How to organise your travel money before you travel
Apply these secret techniques to organise your travel money like a pro.
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Aside from vaccinations, passport applications and flight bookings, travel money is one of many crucial items you’ll need to cross off your pre-vacation checklist. While it’s an exciting time and there is much to do in preparation for your trip, money is a big one—both now and when you arrive at your holiday destination. Being in a foreign country without access to funds could be the difference between a good and a bad holiday, and it’s something you should avoid at all costs.
It doesn’t have to be difficult though. Follow these ten easy travel money tips and your holiday finances will be organised before you know it!
Working out a budget for your holiday is a smart move, and one you should consider from the get go. Having a good budget means you will not be spending beyond your means, and it also means you already know how much to spend on accommodation and flights, and how much cash and shopping money you should take with you. For instance, start by listing the necessary costs (flights, accommodation, transport/car rental, food), then divvy out the rest of your budget for tours, shopping and other luxuries.
You could separate your budget components by allocating different money options to pay for them. For example pay for necessities and big ticket items using a rewards credit card and cover daily expenses using a preloaded travel money card. Also put aside some money for emergencies, or prepare a credit card for that purpose.
2. Research and study
Research is key to planning your travel money strategy. Understanding your destination and how the locals trade is essential when deciding on your best travel money options. For instance, if you’re headed for the United States where people are extremely credit-friendly, take a travel credit card with no international transaction fees or foreign ATM withdrawal fees. If you’re going to Vietnam, order a travel money card that supports Vietnamese dong or apply for a credit card with no foreign currency conversion fees. You’ll also want to make sure you have plenty of Vietnamese dong in cash on you, and small denominations of US dollars for emergency use.
Essentially, travel cards are good for use in countries where the currency is supported, but not the best option in countries where the currency isn’t supported. Credit cards are useful for large purchases or emergencies, especially if you choose one that waives currency conversion fees and international ATM fees. Debit cards, on the other hand, can be used for ATM withdrawals, everyday purchases and directly accessing your savings. It is important to research your destination and use a combination of options.
3. Fund your trip
With the right credit card, you can make the most of the money you will be spending. For example, if you use a rewards credit card to fund your trip, you could earn or even use rewards points for expenses you would've had to have made anyway. Plus, if you use a credit card to organise your holiday, you could also benefit from a personal concierge service to finalise any last-minute plans or take advantage of complimentary travel insurance covers.
If you are using a credit card to pay for pre-holiday expenses such as flights, accommodation and tours, remember that you'll have to repay everything you charge (plus interest, in most cases). If you're able to pay your balance before the end of the statement period, you can also use your holiday as an excuse to build up healthy credit.
4. Consider travel insurance
In order to vacay with peace of mind, you’ll need to organise travel insurance for your trip. If you’re getting a credit card for your holiday, consider getting one that offers complimentary travel insurance. Not only will this save you the hassle of organising your own insurance, it’ll also save in policy cover fees. Before applying though, make sure you’re eligible for the complimentary insurance and that it provides you with sufficient cover for your trip.
Travel insurance features to protect your money while travelling.
- Credit card fraud and replacement cover. In the event that your credit card is lost or stolen while you are travelling, this option will cover the cost of replacing your card and funds that are lost through fraudulent acts.
- Theft of cash. Provides cover for theft of cash from your person, cash, currency notes, postal orders and money orders.
- Travellers cheques. Covers the cost of loss of travellers cheques and other important documents including passport and visa documents.
Read our comparison of standalone vs credit card travel insurance to weigh up your options.
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5. Compare and combine travel money options
There is no such thing as the best travel money option. Instead, the right option(s) (we recommend that you organise more than one travel money alternative to be safe) will depend on your needs, spending habits, and travel destination.
For instance, a Westpac card would serve you well on your trip to the United States or parts of Europe where Westpac has Global ATM Alliance partners who will waive your international ATM withdrawal fees. In contrast, that same Westpac card would be expensive to use if you wanted to withdraw cash from an ATM in Thailand, where you would be charged $5 per overseas ATM cash withdrawal. It may be even better to get a travel-friendly card with free international ATM withdrawals and zero currency conversion fees, which is the other fee when it comes to using cards abroad. Check out our list of overseas travel credit cards and best debit cards for overseas use.
Your travel money options:
- Cash. You probably don’t want to bring a large amount of the local currency with you, but at least exchange in Australia for small costs when you reach the airport. Then, once you’ve arrived, use your prepaid travel card or debit card to withdraw funds from an ATM.
