Is it better to use a credit card abroad?

Traveling abroad with the EC card: party or bankruptcy?

Every trip abroad inevitably raises the question of which payment method you are best positioned with. What do you need to pay quickly and without expensive fees?

In any case, it is clear that you don't have to carry a sack of bills and coins with you. Because practically there is plastic money in various designs. One of them is the good old debit card that comes with most bank accounts. But is this card always sufficient - or do you need a credit card for abroad, such as the Santander 1plus VISA Card?

Paying with your bank card is free within the euro zone. Outside the EU, fees are often due. These are charged at a flat rate (usually between 5 and 10 euros) or are based on the withdrawal amount. Then about 1 to 3 percent of the amount comes on top. However, not all EC cards are accepted worldwide.

Not all cards can be used abroad. Depending on the system, a card can only be used throughout Germany or across the EU. Only Maestro cards are accepted worldwide. It could also be because your bank has not yet activated your card for use abroad.

The fees charged abroad depend on your bank. Before you travel, you should definitely find out where your card is accepted and what fees apply. The Barclays VISA Card is an inexpensive alternative for use abroad.

In this article we will tell you what your EC card is all about, what it can do - and when a credit card is the better choice.

The confusion of terms around bank cards, giro cards & EC cards

You have probably already noticed that different cards are mentioned when it comes to the nasty bank card with which you pay for your purchases or withdraw cash.

The EC card comes from the time of the Eurocheques, with which it has been possible to pay across borders since the 1960s. The issuer of the check was able to identify himself as authorized with the associated EC card, i.e. Eurocheque card. This EC card was later given a debit function, which means that it could be used for cash withdrawals.

Today there are no more EC cards. However, the term is still very widespread. Whenever a debit card is mentioned, it refers to the giro card that you received from your bank.

Not all giro cards are the same

Different types of bank cards are issued in Germany. Your bank can issue you a simple Girocard or a co-branded card with V-Pay or Maestro.

"Pure" giro cards are very rare; the cards usually have a V-Pay or Maestro symbol. At

  • Girocard,
  • V-Pay and
  • maestro

there are three different payment systems. Most retailers in Germany have a framework agreement with the girocard system, which is not used outside of Germany.

V-Pay is a technology from the credit card company VISA. The V-Pay card that you get from your bank is therefore a VISA debit card. In addition to Germany, V-Pay is particularly important in France and Switzerland. Since V-Pay is only available in Europe, the use of a V-Pay card is primarily limited to the European area.
Maestro is - as the name suggests - the debit card system from Mastercard. Until VISA rolled out the V-Pay system, almost all bank cards in Germany were branded with the Maestro symbol. And Maestro is still the market leader in Germany today.

Major differences between V-Pay & Maestro
With V-Pay, all important - and sensitive - data is stored on the chip. This is a little more secure than the Maestro (Mastercard) variant, which stores the data on the magnetic strip. Thieves can read the strip more easily than the chip. You can use your Maestro card worldwide for this.

At a glance: How far can you get abroad with your EC card?

Where you can use your bank card depends on which payment system it is using. For example, you can only use a bank card without co-branding in Germany.

Acceptance of payment systemsGermanyOther EU countriesWorldwide
V-Pay✗ (exceptions possible)

The area in which your V-Pay card is used

You can use your V-Pay card to pay and withdraw money within the EU. There are also some other countries:

  • Andorra
  • Gibraltar
  • Iceland
  • Israel
  • Liechtenstein
  • Monaco
  • Norway
  • Switzerland
  • San Marino
  • Turkey
  • Vatican city

In all other countries you are stuck with a V-Pay card. In the USA, Asia or South America your V-Pay card is completely worthless.

You can use your Maestro card anywhere in the world

You can get a lot further with a Maestro card. Because you can use them all over the world without any major problems. Provided there is a card reader. Depending on which corner of the world you are visiting, it makes sense to check in advance what general card payments are like.

Depending on where and how you are traveling, your debit card alone is not sufficient. The multi-week road trip through Australia is very different from the shopping trip to the neighboring EU country. As soon as your trip lasts longer than a long weekend or you travel beyond the EU borders, a travel credit card is an alternative.

The limits of your debit card: when a credit card is the better choice

Credit cards are accepted almost everywhere around the world. Compared to your EC card, they have the great advantage that you can also use this means of payment as security when you rent a hotel room or borrow a car.

Best credit card for use abroad

1plus Visa Card

With the Santander 1plus VISA Card you can withdraw cash four times a month for free.

No annual fee

4 free cash pickups per month

Repayment in installments (at least 5%)

1% tank discount with participating partners

A maximum of 300 euros withdrawal amount per day

A maximum of 10 transactions per day

The number of free withdrawals is limited

Especially if you are traveling in world history for a few months and maybe even let yourself be carried away by fate, we recommend a credit card. With a card like the Santander 1plus VISA Card, you can go out and relax without having to clarify in advance exactly where your card can be used.

When it comes to your three week summer vacation, a credit card with cancellation insurance is worth considering, for example the Barclaycard Platinum Double. This means that you are even covered if you break a leg shortly before leaving or cannot travel for other unforeseen reasons.

Best travel credit card with insurance package

Barclaycard Platinum Double

With the Barclaycard Platinum Double you are insured while traveling. You can also withdraw and pay money abroad free of charge.

