Travel Card2020-11-10T21:56:10+00:00

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Finding the Right Travel Card For Your Budget & Holiday

Choosing the right travel card is crucial to saving money and having a stress-free holiday.

Travel cards can be used for purchases and for cash withdrawals, much similar to a credit or debit card. These cards can usually hold multiple currencies. When you load some money into your travel card, this locks in the current exchange rate for the foreign currencies. Travel cards are usually used on longer trips since it is easier to use your normal debit card for short ones. 

Before going on your travels, ensure that your card has all the currencies you need. Keep in mind that only a few cards support unpopular currencies such as Chinese Yuan or South African Rand. Loading the right currencies onto your travel card on a day with favourable exchange rates can really help you save some extra money. 

You should also familiarise yourself with ways to reload your card in case you use up all your funds while travelling overseas. Some cards have an app that links to your bank account, which can be particularly helpful in this scenario. Also try to avoid putting high amounts of money on your card, since transferring leftover money back to your bank account can attract quite high fees and transfer limits. If your card has inactivity fees, don’t forget to cancel it in time.

Overall, most travellers have quite positive experiences with travel cards. Most places now accept these cards, and they can be replaced if lost or damaged. If you play your cards right, it is possible to lock in your exchange rate which benefits you and helps to save money. Notably, a large majority of travel cards allow you to hold a large range of currencies and don’t charge a fee when loading or reloading online. Depending on what card you choose, some even don’t charge fees for ATM withdrawals overseas. 

Of course, there are still a few downsides to using a travel card. Some cards include closure or purchase fees. Extra ATM fees or other transaction fees can also be charged by stores overseas and local merchants. Additionally, if you forget to cancel your card, some cards may charge monthly inactivity fees.

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How travel cards work

Travel cards are essentially just debit cards that are specially designed for travelling, allowing you to place multiple foreign currencies on them. There are many advantages to using a travel card. You have the opportunity to preload the card when the exchange rate is most favourable to you. Using money in the local currency means that you can avoid any currency conversion fees that may come your way.

Travel money cards are also generally much more secure and easier to handle than traveller’s cheques. You can avoid carrying around huge wads of cash since the card can be preloaded with multiple currencies of your choice. Once overseas, reloading your card can be done over the internet or by using an app. Your travel card can be used to withdraw cash at ATMs, to buy souvenirs at shops, to pay for meals at restaurants, or online while booking accommodation.

Due to the growing popularity of travel cards, you can now get them from more places than ever before. Only financial institutions used to offer them, but now many airlines such as Virgin and Qantas have started offering their own cards as well. And even Australia Post has joined in!

So how do you actually use a travel money card? Firstly, try to shop in advance. Looking for your card well ahead of your travels means you have the chance to find one with the currencies you need and avoid excessive card fees. 

Try to estimate how much currency you require as accurately as possible. Consider what countries you’ll spend the most time in and what purchases you may need to make in these foreign countries since you need to take all currency conversion fees into account.

In addition, try to minimise your fees and charges as much as possible. Spending the time to look for a card with no or little ATM withdrawal fees or EFTPOS transaction fees can really help you save some extra cash which can be better spent on travels. While at first, these fees seem small, they can rapidly accumulate to a considerable sum. Also, keep on checking the reload fee of your card to strategically figure out when it is best to load it.

Now, there are many places where you can go to conduct your money transfers and to exchange currency. You may decide to use a specialist money exchanger, which can be particularly cheap if you buy lots of popular currencies (such as US dollars, Euros or British Pounds). Finding the best foreign cash exchange rate depends on both the markets and the competitiveness of the store. If you find one in the city centre, this increases your chances of finding a good rate since these businesses are always competing with each other. Just remember, sometimes these specialist money exchangers don’t have less popular currencies (such as Thai Baht and Singapore Dollars). 

Another popular option is using your local bank. Contrary to most opinions, using a bank can end up being an inexpensive option. More popular currencies are not very competitive while compared to other outlets and businesses, so it’s best to avoid using the bank if you are looking for these. However, other currencies such as Chinese yuan, South African Rand and Malaysian Ringgit are very viable options.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the best travel cards? Is it better to get one from Australia Post – or from one of the banks?       

