Travel Money Guide: USA

Rates and Fees verified correct on December 4th, 2016

Explore the land of stars and stripes and discover how you can access your bucks in the USA.

The US Dollar goes by a number of names: greenback, buck, dead president and clam, to name a few. Whatever you call it, the United States Dollar is one of the world's most stable currencies and is the only currency accepted in the United States of America. The United States of America is a society of credit. If you're travelling to the States, you can use your Visa, MasterCard and American Express cards everywhere. Banks are common and ATMs are inside most corner stores as well. Read on to find out which cards will work cheapest in the United States of America.

Which option is right for your next trip?

ANZ Travel Card

ANZ Travel Card

The ANZ Travel Card is a prepaid card that can be loaded with up to 10 foreign currencies to make purchases overseas at over 36 million locations.

  • Lock in your exchange rates and know how much money you have to spend
  • No transaction fees for electronic purchases in Australia and overseas
  • Multiple reload options - online, over the phone or in person
  • Manage your money online or over phone 24/7
  • Spare card if in case one is lost or stolen

    Compare travel cards for USA

    Rates last updated December 4th, 2016
    Available Currencies ATM Withdrawal Fee Reload Fee Initial Load Fee
    ANZ Travel Card
    ANZ Travel Card
    AUD, CAD, EUR, GBP, HKD, JPY, NZD, SGD, THB, USD, AUD 3.50, CAD 3.00, EUR 2.20, GBP 2.00, HKD 20.00, JPY 260, NZD 4.50, SGD 4.00, THB 95, USD 2.50 1.1% of the value purchased $0 Go to site More
    NAB Traveller Card
    NAB Traveller Card
    AUD, CAD, EUR, GBP, HKD, JPY, NZD, SGD, THB, USD $0 per withdrawal on international ATMs and $3.75 per withdrawal at any Australian ATMs $0 $0 Go to site More
    Cash Passport MasterCard
    Cash Passport MasterCard
    AUD, CAD, EUR, GBP, HKD, JPY, NZD, SGD, THB, USD $2.50 for withdrawals made overseas 2.95% of the amount withdrawn for domestic withdrawals $0 $0 Go to site More
    Qantas Card with Qantas Cash
    Qantas Card with Qantas Cash
    AUD, AED, CAD, EUR, GBP, HKD, JPY, NZD, SGD, THB, USD AUD 1.95, CAD 2.00, EUR 1.50, GBP 1.25, HKD 15.00, JPY 160, NZD 2.50, SGD 2.50, USD 1.95, THB 70.00, AED 6.50 $0 $0 Go to site More
    Travelex Travel Card
    Travelex Travel Card
    AUD, CAD, EUR, GBP, HKD, JPY, NZD, SGD, THB, USD Travelex does not charge an ATM withdrawal fee when you use your Travelex Multi-currency Cash Passport to withdraw currencies that are loaded on the card at overseas ATMs where MasterCard is accepted. The greater of 1.1% of the initial load / reload amount or AU$15.00 $0 Go to site More
    Jetstar Travel Card
    Jetstar Travel Card
    AUD, CAD, EUR, GBP, HKD, JPY, NZD, SGD, USD AUD 3.95**, CAD 3.95, EUR 3.00, GBP 2.75, HKD 35.00, JPY 325, NZD 5.50, SGD 5.00, US 3.95 1% $15 More
    Rates last updated December 4th, 2016
    Foreign Currency Conversion Fee (MC) Foreign Currency Conversion Fee (VISA) Overseas ATM Withdrawal Fee Annual fee
    Bankwest Zero Platinum MasterCard
    An introductory offer on balance transfers with $0 annual fee. Complimentary travel insurance & 24/7 Concierge service and $0 foreign transaction fees.
    0% of transaction value $0 $0 p.a. Go to site More info
    28 Degrees Platinum MasterCard
    Benefit from no international transaction fees on purchases, no currency conversion fees and no annual fee.
    0% of transaction value $0 $0 p.a. Go to site More info
    Rates last updated December 4th, 2016
    $
    Monthly Account Fee Debit Card Access ATM Withdrawal Fee Fee Free Deposit p.m. Details
    St.George Complete Freedom Account
    $0 Overseas ATM fee when you withdraw from the Global ATM alliance network.
    Visa $0 $2,000 No account keeping fees, if you deposit $2,000 per month plus no minimum balance required. No ATM fees when using St.George, Westpac and BankSA ATMs. Open More
    Westpac Choice
    $0 Overseas ATM fee when you withdraw from the Global ATM alliance network.
    Mastercard $0 $2,000 No ATM fees when using St.George, Westpac, BankSA or Bank of Melbourne ATMs in Australia. Deposit at least $2,000 per month and enjoy no monthly service fee. Open More
    Bank of Melbourne Express Freedom
    $0 Overseas ATM fee when you withdraw from the Global ATM alliance network.
    Visa $0 $1,000 No ATM fees when you use Bank of Melbourne, St.George, Westpac and BankSA ATMs. No monthly fees if you deposit $1000 into your account each month. Open More
    Bankwest Qantas Transaction Account
    No overseas ATM withdrawal fees (charged by Bankwest), 3rd party ATM fees and international transaction fees may still apply.
    Mastercard $0 $2,000 No monthly fees when you deposit at least $2,000 into your account each month. Free access to Bankwest and CommBank ATMs in Australia. No overseas ATM withdrawal fees (charged by Bankwest) though third party fees may apply. Open More
    Citibank Plus Everyday Account
    No international transaction fees and no overseas ATM withdrawals fees if you use a Citibank ATM overseas.
    Visa $0 $0 No ATM fees using Citibank, Westpac, BankSA and St.George branded ATMs in Australia. Use overseas Citibank ATMs for free. More

