How to Take Money Overseas – A Comparison of Some of the Options

KipI’m possibly the last person in the world I would take financial advice from, but I can be as miserly as anyone when I resent paying for something. Excessive and avoidable charges for accessing and converting money are something I resent. A lot.

This post is my attempt to make sense of the options for taking money overseas. In particular, I’ve done my best to extract the fees, charges and other limitations of pre-paid debit cards; the electronic traveller’s cheque replacements which seem to have become almost the most popular means for converting and accessing travel funds.

Traveller’s cheques had a kind of simple elegence – you were screwed on commission when you bought them and you were screwed on commission when you sold them, and if you were unwary or unlucky you were screwed on the exchange rate in between. Their electronic counterparts, however, exchange elegance for the Artful Dodger’s approach of taking a little here and a little there. Damn useful in some situations but they can quickly become a very expensive means of accessing money if your not aware of the fees and charges.

One caveat – this information is for comparative and illustrative purposes only – check with the provider, read brochure, and the PDS and the terms and conditions before purchase. Heck, see a financial advisor.

Pre-Paid Debit Cards

The popularity of pre-paid debit cards marketed to travellers has exploded in the last few years.

Pre-paid debit cards have a number of benefits, they’re as easy to use as an ordinary ATM or Credit Card (and as widely accepted), they allow you ‘lock-in’ currency conversions, can be replaced if lost or stolen, allow you specify a travel ‘budget’ and allow you to more easily track your spending and (as they are not linked to a bank account) they can be used with greater peace of mind.

However all of these features can come at a significant cost – the cards typically charge an initial fee and fees for reloads, charge significant transaction fees and high conversion fees (particularly if you use them to withdraw or purchase goods in a currency other than the denominated currency – Thai Baht or Singapore Dollars for example), you earn no interest on the cash and, the kicker,after the expirary date (typically three years) you will generally forfeit any remaining balance. Below I’ve attempted to lay out for comparison the most important feature, fees and charges for the major Australian options, as well as some other options worth considering for taking cash overseas.

Travelex Cash Passport

Cash Passport Debit Card Product Disclosure Document

Details

Network

Visa/PLUS

Available From

Travelex, Australia Post, NAB and various travel agents

Currencies

Euros, Pounds, US dollars, Australian dollars and NZ dollars

Can Be Used At

Two varieties

  • ATM only – withdrawal at VISA ATMs
  • Debit Card – pay at VISA merchants and withdrawal at VISA ATMs

Reloading

  • Via Internet/Phone banking. Online Card balances, ATM location information and capacity make changes to your PIN.

Expirary

An expiry date is printed on the front of the card. The Card cannot be used after it has expired. Three months of the expiry date any remaining balance will be forfeited.

Closing the Account

You can download a Cashout form and request the balance be refunded to your bank account. An administrative fee applies

Australia Post: Full withdrawal and closing of your Cash Passport fund – AUD 10.00

Loss of Card(s)

If both cards are lost or stolen, Travelex can arrange for replacement cards to be made available, and if necessary initiate the procedure for disputing unauthorised transactions.

Travelex can also arrange for emergency funds to be made available, up to the balance of your card, to be sent to you via our global money transfer network free of charge (generally within 20 minutes but up to 24 hours in more remote locations).

Other Matters

24 hour Global Emergency Assistance

Free second back-up card

Fees

Set-up Fees

Initial card fees and in-store reload fee charges apply and vary by Agent. Generally around 1% but there may be a minimum.

At Australia Post: 1.1% for AUD$ denominated cards ONLY

Monthly fee after 12 months of inactivity

· AUD 4.00

· USD 2.00

· GBP 1.50

· EUR 2.00

ATM Withdrawal Fees

· AUD card – AUD 3.75

· USD card – USD 2.25

· GBP card – GBP 1.50

· EUR card – EURO 2.20

EFTPOS Transaction Fee

Free

Exchange Rate (for withdrawals in currencies other than the card currency)

The exchange rate used for the conversion varies each day and will include a foreign exchange margin of 5.95%, set by Travelex

Limits

Minimum Balance

· AUD 250

· USD 200

· GBP 100

· EUR 100

Maximum Balance

· AUD 25,000

· USD 20,000

· GBP 10,000

· EUR 15,000

Maximum amount you can withdraw in 24 hours

· AUD 6,000

· USD 5,000

· GBP 2,500

· EUR 3,500

ATM withdrawal limit
$1,400

$1,400

ANZ Travel Card

Product Disclosure Statement and Financial Services Guide

Details

Network

VISA/PLUS

Available From

ANZ branches and Foreign Exchange Centres including Melbourne and Sydney Airports).

Currencies

· United States Dollar (USD)

· Euro (EUR)

· Great British Pound (GBP)

· New Zealand Dollar (NZD)

Can Be Used At

You can use your ANZ Travel Card to withdraw cash from ATMs or make purchases wherever Visa is accepted electronically.

