Whether you’re looking for a fee-free credit card to avoid making the luxury handbags you’re purchasing in Italy any more expensive or a pre-paid travel money card without ATM reload fees on your budget Bali break, there’s the right travel money product out there for you. And we’re here to help you find it.
We’ve compared the travel-friendly card options so you don’t have to and can get back to the fun stuff, like planning your much-anticipated holiday.
How does getting cash out with travel money cards compare to debit cards?
Your travel money card doesn’t just replace a debit or credit card when it comes to making payments, you can also use it to withdraw cash at ATMs around the world at the locked-in rate.
What are the travel money card fees I should know about?
ATM withdrawal fees: Fees change depending on which card you have and which country you’re in.
Initial load and reload fees: Some cards charge you when you first put foreign currency onto the card and/or when you add more money to your balance.
Currency conversion fees: Depending on the card, you can pay up 5% or more in currency conversion fees.
Why should I get a pre-paid travel money card?
Think of it as a gift card to yourself to use when you’re on the road.
Pre-paid travel money cards let you load different currencies onto the card at a locked in exchange rate, so you can better keep track of your spending while travelling and not have to worry about rising exchange rates.
There is no one “best” type of travel money to take overseas because your options vary from country to country and from person to person. So to find the best travel money options for your next trip, you’ll need to look at your holiday destination, how you want to spend money and what you can afford to take with you.
Pre-load money. Put money onto your card in an upfront loading so you know exactly what you have to spend while you’re away. But don’t worry – you can always re-load on the go if you need to.
Multiple currencies. You can use your travel card to convert your New Zealand dollars into your chosen supported currency or currencies. When you spend in a supported and loaded currency, you can avoid the currency conversion fees you’d usually be charged if you were using a New Zealand card overseas.
Locked-in exchange rates. When you convert your New Zealand dollars into a foreign currency that’s supported by the card, the funds are converted based on the exchange rate available at that time. Depending on which way the currency goes, this can be a good way to avoid negative exchange rate fluctuations while you’re travelling.
Frequent flyer points. Some prepaid travel money cards will earn you frequent flyer points for your spending both overseas and in New Zealand.
Travel credit cards
Credit cards can give you financial security, flexibility and extra features when you travel overseas. There is also a range of cards designed to offer you more affordability by offering no currency conversion fees, foreign transaction fees or overseas ATM withdrawal fees. But remember to consider the other costs associated with the card, such as the annual fee and interest rates, so that you can decide if this is an option that will work for your trip.
Compare travel credit cards with 0% currency conversion fees
Benefits of using a credit card overseas
Access to credit. Your credit card limit is often larger than your savings, which can give you more flexibility when you travel.
Security. Credit cards come with a range of security features including fraud-monitoring services and zero-liability policies that help protect you if your card is lost, stolen or used for fraudulent transactions.
0% foreign transaction fees. Many travel credit cards offer no currency conversion or ATM withdrawal fees, which could help you save when compared to regular credit cards or debit cards. Note that you’ll still have to pay cash advance fees if you use a credit card to get cash out at an ATM.
Extras. Depending on the card, you could earn reward or frequent flyer points for your spending or get other travel perks such as complimentary overseas travel insurance, purchase protection and concierge services.
What else do I need to know when using a credit card for travel?
Acceptance. Most New Zealand credit cards are Visa, Mastercard or American Express, so you should be able to use them widely around the world. You may not be able to use some cards in some locations (such as Cuba, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Sudan and Syria) due to economic sanctions. Check with the provider to confirm whether you can use your card in a specific country before you go overseas.
Fees. If you use your regular credit card overseas, it’s likely you’ll be charged currency conversion or foreign transaction fees. You’ll also be charged cash advance fees if you use your card for ATM withdrawals. Cards designed for overseas use tend to come at a cost, so make sure that the cost of the annual fee doesn’t outweigh the benefits you get from the card. Unless you have a card with 0% on purchases or interest-free days, all purchases will also collect interest.
Currency conversion costs. Look for a card that doesn’t charge currency conversion or foreign transaction fees, otherwise you’ll rack up fees every time you use your card for purchases in the local currency on your holiday.
Dynamic currency conversion. When you travel overseas with a New Zealand credit card, you could have the option of paying in the local currency or in New Zealand dollars. If you choose New Zealand dollars, your transaction will be processed using dynamic currency conversion, which usually costs more than paying in the foreign currency (even after the standard fees have been added).
Travel debit cards
If you have a card that’s linked to an everyday account, you could continue to use it when you’re travelling overseas. This gives you a way to spend your own money without transferring or converting it beforehand. Some everyday debit cards offer travel benefits such as international ATM alliances to help you avoid overseas withdrawal fees or 0% currency conversion fees.
What are the benefits of travelling with a debit card?
