Compare some of Australia's best travel card offers
Spend your money overseas as safely and easily as you do in Australia with a prepaid travel money card. These cards allow you to load your own money, convert it into a range of international currencies and spend it anywhere that Visa or Mastercard is accepted.
On this page, we will be looking at foreign transaction fees and other connected charges as well as analysing different options to help you find a good rate and save money.
Some of the best* travel money cards today
- Qantas Cash - Earn points on your everyday spend and overseas transactions.
- NAB Traveller Card - This pre-paid travel card allows you to lock in up to 10 currencies.
The difference between market rates and what you actually get
If you've made any foreign currency exchanges, you probably realised that the rate the media announces (also referred to as the market, mid-market or wholesale rate) is not the same as the rate you actually get. This gap in exchange rate between what your bank pays and the one that is used for making overseas purchases or withdrawals, over and above any fees, is referred to as the 'margin'. It differs according to the transaction type or card you are using as well as the money exchanger.
A good example of this margin is the difference in rates at airport exchange booths. If you've ever changed money in an airport, you're probably well aware of the fact that the difference in rates tends to be exorbitant.
This margin is so complex that it's practically impossible to figure out how much a financial service provider earns through the foreign exchange process. And it's this complexity that makes it seem as if the consumer will always get the short end of the stick when it comes for foreign currency exchange transactions.
Generally, the least attractive rate you can find is in airports. But it seems that if you choose to order your foreign currency in advance, which is a service Travelex offers online, the rate isn't quite as bad as changing on site because you won't be paying the 3% commission they charge per transaction. However, you have to exchange a minimum of A$250 and they do specify that in-store rates are different.
If ordering online via Travelex, the rate as of 20 July 2017 is US$0.7704 for one Aussie dollar. In other words, it would cost you A$129.80 for every US$100, though as specified the minimum you can order via this system is A$250. Conversely, in-store rates will cost you approximately 34% more than mid-market rates and that's before applying the 3% commission! Yes, it's definitely worth planning in advance.
Making life easier on yourself
Banks do not make it easy to calculate the real expense of converting Australian dollars into another currency. There are so many fees to consider as well as possible exchange rate variations from one financial product to another that it can be practically impossible to work out exactly how much you will end up paying.
One way to make life easier on yourself and to make sure you are getting the best possible rate is to look for financial products or services that feature exchange rates that are very close to market rates and don't have too many additional fees, charges or commissions. To find current market rates, two excellent sources are XE.com and the RBA but when doing your calculations, don't forget to look at the fees as well.Back to top
What is a travel money card?
A travel money card is a special type of debit card that can have foreign currency deposited onto it before you leave on your trip. The advantage of making advanced foreign currency deposits on the card is that you can make the exchange when the rate is most favourable to you and not have to worry about fluctuations on your journey.
Many people are turning to travel money cards, whether they are travelling to one destination and need one currency or multiple countries requiring multiple currencies, since these cards are, essentially, just as good as taking cash. While the cards that are available can be loaded with different currencies, most of them offer at the very least US dollars, GB pounds, Euros and NZ dollars.
These cards allow you to load them up with a currency or multiple currencies, depending on where you will be travelling to. This way, you can access the foreign currency you need at any time. Once you've left the country, you can use the internet or your mobile phone to reload your card or change the currencies around as you need to. The card can be used for ATM withdrawals, to make purchases, pay for meals or book accommodation.
Can't I just use my credit card overseas?
The vast majority of credit cards on the Australian market can be used overseas, however, it will most likely cost you more. You can use the table below to compare cards that don't charge a foreign transaction fee, however, other charges may apply.
Credit card fees, charges and repayments
What are the fees for cash withdrawals from an ATM?
If you withdraw cash from an ATM in the card's network you won't have to pay a fee. However, you might have to pay owner fees if you make withdrawals from any ATMs that are not outside of your network. You will be informed of the charge when you make the withdrawal and can choose to proceed or cancel the transaction.
Will I be charged interest on a cash advance?
Yes, the day you withdraw cash from your credit card, the interest will start to accrue. The cash advance interest rate for the majority of cards is significantly higher than the purchase rate, and the interest-free days will not apply. In addition to the higher cash advance interest rate, you will likely be charged a flat cash advance fee.
Can I avoid paying interest costs?
The only way to avoid paying interest on your credit card is to take advantage of the interest-free period on purchases, but that means making sure you pay off your bill every month. If you avoid taking out cash advances, carrying a balance transfer, and make sure your account is paid off every month by the due date, you won't have to pay interest on your credit card for everyday purchases.Back to top
The pros and cons of travel money cards
Understanding how travel money cards work is essential to ensuring you make the most of your overseas trip. This way, instead of worrying about money and trying to figure out how things work, you can spend time relaxing and enjoying the local culture.