Reloading

Reloadable in Australia or while overseas using BPAY

Reload fee: 1.1% of value purchased

Maximum reload per day by BPAY® or Foreign Exchange Centre: AUD 10,000

Maximum number of value loads per day : Two

Expirary

The card is reusable and valid for up to 3 years. Any funds left over, 12 months after the ANZ Travel Card has expired, will be forfeited.

Closing the Account

Loss of Card(s)

Overseas Card Replacement Fee (where you lose your card(s) and require
replacement): AUD 35.00

Other Matters

Balance enquiries free.

Maximum Initial Load

  • NZD Card – NZD 250
  • USD 200
  • GBP 100
  • EUR 150

24 hour Purchase Transaction Limit

  • NZD 5000
  • USD 3600
  • GBP 2000
  • EUT 3000

PIN can be changed Online or by phone

Online access to your balance and transaction history online or by telephone

Fees

Set-up Fees

AUD 11.00

Monthly fee after 12 months of inactivity

· USD Card – USD 3.00

· GBP Card – GBP 1.50

· EUR Card – EUR 2.50

· NZD Card – NZD 4.00

ATM Withdrawal Fees

· USD Card – USD 2.20

· GBP Card – GBP 1.25

· EUR Card – EUR 2.10

· NZD Card – NZD 3.50

EFTPOS Transaction Fee

No transaction fee when you use your card to make purchases (eg. in-store or online).

Exchange Rate (for withdrawals/purchases in currencies other than the card currency)

Will depend on the Visa exchange rate on the day of the transaction, i.e. between your card’s currency and the local currency. However the fees will not differ and no additional currency conversion fee will apply.

Limits

Minimum Balance

None specified

Maximum Balance

· NZD Card – NZD$20,000

· USD Card – USD $15,000

· GBP Card – £8,000

· EUR – €12,000

Maximum amount you can withdraw in 24 hours

· NZD 2500

· USD 1800

· GBP 1000

· EUR 1500

ATM withdrawal limit

None specified

Commonwealth Traveller’s Cash

Brochure

Details

Network

Mastercard / Cirrius

Available From

Any Commonwealth Bank customer registered for NetBank, and with an active statement account, can purchase a Traveller’s Cash card online.

Non-Commonwealth customers can buy Traveller’s Cash over the counter at 20 select Commonwealth Bank branches around the country with 100 points of identification.

Currencies

US Dollars (USD)

Euros (EUR)

Pounds Sterling (GBP)

Canadian Dollars (CAD) *Only available in participating branches

New Zealand Dollars (NZD) *Only available in participating branches

Australian Dollars (AUD

Can Be Used At

The Traveller’s Cash card is a Cirrus card that can be used to withdraw cash from Cirrus ATMs.

Reloading

You can top up your card online. An online credit card payment surcharge may apply. Alternatively, you can top-up at one of the Commonwealth Bank’s traveller’s cash branches.

Fee: 1% subject to $AUD10 minimum and $AUD100 maximum

Expirary

No details provided

Closing the Account

Online withdrawal and closure – AUD$4 each

Loss of Card(s)

If you lose all of your cards, we can arrange for an Emergency Cash Advance to be issued to you anywhere in the world through the MasterCard network.

Other Matters

ATM balance enquiry fee

· AUD Card – AUD$0.75

· USD Card – USD$0.50

· GBP Card – £0.25

· EUR Card – €0.50

· NZD Card – NZD$0.85

· CAD Card – CAD$0.65

(Three free balance enquiries at Commonwealth Bank ATMS)

Maximum number of ATM transactions per day (including balance enquiries): Three

You can only change your PIN at one of the Commonwealth Bank’s traveller’s cash branches. Fees for changing PIN:

· AUD Card – A$1.50 each

· USD Card –

· USD$1.00 each

· GBP Card – £0.50 each

· Eur Card – €1.00 each

· NZD Card – NZD$1.70

· CAD Card – CAD$1.30

You receive two cards when you purchase Traveller’s Cash and you can buy up to two additional cards.

Online credit card payment surcharge: 0.95% of AUD load amount plus card issuance or reload fee

Overdrawan accounts attract debit interest fee equal to the Commonwealth Bank Streamline Overdraft Rate

Emergency Cash Advance available (fees plus 1.1% conversion fee applies)

Fees

Set-up Fees

1% subject to $AUD10 minimum and $AUD100 maximum

Monthly fee after 12 months of inactivity

Nil

ATM Withdrawal Fees

· AUD Card – AUD$3.75

· USD Card – USD$2.75

· GBP Card – £1.50

· EUR Card – €2.50

· NZD Card – NZD$4.25

· CAD Card – CAD$3.25

(Three free withdrawals at Commonwealth ATMs)

EFTPOS Transaction Fee

N/A

Exchange Rate (for withdrawals in currencies other than the card currency)