- Debit cards. The biggest advantage of using your debit card while away is that you will always be using your own money, which prevents you from overspending and accruing debt. Debit cards are widely accepted if they are linked to Visa or Mastercard, but beware of currency conversion and ATM withdrawal fees. Comparing debit cards designed for overseas use can help reduce some of these costs.
- Credit cards. As well as access to credit (which can come in handy for large purchases and emergencies), some credit cards come with extra features such as complimentary insurance and rewards. These travel benefits could be of value, but make sure they outweigh the costs. You shouldn’t use your credit card for ATM withdrawals, your purchases will accrue interest and you might be charged currency conversion fees. Compare credit cards made for overseas use before travelling.
- Travel cards. You can use a travel card to transfer your Australian dollars into multiple foreign currencies, letting you use your own funds for purchases and ATM withdrawals without incurring currency conversion fees. Your funds will be locked in at the current exchange rate when converting them to your chosen currency. You’ll usually be provided with a back up card, which can come in handy if your card is lost or stolen.
6. Apply for the card(s)
Once you've compared your travel money options, it's time to apply for your chosen card (or combination of cards). You can usually complete your application in a few minutes online or by heading into your local branch. To increase your chances of approval, make sure you've confirmed that you meet all of the eligibility requirements and have prepared the required documents. If you're approved for the card, you should receive it within a week or on the spot if you apply in branch.
Once you've received your new card(s) change or memorise the PIN attached to it, then destroy all paper traces of that PIN for security’s sake. If you have received a spare backup card, as some travel card issuers typically provide, be sure to keep that spare card somewhere else safe, and NOT together in your wallet with the main card.
If your holiday is fast approaching, make sure to apply for your card sooner than later so that you're not receiving and activating it at the last minute.
Apply using our links here.
7. Load funds on card
If you’re taking a travel card, make sure it supports your destination currency, and make sure you preload that currency on it. You’ll probably wish to avoid what happens when your prepaid card doesn’t support the local currency. One of the biggest advantages of using a prepaid travel money card or a travel-friendly debit card is the fact that you are spending your own money and you can't get carried away and overspend.
How long it'll take for your loaded funds to appear in your account will depend on how you load the money on your card. For example, BPAY loads can take up to three business days, online transfers can take up to two business days and in-branch loads often appear in your account straight away. So if your holiday is coming up, make sure you load your card with plenty of time for your money to appear in your account. Leaving it to the last minute and arriving at your destination with no access to your cash for a day or two would not be a good start to your holiday.
8. Exchange foreign currency
We recommend pre-purchasing and taking a small amount of the local currency with you for emergencies and small purchases when you first arrive. If you’re stuck in a foreign airport with no money for a taxi because the ATM machine is busted, you’ll be wishing that you exchanged some money before your trip. It’s also good to have some money for tipping the taxi driver or hotel staff as well as to buy food at the airport.
You also don’t want to leave changing your money until you’re at the airport, because exchange desks charge the highest margins and fees on your foreign exchange transactions. So it’s usually better to buy some foreign currency before leaving Australia and to withdraw directly from an international ATM using your debit or travel card when you arrive at your destination.
9. Call your bank
Apart from making enquiries about the fees attached to using your credit or debit card abroad (for example, international ATM withdrawal fee, international transaction fee or currency conversion fee), it is important to inform your card issuerabout your upcoming trip. If you use your regular debit or credit card overseas without notifying your bank, your provider might suspect that it's a fraudulent transaction and may freeze your account. While you can contact your bank to request for the account to be unfrozen, you'll save a lot of time, inconvenience and potential embarrassment if you just contact your bank in the first place.
The call should only take a few minutes and it'll save you a potentially massive inconvenience in the long run.
In case of lost, damaged or stolen credit, debit or travel cards while on your overseas trip, contact your issuer immediately. Here are the relevant emergency numbers for some travel cards.
10. Pack your trip
Rule #1 is not to put all your money in one place.
Keep the back-up travel card in your carry-on luggage, tuck some extra notes into the inside pockets of your check-in bag, stash a gold bar in your socks, and hide the emergency credit card under the mattress when you arrive at your hotel… or not. Either way, never keep all your travel money together in case your wallet goes missing or gets stolen.
With a good dose of common sense and healthy caution, you can be assured of having a good time and not coming home very much poorer.
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