foreign currency

How to avoid foreign currency exchange fees when travelling

Are you going overseas? Avoid foreign transaction fees with the right travel money option and save on your vacation costs.

Using a credit card while travelling overseas may be convenient, but it can get quite costly when you factor in rates and fees. Learning how to get the most favourable rates and how to avoid unnecessary fees can go a long way towards saving you cash that could be better spent on your travels.

What rates and fees should I be watching out for?

Whether you’re spending overseas or shopping online with an international merchant, you’ll usually encounter a foreign currency exchange rate and a foreign currency fee. If you’re using a credit card or travel card, you may find that the card exchange rate is less favourable than the listed interbank rates.

The foreign transaction fee is usually a percentage (such as 3%) of the transaction amount, which can add up if you’re using the card regularly or paying for big-ticket items.

These fees can be avoided though. It’s all about choosing the right travel money product. You can compare some of your options in the table above.

How can you avoid foreign currency exchange fees?

No foreign transaction fee credit cards

If you’re a frequent traveller to faraway lands, it is advisable to seek out credit cards designed for travelling. These cards advertise low or no fees on foreign transactions, are connected to extensive worldwide ATM networks, and in some cases will even waive any extra fees for currency conversion. You may pay a slightly higher annual fee for this type of credit card, but the money you’ll save on overseas spending might balance that out.

Prepaid travel money cards

Prepaid travel money cards may not be common practice in Singapore, but provide a happy compromise between credit card and cash. You can load these cards with Singapore dollars, then convert the funds you’ve loaded into any of the foreign currencies supported by the card. Then if you use your card to spend anywhere the loaded foreign currencies are the local currency, you’ll save on currency conversion fees.

These cards can come with fees including purchase fees, loading or reloading costs and ATM withdrawal charges. Weigh these fees up against how much you could save on currency conversion fees to determine whether it’s a valuable option.

Using debit cards

Most Singapore debit cards will charge foreign currency exchange fees when used overseas. To save costs on your next holiday, look for a debit card with low or no foreign transaction fees. Unlike a credit card, debit card transactions don’t incur interest and you can withdraw funds without being charged a cash advance fee. If your card belongs to an international ATM alliance, you can also save on ATM withdrawal costs. You can compare debit cards designed for travel here.

Rewards and frequent flyer credit cards

Rewards and frequent flyer credit cards allow you to earn points for every S$1 you spend on eligible purchases. While these cards usually come with higher annual fees and interest rates, you can find some that come with no foreign transaction fees. If you’re usually able to repay your balance each month, a rewards credit card with no foreign transaction fees could be a great way to get rewarded for your holiday expenses.

Using cash

Carrying the local currency in cash is another way you can avoid foreign transaction fees on day-to-day holiday expenses. It’s not exactly safe to carry all of your travel budget in cash though, so look for a card that has low ATM withdrawal fees and make sure that you have more than one way to access your funds.