    How many dollars do I need to bring to the U.S.?

    There’s an old saying first coined in the Reader’s Digest, once you’re finished packing your suitcase, take out half the clothes and take double the money. Ultimately, how you take your money is up to you. Someone couch-surfing in San Francisco will have a different budget to someone on a New York shopping holiday.

     New York BudgetMidTop
    sleepHostel
    $30 - $60 per night
    Hotel / Motel
    $150 per night
    5 star hotel / Superior suite
    $350 per night
    foodFood truck
    $5 - $10
    Restaurant
    $20 - $40
    5 Michelin Star Restaurant
    $50 a plate
    cameraFree festivals year round in American citiesGuggenheim Museum
    $25
    Broadway Musical
    $200 - $300

    *Prices are approximate and subject to change

    Exchange rate history

    Australian and United States Dollars currencies are no longer at parity. In recent times the value of the dollar has returned to pre-GFC levels.

    YearAverage annual exchange Australian Dollar (AUD) to US Dollar (USD)
    20121.035937
    20130.967915
    20140.902813
    20150.752124
    20160.721391
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    Travel card, debit card, or credit card?

    You’ll find most Americans rely on their credit card or debit card to make purchases as much as cash. There are times when you’ll need to pay cash. For example paying for a drink at a small bar or buying a hotdog from a food truck might require cash. However, you will see that most merchants in American cities are set up with the infrastructure for card, contactless and mobile payments. Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Diners Club cards are widely accepted.

    Travel money options for USA at a glance

    Travel money optionProsConsiderations
    Debit cards for travel
    • No currency conversion, international ATM, account keeping fees
    • Free global transfers between Australian and American Citibank accounts
    • Assistance in opening an account if you’re travelling through the US for an extended period
    • Citibank Plus Transaction Account is the only travel friendly debit account currently offered on the US market
    Prepaid travel money cards
    • Locked-in exchange rates
    • No currency conversion fee
    • International ATM withdrawal fee waiver on some cards
    • Fees to consider such as local ATM, initial load, reload and inactivity fees
    Credit cards for travel
    • Accepted everywhere
    • Contactless payment terminals are common
    • Overseas ATM fees and Currency conversion fees
    Traveller's cheques
    • Acceptance
    • Security
    • Can be costly with initial purchase charges
    • Not all merchants accept traveller's cheques
    Cash
    • Greater payment flexibility
    • Convenience
    • More difficult to manage expenses
    • Higher risk of theft
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    How travel money products work in the United States

    Using prepaid travel cards

    All Australian travel money card issuers allow you to load and spend in United States Dollars. The main advantage of these cards is you can lock in an exchange rate when you convert AUD to USD and spend without paying the extra 3% for currency conversion. Although Visa, MasterCard and American Express are accepted everywhere (if the merchant can accept a credit card they can also accept a travel card), not all of them have your name printed on the front, which may cause the merchant to reject them. These instances may be limited to smaller shops. Compare these cards by the fees. For example, some travel cards waive the international ATM withdrawal fee. The local ATM fee is unavoidable unless you’re using the Westpac Global Currency Card to withdraw from a Bank of America ATM. There’s also the initial load fee, the reload fee and inactivity fees to think about too.

    Using debit cards

    You can use any MasterCard or Visa branded debit card in the United States, there's only one travel friendly debit account currently on the market, the Citibank Plus Transaction Account. Citibank Plus cardholders won’t pay for currency conversion, international ATM fees, account keeping fees and Citibank offer free global transfers between Australian and American Citibank accounts. You can avoid local ATM withdrawal fees by using Citibank ATMs in the United States. The Visa exchange rate applies to foreign currency transactions with this account. This rate is as close to the market rate you can get using a travel product overseas. Westpac cardholders (St.George, Westpac, Bank of Melbourne and BankSA) can avoid the local ATM operator fee by using their card at Bank of America ATMs.

