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2nd June, 2020


Can I use my debit card to send money abroad?

Maybe you’re an expat who wants to send money home or a parent sending funds to your child studying abroad. Read our guide to find out if you can use your debit card to send money and if it’s the best option for you. 

Your debit card is a versatile and flexible friend, but it’s not necessarily suitable for all kinds of transactions. We take a look below at the most common ways to transfer money abroad and consider whether using a debit card is a feasible option. 

We also look at different types of money transfer – whether it’s more traditional way to use your debit card like through your bank or an established high street service, or if a newer ‘FinTech’ style service could be a better fit for your needs. 

Online money transfer services

It can be convenient to use an online transfer service, as they tend to offer low fees and a fast service without leaving the house. However, it’s worth checking if the online service adheres to high levels of security. With these services, you may be able to pay either with your debit card or directly from your bank account with your account details. 

International money transfer “FinTech” style services

There is an ever-growing number of international payments or money transfer apps on the market and nearly all will accept debit card payments. The biggest benefits of sending money through a FinTech (financial technology) style app are normally lower costs, ease-of-use and speed – while delivery times vary from provider to provider, typically you will need to give some personal details before you can make your first transfer.  

This process is known as ‘onboarding’ or ‘know your customer’ (KYC) and is generally used to make sure that app-users are exactly who they say they are. Normally it only takes a few minutes to get through this process and you’ll likely have to verify your identity with a passport or formal ID card.


PagoFX by Santander is a new style service, with the benefits of a FinTech service but with the backing and security of a global bank, so it gives you an easy way to send money abroad with confidence. You’ll always see your costs upfront and you can send money at the real-time exchange rate which is similar to rates found in public sources like Google, Reuters or Bloomberg. Thus, there are no additional mark-ups. PagoFX payments can be made from any UK debit card and can arrive as fast as within minutes, if sent on a business day before cut-off time and for certain destinations. PagoFX processes transactions the same day, unless the transaction is submitted after the cut-off point (which means after a given time, your payment will be processed the next business day). Cut-off points vary depending on the currency you are sending, and you can find out more information here

Bank transfer

The most familiar way for most people to make international payments will be through their bank. Using this method doesn’t involve your debit card, as you’re using a BIC/SWIFT code or IBAN to move the money directly from one account to another. 

However, bank transfers typically take a long time to process – up to 5 working days – and you won’t always have a clear idea of what it costs before you arrange a transfer. On the other hand, their high levels of security and familiarity for customers still make this a worthwhile option – though not if speed is your critical factor.

High-street money transfer service 

Another option is to use one of the many high-street providers that are available in various towns and cities. These global services typically have branches all over the globe, so transfers are actioned instantly. They can be particularly useful for sending cash that can be picked up from another location – great if you have a friend or relative that have had their wallet lost or stolen abroad.

While they’ll be able to pick up cash almost immediately, you might be offered a poor exchange rate or high fees – partly for the convenience but also because they have many location costs that need covering. In almost every circumstance, paying for these services with either cash or a debit card will be cheaper than using a credit card.

Foreign exchange (FX) brokers

FX brokers are dedicated specialists when sending money abroad, so they’re a worthwhile option if you want to transfer a large amount of money abroad. You’ll need to set up a separate account with the broker and transfer money into it from your bank account – so using a debit card won’t be an option. These types of transfers generally happen very quickly once your account is set up, though it’s worth shopping around to see if you can find a better rate.