Your comprehensive travel money comparison guide
With so many travel money options available it can be confusing as to which product you should be using in what situation. The purpose of this guide is to make it very easy for you to choose a travel money product that is right for your needs and requirements. Our comparison reviews the pros and cons of prepaid travel cards, travel credit cards, travel debit cards, cash and traveller's cheques. Use our quick comparison below and click on the relevant product heading to take you through to the related review and product comparison tables
Comparison of travel money options
Travel Money Cards
Credit Cards for Travel
Debit Cards for Travel
Quick Comparison of travel money features
Travel Money Cards
Credit Cards for Travel
Debit Cards for Travel
Protected by PIN, backup card with separate serial number and PIN. Protected from fraud by Zero Liability agreements. Both cards can be blocked if lost or stolen.
Protected by chip and PIN. Transactions are monitored by issuer and cardholders are covered by bank's anti-fraud and MasterCard and Visa Zero Liability agreements. Can be blocked if lost or stolen.
Protected by PIN, issuer anti-fraud and Visa & MasterCard Zero Liability agreements. Can be blocked if lost or stolen.
Each cheque has a serial number recorded under cheque holders name. If a cheque is lost or stolen it can be replaced by quoting unique number.
Photo i.d. needed to cash traveller's cheques.
|If currency not loaded on card
||Foreign currency conversion
||Foreign currency conversion||
Globally recognised and widely accepted but popularity is declining in favour of electronic payments.
The Traveller's Guide to using Money Overseas
Jeremy stood shoulder to shoulder with locals and tourists, trying to keep his footing as the metro made its way towards the Colosseum. As more and more people packed onto the train, Jeremy lost his girlfriend to the glacial movement of the crowd pulling her towards the back. When he felt a brush against his rear, he was a little surprised but thought nothing of it and put it down to one of those 'packed train moments'. A moment was all the pickpocket needed to steal Jeremy's wallet.
Jeremy got on the phone to his card protection service, Secure Sentinel. A call to this service is supposed to be the 'one stop shop' for cancelling cards, but Jeremy ended up having to call each bank separately, which led to a number of frustrating hours spent on the phone, instead of hours negotiating in Italy's famous tourist traps.
Luckily for Jeremy, he had done his homework. Jeremy is the publisher of Credit Card Finder, so he knew to get a travel money card before he left - they come with a backup. To his girlfriend's delight, the backup card saved their trip and they were back on the streets of Rome the next day; albeit with an eye on their pockets. It almost wasn't such a sure thing. Like any smart traveller should, Jeremy had done his research before he left the country and he knew to spread his money between a couple of cards and his girlfriend. Be like Jeremy and do your homework before you leave: Here's your cheat sheet.
Don't go anywhere until you have read about using money overseas.
You have your plane ticket, you've booked insurance but have you sorted your finances?
Most of us don't go on holiday to be tight with our cash, but there are a thousand better things to spend your money on than fees and charges. Who better to offer guidance through the tips and traps of using money in a foreign country than the people who have been there before, made the mistakes and learnt the lessons the hard way?
What do we think?
Whether you use a credit card, debit card or travel cards, you should be aiming for a card that gives you the least amount of hassle combined with the lowest fees and charges. And this all depends on what you plan to do and where you plan to go. Shopping in the E.U? Look for a card with low currency conversion fees and easy access to one currency. But if you want to visit the world, you'll want to load a travel money card with multiple currencies at a set exchange rate - you can save on currency conversion fees by loading up to ten 'currency buckets' at a time.
Use a combination for best results
Many people carry two or three of forms of the payment methods discussed in this article so they have a backup if something goes wrong. Knowing the advantages and disadvantages of each will help you decide which form of money you want to use as your primary source of funds.
Make sure you check with your bank to find out all of the hidden fees they've snuck in there because once you know about these fees, they are easily avoided. If your card charges more than another, switch before going. Your bank balance will love you for it.
Travel money card comparison
*Does not include local ATM operator fee.
Fees you can avoid:
- Currency conversion fee
- ATM withdrawal fees
Fees you can't avoid:
Pros for using a travel money card:
- You get two cards, one to use as a backup. There is no name displayed on the cards and they are not linked to your bank account for security.
- Online transfers are an easy way to load cards and spending incurs lower fees and charges than other types of plastic.
- Multiple currencies can be loaded onto the card - single currency cards can also be purchased.
Cons for using a travel money card:
- Transfers from your bank to your travel money card can take up to six days if there is a weekend or public holiday(s) during the transfer period.
