Get Yourself FinLit

Travel Cards & Spending Money Overseas

Unless you’ve won the lotto, travelling requires you to work hard and stack that cash. Between flights, accommodation, food and a few wild nights out, life on the road ain’t cheap. Plus there are all those pesky hidden costs you don’t tend to think about – airport transfers, check-in baggage fees, airport tax and so many others.

But the peskiest of all, are the ones you pay just to access your money when you’re overseas. Some use traveller’s cheques (super old-school), others prefer travelling with cash and changing it as they go (a bit risky) and some just use a credit card (can be pretty hefty on the international exchange fees). These days most banks provide some kind of travel money card, which is usually the best way to access your money overseas.

How Do They Work?

Unlike credit cards, which are usually subject to a foreign transaction fee of about 3 per cent, you can pre-load a travel money card with local currency and avoid those costs. You can also top up the card with local currency when the exchange rate is in your favour, rather than at the time of sale (like with a credit card). And it’s common for these cards to have partnerships with international banks so it’s usually easier to avoid ATM fees (which is one of the most annoying - and generally unavoidable - hidden costs of travelling).

Usually, your bank or travel card provider will give you two cards – a primary card and a secondary card. The secondary card is what you use in case your first card is lost or stolen while you’re away, so keep it somewhere safe!

Where Do I Get One?

Most major banks provide a version of the travel money card, though some banks have better exchange rates than others, and some cards are more suited to certain currencies. You can start by checking out the terms of your usual bank’s travel money card, but it’s probably worth shopping around and checking out what else is on offer.

Things to be aware of…

ATM Fees

When you include the local bank’s ATM fee, plus the fee from your bank at home, sometimes you can get stung for up to $20 per transaction. To limit ATM fees, most travellers make large, infrequent withdrawals but it’s also worth checking whether your bank has partnerships with other banks overseas and low-fee or fee-less transactions.

Cross Currency Conversion Fees

Depending on the bank, you can usually load your travel card with multiple currencies. But you get charged a cross currency conversion fee when you spend money in a currency you don’t have preloaded on the card. This is how people get caught out with a travel money card and it can cost quite a bit.


It can take a day or so for the card to process a reload. This is something to be wary of because if you start spending straight after you reload, you could easily cop that cross currency conversion fee.

Default Currency

You’ve got to be careful to make sure your default currency settings are in order, otherwise you can accidentally top up your card with the wrong currency and, again cop the cross currency conversion fee.

Coming Home

If you’ve got anything left when the trip is over, you’ll want to convert it back to Aussie dollars, which means you’ll cop the exchange fees again. Some banks even charge closure and inactivity fees, which are worth comparing. It’s best to just top up the travel money card with the amount you’re planning to spend, rather than transferring it all and having a bunch left over.

This information is intended to be general in nature only and should not be relied upon for personal financial use. When in doubt always seek professional guidance.
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