Heading overseas? Be smart about how you carry your spending money

What are the best cards for use abroad, and should you carry cash?
Woman in airport looking at travel money options

So your flights are booked, hotel reservations are made and your travel insurance is sorted … the next decision you need to make is how to take your spending money. 

There are four main travel money options – cash, debit card, credit card and travel money card. It may be wise to mix and match.

Cash in local currency

It makes sense to take some of the local currency with you in cash but this should only be a small amount as carrying around wads of cash is not the safest option.

Debit cards

You could use your usual debit card to make purchases or withdraw money but the fees could really eat into your spending money. Your bank may charge fees for using overseas ATMs, the international bank may charge ATM fees, and there can be currency conversion fees. 

Make sure you look into what fees your bank would charge if you used your debit card overseas. You could also look into opening up a new account specifically for your trip that has no currency conversion fees or overseas ATM fees.

The following debit cards stood out as offering outstanding value for international travel in Canstar’s 2023 Travel Credit and Debit Card Star Ratings and Awards:

● Bankwest – Easy Transaction Account

● Great Southern Bank – Everyday Edge

● HSBC – Everyday Global Account

● ING – Orange Everyday

● Macquarie Bank – Transaction Account

● ME – SpendME Transaction Account

● Suncorp Bank – Carbon Insights, Everyday Essentials Account & Everyday Options Account

● Ubank – Spend Account

● Up – Up Everyday

A handsome bearded young man and his pretty blonde girl sit in a restaurant on the seashore and they are happy because they bought something nice on the online shop using travel money card.

Credit cards

Your credit card is another option, but once again you need to pay attention to the fees. You’ll probably be hit with a currency conversion fee on purchases, but if you use your credit card to use cash that’s when you’re more likely to get stung.

Interest rates and fees for a cash advance from a credit card are already high and if you’re withdrawing money overseas a currency conversion fee and possibly an international ATM fee will be added to the transaction. 

Some credit cards are more suitable for overseas travel than others. Those that made the cut as offering outstanding value for occasional overseas travellers in Canstar’s 2023 awards include:

● BankVic Qantas Visa Credit Card

● Bankwest Breeze Platinum Mastercard

● Bankwest Zero Platinum Mastercard

● Bendigo Bank Ready Credit Card

● Coles Rewards Mastercard

● Horizon Bank Visa Credit Card

● HSBC Low Rate Credit Card

● HSBC Premier World Mastercard – Rewards Plus Option

● ING Orange One Low Rate Classic

● Latitude Financial Services 28 Degrees

Global Platinum Mastercard

● Westpac Lite Card

Travel money card

Finally, you could take a prepaid travel money card. Wondering are travel money cards worth it? Well, they let you lock in your exchange rate before you travel, you can load multiple foreign currencies at once and they make it easier to stick to your budget as you can only spend your own money.

When comparing cards, one of the main things to look at are fees which can include fees to load and reload money on the card, ATM withdrawal fees and a cross-currency fee if you need to convert money to another currency.

Some providers will even charge you a fee if you withdraw the money and close the account. On the flip side, if you leave it open but don’t use it some providers will charge a monthly inactivity fee!

When shopping around, don’t forget to compare exchange rates. A five cent difference in the exchange rate on a deposit of $1000 could cost you $50.

The products that picked up an award in Canstar’s 2023 Travel Money Card Awards are the Revolut Travel Money card (standard and premium) and the Wise Travel Money Card.

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