October 1 2014 Latest news:

Debit cards are seen by many people as the easy way to pay for goods and services.

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They are accepted in most shops, you can often use them to get cashback when you make a purchase, you can use them online, and they are free to use.

Well, up to a point . . .

Debit cards might be free to use in the UK, but if you try to use one while you are abroad, you are likely to be stung with high charges, for both purchases and cash withdrawals.

Occasional usage is probably bearable for most people, but it won’t take long for these charges to mount up if you use a card overseas regularly.

“Debit card charges for overseas transactions continue to be a major bugbear for consumers,” said Andrew Hagger, a spokesman for Moneynet.co.uk

“While a debit card costs you nothing to use in the UK, in the majority of cases you will be charged for cash withdrawals and purchases transactions when abroad.

“Many customers choose their current accounts based on the credit or debit interest rates, yet for people who travel abroad, a fee-free debit card could save them far more over the course of a year.”

A few providers, such as Metro Bank and Norwich and Peterborough Building Society, offer fee-free debit cards, but the vast majority of cards come with high foreign-usage charges (see table).

If you were charged a fee of 2.75pc and a withdrawal fee of 2pc, you would be stung for £4.75 for making a withdrawal of £100 in foreign currency. And don’t forget that banks and building societies also impose their own exchange rates on you when they convert your transactions into sterling.

Mr Hagger said: “If you look at a scenario in which a family is on holiday for two weeks in the sun, and they make five cash withdrawals of the equivalent of £100 and eight debit card purchases worth £50, they could easily be faced with a total charges bill of £45 or £50.”

People would never entertain the idea of using a cash card in the UK that charged us so much for withdrawing our own money, but we seem to be more accepting of it when it comes to overseas use.

Louise Holmes, a spokesman for Moneyfacts.co.uk, said planning was key for travellers who did not have fee-free cards.

“Many of us are used to free banking, so it can be easy to assume we won’t be charged for using our debit cards overseas,” she said.

“This can be a costly mistake, however, with charges applied both for taking money out of a cash machine and for making purchases in stores abroad.

“Minimum charges will apply when withdrawing cash abroad, so it may be worth planning a few days ahead based on your plans for the holiday.

“In the midst of having fun, it can be difficult to keep a close eye on spending and overseas charges can soon mount up.”

Mr Hagger added: “It is better that you are aware of these charges before you jet off, rather than get a nasty shock when you get home, so contact your bank to find out what charges are applicable for both purchases and cash transactions when outside the UK.

“At least if you understand the overseas charges, you can adjust your spending pattern accordingly. For example, you don’t want to be making cash withdrawals or purchases of £10 or £20 if you’re going to be hit with charges of £1.50-plus each time.”

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