Compare credit card foreign currency transaction fees

Name Product Foreign Currency Transaction Fee Reward Annual Fee
Standard Chartered Unlimited Cashback Credit Card
3.5%
1.5% cashback on all spend with no cap and no minimum spend.
S$0 annual fee for 2 years - S$192.60 thereafter.
Get up to S$138 cashback when you apply using MyInfo. Ends 31 March 2019.
Standard Chartered Rewards+ Credit Card
3.5%
Up to 10X rewards points for every S$1 spent in foreign currency.
S$0 annual fee for 2 years - S$192.60 thereafter.
Get up to S$138 cashback when you apply using MyInfo. Ends 31 March 2019.
American Express True Cashback Card
2.5%
1.5% cashback on all purchases with no minimum spend and no cap.
S$0 annual fee for 1 year - S$171.20 thereafter.
New cardholders can earn 3% Cashback on eligible purchases, up to S$5,000 spend for the first 6 months.
HSBC Visa Platinum Card
2.8%
Up to 5% cash rebate on groceries, fuel and dining.
S$0 annual fee for 2 years
- S$192.60 thereafter.
Get free Samsonite Astra 55cm luggage worth S$350 or S$100 cash back when you spend S$600 in the first month. Ends 31 March 2019.
American Express Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Credit Card
2.5%
Up to 1.1 KrisFlyer mile for every S$1 spent.
S$0 annual fee for 1 year - S$176.55 thereafter.
Earn up to 26,600 KrisFlyer bonus miles when you meet the minimum spending requirements in the first 6 months. Ends 31 March 2019.
HSBC Revolution Credit Card
2.8%
Up to 5X Rewards points (2 miles) on online, dining and entertainment purchases.
S$0 annual fee for 2 years - S$160.50 thereafter.
Get free Samsonite Astra 55cm luggage worth S$350 or S$100 cash back when you spend S$600 in the first month. Ends 31 March 2019.
Standard Chartered Business Platinum Credit Card
3.5%
Earn 1 Rewards point for every S$1 charged to your card.
S$0 annual fee for 3 years - S$160.50 thereafter.
Earn 15% cashback (up to S$30) when you spend a minimum of S$900 per month on rides with the Grab App. Ends 31 March 2019.
American Express Platinum Credit Card
2.5%
Up to 50% off your food bill for unlimited visits at hotels around Singapore.
S$321 annual fee
Get free Samsonite luggage and 1 night stay at Swissotel The Stamford Singapore when you spend S$4,500 in the first 3 months. Ends 31 March 2019.
American Express Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Ascend Credit Card
2.5%
Up to 1.2 KrisFlyer mile for every S$1 spent.
S$337.05 annual fee
Earn up to 49,400 KrisFlyer bonus miles when you meet the minimum spending requirements in the first 6 months. Ends 31 March 2019.
HSBC Advance Credit Card
2.8%
Up to 3.5% cash back on all purchases with no minimum spend.
S$0 annual fee for 1 year (permanently waived for HSBC Advance banking customers) - S$192.60 thereafter.
Get free Samsonite Astra 55cm luggage worth S$350 or S$100 cash back when you spend S$600 in the first month. Ends 31 March 2019.
Citi Cash Back Card
4%
Earn up to 8% cash back on dining, groceries, petrol and Grab (valid till 31 Mar 2019).
S$0 annual fee for 1 year - S$192.60 thereafter.
Get a welcome gift of S$120 cash back when you spend S$1,200 in the first 3 months. Ends 31 December 2019.
Citibank SMRT Card
4%
Up to 5% savings on groceries, fast food, coffee and more.
S$0 annual fee for 2 years - S$192.60 thereafter.
Receive a welcome gift of S$120 cash back when you spend S$1,200 in the first 3 months. Ends 31 December 2019.
Citi Rewards Card
4%
Up to 10X Rewards when you shop at online, retail and department stores.

