was NEVER able to withdraw money in Israel OR in Malta using the Schwab card over the next two weeks. I gave up and didn’t try in the UK or Spain, since I had a sufficient supply of Pounds Sterling and Euros with me from previous travel.

I am really disappointed that Schwab may now seem to require you to actually phone them in order to get the ATM card to work in some countries. It seems archaic, and quite frankly I am not going to phone them from someplace else in the world, even collect, unless my card has been stolen (or I’ve seen a double-entry such as described above.) I intend to call Schwab and find out what is going on, but readers should be certain to both personally notify the “Schwab Bank” (NOT the Schwab brokerage) and also make arrangements for a backup, as I have.

Traveller beware.

Great article! You’ve convinced me to get one. I love Schwab. They are always so nice and never make me feel rushed nor stupid when I call to discuss investment accounts. I’m happy to hear they are apparently equally accommodating with the debit card and account. Thanks for sharing!

For the first time, I had used the Schwab ATM card during the six (6) weeks we were in Egypt, Jordan and Israel. I got all the fees refunded to my account at the end of the month, when the monthly statement came in the mail.

No issues, except …

While in Amman, Jordan, I used the Bank of Jordan’s ATM along the main drag for a few times with no issues. On the last day, I went there again and put in my card and withdrew $350. (USD); Jordan is pricey! The cash came out and as I was looking at the receipt, the cash was retrieved back into the ATM. That set off a panic, as there was no one at the ATM lobby. I spoke to the security guy at the desk, he told us that the money will be “redeposited” back into the account, within a few days. Of course, I didn’t take his word and insisted that he called the bank’s manager down from the upper floors. A guy from the bank came downstairs but he wouldn’t or couldn’t open up the ATM to retrieve the $350. for me. I had to withdraw another $350. cash to cover my expenses.

When I went back to the hotel, I called Schwab’s 800 # (free wifi calling!) and reported the situation. He took down the information for the incident and said to wait a few days to see if the $350 was redeposited into the account, after an investigation. It NEVER was. When I got back home a few weeks later, I received a letter from Schwab saying that while the case was being investigated, a provisional credit was applied to my account and a few weeks later, it was made permanent.

A word of wisdom … make sure you grab the cash immediately from the drawer, before you read the receipt!!!

Juan Treminio

> However, the refunds are all fine and dandy until you have to deal with the bank’s customer service…

The wording of this makes it sound like your had a negative experience, but it seems you ended up taken care of?

James L Maul

It states you need a code and I don’t see it posted anywhere Anya? “Receive a referral from a Schwab client. If they don’t share their referral code, ask your friend to send it to you.”

Shamit Brahma

Any experience with CHASE? Are there exchange rates competitive. I am a Chase private client so do not pay for any services. Will Charles Schwab give me a better rate of exchange?

I travel a lot so would be definitely interested.

I have a Schwab Checking account and it has been great. Note not all ATMs in the world take American debit cards so do your research before you travel. For example many ATMs in Japan do not take American debit cards. ATMs in 7 Elevens and Post Offices are known to accept American debit cards. A little research goes a long way. I wonder if the ATMs mentioned above has issues with American debit cards in general.

I second the tip on having a backup option. I lost my debit card in Thailand and ran out of cash. Luckily this was towards the end of my trip and it wasn’t the end of the world. Schwab was quick to send a replacement card to my next stop in Tokyo. Next time I will get a second duplicate card as backup for the trip and to bring another non-Schwab debit card as backup.

Anya Kartashova

Yeah, Japan is tricky with non-Japanese cards in general. I had no problem withdrawing cash from ATMs I found at the airport as well as some bigger train stations.

Classic

Been a Schwab customer for 35 years.

Used this card some years back to buy a 1937 Jaguar SS100 from a classic car dealer for BP 21,000. The dealer was dumbfounded – he’d never seen that before!

I clicked on the link and it is still asking for a referral code. Matt has been answering the same question with the same response.[ Please clarify.

Also, is it true that they do a hard credit check?

Thanks,

I’ve used this card for at least 10 years all over the world with no problem. My only suggestion is to have a zero credit limit on the card so that if it is lost, someone else can’t use it as a credit card and empty your checking.

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