    Using credit cards

    America is a society of credit, and credit cards, there are no issues with Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Diners Club card acceptance. Contactless payment terminals are common at places like Walmart, Target, Kmart and other major retailers. The currency conversion fee is the main charge to avoid when you’re looking at travel friendly credit cards. The international ATM fee is the other main fee; however, due to the extra charges which come with a cash advance, you should avoid using your credit card to make cash withdrawals. Bankwest Platinum Cards and the GE Money 28 Degrees MasterCard are the credit card accounts which waive the fee for currency conversion. Depending on your card provider, you can avoid some cash advance fees by loading your credit card with your own money (keeping a positive balance), but you forego anti-fraud guarantees when you spend your own money on your credit card.

    Using traveller's cheques

    Traveller's cheques were once a staple for any overseas trip. In recent times, card acceptance and security have made these travel money products a burden.

    Paying with cash in the USA and tipping etiquette

    Dollar bills can give you the impression your wallet is fatter than it actually is. And although you can get by using your card for most purchases, there are times when you’re going to need cash. The USA has a culture of tipping, it’s a substitute for low wages. You’ll need cash to tip, especially if you’re at a bar, restaurant, club or hotel.

    • Tip: ATM fees can be avoided by using a card from Citibank or the Westpac Group. Citibank are a global institution with roots in the United States and Westpac have a global ATM alliance with the bank of America.
      Use this information as a rule of thumb when you’re tipping in the United States. There are no rules about how much or little you should tip, but be aware. Many service staff in the United States are underpaid and rely on tips to make up their income. You don’t have to tip big, but don’t be stingy unless you’ve received genuinely bad service.

      Where?How much should I tip?
      At a restaurantWaiters should get anywhere between 10% - 20% of you bill. Some restaurants will add tips onto the final bill (more common in tourist areas), if this is the case, you don’t need to leave a tip.
      At a barDrinks are pretty cheap. It’s good form to tip $1 per drink. You may even get a free one from the bartender if you tip a $5.
      At the hotelTip the porter $2 - $5 for a big bag and an extra $1 for every other bag. Tip housekeepers anywhere from $5 - $10 a day.
      Taxis10% - 20% of the fare
      CafeThe barista making your coffee doesn’t necessarily need a tip unless he or she has done something special.
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    Jeremy talks about travel money for the United States

    jeremy-cabral On his most recent trip to America, Jeremy used a combination of credit cards, travel money cards and cash to fund his travels.

    What cards did you take with you?

    Why did you take these cards to America?

    • Australia Post. Jeremy says he took the Australia Post Load&Go Prepaid Travel Money Card as his  main source of funds when in the States. He says he took this card with him because it has low ATM withdrawal fee, and he was using this travel card to withdraw cash often.
    • Bankwest. He says he took the Bankwest Platinum Qantas MasterCard with him to the United States because it allowed him to earn Qantas Points when he made a purchase on the card, and it does not charge a cross currency conversion fee. Jeremy says that this is pretty key, because usually when you take a rewards product overseas, the value of the rewards is eaten up by the currency conversion fee - so the rewards are worth nothing. That isn't the case with this card.
    • American Express. The American Express Velocity Platinum Card was his backup credit card. Jeremy says he liked the fact he could have earned Velocity Points and well as Qantas Points and the Velocity Platinum gave him two points per dollar spent overseas.

    Were there any places where you had trouble using any of your cards?

    Jeremy says he tried to buy a 4G Verizon Wireless device and they only accepted U.S. Credit cards. He went to Walgreens supermarket and bought a prepaid credit card so he could then use it to pay for the internet connection. Jeremy says using credit cards over the counter for general purchases were never an issue.

    How much cash would you take with you on a three week holiday?

    Jeremy says It really depends on the person - so there's no hard and fast rule about how much money to take with you. For him, when he travels for business, his expenses are mainly food. Jeremy budgeted $50-$75 per day to cover breakfast, lunch, dinner and coffee in between. He says generally the cost of food is more expensive in Australia, but it really all depends on where you eat.

    Jeremy's travel money tips for travelling to the United States

    Jeremy recommends taking a combination of travel money options to the United States, or anywhere in the world for that matter.

