I Traveled to 36 Countries This Past Year. The Card I Reached for the Most Surprised Me (2024)

Last year, I left my job as a personal finance editor to backpack across the world. Since I’d written about dozens of credit cards, I put my skills to the test to find the best travel credit cards to use on my trip.But the card that I found the most useful surprised me.

I signed up for different credit cards with large welcome bonuses that I used to pay for my flights and hotels. These cards came with travel protections to insure my purchases and some offered perks that upgraded my experience. But the most helpful card in my wallet turned out not to be a credit card at all -- the debit card that came along with my Charles Schwab High-Yield Investor Checking Account was the unsung hero of my travels.

The biggest benefit of this debit card is that you can withdraw money from any ATM without worrying about foreign transaction fees or ATM fees. Even if you’re used to a cashless lifestyle at home, when you’re traveling, you need cash.

I Traveled to 36 Countries This Past Year. The Card I Reached for the Most Surprised Me (1)

Raina He, Contributor

Yes, my credit cards helped fund my trip and were a big reason why I was able to take this year off. But my Schwab Visa Platinum debit card fulfills an incredibly useful and necessary niche that my credit cards don’t. Here’s why this dark horse of a card is a must-have for international travelers.

What Is the Charles Schwab Visa Platinum Debit Card?

Unlike a credit card, the Charles Schwab Visa Platinum Debit Card isn’t a separate card you can apply for on its own. Rather, it’s the debit card associated with the Charles Schwab Investor Checking Account.

As checking accounts go, however, this Schwab account is compelling. The Investor Checking Account is a free checking account with no minimum deposits or minimum balance requirements, no monthly fees, no overdraft fees and a 0.45% APY on your account balance -- just a few reasons why it won CNET’s Editors’ Choice award for best checking account. Best of all, there are no foreign transaction fees and you get unlimited ATM fee rebates for cash withdrawals worldwide.

The card also comes with some nice benefits from Visa, such as extended warranty protection, price protection and travel accident insurance (when you pay with the card). The ability to set travel alerts and lock and unlock your card directly from the app, as well as add your card to mobile wallets, make it easy to use while traveling.

I’ve also found this bank’s customer service to be excellent. Most account actions, like setting a travel notice or locking and unlocking your debit card, can be accomplished in Schwab’s banking app. But the few times I’ve needed to call customer service, I’ve always been able to reach a human quickly and have my problem resolved without issue.

Pro Tip

To open an Investor Checking Account, you also need to open a brokerage account with Charles Schwab. But Charles Schwab’s brokerage accounts are free to open and maintain, and you don’t need to actively use it for investing if you don’t want to. So although it’s an extra step, there’s really no downside.

This debit card saved me multiple times while backpacking around the world

The biggest benefit of this debit card is that you can withdraw money from any ATM without worrying about foreign transaction fees or ATM fees. Even if you’re used to a cashless lifestyle at home, when you’re traveling, you need cash.

This card came in handy when I went to Oktoberfest in Munich and at multiple Christmas markets in Vienna. In both places, most of the food vendor stalls were cash only. There were typically ATMs available in the near vicinity, but they were often run by third-party companies that charged fees.

Even if you travel to a country where credit cards are widely accepted -- like most of western Europe -- many smaller businesses and street vendors will take only cash, or require a minimum purchase amount to use a card.

Certain parts of Southeast Asia were similar. At the night markets of Kuala Lumpur, for example, most of the food hawker stalls took only cash or QR code mobile wallets (a different system from the mobile wallets in the US). Without a steady supply of cash, I would’ve missed out on a lot of experiences while traveling.

I Traveled to 36 Countries This Past Year. The Card I Reached for the Most Surprised Me (2)

Some countries don’t widely accept credit cards. In Morocco, I often found that many restaurants, shops, museums and even locally run hotels and hostels accepted only cash. Basically, unless a place was a chain store or some high end establishment, I needed cash. It’s not too hard to keep $20 or $50 USD worth of local currency on hand to cover small purchases like street food or souvenirs, but needing to pay for week’s worth of lodging with cash can make for a hefty ATM withdrawal or currency exchange -- not to mention the commensurate fees, if you’re being charged for a percentage of the transaction.

Taxis and public transportation in some countries are also cash-only. And it’s also good to have some cash for emergencies if your credit cards are ever declined or if you lose access to them.