There are numerous travel money cards on offer today, so choosing the right one for you may be a bit tricky. To decide which one is the best for you, you must consider what currencies you need, the amounts you’ll be loading on the card, and for how long you’ll be using the card. 

The 7 – Eleven Just Go Visa Prepaid is a popular choice, holding currencies in NZD, EUR, GBP, USD and AUD. There are nearly no fees while using this card –  with the exception of the inactivity fee you‘ll get after not using the card for 12 months. This fee can easily be avoided by cancelling the card. The only downside of this card is the low selection of currencies offered which limits your options.  

The NAB Traveller Card is another option to consider. This card offers a wider range of currencies including THB, CAD, JPY, HKD, SGD, GBP, EUR, NZD, USD and AUD. There are very few fees involved, one being a $3.75 fee for withdrawing any leftover funds after completing your travels. However, this can be avoided if you transfer the money to a linked NAB account. Just keep in mind that there is also a 4% foreign exchange fee, so take the extra time to plan out how much money you’ll require.

The Qantas Travel Money is another low-fee card which holds many currencies, such as AED, THB, CAD, JPY, HKD, SGD, GBP, EUR, NZD, USD and AUD. There is a 0.5% fee for reloading the debit card – but this fee can be avoided if you reload online. Be careful of ATM fees which can be charged overseas – just try to avoid small ATM withdrawals. 

If these cards do not offer the currencies that you need, there are many more options out there, such as the Commonwealth Bank Travel Money Card. This card offers a huge selection of currencies including CNY, VND, AED, THB, CAD, JPY, HKD, SGD, GBP, SUR, NZD, USD and AUD. There is no purchase fee if you apply for one through Netbank. However, there is still a 5.25% foreign ATM withdrawal fee – which is fairly high, especially if you compare it to other cards with additional overseas ATM fees. If you plan on using this card, just remember to avoid making small ATM withdrawals and to make an accurate estimate of how much money you’ll require during your trip.  

Another similar option is the Travelex Money Card, which can hold many different currencies including THB, CAD, JPY, HKD, SGD, GBP, EUR, NZD, USD and AUD. This card typically has better exchange rate offers and has no extra ATM fees overseas. There are, however, many additional fees – including a purchase fee, a reload fee (which can be avoided if you book it in advance), and closure and inactivity fees. Just keep in mind that this card also has a quite high foreign exchange fee of 5.95%, so just make a good estimate of how much money you need and in what currency.

Before choosing your travel card, always carefully consider the currencies you’ll need. Less popular currencies, such as Fijian Dollar, South African Rand and Chinese Yuan are only available on very few cards. Make sure you keep checking the markets to find the best possible exchange rates and figure out the best time to load your card with the currencies you require. Before starting your travels, make sure that you know how to reload your card in case your funds run out overseas. Finally, just remember to cancel your card once you’ve finished using it to avoid any inactivity fees.

How to get the best exchange rate for your currency card 

There are a few yet simple tips and tricks to keep in mind while looking for the best exchange rate. The foreign exchange rate is constantly changing, and it isn’t always easy to predict when they are going to be most favourable to you. 

Remember to do your research before exchanging your money. Keeping an eye on the exchange rate for the currency you require can help you notice a pattern. There are many exchange rate charts or trackers online that can show you the currency conversion rates in the past and where they are predicted to keep heading.  You may also wish to use an online currency converter (also known as “foreign exchange calculator”), which shows you exactly what you’ll get for a certain amount.

Try to always check the total cost before confirming your transactions, not just the rate. Some exchange agencies may try to charge you other fees, such as commission, which means you may end up paying more than you hoped to. Many companies like to charge extra if you plan to pay by credit or debit card.

Ordering online is usually the best option you can choose. You have enough time to run extra checks on the currency exchange rate of your desired currency, and it is easy to compare these to different sites. Keep in mind that with money cards, you lock in the exchange rate during the day you buy it. Even if the exchange rate suddenly shoots up the day after you buy your card, this won’t affect you.

If you have any extra currency left over after your travels, you may be able to change it back to Australian Dollars at a very competitive rate. This means you won’t lose the value of your currency, and, if you play the markets right, you may even earn a few extra dollars.

What fees can I be charged while using a money card? (Hint: Always read the product disclosure statement.)

