4 Best Ways to Take Travel Money Overseas

As Australians, we love travelling. And while we travel, we need access to money. It's not the most glorious part of our travel plans, but it's equally important to decide on the best travel money option for us so we're not left feeling negative at any stage of our trip.

The problem is, it can be tricky working out the best travel money option to use. The fact is, the best one for you will really depend on what you need from the travel money type you're using.

This travel money guide shares with you:

  • Different types of travel money
  • Benefits, fees and how to get your travel money card
  • Most frequently asked travel money questions and answers

What are the different types of travel money?

Travel money can come in the form of travel money cards that are designed specially for using overseas. You can use travel cards to make purchases online, in stores and to withdraw cash from ATMs. You can also take foreign currency with you and pay for everything in cash.

There is one other option - traveller's cheques. These are known to be highly secure, insurable and can be replaced if lost or stolen. However, we don't recommend it. Traveller's cheques are expensive, not widely accepted and don't give you immediate access to money.

For this reason, we focus on the most popular options like travel cards and foreign currency cash.

For travel cards, there are 3 popular types:

  1. Prepaid Travel Cards
  2. Travel Debit Cards
  3. Travel Credit Cards

4. For cash, you need to figure out:

  • where to get your foreign currency for the best foreign exchange rates and lowest fees
  • when the best time is to get the best rates for your foreign cash
  • safe access to cash

Let's have a look at each one in more detail.

Prepaid Travel Cards

Prepaid travel cards are a good alternative to carrying cash. With prepaid travel cards, you load the card with a set amount of money in the currency you need. You can then use it to make purchases online, in stores and to withdraw money at ATMs.

Most travel cards allow for different currencies to be loaded onto the card. So it's important to know what currency you'll be using on your travels. Airlines also offer prepaid cards so the money you spend can earn you reward points.

Benefits include:

  • Load money upfront so you can budget
  • Access multiple currencies
  • Lock-in your foreign exchange rates
  • Replace if you lose it or it gets stolen
  • Frequent flyer points
  • Back-up card sometimes on offer

What are the fees?

  • Exchange rate margins when you load your card
  • Exchange rate margins when you close the card
  • Flat or percentage-based fees to load the card
  • Overseas ATM withdrawal fees
  • Exchange rate conversion fee when you use the card
  • Reload fees
  • Closing fees

How do you get a prepaid travel card?

  1. Get a card: Compare prepaid card options and purchase your card online, at a bank or through your airline loyalty program
  2. Activate and register: call the phone number or go online to activate and register
  3. Load: add funds to your card in-store at time of purchase or online
  4. Use: Make purchases or withdraw money from ATM
  5. Reload: Add more funds to your cards via bank transfer/Bpay online

Travel Debit Cards

Debit Cards offer the convenience of a credit card, but work differently. They draw money directly from your bank account when you make a purchase. It's designed for everyday money transactions and means that you're not accumulating debt.

If you have spending issues, it's a better option to use your debit card whenever possible. It will help you stick to your travel budget, because you can't overdraw money from your account.

Benefits include:

  • Direct access to your savings
  • ATM withdrawals worldwide
  • Security features like card fraud protection and zero-liability

What are the fees?

  • Currency conversion fees for all debit card payments in foreign currency
  • Dynamic currency conversion fees if you don't choose the local currency to pay
  • Flat fee or percentage-based ATM withdrawal fees
  • Foreign ATM fees
  • Flat fee or percentage fee for debit card purchases via EFTPOS

How do you get a travel debit card?

  1. Apply: Compare everyday transaction options and open account
  2. Give details: Bring personal I.D. You need be over 16 years old and have an Australian address
  3. Activate your account: get your debit card through mail
  4. If you haven't received your card, visit your branch or call your chosen provider to check

Travel Credit Cards

Credit cards have been around for a long time. But now there are specialised travel credit cards. These cards give you longer to pay back what you've spent, but the interest rates can be quite high.

The main advantage with travel credit cards are the reward points you get in return when you spend. But it only works if you pay off the balance in full each month.

Credit cards are great to use for car hire, restaurants and accommodation - larger expenses that are easier for you to pay back over time. Some services only take credit cards to hold purchases so it's handy to have while you travel.

Benefits include:

  • Access to credit - often greater than your savings
  • Security features like card fraud protection and zero-liability
  • Low or no transaction fees
  • Frequent flyer points or rewards
  • Extra perks - travel insurance, purchase protection, airport lounge access, wifi, or concierge services
  • Widely accepted - visa and mastercard is accepted almost everywhere

What are the fees?

  • Annual fees
  • Reward scheme fees
  • Cash advance fees
  • Interest charges

How do you get a travel credit card?

  1. Build credit history - pay your bills on time
  2. Choose your type of credit card: low rate, low fee or rewards points
  3. Apply for a credit card: Bring personal details, photo ID and proof of income
  4. Register for a new account if you don't have one
  5. Receive credit card in the mail if approved

Want to learn more about travel money card providers?