- There is a charge each time you reload your card (except the Travelex card).
- Because there is no personal information printed on these cards they may not be accepted by some merchants.
Life's a beach
Will was camping in Playa Blanca off Cartegena, Colombia, when his wallet was stolen from his campsite.
When he woke in the middle of the night with a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, he knew something was up. A quick check of the campsite was all Will needed to know that he'd been robbed. His bag was strewn across the sand and, even in the dark of night, Will knew that his wallet was missing. He wasn't worried about losing any cash, he didn't feel comfortable carrying a lot with him in South America anyway; his travel money card was his main concern.
Will was using an ANZ Travel Money Card, and all he had to do was make a free call to ANZ to cancel it. They - like other banks - can be contacted any hour of the day, seven days a week. When Will got in contact with ANZ, they were even able to tell him how much the thief had tried to withdraw: it was about $200 Australian.
And he was fine for money, these cards come with a spare with a separate card number and PIN in case the first is lost or stolen.
Will does have this to add. Make sure you plan when you're going to load your card up with money. Depending on weekends and public holidays in Australia, it can take up to six days for funds to clear. Will recalls an experience in United States where he was stuck without cash for a number of days because of a long weekend in Australia. It pays to pay attention to these things.
A comparison of travel-friendly credit cards
Fees you can avoid:
- Cross currency conversion fees
- Cash advance fee
- Local ATM operator fee
Fees you can't avoid:
Pros for using a credit card:
- Credit cards are easy to carry, secure and accepted almost everywhere. If they're lost or stolen, a call to Visa or MasterCard & the bank will be enough to have it blocked. If a dodgy transaction has been discovered, cardholders are covered by a money back guarantee if they take certain measures to properly prevent fraud.
- Carrying a credit card also gives emergency access to cash through cash advances.
Cons for using a credit card:
- Just as credit cards are easy to carry, they're easy to lose. If you don't get the right card, transaction charges can get expensive. Interest charges will also apply if you're using the banks money, this has the potential to be very expensive if a balance is being carried from month to month.
- The bank will block transactions in a new country if you have not notified them of your travel plans.
London is a notoriously expensive city but Greg planned to do it on the cheap. He had paid for his flights with Qantas Frequent Flyer points and he'd went and applied for a new credit card, the Bankwest Breeze Platinum MasterCard, so he wouldn't have to pay the 3% cross currency conversion fee every time he used his card to make a purchase.
Greg was a little lost when he arrived at Heathrow, so he decided to take a taxi to get to Chelsea. After all, the Black Cabs are as much a feature of London as its famous landmarks. But this was a feature Greg wishes he missed.
When he got to Chelsea, he pulled out his Breeze MasterCard to pay for the taxi. After a few moments the driver handed his card back with a shake of his head.
'Ye kard wont wirk', the driver said, 'Ave ya gottanotha?'
Greg passed over his backup Qantas American Express and then paid for the taxi without any issues. A week or so later he got a call from his bank, they'd flagged a couple of transactions that seemed a little suspicious.
Greg reflects that he was paying more attention to what was going on outside the taxi than inside. And although he can't be sure, all he can think of is that the driver managed to skim his Bankwest card when he wasn't looking.
His AMEX was fine.
Travel debit cards comparison
Citibank travel-friendly debit cards
The Citibank Plus Transaction Account. This comes with a debit card that you can use at any Citibank or Citi-partnered ATM world-wide to access your money for free.
Fees you can avoid:
- Local ATM operator fees
- Overseas ATM transaction fee
- Cross currency conversion fee
Fees you can't avoid:
Pros for using a debit card
- Debit cards can be used everywhere Visa & MasterCard are accepted, ATMs and over the counter. They are linked to your bank account (can also be a bad thing) and cards are protected against fraud by banks and card scheme zero liability agreements.
- These cards have low or no establishment fees.
Cons for using a debit card
- There's no guarantee these cards are going to be accepted at every destination and if you don't use an ATM within your bank's alliance, withdrawing cash will be expensive. Using a 'plain vanilla' transaction account to withdraw cash from a foreign ATM is likely to cost AU$10 in fees and charges each time.
- There is no emergency cash available as a cash advance.
Having just arrived in Thailand, Sixten and his friends had a welcome drink at a 'bar' on Bangkok's Khao San Road. ATMs are everywhere in Thailand, so Sixten was using his debit card as his main source of funds and, before long, he had to withdraw more money to keep the party going. This would be his last withdrawal for a while - Sixten left his card in the ATM, and never saw it again.