There are many fees that may come with using a money card, such as the card purchase fee. Generally, most travel cards in Australia require you to pay a fee prior to loading and using the card. 

However, there are ways to get around this. For example, the ANZ travel card holds a purchase fee of $11 – but this can be avoided if you already have bank accounts or home loans with ANZ. 

There is also sometimes an initial load fee. For example, Westpac Pty Ltd charges up to $10 for you to load the card. Once again, there are ways to avoid this. If you load the card online with Westpac Online Banking through BPAY or funds transfer, there will be no fee charged. 

Then, of course, there is a  foreign currency conversion fee that can be charged when you are paying in a currency that has not been loaded on your card. A few cards  – like the MasterCard prepaid card, Cash Passport – don’t have a currency conversion fee. But many other cards, such as the ANZ Travel Card or Westpac Global Currency Card, do. These usually take up to 3% of the AUD value of any conversion.

There are also usually some overseas ATM withdrawal fees. Depending on the card you choose, these fees can be accompanied by the usage fee that can also sometimes be applied while using any ATMs overseas. These fees are usually quite small – for example, the Qantas Cash Travel Card only charges $1.95 in AUD per withdrawal, and the ANZ Travel Card charges $3.50. However, remember that even though they may seem small at the time, these fees can quickly amount to a large sum if you are not careful.

Subsequent reload fees also often apply. The fees usually depend on how you choose to reload your card, so there are ways around this. The MasterCard Cash Passport gives you an option to conduct free reloads online or via a bank transfer. (If you choose to do it through BPAY, there is a 1% fee though.) The Commonwealth Bank Travel Money Card and NAB Traveller card have no subsequent reload fees – no matter how you choose to reload.

Emergency load fees can apply if you lose your travel card and require cash. Travel cards such as the Commonwealth Travel Money Card do not have an emergency load fee. But other cards, like the Virgin Velocity Global Wallet, have a $15 fee for any emergency transfers. The amount of the fee usually depends on how much you need to transfer, but typically these do not go over $30.

There is also sometimes a negative balance fee. Most travel cards are prepaid debit cards, meaning you are not able to spend more than the card has loaded on it. Despite this, some cards may still allow you to overspend. This will result in a negative balance fee that is usually up to $20. 

Similarly, there is also sometimes an account inactivity fee which is given if your travel card has not been active in the last 12 months. This can be easily avoided by just deactivating it.

A card replacement fee may also be applied if you need a replacement for your lost or stolen card, but most agencies will give you one free of charge. For example, providers such as ANZ will even provide a second card when you are being issued your first one for no additional charge. Other cards, such as the Australia Post Load & Go, require you to pay $15 for an extra card. 

Some cards may even require you to pay a card termination fee. However, this fee is now quite rare. If you still have a loaded balance when you wish to deactivate your travel card, your remaining money can be converted back to AUD and returned.

How to avoid extra fees

Since there can be many extra fees to travel cards, you are probably wondering how to avoid them all. As usual, there are a few small but crucial points to pay attention to while buying or using your money card. Firstly, remember to bring extra cash even if you plan to mostly use your travel card. If your travel card has conversion or other extra fees, using cash for less expensive transactions, such as paying for meals, can prove to be quite helpful.

You may even consider using a travel credit card, such as the 28Degrees credit card, instead of a regular travel card which is essentially a debit card. Then, you won’t need to pay much attention to the individual currency balances or to the reloading times and fees for a prepaid travel money card. Travel credit cards may also get rid of currency conversion fees and international transaction fees. However, there are usually high interest rates attached to travel credit cards, which may end up being quite pricey.

No matter what travel card you choose – remember to always check for any fees in the product disclosure statements and financial services guides to avoid unpleasant surprises. Also, if the card has any optional extras you don’t need, it’s a good idea to make sure you don’t activate them.

Can I use money transfers instead of getting a traveller card?

If you have friends or family overseas and plan to be visiting them for at least a few months, that may work in your favour. Conducting a bank transfer to the country you are visiting and then getting a card from a local bank may help you save on the fees that come with using the travel card regularly. While the international money transfer will still cost you, using a local debit or credit card offers you the same level of security and convenience as a travel card – just minus any extra fees.

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