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.

Updated

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
HSBC Revolution Credit Card
HSBC Revolution Credit Card
2.8%
Up to 5X Rewards points (2 miles per S$1 spent) on qualifying purchases
S$0 annual fee for the first 2 years and S$160.50 thereafter
New cardholders will be awarded with a Samsonite Prestige 69cm Spinner Exp with built-in scale (worth SS670) or S$150 cashback with minimum spend of S$800 within the qualifying spend period. Receive an additional S$30 worth of grab rides when you apply online with MyInfo via SingPass. T&Cs apply. Ends 31 Aug 2020.
UOB PRVI Miles American Express Card
UOB PRVI Miles American Express Card
3.25%
2.4 air miles for every S$1 spent overseas including online shopping on overseas websites.
S$0 annual fee for the first 1 year and S$256.80 thereafter
Apply today and enjoy free transfers to Changi Airport. Plus, 20,000 bonus air miles if you charge S$50,000 to your card in a year.
HSBC Visa Platinum Credit Card
HSBC Visa Platinum Credit Card
2.8%
Earn 1 Reward point for every $1 on all spend.
S$0 annual fee for the first 2 years and S$192.60 thereafter
New cardholders will be awarded with a Samsonite Prestige 69cm Spinner Exp with built-in scale (worth SS670) or S$150 cashback with minimum spend of S$800 within the qualifying spend period. Receive an additional S$30 worth of grab rides when you apply online with MyInfo via SingPass. T&Cs apply. Ends 31 Aug 2020.
KrisFlyer UOB Credit Card
KrisFlyer UOB Credit Card
3.25%
Earn 3 KrisFlyer miles per S$1 when you spend with Singapore Airlines, Scoot, SilkAir or KrisShop and 1.2 KrisFlyer miles per S$1 on all other spend.
S$0 annual fee for the first 1 year and S$192.60 thereafter
Apply today and enjoy up to 3,000 KrisFlyer miles if you charge at least S$1,500 to your credit card in the first month.
UOB Yolo Card
UOB Yolo Card
3.25%
Wide range of discounts. Plus, complimentary travel insurance
S$0 annual fee for the first 1 year and S$192.60 thereafter
Apply today and get up to S$230 in bonus cash credits. T&Cs apply.
UOB Lady's Card
UOB Lady's Card
3.25%
10X UNI$ (or 20 miles) per S$5 spent on chosen category with no min. spend required
S$0 annual fee for the first 1 year and S$192.60 thereafter
Apply today and get S$150 in bonus cash credits. T&Cs apply.Ends 31 August 2020.
HSBC Advance Credit Card
HSBC Advance Credit Card
2.8%
Enjoy annual fee waivers, up to 20.2% off your fuel, 1-for-1 lifestyle offers, and more
S$0 annual fee for the first 1 year (permanently waived for HSBC Advance banking customers) and S$192.60 thereafter
New cardholders will be awarded with a Samsonite Prestige 69cm Spinner Exp with built-in scale (worth SS670) or S$150 cashback with minimum spend of S$800 within the qualifying spend period. Receive an additional S$30 worth of grab rides when you apply online with MyInfo via SingPass. T&Cs apply. Ends 31 Aug 2020.
UOB One Card
UOB One Card
3.25%
Up to 10% cashback on Grab and UOB Travel transactions; 6% for your Singapore Power bill; and 5% back on all other spending
S$0 annual fee for the first 1 year and S$192.60 thereafter
Apply today and get up to S$150 in bonus cash credits. T&Cs apply.
American Express Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Ascend Credit Card
American Express Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Ascend Credit Card
2.95%
Complimentary stay at a Hilton hotel in Asia Pacific each year. Plus, enjoy four airport lounge passes
S$337.05 annual fee
Earn 16,000 KrisFlyer miles if you spend at least S$10,000 within the first three months. Ends 30 September 2020.
UOB PRVI Miles Visa Card
UOB PRVI Miles Visa Card
3.25%
6 air miles for every S$1 spent through Expedia, Agoda and UOB Travel
S$0 annual fee for the first 1 year and S$256.80 thereafter
Apply today and enjoy up to S$150 in cash credits. Plus, free travel cover.
American Express Platinum Credit Card
American Express Platinum Credit Card
2.95%
Up to 50% off your food bill for unlimited visits at hotels around Singapore
S$321 annual fee
Get up to 77,000 Membership Rewards points with minimum spend in your first 6 months and when you successfully refer a friend. T&Cs apply.
American Express True Cashback Card
American Express True Cashback Card
2.95%
Enjoy free travel insurance benefits of up to S$350,000
S$0 annual fee for the first 1 year and S$171.20 thereafter
Apply today and get a 3% Cashback bonus when you spend S$5,000 in the first six months.