Up to 2% on top of the wholesale spot rate at time withdrawal is processed by MasterCard International

Limits

Minimum Balance

· AUD Card – AUD$200

· USD Card – USD$150

· GBP Card – £100

· EUR Card – €150

· NZD Card – NZD$300

· CAD Card – CAD$200

Maximum Balance

· AUD Card – AUD$25,000

· USD Card – USD$18,000

· GBP Card – £10,000

· EUR Card – €15,000

· NZD Card – NZD$30,000

· CAD Card – CAD$20,000

Maximum amount you can withdraw in 24 hours

· AUD Card – AUD$2,500

· USD Card – USD$1,800

· GBP Card – £1,000

· EUR Card – €1,500

· NZD Card – NZD$2,500

· CAD Card – CAD$2,000

ATM withdrawal limit

Set by local ATM provider

Regular Debit Cards

The regular debit card you carry around every day may be much better deal than these pre-paid debit cards. Most ordinary debit cards issued by Australian banks will be accepted by ATMS overseas overseas – check your card for a logo of one of the major global ATM networks PLUS or Cirrus. If you cannot find the logo (usually located on the back of the card) ask your bank or credit union about where your card can be used overseas.

Then use this search engine on VISA’s website to locate ATMs that form part of the PLUS network, while ATMS that will accept Cirrus cards can be located via Mastercard’s site.

Find out what fees your bank levies for overseas withdrawals (generally there will be both a flat withdrawal fee and a currency conversion fee) and consider shopping around for a secondary account specifically to access from overseas. Even with these fees it may be well be cheaper than a pre-paid option.

Always inform your bank that you will be travelling, even consider giving them a copy of your itinerary, to prevent your account being frozen because of unusual overseas transactions.

If you’re a Westpac customer make sure you’re aware of the Global ATM Alliance which allows you to withdraw cash free of withdrawal fees at several overseas banks including Barclays, Bank of America and Deutsche Bank.

Beware of:

  • withdrawal fees which may be has high as $4.50 per withdrawal
  • (excessive) conversion fees
  • daily transaction limits
  • compatability (make sure the card will work before you leave)
  • relying on any single card exclusively
  • spending more than you intend to.

Other Options

Credit cards can be an excellent option for overseas purchases, but beware of fees especially for cash advances (even for pre-loaded credit). The Wizard Clear Advantage Mastercard is one credit card that is has some benefits especially for travellers. It offers no fees for cash advances, no fees for overseas purchases and no annual fee. The major drawback appears to be a substantial interest rate.

Travellers cheques aren’t dead yet, particularly if you’re off to Cuba, Burma, Iran or North Korea or far beyond civilization. Even for less adventurous travellers these can still be a good deal, at least as backup. You can purchase them commission-free (offered by Australian Post Offices), although the conversion rate may not be ideal. I have previously read that Australia Post will cash unused cheques commission free, if you return them with a reciept, however there is no mention of this on their website so check before you purchase.

Finally, it’s always worth having even a small amount of local currency on hand when you arrive, although purchasing it before you reach the airport from a bank or post-office (and shopping around for the best rate, including fees and commissions) is definitely recommended. Plus nothing screams “Holiday!” like a handful of exotic notes to pour over.

If you have any comments, experiences or corrections, please let me know in the comments.

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17 responses to “How to Take Money Overseas – A Comparison of Some of the Options

  1. I ma british and I resent paying 1 penny nmore for anything than I have to. I have started to use the Lloyds bank pre paid card (lloyds bank money card) . It’s great not only do I know the rate I get when iload and pay no fees when I use it in the US but with my UK credit card I have in the past had problems pre booking on line, I never have these problems withmy money card.

  2. So, with all this information what is the best way to go?

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  4. Recently, I’ve also done some research, and I’ve found that there’s a NAB Gold banking account. Basically, its an everyday banking account, but with NO atm withdrawl fees when withdrawing from a non-nab atm (this includes overseas ATMS, as long as they have a PLUS sign). Also, there is no conversion fee.. the only downside is the $12 monthly servicing fee (which can be waivered if you add $5000 monthly) and you never know what exchange rate you’ll get the next day. Otherwise, you can basically use it like you would any visa debit card in australia!

  5. thanks mate for the informative post. I basically live and travel and work overseas but consider my base to be oz even though i spend less than a month a year there. It used to be only the OS atm transaction fee of 1 flat 4-5 bucks a whack so i used to load up on cash per atm visit…now the banks have cottoned on and charge % commission on top of the atm rate, so there is no escape it seems…I travel to many more places than the allocated currencies set for the debt cards so at moment i will just keep using the cirrus debt and Visa credit cards…hmm just read the NAB post…could be the option. cheers guys

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  8. It’s a nice informative blog for online currency comparison services. It is helpful for money transfer and currency exchange.

  9. Thanks for the information about Regular Debit Cards…

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