Many people rely on their debit cards when spending money abroad, but using these cards in different countries can actually cost a lot in charges.

The good news is that a handful of banks and building societies charge minimal – if any – fees for using your current account on your travels.

This guide sets out the charges from all the major banks and building societies, so you can see what you will pay on a card purchase or cash withdrawal abroad and see if you could be getting a cheaper deal elsewhere.

The sneaky fees to look for

There are a few charges to watch out for if you use your bank card abroad. Use the wrong one, and you could be hit with three types of fee. Small wonder that banks look forward to your holidays almost as much as you do!

[Read more: Best credit cards to use on holidays abroad]

Non-sterling transaction fee

You might think you can avoid fees by paying by debit card directly for your purchases. Unfortunately, most debit cards will charge you to do this.

Whenever you use your debit card for a non-sterling transaction, a fee is applied. This is normally around the 2.75% mark and is charged on the sterling amount spent on the card.

Non-sterling purchase fee

Some banks and building societies also slap on a non-sterling purchase fee when you pay for things using your debit card.

This is charged in addition to the non-sterling transaction fee and usually take the form of a flat value (typically around £1.25), but can also be a percentage of the overall spend.

Non-sterling cash fee

If you use a debit card to withdraw money from a foreign ATM or over the counter, or buy currency or travellers cheques outside of the UK, you’re likely to incur something called a non-sterling cash fee.

This can be a flat charge or a percentage.

Banks and building societies can also slap on the non-sterling transaction fee on top of this charge for cash transactions.

This means that customers withdrawing lots of small amounts will be the hardest hit. So, it’s worth planning ahead so you know how much money you’re likely to need, and withdraw larger amounts all in one go.

What your debit card is charging you

So are you wondering what your current debit card will charge you?

Here’s a breakdown of what to expect from some of the big names when you make card purchases or attempt cash transactions like withdrawing cash from an ATM.

Bank/Building Society

Card purchases: non-sterling transaction fee 

Card purchases: non-sterling purchase fee

Cash transactions: non-sterling transaction fee

Cash transactions: non-sterling cash fee

Barclays Bank

2.75%

Nil

2.75%

£1.50 (free if you're using a Barclays ATM or an ATM that's part of the Global Alliance Member Bank)

Bank of Scotland

2.99%

£1 (free for Premier and Platinum account holders)

2.99%

Debit cards: 1.5% (min £2, max £4.50)

Cashpoint cards: 1.5%: min £1.50 no max

Lloyds Bank

2.99%

£1 (free for Premier and Platinum account holders)

2.99%

Debit cards: 1.5% (min £2, max £4.50)

Cashpoint cards: 1.5%: min £1.50 no max

TSB

2.99%

£1 (free for Premier and Platinum account holders)

2.99%

Debit card: 1.5% min (£2, max £4.50)

ATM card: 1.5% (min £1.50, no max)

NatWest

2.75%: min £1

Nil

2.75%

2%: min £2, max £5

Royal Bank of Scotland

2.75%: min £1

Nil

2.75%

2%: min £2, max £5

First Direct

2.75%

Nil

2.75%

2%: min £1.75, max £5 when using ATMs (free for First Directory members)

Santander

2.75%

£1.25

2.75% (free if using a Santander ATM with a visa debit card in Spain)

1.5%: min £1.99 (free if using a Santander ATM with  a Visa debit card in Spain )

HSBC

2.75%

Nil

2.75%

2%: min £1.75, max £5 (free for Premier and Advance account holders)

Halifax

2.75%

£1.50

2.75%

£1.50

Clydesdale Bank

2.75%: min £1.50

Nil

3.75%: min £1.50

Nil

Yorkshire Bank

2.75%: min £1.50

Nil

3.75%: min £1.50

Nil

Ulster Bank (Northern Ireland customers)

2.65%

75p

2.65%

2.25%: min £2, max £5

Nationwide BS

2.00% (free for FlexOne account holders)

Nil

2.00% (free for FlexPlus and FlexOne account holders)

£1 (free for FlexPlus and FlexOne account holders)

Tesco Bank

2.75%

Nil

2.75%

1%

M&S Bank

2.75%

Nil

2.75%

Nil

Metro Bank

2.50%* (free inside Europe)

Nil

2.50% (free inside Europe)

£1.50 (free inside Europe)

*Rising to 2.75% outside of Europe from August 23, 2017

[Read more: Insurance fine print that could invalidate your travel coverage revealed]

Are there any free to use cards?

Norwich & Peterborough used to offer a Gold account which didn’t charge any fees to customers spending on their debit card abroad but the account is no longer open to new customers and will be closed to existing customers by August 31.

Virgin Money's Essential current account offers fee-free debit card purchases but charges £1.50 per cash withdrawal. Several other high street banks also don't charge fees for cash withdrawals in certain countries.

If you live in the Cumberland Building Society area then you could go for its Plus account, which offers free usage as long as your 16-digit Visa Debit Card number starts with 4658 5520 or 4909 71. If your card number starts with 4658 5550 or 4751 48, there is a charge of 2.5% of the transaction amount.

The best option if you are looking to save is Metro Bank, which offers an account that allows 0% on overseas spending within Europe. Outside of this area transactions are subject to charges (rising to 2.75% in August 2017).

The alternatives

Of course, there are certain circumstances when a debit card won’t do the trick.

For example, some hotels and car hire companies insist you pay by credit card. And using a credit card mean you’ll have extra spending protection under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.