International payments with debit cards in India: Explained with examples

Aman Saxena

If you are an Indian bank account holder, you may be wondering if your local debit card works when you head overseas. Read more to learn if you can use your Indian debit card to make international payments.

📝 Table of contents

Can I make international payments with debit cards in India?

Yes in most cases, but it depends on your bank and your type of debit card. And you’ll need to make sure you have the facility turned on for your account.

If you are traveling from India for a holiday, work, or study, you may want to use your local Indian debit card to make purchases. Since most debit cards are Mastercard or Visa, they should be accepted in most stores, shops, or for transactions.

But that doesn’t mean that it is set up to make purchases overseas or that it is cost-efficient. In many cases, you will have to contact your bank - either in person, online, or over the phone- to activate the overseas transaction facility on your account. You can risk getting your overseas transactions rejected for security reasons if your bank isn’t informed that you are using it abroad.

Next, it is important to keep an eye on fees. Since this is about your regular debit card and not a specific foreign travel card, you run the risk of paying pricey fees for overseas transactions. Check out the section below on international payment fees to learn more.

In the end, overseas purchases do come down to your bank and your type of account in India. Let’s take a look at some of the popular Indian banks and see how they work when using an Indian debit card for international payments.

How to activate international payments for Indian debit cards

HDFC Bank

HDFC debit cards for Salary, Savings, Current, and Super Saver Accounts come with the ability to be used internationally. You will just have to activate it and set a daily spend limit if you would like.

The easiest way to do this is through HDFC’s NetBanking. Here are the steps:

  1. Head to the HDFC website
  2. Click on Login to sign into Net Banking
  3. Click on the Card tab at the top of the page
  4. Select Debit Cards
  5. Click on Request and select “Set International/Domestic Usage”
  6. Click on “Card to be enabled for International and Domestic Use”

Under Request in the Debit card menu, you can also set a limit on how much you are allowed to spend when using the card internationally. You can do this by clicking on 'Modify International Limit'.

HDFC debit cards come with a handy chip embedded in the card, which makes international payments even easier. In many places abroad, you can just insert the chip and you won't have to sign for the purchases either.

SBI

State Bank of India, or SBI for short, normally does not allow for international transactions on their regular Classic debit card accounts or Premium debit card accounts.

But if you have any of the following accounts with SBI, your card can be used internationally once you have activated it:

  • Silver International Debit
  • Global International Debit
  • Gold International Debit
  • Platinum International Debit

Here are the steps to activate international transactions on the cards:

  1. Sign in to SBI’s internet banking
  2. Click on the E-services tab
  3. Click on ATM services on the left-hand side menu
  4. Select “ATM Card Limit/Channel/Usage Change”
  5. Select the card number for the account you’d like to activate international transactions for
  6. Select “enable CPN channel”
  7. Select International for usage type under Select Service
  8. Click on Submit

SBI used to have travel and multi-currency accounts issued by Mastercard, but the accounts have been suspended since July 2021.

ICICI bank

With ICICI, if you have a debit card that was issued before December 2013, it is not eligible for international transactions. But if you have a recently issued card, and moreover, a chip-enabled ICICI debit card, you can use that debit card internationally.

To activate an ICICI debit card to be used internationally or even on international websites you will have to give ICICI Customer Carea call from your registered mobile number. You can also head to an ICICI bank branch with a government-issued photo ID.

Kotak bank

Kotak debit cards are enabled for international transactions depending on when you got the card. Debit cards issued by Kotak after 30 September 2020 do not have international payments enabled automatically and will need to be enabled. Any debit cards issued before then are ready to go for international transactions.

You can turn on the international transaction feature or check if it is on from the Kotak app. Here is how to do it:

  1. Sign in to your Kotak Mobile Banking App
  2. Click on ‘Service Requests’
  3. Select ‘Debit Card’
  4. Click on ‘Card Control’
  5. Find and select your Debit Card Number
  6. Select “International/Domestic Controls”
  7. International Usage will be On or Off

If it is Off, you can press it to switch it on and so it is ready for international transactions. If you see that it is already On, that means you are ready to go.