The benefits of a travel money card
- Convert all your money into the currency of the country you will be visiting on the day you purchase the card. Meaning that you lock in the exchange rate and won't have to worry about fluctuations.
- You can add a variety of different currencies to your card, including USD, EUR, GBP, AUD, NZD, with some cards allowing you to add up to 9 different currencies on the same card. However, you can also use your card to spend in other currencies, with your funds being converted on the spot, making it easier to spend your money.
- A travel money card can be used almost exactly like a standard debit card, whether you want to use it for online or in-store transactions. If you really need cash, you can make withdrawals from a huge number of ATMs all over the world.
- Internet banking allows you to monitor the status of your account, including your transactions and the balance left on your card. If you need more cash, it's easy to transfer money from your bank using the online system.
- When you buy a travel money card, you often get two cards, allowing you to keep on with you and another one in the safe in your hotel room. Thus, if you lose one or it's stolen, you still have immediate access to your money without having to pay a fortune to get an emergency replacement card.
- Since your travel money card is not linked to a bank account, the money in your current account is protected. This helps to reduce the risks and limit your possible losses in case of skimming or if your card gets stolen.
The cons of travel money cards
- While locking in the exchange rate might be beneficial on one hand, it could be a drawback in the event of the Aussie exchange rate suddenly spiking.
- If you check the exchange rate your bank is offering, it might actually be more advantageous than the rate the travel money card is offering. And some cards use Mastercard and Visa consumer exchange rates, which are generally even more attractive than the rates offered by the banks.
- While you can spend money in practically any other currency than the ones on your card, you will have to pay a currency conversion fee, which can prove to be quite steep. There are also vendors who only accept cash.
- Some travel money cards don't charge ATM fees and some do. However, this isn't the only issue. You will also have to pay the fees charged by the operators of the ATMs and these fees vary from country to country. So, with some cards, you will have to pay a fee twice for cash withdrawals. Furthermore, while most travel money cards specify their own limits on cash withdrawals, these might be lower in certain countries as these also vary according to the operator of the ATM.
- The internet banking system doesn't always update in real-time, which means you could end up spending more than you budgeted if you aren't careful.
- While many travel money cards advertise the ease of using BPAY to reload the card, the fact is that it can take between two and three days for the funds to be available on your card.
- When you get home, you'll probably want to recover any leftover funds on your card, especially if you aren't planning on visiting the same destination any time soon. The problem is that not only do you lose on exchanging money back into Australian dollars but you might also have to pay a fee to the card issuer to get your money refunded.
- If you don't use the card at all for 12 months, which means no transactions whatsoever, including reloading the card, you might be required to pay a monthly inactivity fee. Some issuers will charge according to the balance still on the card, while others charge a flat fee. This fee is payable every month until you use the card again.
- If your card has not been used and it expires during the inactivity period, you could end up losing the money you haven't used that's still on the card or the funds will be kept in trust until they are claimed.
Despite the fact that currency exchange rates can be confusing, if you spend a little time researching the market, you will definitely be able to find options that will suit your needs. However, because rates fluctuate so much on a daily basis, your research will only be useful on the day you do it.
The secret is to take the time to actually work out the figures, to keep an eye on mid-market rates and to make the exchange on a day when the rates are favourable but is not too far off from the date of your departure. So, remember to look for a financial product or service that doesn't have too many fees, has reasonable limits, offers rates that are as close as possible to mid-market rates — at least when compared to other options — and also provides you with the convenience you need.Back to top
Frequently Asked Questions on Travel Money Cards
How can I order a travel money card online?
The first thing you need to do is pick the travel money card that best suits your needs and decide on the currency. You will then be required to add your personal information and confirm the details of your order. Subsequently, you will receive an email with the Biller Code and Reference Number you will require to make that BPAY payment to load the card. You will have to make the payment within four hours. Once the payment has been received by the issuer, your order will be sent to the pick-up location you chose.
What is the maximum amount I can order online?
There are certain limits when it comes to the order you can place online. Thus, for a Cash Passport, there is a minimum of $500 and a maximum of $10,000. The minimum order you can place to reload your Cash Passport is $100. Note that these limits apply for every 24 hour period.
Will you confirm that the payment was received?
Once the issuer receives the payment, you will receive a confirmation email. The email will confirm payment was received and the order has been accepted. It will also include where you will be picking up your card, the date when you will be able to pick it up, ID requirements and the final date when you can collect it.