    • Rewards credit card. Bankwest Qantas Platinum is the only card that earns qantas points and has $0 foreign transaction fee.
    • Travel debit card. Use the Citibank Plus Transaction account and be treated like a customer with Citibank branches in the U.S. and globally. Avoid having the delays associated with loading funds onto a prepaid travel card. Jeremy says he ran out of time to apply for this one for his trip, but he will definitely apply before he next goes overseas.
    • Travel money card. Good to have another card that isn't attached to a credit line or savings
    • Cash. He always arrives in a country with $250 cash in local currency for cabs and emergencies.
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    A guide to deciphering American banknotes - The Greenback

    Have you ever found yourself in the country with a wad of foreign cash? It can be all too easy to give a fifty instead of a five. Don't get ripped off. Familiarise yourself with American banknotes before you leave.

    us-banknotes

    Did you know?
    In addition to the standard $1 - $100 banknotes, America also has notes to cover larger denominations.

    • Grover Cleveland, the 22nd and 24th U.S president had a $1,000 note named after him.
    • James Madison, the 4th U.S President had a $5,000 note named after him.
    • Salmon P Chase, the 6th U.S Chief Justice had a $10,000 note named after him.
    • Woodrow Wilson, the 28th U.S President had a $100,000 note named after him.

    Buying currency in Australia

    If you’re like Jeremy and you like to have American dollars when you arrive, you have a number of choices for getting cash changed on Australia. Look at your bank and look at foreign exchange providers such as Travelex or Australia Post. For $1,010AUD ($1,000 plus a 1% commission) , ANZ can give you $718.1USD. Australia Post can give you $723USD for $1,000AUD. Australia Post also has convenient locations at major Australian airports, you can order your cash online and pick it up before you jump on the plane. Have a look at the following providers if you want to buy USD before you leave.

    There’s no restriction on the amount of foreign currency or U.S dollars you can bring into the US. You must declare your cash at customs if you’re taking more than $10,000 USD or the foreign currency equivalent

    • Tip: Make sure you’ve applied for your United States ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) before you leave Australia. This will cost you $14 and you can pay by a Visa, MasterCard,  American Express, Diners or Discover credit card.

    Find cash and ATMs in USA

    Why you’ll need a combination of travel money options

    Use a combination of travel money products which don’t charge for currency conversion and have low or no international ATM withdrawal fees. A travel card or debit card used in conjunction with a travel friendly credit card will give you a cost effective way to make both over the counter purchases and ATM withdrawals in the USA. It’s important to have more than one way to access your money when you’re abroad. Travel to the United States is exciting, don’t make it stressful by limiting your options. By doing a little research before you go, you can save on fees which can easily add up to the cost of a night out or souvenir for a loved one. You’ll find card payments are the norm in the USA, the currency conversion fee may not seem like much, but giving almost $10 for every $300 you spend or withdraw to your bank isn’t just unnecessary, it’s criminal. Compare travel money options and apply for a card you can use to spend for less in America to avoid throwing money at your bank while you’re visiting the United States of America.

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    Get travel insurance quotes for your holiday in USA

    Travel and the USA are synonymous. Whether it be Route 66 or coastal highways of California, it is hard to think of a US holiday and not picture a car (probably a convertible red Mustang) tearing down the highway. While the USA is a pretty safe travel destination, accidents can happen anywhere. Worse still, medical care in the US can be prohibitively expensive. Don't leave yourself holding the bag for out of pocket medical expenses. Protect yourself financially with travel insurance. Travel insurance can cover you for:

    • Repatriation
    • Emergency medical and dental
    • Evacuation
    • Lost luggage
    • Stolen travel documents
    • Personal liability

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    This page was last modified on 16 November 2016 at 16:14.

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    3 Responses to Travel Money Guide: USA

    1. Default Gravatar
      marilyn | January 7, 2015

      what fees occur when withdrawing cash in the USA – what fees occur when you cancel the cash card upon return – is there a time limit to cancel the card upon return -

      • Staff
        Elizabeth | January 7, 2015

        Hi Marilyn,

        Thanks for your question.

        Would you mind telling me which card you’re looking at and I’d be happy to provide you with the information regarding fees. You can also click through to the individual review pages of the cards to see an outline of the fees you will be charged.

        I hope this has helped.

        Thanks,

        Elizabeth

    2. Default Gravatar
      Spending | October 21, 2013

      Prepaid travel cards are good only when you want to lock in your exchange rate if you anticipate it might go against you (e.g. Aussie dollar losing ground against the greenback)

      Otherwise, our advice is always use a combination of fee-free credit cards (28 degrees and Bankwest Platinum are the ONLY two cards in Australia that don’t charge currency conversion fees) and fee-free bank account (Citibank Plus being the ONLY product currently available in Australia with no overseas ATM or currency conversion fees).

      This way you always get the absolute best exchange rate as you are tapping the wholesale interbank rate.

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