Is the Charles Schwab debit card the only way to get cash while traveling? Of course not. You can use your regular debit card at foreign ATMs -- but you might be charged a fee. You can also change dollar bills into the local currency of your destination at a bank in the US before you leave, or at a currency exchange service once you arrive. But then you’re stuck carrying all of your cash on you, which can be risky.

For me, being able to withdraw cash from any ATM, any time, without worrying about fees (after the reimbursem*nt from Schwab) has made my travel experience much smoother. Specifically, it means:

  • I can use the nearest ATM available, even in airports and “tourist trap” areas, without worrying about high fees.
  • I don’t have to calculate how much money I need or carry large amounts of cash because I can withdraw cash in smaller quantities and go back for more without paying extra. This also means I’m less likely to end up with a large amount of foreign currency when I leave the country.
  • I never worry about exchanging currency or finding the best exchange rate. I withdraw cash in the currency I need at a standard exchange rate every time.

How I use the Charles Schwab Investor Checking Account

During my eight-months-and-counting backpacking across Europe, Morocco and Asia, my Schwab checking account has been invaluable for managing my finances and accessing cash on my travels. And it’s not even my primary checking account.

Since I knew I wanted to use the Schwab debit card overseas, I decided to keep my money in my primary high-yield checking account that didn’t have an active debit card attached to it. As a tourist who was out and about all day in unfamiliar areas, I wanted to be cautious in case I was pickpocketed or lost my debit card. If my card was compromised before I had a chance to lock down my account, I didn’t want to risk losing more than a few hundred dollars.

So, I transferred a few hundred dollars into my Schwab account at a time and topped off the balance as I used it. I put all non-cash expenses on my credit cards -- both to earn rewards and for increased security. And of course, I made sure my credit cards were paid in full each month from my primary checking account.

This system has worked well for me so far and has helped me keep my money safe while traveling.

Is the Charles Schwab Investor Checking Account worth it if you don’t travel?

Even if you’re not jet setting across the globe, the Charles Schwab Investor Checking Account is still worth considering. Its ATM fee rebates work in the US as well, and while your bank likely has a domestic network of fee-free ATMs, it’s still nice to be able to use the most convenient ATM regardless of if it’s in-network. Even though credit cards are ubiquitous in America, there are still times and places you need cash.

Reimbursem*nts aside, this account is a great checking account in and of itself, with no account fees, minimums or overdraft fees. Although its APY isn’t as high as some other high-yield checking accounts and it lacks some of the benefits of newer fintech banks (like early direct deposit), it’s a solid option from a large and reputable institution.

Plus, if you’re interested in investing, having a Charles Schwab brokerage account linked to your checking account makes it easy to transfer money between the two. Charles Schwab’s brokerage accounts have no opening and maintenance fees and no commissions on online stock and ETF trades.

Recommended Articles

This Woman Slashed $12,000 in Credit Card Debt. Steal Her 5 Tricks

This Woman Slashed $12,000 in Credit Card Debt. Steal Her 5 Tricks

By Tiffany Connors

Want Extra Money for Summer Travel? This Card Has a Fast Pay Out

Want Extra Money for Summer Travel? This Card Has a Fast Pay Out

By Holly Johnson

Is a Balance Transfer Worth It if You Can’t Pay It Off in Time? This CFP’s Take May Surprise You

Is a Balance Transfer Worth It if You Can’t Pay It Off in Time? This CFP’s Take May Surprise You

By Robin Hartill, CFP

The editorial content on this page is based solely on objective, independent assessments by our writers and is not influenced by advertising or partnerships. It has not been provided or commissioned by any third party. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products or services offered by our partners.

I Traveled to 36 Countries This Past Year. The Card I Reached for the Most Surprised Me (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Rev. Leonie Wyman

Last Updated:

Views: 5663

Rating: 4.9 / 5 (59 voted)

Reviews: 90% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Rev. Leonie Wyman

Birthday: 1993-07-01

Address: Suite 763 6272 Lang Bypass, New Xochitlport, VT 72704-3308

Phone: +22014484519944

Job: Banking Officer

Hobby: Sailing, Gaming, Basketball, Calligraphy, Mycology, Astronomy, Juggling

Introduction: My name is Rev. Leonie Wyman, I am a colorful, tasty, splendid, fair, witty, gorgeous, splendid person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.