S$0 annual fee for 1 year - S$192.60 thereafter.
Receive up to 30,000 Citi Thank You points when you spend S$3,000 in the first 3 months. Ends 31 March 2019.
Citi PremierMiles Visa Card
4%
2 Citi Miles on every S$1 of foreign spend and 1.2 Citi Miles on every S$1 of local spend.
S$0 annual fee for 1 year - S$192.60 thereafter.
Receive up to 30,000 miles when you spend S$7,500 in the first 3 months and pay the annual fee. Ends 31 March 2019.
American Express CapitaCard
2.5%
Earn 5 STAR$ for every S$1 spent.
S$0 annual fee for 1 year - S$171.20 thereafter.
Get S$60 worth of CapitaVouchers in STAR$ and free American Tourister luggage when you spend S$3,000 in the first 3 months. Ends 31 March 2019.
Standard Chartered Spree Credit Card
3.5%
Up to S$60 cashback monthly with no minimum spend.
S$0 annual fee for 2 years - S$192.60 thereafter.
Get up to S$138 cashback when you apply using MyInfo. Ends 31 March 2019.
Standard Chartered Prudential Platinum Credit Card
3.5%
Earn 1 Rewards point for every S$1 charged to your card.
S$0 annual fee for 2 years - S$192.60 thereafter.
Get up to S$138 cashback when you apply using MyInfo. Ends 31 March 2019.
Standard Chartered Visa Infinite Credit Card
3.5%
Up to 3 miles for every $1 charged to your card with S$2,000 minimum spend.
S$588.50 annual fee
Earn up to 35,000 bonus miles in the form of 87,500 points when you apply. Ends 31 December 2019.
Maybank Business Platinum Mastercard
2.75%
Earn 1 TREATS Points on every S$1 spent.
S$0 annual fee for 2 years - S$180 thereafter.
Get up to S$1 million in Travel Accident Insurance when you purchase flights or travel packages using your card.
Maybank eVibes Card - The Student Card
2.75%
Earn 1% cash rebates on all spend.
S$0 annual fee
Get an Adidas wristwatch worth S$120 when you use your card in the first month. Offer limited to the first 500 successful applicants.
Maybank Platinum Visa Card
2.75%
Up to 3.33% cash rebates on local spend.
S$0 annual fee
Earn up to 3.33% cash rebates on local purchases when you spend a minimum of S$300 per month for each quarter.
Maybank Family & Friends Card
2.75%
8% cash rebates on groceries, transport and selected merchants with S$1,000 min. spend monthly, plus 0.3% cash rebates on all other purchases.
S$0 annual fee for 3 years - S$180 thereafter.
Earn up to 8% cash rebates on groceries, transport and selected merchants when you spend S$1,000 each month.
Maybank Manchester United Platinum Visa Card
2.50%
Discounts on purchases from Manchester United stores.
S$0 annual fee for 2 years - S$80 thereafter.
Get discounted Manchester United merchandise and earn additional TREATS Points when Manchester United wins a Premier League game.
Maybank Catholic High Alumni Platinum Associates Card
2.50%
No annual fee for Catholic High Alumni members.
S$0 annual fee
Catholic High Alumni members can enjoy no annual fees.
Maybank DUO Platinum Mastercard
2.75%
5% cash rebate on petrol in Singapore and Malaysia.
S$0 annual fee for 3 years - S$120 thereafter.
Enjoy a 5% cash rebate on petrol purchases in Singapore and Malaysia.
Maybank FC Barcelona Visa Signature Card
2.75%
1.6% unlimited cash rebate on all local spend.
S$120 annual fee
Enjoy an unlimited 1.6% cash rebate on all local spending with no spend limit or cap.
Maybank Visa Infinite Card
2.75%
Up to 5X TREATS Points (2 air miles) on all spend.
S$0 annual fee for 1 year - S$600 thereafter.
Earn 5 TREATS Points on foreign currency transactions and 3 TREATS Points on local transactions.
Maybank Horizon Visa Signature Card
2.75%
Up to 3.2 Air Miles (8X TREATS Points) on every S$1 spent.
S$0 annual fee for 3 years - S$180 thereafter.
Earn 2 Air Miles or 5X TREATS Points for every dollar you spend on flights, travel packages and foreign currency transactions.
Maybank World Mastercard
2.75%
10X TREATS Points (4 air miles) on every S$1 spent.
S$0 annual fee for 1 year - S$240 thereafter.
Earn 10X TREATS Points or 4 air miles for every dollar you spend at selected retail and dining establishments and all petrol stations in Singapore.

Compare up to 4 providers

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What are the other costs and features to consider?

Even if your travel money card or strategy helps you avoid currency conversion fees, there are still other costs and factors to consider. When you’re comparing your travel money options, keep the following in mind as well:

  • ATM fees. If you’re not careful, you could end up paying fees for using an overseas ATM twice. Unless your bank has a global ATM alliance that allows you to make international withdrawals for free, you could be charged by your bank and the issuing bank for withdrawals and even account balance enquiries when travelling.
  • Annual fee. The price for paying low or no foreign transaction fees on your credit card is often a high annual fee. Before committing to any one card, make sure that the savings and rewards you’ll reap outweigh the annual fees for the card. You can compare cards with no annual fee or foreign transaction fee here.
  • Supported currencies and global acceptance. Make sure the card you’re using will work in your holiday destination. Make sure that your credit card is accepted worldwide, as you can expect with a Visa, Mastercard or American Express. If you’re using a travel money card, make sure it supports the local currency you’ll be using or doesn’t charge a currency conversion fee.
  • Merchant fees. You might find in some places that the merchant adds a surcharge to your transaction for using a foreign issued credit card. It’s smart to check your bill before paying to avoid these fees and have backup travel money options (such as cash or a travel card) on hand in those events.
  • Exchange rates. Check to see how often exchange rates are updated and if there are additional fees for currency conversion. A good way to avoid negative exchange rate movements is to lock in the rates with a travel money card.
  • Additional travel perks. Complimentary travel insurance, a 24/7 global emergency customer service line and frequent flyer rewards programs are all extras that could offer some added value to your card.

How often you travel, the length of your stay, and the way that you spend money abroad all factor into your decision about the type of credit, debit or travel card to use abroad. Be sure to consider your typical expenses and everyday spending needs when choosing a card that will offer you the most value.

Ways to avoid travel money fees and charges

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