Pay with your own money. Unlike a credit card with a line of credit or a prepaid card with a loaded amount of funds, a debit card gives you direct access to your transaction or savings account when you’re in another country. This can save you time compared to loading money on a prepaid card and can help you avoid cash advance or interest charges that could apply on a credit card.
ATM availability worldwide. If your debit card is a Visa or Mastercard, you should be able to withdraw money from ATMs around the world. To avoid ATM withdrawal fees, look for a card with a global ATM network, such as Westpac’s Global ATM Alliance.
Card fraud protection. New Zealand debit cards offer security features such as fraud-monitoring services and zero-liability policies that can help you get your money back if your card is used for fraud.
What do I need to know when I travel with my debit card?
Foreign transaction fees. Unless your debit card offers 0% international transaction fees, you could be charged between 1% and 4% for all payments made in a foreign currency.
Dynamic currency conversion. Similar to credit cards, you may have the option of paying in the local currency or in New Zealand dollars when you use your debit card overseas. Choosing New Zealand dollars means the transaction will be processed using dynamic currency conversion, which usually adds between 6% and 8% to the transaction cost.
No back-up or additional card. Unlike some travel money cards, debit card accounts do not provide a backup. This means that you may have to wait up to two weeks for a replacement if you’ve lost your card or had it stolen overseas.
Daily currency exchange rate. You will receive the daily exchange rate for your withdrawal from Mastercard or Visa. Due to the uncertainty of exchange rates, this may be favourable or provide a lower rate than securing a rate with a prepaid travel card before you leave the country.
CASE STUDY: Do your homework first
Jeremy stood shoulder to shoulder with locals and tourists, trying to keep his footing as the metro made its way towards the Colosseum. As more and more people packed onto the train, Jeremy lost his girlfriend to the glacial movement of the crowd pulling her towards the back. When he felt a brush against his rear, he was a little surprised but thought nothing of it and put it down to one of those packed-train moments. A moment was all the pickpocket needed to steal Jeremy’s wallet.
Jeremy got on the phone to his card protection service, Secure Sentinel. A call to this service is supposed to be the one-stop shop for cancelling cards, but Jeremy ended up having to call each bank separately, which led to a number of frustrating hours spent on the phone, instead of hours negotiating Italy’s famous tourist traps. Luckily for Jeremy, he had done his homework.
Jeremy is a publisher at Finder, so he knew to get a prepaid card before he left since they come with a backup. To his girlfriend’s delight, the back-up card saved their trip and they were back on the streets of Rome the next day, albeit with an eye on their pockets. It almost wasn’t such a sure thing. Like any smart traveller should, Jeremy had done his research before he left the country and he knew to spread his money between a couple of cards.
Be like Jeremy and do your homework before you leave.
Travel debit cards draw funds from a savings account and enable you to access your funds while overseas and to manage your budget. The advantages of using a debit card can include international ATM alliances and no withdrawal fees, no currency conversion fees on foreign transactions and access to your savings.
While cards are convenient and secure, it’s a good idea to have some foreign cash on hand when you go overseas. This allows you to make payments when cards are not accepted, such as at smaller cafes, stores or even public transport ticket machines. It also means you’ll have some funds available even if something happens to your card. You can buy foreign currency in New Zealand from specific outlets or order it online. You can also buy it when you’re overseas, although this could be more expensive.
Compare foreign cash services
Benefits of having foreign cash
Acceptance. As long as you have enough money, you can use foreign cash anywhere. In comparison, there could be some locations where cards are not accepted.
Convenience for smaller payments. Some businesses might have a minimum transaction amount for cards, which could make it easier to use cash. Similarly, if you’re travelling to a country where tipping is required, such as the United States, having cash could make it easier to leave a tip that’s affordable for you.
Lock in exchange rates. If you buy currency before you go overseas, you’ll be able to get it at the exchange rate offered for that day. This means you’ll know exactly how much you have to spend when you’re away.
Easy ordering services. If you order your currency online, you could have the choice of getting it delivered or picking it up at a nearby store. This could save you time and money when compared to last-minute foreign currency purchases you make at the airport.
Other factors to consider when getting foreign cash
Exchange rates. The exchange rates for buying currency can vary a lot depending on the company and where you are. So planning ahead will help you find a service that offers a competitive exchange rate for whatever currency you want to buy.
Currency conversion costs. Many foreign currency exchange services will charge a fee or commission for each transaction. You could also be charged a fee for delivery. Make sure you factor this cost in before you order money so you can budget accordingly.
Processing times. If you want foreign cash before you go overseas, keep in mind that some services may need to order the money for you. This could take a couple of weeks, so give yourself plenty of time between ordering money and going away.
Security. Remember that cash is easy to lose and tricky to insure. Aim to keep your money on you or locked up in a secure section of your luggage that would be hard for thieves to access. Also check your travel insurance policy to see how much you could be covered for if you lose your cash.