ATMs work differently abroad. Thai ATMs work differently to Australian ATMs. All it took was a couple of drinks (what exactly do they put in Chang beer?) and the next thing Sixten knew, he was borrowing money off his friends while he waited a week for St.George to send him a replacement card.
Using a debit card overseas can be as convenient as carrying cash because it's directly linked to your bank account. It allows you to withdraw your own money from an ATM and make purchases over the counter using your PIN anywhere Visa or MasterCard are accepted. But beware, St.George charged Sixten five dollars each time he withdrew cash, in addition to a local operator fee of between two and five dollars depending on the machine. Over a three month trip, it adds up.
Although some Australian banks have global ATM partners you can look out for while you're away, the last thing you want to worry about is searching for a specific cash-point on your holiday. Another option is to use an overseas friendly account like the Citibank Plus. This is a debit account with free ATM withdrawals within the international Citibank network. This isn't everywhere though, so plan your withdrawals.
Credit cards whisper, cash shouts
Fred was travelling through Amsterdam when he took a wrong turn off the beaten track and ended up face to face with a pair of 'street toughs'. After a bit of an exchange (the Dutch can speak English quite well), they ordered Fred, at the point of a knife, to empty his pockets.
Things could have turned out worse if Fred didn't have some cash in his pocket. The thieves might have done something a little more rash than use some colourful language if he didn't have something to quickly hand-over.
Luckily for Fred, he understood the language of cash. He gave them what they wanted, and the only damage done that night was to Fred's pride. But in financial terms the impact could have been worse. On the advice of a friend, Fred was wearing 'short-shorts' with most of his valuables stashed in a pocket underneath his jeans. He may have looked funny, but that number ended up saving him a hundred or so euros.
The important thing is not to carry too much cash at once. Losing a large amount of cash will hurt, and it can't be replaced. So, if Fred's 'shorts within pants' option isn't for you, spread your funds amongst your travelling companions. But make sure to always have a little cash handy; it's a universal language. It may just save your neck one day too.
Fees you can avoid:
Fees you can't avoid:
- Currency exchange fees:
Pros for using cash:
- By far, cash is the most convenient way to travel. It pays for fuel, meals, taxis, drinks, and a multitude of other expenses; however, convenience aside, cash is the loudest international language. When you're out in a foreign country, the last thing you want to worry about is finding an ATM. Trust us, having enough cash can be the difference between a good or a bad night, day, week or trip.
Cons for using cash:
- Having too much cash is a bad thing; you only want to have enough money on you for a day or two. It's bulky, and thieves are observant and will go for an easy target.
- Security is nothing. Unless you lose a couple of million, don't ever dream of seeing stolen cash again.
At least someone had a good day
Arriving at an Istanbul bus depot after a 24 hour trip from the Republic of Georgia, Jacob was in need of a proper night's rest. Problem was the only cash he had was Georgian and he needed Turkish Lira.
When changing over cash, your first option should be to get it changed at a bank. They will charge a commission, usually 1% or $10, whichever is greater.
If you can't get to a bank, any other legitimate currency exchange business will be fine, but these places are likely to cost you more because of the margins they earn of the difference in exchange rate.
What you want to avoid at all costs is the type of business where foreign exchange is not their primary purpose. Common sense will alert you to these rip-off merchants a mile away - think shops with glass counters containing watches, jewelry and other easily pawned items. These places will charge a commission, give you an inaccurate exchange rate, and have been known to keep a couple of notes for themselves when their 'customer' isn't paying attention.
For Jacob, things stopped making sense at hour thirteen of his trip, and he ended up losing about $50AUD at one of the aforementioned,'do not get your money exchanged here' places. Also, when you're making a purchase, if an attendant asks you if you want to pay in your local currency, always say no. Walk away and get your money changed at a trusted business first. Unless you know exactly what the rate should be, as well as the difference in value of the currency you are exchanging, you're probably going to get ripped-off.
If the worst does happen, think of it this way: at least someone had a good day.
Who to use to change money:
Banks are by far the safest option for exchanging cash.
Here's what it looks like buying and selling $2,000 in Euros and USD at the Commonwealth Bank:
Trusted foreign exchange:
A trusted foreign exchange company shouldn't charge you a commission when you buy or sell a foreign currency. There are range of places like this online, like Travelex, and a number of stores in shopping centres that provide this service. They may not charge a commission but they will make a cut through the exchange rate.
