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Headed out of town? How to use your debit card on vacation

What we'll cover

  • What to know about using your debit card on vacation

  • Pros and cons of using your card when traveling

  • How to protect your finances when you’re on the go

If you’ll soon be leaving on a plane (or a car, bus or another mode of transportation) to head off on your next vacation, you may be thinking about how you’ll pay for expenses while you’re out globetrotting. You have more than a few options, but one of the safest and most convenient is your debit card.

How does a debit card work when I travel? 

If you’re traveling within the United States, your debit card will work exactly the same as it would at home. Using a debit card abroad is pretty easy to do with most banks, but there are some best practices that can keep your money secure when you’re out of town.

Notify your bank of travel plans

While it’s not always required, it is recommended that you let your bank know you are traveling, especially if you’re leaving the country. If you don't, your bank may mistakenly flag your card for fraudulent activity (better safe than sorry). This could interfere with purchases you are trying to make on the go.

Check your bank’s website for their particular travel requirements and to let them know your travel dates.

Tip:  Ally Bank  customers, you can let us know you’re traveling by calling 1-877-247-2559 or sending us an online chat.

Pay attention to fees

Whether you’re traveling within the U.S. or around the world, it’s a good idea to budget for any possible fees. One of the more common is if you use an ATM.

Ally  doesn't charge fees to use any Allpoint® ATM in the U.S. (Plus, we reimburse up to $10 at the end of each statement cycle for fees charged at other ATMs nationwide.) If you’re leaving the country, make sure to account for an international transaction fee of up to 1% if you need to get cash from an ATM outside the U.S.

You’ll also want to look into whether or not your debit and/or credit card levies a foreign transaction fee, which can tack up to an additional 3% onto the purchase price when you’re abroad. Those fees would apply to buying meals, train tickets, souvenirs – anything you purchase on your trip - so they could add up quickly.

Know where ATMs are located

Remember to plan ahead to avoid spending unnecessary time searching for ATMs when you need cash. Ally customers can use our Allpoint®  ATM locator to easily find the nearest location anywhere in the U.S. (and in Canada, Puerto Rico, United Kingdom, Mexico and Australia.)

Using your debit card while on vacation can be a solid strategy for avoiding a serious case of buyer's remorse when you return home.

Pros and cons of using your debit card on vacation

Just like any other payment, using your debit card while traveling has some upsides and downsides. Consider both when deciding which spending option is right for your next trip.

The pros


Your debit card is easy to use because it works just like a check without the hassle of writing one. If your debit card is branded with the VISA®, MasterCard® or another major credit card company, it can be used at millions of locations worldwide. Plus, if you find yourself somewhere that only accepts cash, you’ll be able to use your debit card to withdraw money.


In the event that your card is lost or stolen, most banks allow you to easily lock your card via your account or app. This provides an added layer of safety for those worst-case scenarios that you don’t get when you pay with cash.

Avoid overspending

Using your debit card while on vacation can be a solid strategy for avoiding a serious case of buyer's remorse when you return home. Unlike with a credit card, you can make sure you’ve adjusted your account to include the amount you’ve budgeted for your trip. Then keep an eye on your spending during your adventures. 

Keep in mind, if you use your debit card to pay for hotels and rental cars, they may place a temporary charge on your account beyond the final cost of the reservation. When you check out or return the rental car, they'll refund the amount to your account, but include this in your overall budget to avoid overdrawing your account.

The cons

Possible overdraft fees

Just like at home, vacations can sometimes include unexpected expenses. Whether it’s a spur-of-the-moment souvenir splurge or a surprise medical emergency, you can’t plan for everything. If you’re using your debit for extra travel costs, you run the risk of over drafting your account and then facing the fees that often come with it. Building a buffer into your budget for those unforeseen events can keep you a step ahead, but make sure to monitor your account so you can make adjustments if needed.

At Ally, we’ve completely eliminated overdraft fees . If you do overspend and exceed your balance, we’ve got you covered with CoverDraft SM,  an additional safety net that can provide up to $250 of temporary relief.

Other fees

Whether it’s using an ATM to grab some cash or a foreign transaction fee, using your debit card while on vacation can come with some additional costs. Keep those in mind as you build your travel budget to avoid any surprises.

Safe travels

Your bags are packed and you’re ready to go, just don’t forget to let your bank know. As you set off on your next adventure consider bringing your debit card along to help keep you on budget, provide additional security and keep your finances on track even when you’re exploring somewhere new.

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