We review some of the best travel money cards on offer from the following providers. They’re some of your cheapest options to take travel money with you. We’ve shared information on:

  • An overview of each travel money card, giving you some quick, useful insight.
  • The advantages and disadvantages of each travel card or account and why you might choose to use them.
  • Fees, exchange rates and limits.
  • The currencies and extra benefits the card has to offer.
  • Safety and security of the provider that offers the card.

To find out how to compare travel cards, use our travel card guide.

Thinking about getting your travel card through your bank?

Banks are almost always more expensive than companies that specialise in travel money. They charge high fixed fees and worse exchange rates than you can get from companies like TransferWise, Revolut and similar businesses.

We think it’s vital for you to make a fair comparison though, so we’ve reviewed all of these banks and shared what’s good and bad about each one.

Remember, you can also use our comparison table in our travel card guide to find the cheapest option.

Foreign Currency Cash

It may sound obvious, but the most convenient way to carry money overseas remains cash. Virtually everywhere accepts it. Some places only accept cash, particularly in Asian and African countries.

It's always a good idea to have a little cash handy, even if only for emergencies and tipping. But keep it secured in a safe place.

Getting cash is best when you:
  • Want to lock in a rate
  • Want to stick to a budget
  • Have a secure place to keep it
  • Like to bargain for a better price for a product
  • Don’t have precious time to waste hunting down the nearest ATM
  • Want to avoid card fees every time you need to pay for something
Getting cash is not great if you:
  • Want the absolute best rates
  • Need to pay by credit card
  • It can easily be stolen
  • Need to make a claim for stolen cash on your travel insurance
  • Are visiting multiple countries and plan to exchange money at each local currency provider
  • Can only exchange money at the airport

What are the fees?

  • Flat fee or percentage-based currency conversion costs
  • Delivery charges

While not a fee, you also should consider the exchange rate you're getting when you convert your Australian dollars

How to organise foreign cash online?

  1. Compare: foreign exchange rates for cash
  2. Select your currency and amount: then choose delivery or pick-up
  3. Pay: Online pay by card, Bpay or bank transfer
  4. Get your cash: In 2-5 business days

Buying money at the bank before you go

Banks usually give competitive exchange rates and fees, but shop around various banks and other providers as you might save a few dollars. At a bank, if you buy $1,000 worth you can pay more than $25 in fees and commissions.

Order your currency about a week before your trip (allow longer for uncommon currencies), because some money changers won't have the currency you want in stock.

Do you know what currency you want to exchange?

Use our comparison tool to find the travel money provider with the best exchange rates for the currency you want to buy.

FAQs

What is the best travel card?

We recommend 5 top travel money cards for Australians going overseas:

Related reviews: TransferWise Debit Card vs Revolut; 28 Degrees MasterCard vs Citibank Plus Transaction Account vs NAB Traveller; List: The best and worst travel cards in Australia

Where is the best place to exchange money travelling?

You'll get the best exchange rates if you buy foreign currency at your destination rather than at home, but it might not be as convenient. If you're looking for information on the best ways to take travel money for a specific destination check out the following country guides:

What is the cheapest way to get foreign currency?

The cheapest way to exchange currency really depends on what currency you are buying, how much and where you are.

It's usually cheapest to buy foreign currency at your destination, but not as convenient. If you're more prepared, there is very little difference between buying currency in-store or online. For in-store currency exchanges, you'll get better rates in the CBD than further out. The most expensive option is to exchange your currency at the airport - so don't do it! There are smarter ways to buy currency.

Related reviews: Compare foreign exchange rates for cashHow to Get the Best Currency Exchange Rate

What is a cross currency conversion fee?

This fee is also known as Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC) and is the amount charged by a merchant to make the currency conversion to your local currency.

For example, you're travelling in Italy and your bill is delivered to you in AUD, instead of EUROs. The good news is you can view your purchases in your local currency, without stressing about converting it. The bad news? Many merchants add huge exchange rate mark-ups compared to your travel card issuer.

We recommend you refuse the DCC when a merchant asks you if you want to transact in Australian dollars while you're overseas.

How can I avoid ATM withdrawal fees?

Avoid ATM withdrawal fees by using an everyday debit card to withdraw cash, rather than a credit card. Some banks waive the overseas ATM fee for your everyday debit card. Especially banks that have international ATM alliances, like Westpac.

On the other hand, a cash advance fee applies to credit cards at ATMs, even if you preload money with additional funds to avoid interest charges.

Unfortunately some ATMs overseas will charge additional withdrawal fees. If your Australian bank charges you too, you'll be paying double the amount of ATM fees when you withdraw money.

We recommend you choose a debit or prepaid travel card that won't charge you when you withdraw cash from ATMs overseas.

Can I just use my bank card instead?

Yes. As long as you have a card with a Visa or Mastercard symbol you'll be able to access funds. Use your card to withdraw cash from ATMs and at EFTPOS terminals. However, foreign currency fees may apply depending on whether you use a debit or credit card.

What currencies can I buy online?

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