Who to avoid changing cash with.
Shop attendants and exchange artists:
Avoid shop attendants who say it's o.k for you to pay in Australian dollars. You will lose out on the deal. You will also want to avoid exchange artists like the plague. These are the type of people who will count your money in front of you with a smile, but pocket it all when you turn your back.
Fees you can avoid:
Fees you can't avoid:
- Currency exchange rates:
Pros for using a foreign currency exchange:
- There aren't many, but getting cash changed at a foreign currency exchange gives instant access to the local currency.
Cons for using a foreign currency exchange:
- When money is changed anywhere except a bank, you're likely to lose out with a dodgy exchange rate, and, even then, the rates aren't going to be the same as what you hear quoted on the news.
Travelling to Canada with cheques
Pritom often wonders why he took travellers cheques to Canada.
They're a safe way to take money overseas, but he says it cost him too much. Buying $5,000 in Canadian Dollars cost him about $50, a little over 1%
Pritom was leaving Australia indefinitely, so he needed to move all his cash from his Australian account to a overseas bank account. He could have transferred the money online, but international money transfers can be expensive as banks charge a flat fee for this service.
Travellers cheques seemed like a good idea and he had heard that they were a safe way to move large amounts of money - and they are, as each cheque comes with its own unique serial number that is recorded against your name.
That means if you lose a cheque, you can quote the serial number and have it replaced.
Security is a good thing, but Pritom is unable to count the hours he spent writing down the serial numbers of each cheque in the book provided by American Express. As $50 was the largest denomination they had in stock, Pritom had to record 100 serial numbers. Usually, if your cheques are issued in sequence you can just record the first and last numbers; Pritom wishes he knew this before he started.
A day after arriving at Pearson Airport, Toronto, Pritom opened up a Canadian bank account with TD Trust and deposited all of his travellers cheques into that account. He was given $500 on the spot to tide him over while the remainder was left to clear - it took about three business days.
Fees you can avoid:
Fees you can't avoid:
- Cheque purchase fee.
Pros for using travellers cheques
- Travellers cheques are extremely secure, they can be easily replaced if lost or stolen. The person who wants to cash travellers cheques must also show identification to show that they are the ones who bought them.
Cons for using travellers cheques.
- Travellers cheques are a costly way to spend money. There is an initial charge when you buy travellers cheques. The cost will depend on the amount you wish to change over.
- Travellers cheques can be bulky and awkward to carry.
- not everyone will accept travellers cheques.
- You will still need to carry cash.
Travel money FAQs
Travel fees explained
What's a cross currency conversion fee?
A cross currency conversion fee is charged when you use your Australian card with Australian dollars to make a purchase in a foreign country. The money is exchanged from Australian dollars into the local currency electronically and a series of fees are charged along the way by the card schemes and providers.
The way the banks make there is money is like this:
- The exchange rate is set by external market factors. This is the figure you hear quoted on the evening news.
- Card scheme currency conversion fee. Say you're in France and looking to make a purchase with your credit card. You have Australian dollars on your card but must pay with Euros. The money must be exchanged electronically in order to make the purchase. The first fee is applied by Visa (1.1%), MasterCard (0.2%) and American Express (1.5%), and is passed on to the customer.
- Cross currency conversion fee. This is a fee charged by the bank and is charged in addition to the card scheme currency conversion fee.
Am I protected against getting ripped off?
Yes and no. If you end up in a similar situation to Fred, then your cash is gone. If the fraud is more like Greg's, then you will get you money back. This includes getting you card skimmed at an ATM and online purchases too.
MasterCard and Visa Zero Liability Policies:A money back guarantee when a fraudulent transaction on your debit/travel/credit card is reported to Visa, MasterCard and your bank; and
- You have exercised vigilant care in safeguarding your card from risk of loss, theft, or unauthorised use; and
- You immediately and without delay notify your card issuer upon discovery of the loss, theft, or unauthorised use; and
- You have not reported two or more incidents of unauthorised use in the preceding 12 months; and
- Your account is in good standing; and
- You have complied with the terms and conditions of the cardholder agreement.
Are you considering travel insurance for your trip?
Finding the right travel money option for your trip overseas is just one of many boxes to tick before leaving the tarmac. Whether you are just heading off for a weekend getaway or a 6 month backpacking adventure, it is crucial to have the right cover in place to ensure you don’t have to endure financial hardship in the event of a loss. Most people that have travelled will have their own story of when things didn’t go exactly to plan and were forced to hand over funds to cover the loss.
