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Travel Money Guide: USA

Compare a range of travel money options including debit cards, credit cards and prepaid travel cards for your trip to the USA.

Heading to the USA and looking for the best travel money option? With options like travel-friendly debit and credit cards, pre-paid travel money cards and cold hard cash available, we compare a range travel money options for the USA in this guide.

Compare travel money options for USA

Name Product Card access Own network ATM fee Monthly Account Fee Internatonal ATM Fee Foreign transaction fee
Westpac Choice
Take advantage of Westpac's Global Alliance and save on overseas ATM fees at over 50,000 locations worldwide with fee-free cash withdrawals.
HSBC Everyday Global Account
Earn 2% cashback on tap and pay purchases.

ING Orange Everyday Account
Receive a rebate on any international transaction fees and international ATM fees when you deposit at least $1,000 a month and make at least 5 card purchases.
Name Product Available Currencies ATM Withdrawal Fee Initial Load Fee Reload fee
Wise Travel Money Card

2 free ATM withdrawals per month up to AUD$350, then AUD$1.50 and 1.75% per withdrawal

Hold and spend funds in more than 40 currencies, with competitive exchange rates and $0 fees for the first 2 ATM withdrawals (up to AUD$350) per month.
Cash Passport Platinum Mastercard
USD $2.50, EUR €2.50, GBP £2.00, NZD $3.50, THB ฿80.00, CAD $3.50, HKD $18.00, JPY ¥260.00, SGD $3.50, AUD $3.50, AED 10.00
$0 (via online) or $0 (via branch)
More Info
Name Product Interest-free period Purchase rate p.a. Annual fee
Bankwest Breeze Platinum Mastercard
Bankwest Breeze Platinum Mastercard image
Up to 55 days on purchases
0% for 12 months, then 12.99%
Get 0% p.a. interest on purchases and balance transfers for 12 months (with a 2% BT fee). Plus 0% foreign fees and complimentary overseas travel insurance.
Westpac Lite Card
Westpac Lite Card image
Up to 45 days on purchases
Save with 0% foreign transaction fees, a low interest rate for purchases and cashback offers through Westpac Extras.

Which option is right for your next trip?

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 YorkBudgetMidTop
$30 - $60 per night
Hotel / Motel
$150 per night
5 star hotel / Superior suite
$350 per night
foodFood truck
$5 - $10
$20 - $40
5 Michelin Star Restaurant
$50 a plate
cameraFree festivals year round in American citiesGuggenheim Museum
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)

*Exchange rates are accurate as of 4 September 2017

Today's exchange rate AUD to USD

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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, like Australia, 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, or account keeping fees
  • Free global transfers between Australian and American Citibank accounts
  • Assistance opening an account if you're travelling through the US for an extended period
  • There are only a couple of travel friendly debit accounts offered on the US market
Prepaid travel money cards
  • Locked-in exchange rates
  • No currency conversion fees
  • 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 may apply
Traveller's cheques
  • Security
  • Can be costly with initial purchase charges
  • Many merchants don't accept traveller's cheques
  • Greater payment flexibility
  • Convenience
  • More difficult to manage expenses
  • Higher risk of theft

This table is a general summary of the travel money products in the market. Features and benefits can vary between cards.

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 USD. 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. Compare these cards by the fees. For example, some travel cards waive the international ATM withdrawal fee or have partner alliances in the US. 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 are only a couple of travel friendly debit accounts currently on the market, one being the Citibank Plus Transaction Account. Citibank Plus cardholders won't pay for currency conversion, international ATM fees, account keeping fees and Citibank offers 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 the vast majority of 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 another common 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 Latitude 28° Global Platinum Mastercard are examples of 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.

  • Tip: Rewards credit cards which also don't charge for currency conversion can be a good way to rack up the points in the USA.

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 often 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 supplement their income. You don't have to tip big, but don't be stingy unless you've received genuinely bad service.RestaurantWaiters should get anywhere between 15% - 20% of your 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 an additional tip.
    Where?How much should I tip?How much should I tip?
    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.
    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
    CaféThe 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 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 a 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 account.
  • 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.

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. 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.

  • American Express
  • ANZ
  • Australia Post
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.

How you can buy US dollars

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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Jeremy Cabral is the chief operating officer and global head of publishing for Finder. He has written hundreds of comparisons covering everything from credit cards to travel money to Netflix TV shows. Jeremy has a Bachelor of Business (Marketing) from the University of Western Sydney. See full bio

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3 Responses

    Default Gravatar
    marilynJanuary 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 –

      ElizabethJanuary 7, 2015Finder

      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.



    Default Gravatar
    SpendingOctober 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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