What other travel money options can I consider?
Traveller’s cheques were once a widely used form of travel money, but they’re going the way of the dinosaur. You can weigh up whether they’re worth your time below:
Benefits of traveller’s cheques
Secure. Traveller’s cheques are an extremely secure method to spend money overseas, requiring an ID check before they can be used.
Safe. Traveller’s cheques are insurable and can be replaced if lost or stolen.
What else should I consider when looking at traveller’s cheques?
Cost. You might be charged a purchase fee when you first pick up your traveller’s cheque.
Acceptance. Traveller’s cheques are not widely accepted, especially compared to Visa or Mastercard credit, debit and travel money cards.
Ease of use. Traveller’s cheques can be bulky and awkward to store in your wallet or luggage. Plus, you’ll have to go to the effort of getting them cashed rather than having immediate access to money like you would with a card or foreign cash.
Credit cards with complimentary travel insurance
A range of credit cards come with complimentary travel insurance that can help you save on buying cover upfront. Usually, you’ll need to activate the cover or pay for some or all of your trip with the card to get this insurance. If you think you’ll use this card when you’re overseas, remember to also look at the other features of the card – including foreign transaction fees and interest rates.
Frequent flyer credit cards
As well as earning you points for your everyday spending, many Air New Zealand Airpoints credit cards offer travel perks such as airport lounge passes, travel insurance and concierge services. If you get a new frequent flyer card, you could also earn thousands of bonus points to help pay for your next trip. There are also some top-tier frequent flyer cards that offer flight or travel vouchers you can put towards the cost of your next trip. As with other credit cards, remember to check the rates and fees, so you know how much it will cost to use the card in New Zealand and overseas.
There is a wide range of travel money options you can choose from when you go overseas. So learning about the different types of cards and cash services means you’ll be able to spend your money easily wherever you are in the world.
The most commonly asked travel money questions on the Internet
Travel credit cards typically use the Mastercard or Visa network and use the daily exchange rates that the networks provide. You can find out the daily exchange rate by going to the Mastercard or Visa website. Travel prepaid cards usually have a lower exchange rate due to being able to pre-load your currencies, additional travel features available (spare cards, loading multiple currencies) and the bank charging a larger margin in return for providing these services.
A cross currency conversion fee is charged when you use your New Zealand card with New Zealand dollars to make a purchase in a foreign country. The money is exchanged from New Zealand dollars into the local currency electronically.
Banks that have international ATM alliances will allow you to withdraw cash for free. Westpac has one of the largest ATM alliances out of any New Zealand bank.
Although this method of loading travel funds is rarely disclosed in the banks terms and conditions, loading your credit card into a positive balance can avoid the cash advance interest rate. As smart travellers have continued to use this method, banks have made changes to their fees and charges. The following fees may still apply when you load your account into credit:
International ATM withdrawal fee. Charged when you withdraw cash overseas.
Currency conversion fee. This amount is calculated based on the total of the international ATM fee and the amount being withdrawn.
Local ATM operator fee. This can be avoided by using an ATM with your bank’s overseas ATM alliance (if they have one). The cash advance interest rate will apply from the day the transaction takes place.
Many premium credit card issuers will offer complimentary travel insurance as an added bonus for successful applicants. The decision on whether to go with this complimentary cover or to purchase a standalone policy will really come down to your cover requirements and budget. While the cover provided by credit cards may not offer the same comprehensive level of cover as that from a travel insurance issuer, you may already have other cover in place from other insurance and feel that your trip requirements don’t need the cover options available on standalone policies. Either way, it’s important to compare the benefits available with both options and to get a clear understanding of the exclusions for payment. The last thing you need when travelling is the nasty surprise that you are not actually covered for losses in the event that you need to make a claim. Compare credit cards with free international travel insurance
If you have a travel card that has an inactivity fee (a fee that’s charged every month when your account is inactive for a period of time), you will lose any remaining funds on the card, but your account won’t go into a negative balance. Once the card has no funds left on it, this fee will not be charged.
The eligibility requirements will differ between policies, but a general rule is that you have to pay for a percentage of your prepaid travel expenses with your card or by simply logging into your account online and activating the policy with your trip details (departure date, travel destinations etc). Once you’ve done this, you’re automatically covered under the policy agreement – but keep in mind that each policy has a list of exclusions that you should check before travelling.
Usually the most practical solutions aren’t the most appealing to the eye. Travel money belts keep your money and important valuables/documents safely tucked in a compartment under your shirt to minimise the risk of theft and loss. If security and peace of mind is your first priority when travelling and you don’t mind a piece of fabric strapped around your waist, then investing in a travel money belt will protect your travel money cards and important valuables.
Jeremy is finder's Global Head of Publishing & Editorial. Jeremy has been with finder since the very beginning and is part of the founding team working closely with Fred and Frank to build finder.com into the comparison network it is today.
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