Withdrawing and paying abroad free of charge

up to 6 fellow travelers are also insured

extensive insurance

VISA and Mastercard in one package

Repayment possible in partial amounts

Insurance benefits limited to a maximum of 90 days

Another advantage of credit cards over your bank card: Depending on the provider, the foreign transaction fee is cheaper than with your Girocard. We recommend that you check with your bank to find out exactly what fees will be charged. Because they can be different at Sparkasse than at Postbank or Commerzbank.

Withdraw money with the Girocard abroad

When withdrawing from ATMs, fees are often incurred. You are probably familiar with this from using the machines at “foreign” banks in Germany. If you use the machine of another bank network, this can cost 4.95 euros extra. With every single withdrawal - regardless of whether you withdraw 10 euros or 500 euros.

When you are abroad, you usually have to pay extra if you use an ATM. How high the fees are depends on your bank. It doesn't matter whether you use V-Pay or Maestro.

It is best to ask your bank beforehand what fees are charged at ATMs abroad. Also note that some banks have a limit: In Denmark, for example, you can only withdraw 2,000 or 4,000 kroner a day from some banks (around 270 or 540 euros). In Portugal, the daily limit of some machines is 400 euros.

EC card payment abroad: you have to pay attention to that

The most important point to keep in mind is the acceptance of your card. Because in many smaller towns and less touristy regions, card payments are often not offered at all.

If your card is accepted, payment is similar to that in Germany. Depending on whether the card's magnetic stripe or the chip is used, you can either sign or enter your PIN.

Since V-Pay cards usually do not have a magnetic strip, you always have to enter your PIN here. The Maestro system, on the other hand, mainly uses the magnetic stripe, so you will regularly reach for a pen.

Similar to ATM withdrawals, exchange rate fees may apply when paying abroad if you are not paying in euros. Transactions in euros are generally free of charge. Outside the euro zone, additional costs apply when using your card.

So while you pay free of charge in France or Spain, money in foreign currency costs you more in Morocco or Egypt. Most of the time, up to two percent of sales are generated.

The comparison with a travel credit card is worthwhile here. Because depending on the provider, you can get away with it cheaper.

3 practical tips for your EC card when you are abroad

Hidden fees, blocked cards and the search for the nearest ATM - paying abroad with an EC card can have minor pitfalls. So that you are on the safe side, we give you a few tips for on the go.

In euro countries you can travel safely with your bank card - regardless of whether it is V-Pay or Maestro. In countries with a different currency, however, a small trap lurks.

This is because vending machine operators or retailers often offer you instant conversion of the local currency into euros when you have a card. Whenever you are offered this service, decline it! Because this conversion usually takes place at a rate that guarantees the machine operator or dealer a premium - and makes you pay too much.

So check all the information carefully at the machine and when paying and choose the variant without immediate conversion (Dynamic Currency Conversion, DCC). In English this is the variant "continue without conversion", in Spanish you would have to press "continuar sin conversión".

Basically, you should change a little money at your bank before your trip, but not a larger sum. It never hurts to have some cash in the local currency in your pocket. Because if you already have enough cash ready for a taxi ride or a snack, you won't immediately get stressed because you have to withdraw money on site or pay with your card.

Inquire before your trip whether your bank card has been activated for use in the destination country. It can happen that a bank generally blocks a card from abroad or at least prevents its use in some countries.

So that you don't end up unexpectedly without money, you should have your card unlocked in good time. You can find out from your bank whether your card can be used abroad or whether there is a block.
It is worth taking a look at your smartphone so that you don't wander through strange streets for ages looking for a machine. Many banking apps have a function that shows you the nearest ATMs of your bank and partner banks in the area. Often, however, this ad is limited to Germany.

To find a partner bank or ATM abroad, you can use Google Maps or the map from Apple. If you are looking for a machine, the devices in the vicinity will be displayed - and usually also the bank to which they belong. We did that for the old town of Prague as an example.

List of countries & special features when using your bank card

Cards, accounts & currencies: "Euro: no, EU country: yes?" With all this back and forth you can get confused. Therefore we have listed all euro countries, EU countries outside the euro area and the countries of the European Economic Area for you.

  • Belgium
  • Germany
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Greece
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • Netherlands
  • Austria
  • Portugal
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Cyprus
  • Bulgaria
  • Denmark
  • Croatia
  • Poland
  • Romania
  • Sweden
  • Czech Republic
  • Hungary
  • EU
  • Iceland
  • Liechtenstein
  • Norway

Conclusion: The EC card can only be used to a limited extent abroad

You can pay abroad with most giro cards issued by German banks. However, you have to expect some restrictions. It starts with the fact that there are differences between V-Pay and Maestro cards and ends with the fact that in some situations a credit card is required.

With V-Pay you are well equipped in the EU - and a few other countries - if you just go to the neighboring EU country for shopping or the weekend. If you pay in euros in the destination country, you don't even have to worry about paying fees.

Outside the EU, you can only get ahead with a Mastercard Maestro. However, there are also fees for paying, at the machine anyway.

So if you are planning a longer trip, a credit card is the better option. Because you can store this as security on the go and often use it more cheaply. We recommend the Santander 1plus VISA Card and the Barclays VISA Card. The credit card offers coupled with a current account from N26, DKB, comdirect and ing-diba Bank are also noteworthy.

When it comes to your vacation trip, a credit card with travel insurance is your best bet. Because then you won't be left with high costs if something happens. Here the Barclays Platinum Double is our favorite.

Mauricio Preuss

Hi! I'm Mauricio and, as an entrepreneur, I'm mainly digital. Security is very important to me when traveling, which is why I only connect to foreign networks with VPN. A positive side effect: as a series junkie, I outsmart any geoblocking and stream all of my favorite series.