You can do a similar check through Kotak’s Net Banking:

  1. Sign in to your Kotak Net Banking account
  2. Click on Debit Card
  3. Select Card Control
  4. Enable International Usage

Citi bank

Citibank allows for international debit card use as long as you have met these 3 conditions:

  1. Your PAN card is updated and accurate for your account
  2. You comply with the Reserve Bank of India’s Liberalized Remittance Scheme
  3. You have given consent for the card to be used abroad

Here are the steps to take to give Citi your consent to make international transactions on your debit card:

  1. Complete and print out the Citibank consent form
  2. Log in to your Citibank online banking
  3. Click on Account
  4. Select Purpose of Upload as “Enable International transactions”
  5. Upload your completed and sign consent form
  6. Submit

This can take 1-2 business days to complete on the bank’s end. Additionally, keep in mind that Citi only allows for a currency equivalent of a maximum of $10,000 USD in a year for spending on the card.

International payment fees and charges with Indian debit cards

Fees on international transactions can quickly add up when using your local debit card abroad. Banks typically charge a foreign transaction fee on every purchase, plus taxes. And then on top of that, they use an exchange rate that is weaker than the real mid-market exchange rate.

The mid-market exchange rate is the real exchange rate that you see on Google, and the same one banks use internally. It does not have a markup. So what banks do is charge customers a weaker exchange rate, and are able to sneak in a hidden fee in the discrepancy.

Here are the international debit card transaction fees for popular Indian banks:

BankInternational debit card transaction fee
HDFC3.5%
SBI3%
ICICI3.5%
Kotak3.5%
Citi3.5%

What does this look like with the marked-up exchange rate? Here is an example of spending $500 USD abroad with each of the bank’s transaction fees and Visa’s exchange rate:

BankInternational debit card transaction feeExchange rate for $1 USD for a Visa card$500 USD in Indian Rupees
HDFC3.5%₹77.88₹38,940
SBI3%₹77.50₹38,750
ICICI3.5%₹77.88₹38,940
Kotak3.5%₹77.88₹38,940
Citi3.5%₹77.88₹38,940

as of Feb 18, 2022

To compare, check out the mid-market exchange rate for $500 USD in Indian Rupees

Exchange rate for $1 USD$500 USD in Indian Rupees
Mid-market exchange rate₹74.62₹37,310

as of Feb 18, 2022

A mid-market exchange rate can save you over ₹1,500 on the same purchase.

This is why it's a great idea to check out Wise. Wise uses the real mid-market exchange rate on every transaction, which can save you money on purchases big and small when you are abroad. Over 11 million people use Wise because you always get the real exchange rate and just one low transfer fee when sending money overseas.

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Wise uses smart technology to send money from India to local bank accounts abroad. You will always get the real exchange rate and a low transfer fee when sending money overseas. Plus it is free to sign up.

Doing business internationally?

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Get started with a Wise Business Account, and save with a low-cost transfer fee and mid-market exchange rate - which is the same as the one you see on Google.

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And if you are an Indian living in currently supported countries, you can get the Wise multi-currency account and linked card. It is a single account where you can hold multiple currencies at one time. So if you head to India, you can use the account and linked debit card just like a local, while also paying less in fees.


Sources used for this article:

  1. HDFC
  2. SBI
  3. ICICI
  4. Kotak
  5. Citi
  6. HDFC fee
  7. SBI fee
  8. ICICI fee
  9. Kotak fee
  10. Citi fee

All sources checked as of 18 February, 2022


*Please see terms of use and product availability for your region or visit Wise fees and pricing for the most up to date pricing and fee information.

This publication is provided for general information purposes and does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its subsidiaries and its affiliates, and it is not intended as a substitute for obtaining advice from a financial advisor or any other professional.

We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether expressed or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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