What am I covered for?
Travel Insurance will generally provide cover for the following events;
- Overseas medical expenses: Covers the cost of emergency medical assistance including: emergency medical evacuation, hospital expenses and medical costs
- Theft of cash: Cover in the event that the following are stolen from you: cash from your person, banknotes, currency notes, postal orders and money orders
- Cover for loss or damage to personal items: Cover for loss/damage to luggage and personal items
- Cancellation fees: Cover for cancellation fees or lost deposits
- Rental vehicle fees: Cover for rental vehicle excess that may be applied in the event that you have an accident while you are travelling
- Credit card fraud or replacement: Cover for the replacement of credit cards lost or stolen from you on your journey
Travel insurance from credit cards or from travel insurance providers
Many credit card providers will now offer complimentary travel insurance as an added bonus for successful applicants. The decision on whether to go with this complimentary cover or to purchase a standalone policy will really come down to your cover requirements and budget. While the cover provided on credit cards may not offer the same comprehensive level of cover as that from a travel insurance provider, you may already have other cover in place from other insurance and feel that for your trip requirements don’t require the cover options available on standalone policies. Either way it is important to compare the benefits available from both options and get a clear understanding of the exclusions for payment. The last thing you need when travelling is the nasty surprise that you are not actually covered for losses in the event that you need to make a claim.Compare travel insurance deals from leading Australian insurers
How do I activate my travel insurance on my credit card?
The eligibility requirements will differ between policies, but a general rule is that you have to pay for a percentage of your prepaid travel expenses with your card. Once you've done this, you're automatically covered under the policy agreement.Compare credit cards with free travel insurance
Remember that when you are traveling, you will encounter others who want cash, as well as your identity. Here are some smart tips to keep you safer.
Airplane ticket stubs
- Dispose of them because they have personal information on them and Identity thieves will grab at anything to get your identity.
- Book flights in advance, and during a special or lower rate period – it could save hundreds in fares, and don't forget to sign up for a frequent flyer account! Frequent flyer rewards are huge, especially if you love to travel.
If you lose your wallet
- Keep credit cards and cash in a separate place, so you won't be without cab fare or other necessities.
- Use comparison sites for discounted hotel rates such as priceline.com as this could save money if you book in advance and do some serious searching prior to leaving.
- To find the best prices on meals or shopping for food, check out YELP or Eatability. There is nothing worse than finding a great restaurant at the last minute and finding out it's way overpriced.
- It sounds a little paranoid, but in reality everyone should be! A money belt is nearly impossible to steal or lift. And, you'll have your cash, cards and necessities close. Each traveler should have one.
- Virgin Mobile, offers a mobile broadband service and for minimal cost, allowing you to have virtually unlimited Internet access from anywhere you travel, which could save a lot in the long run. Internet connections overseas can get costly.
- Make sure you contact your cell phone provider to inform them that you plan to travel abroad. They can set up your phone so you don't incur huge international roaming fees, as well as web fees. It's a little pricey, but worth the cost in the long run.
Bank international phone number:
- Save this number to your cell phone, you will need it, especially with money travel cards.
- People scoff at this necessity, but it really is a necessity- it covers you if your luggage is lost, you are mugged, or anything else happens that you have no control.
Open up an account with an international bank:
- Some are Citibank or HSBC so that you can gain access without fees in some countries and it might just save you should something happen.
- Give your fellow travelers an additional cardholder credit card so that you will always have one, if one gets lost or stolen.
- Make the decisions for travel money based on what is best for your travel needs, and compare prices and fees. If you add all of the exchange rates, foreign currency fees, bank fees and ATM withdrawal fees – as well as load fees you could save quite a bit of cash getting the lowest rates and best deals.
- Make sure the ATM you are using is an actual bank ATM, and when you enter your pin, be sure that there is nobody who can observe. As well as taking cash out, never, ever take a large amount of cash out of an ATM – it is much too tempting to thieves.
- Watch for them, they are the people out there trying to steal your identity – they've gone as far as putting little webcams at the ATM's focused on the keys so that they can gain your PIN and card number.
- Cover keys when entering information, and don't use the ATM if you see someone close by, or notice anything unusual.
Wherever you plan to travel, you're there to have a great time, not go bankrupt – so remember that most bad things happen when you're not paying attention. Lock those doors, carry multiple money items, spread them out between friends and family, and make sure that you at least know some of the language.
Being safe is much better than being sorry.