American Express Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Credit Card
American Express Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Credit Card
2.95%
Enjoy money-saving offers on Hertz, Grab and at restaurants in Singapore and overseas
S$0 annual fee for the first 1 year and S$176.55 thereafter
Earn 8,000 bonus KrisFlyer miles when you spend S$5,000 in the first 3 months of card membership. Ends 30 September 2020.
UOB PRVI Miles World Mastercard
UOB PRVI Miles World Mastercard
3.25%
6 air miles for every S$1 spent through Expedia, Agoda and UOB Travel
S$0 annual fee for the first 1 year and S$256.80 thereafter
Apply today and enjoy up to S$150 in cash credits. Plus, free travel cover.
American Express CapitaCard
American Express CapitaCard
2.95%
Earn 3X STAR$ when you shop at participating CapitaLand malls, and more
S$0 annual fee for the first 1 year and S$171.20 thereafter
Receive an American Tourister Hypebeat 79/29 Spinner luggage (worth S$239) upon S$3,000 minimum spend within the first 3 months of card approval. Ends 30 June 2020.
POSB Everyday Card
POSB Everyday Card
3.25%
Enjoy up to 15% cash rebates on daily essentials such as groceries and online food delivery
S$0 annual fee for the first 1 year and S$192.60 thereafter
Get AirPods or S$200 cashback when you sign up by 31 July 2020.
DBS Live Fresh Card
DBS Live Fresh Card
3.25%
Up to 10% cashback on online and contactless spend (including SimplyGo rides)
S$0 annual fee for the first 1 year and S$192.60 thereafter
Get AirPods or S$200 cashback when you sign up by 31 July 2020.
DBS Woman's Card
DBS Woman's Card
3.25%
Up to 5X DBS Points (or 10 miles) per S$5 spent on online and overseas purchases
S$0 annual fee for the first 1 year and S$160.50 thereafter
Get AirPods or S$200 cashback when you sign up by 31 July 2020.
DBS Altitude Card
DBS Altitude Card
3.25%
Earn up to 4 miles per S$1 spend, with no expiry
S$0 annual fee for the first 1 year and S$192.60 thereafter
Get up to 38,000 miles or AirPods when you sign up by 31 July 2020.
Get fee waiver for the first year and up to S$192.60 thereafter, with 10,000 bonus miles.
Citi Rewards Credit Card
Citi Rewards Credit Card
up to 3.25%
10X Rewards on online and retail purchases at Lazada, Qoo10, TANGS and more.
S$0 annual fee for the first 1 year and S$192.60 thereafter
Get 30,000 Citi Thank You points when you spend S$3,000 in the first 3 months. T&Cs apply. 30 September 2020
Citi Cash Back Card
Citi Cash Back Card
up to 3.25%
Get up to 20.88% off fuel. Plus, travel offers in 95 countries
S$0 annual fee for the first 1 year and S$192.60 thereafter
Get a welcome gift of S$120 cash back when you spend S$1,200 in the first 3 months. T&Cs apply. Ends 31 January 2021.
Citi Prestige Card
Citi Prestige Card
up to 3.25%
Deals and discounts in more than 90 countries. Also, get six complimentary golf games across Asia
S$535 annual fee
Get a welcome gift of 62,500 Citi ThankYou Points (25,000 Miles) or Gadget Welcome Gift. T&Cs apply. Ends 30 September 2020.
Citibank SMRT Card
Citibank SMRT Card
up to 3.25%
Up to 5% savings on groceries, fast food, movies, and coffee. Plus, 3% savings on online shopping
S$0 annual fee for the first 2 years and S$192.60 thereafter
Get a welcome gift of S$120 cash back when you spend S$1,200 in the first 3 months. T&Cs apply. Ends 31 January 2021.
Citi PremierMiles Card
Citi PremierMiles Card
up to 3.25%
Earn 2 Citi Miles for every S$1 overseas spend and 1.2 Citi Miles for every S$1 local spend.
S$0 annual fee for the first 1 year and S$192.60 thereafter
Get 37,300 miles when you spend S$9,000 in the first 3 months. Annual fee applies. 30 September 2020.
Standard Chartered Unlimited Cashback Credit Card
Standard Chartered Unlimited Cashback Credit Card
3.5%
Shopping, travel and lifestyle offers at over 3,000 outlets in Asia
S$0 annual fee for the first 2 years and S$192.60 thereafter
Apply today via MyInfo and receive up to S$100 cashback. Ends 30 September 2020.
Standard Chartered Spree Credit Card
Standard Chartered Spree Credit Card
3.5%
Up to 24.2% petrol savings at Caltex stations.
S$0 annual fee for the first 2 years and S$192.60 thereafter
Enjoy up to 3% cashback on all online spend in foreign currency and all vPost spend. Plus, up to 25% off on postal services and lots more.
Standard Chartered Rewards+ Credit Card
Standard Chartered Rewards+ Credit Card
3.5%
Up to 10X rewards points for every S$1 spent in foreign currency on
overseas retail, dining and travel
S$0 annual fee for the first 2 years and S$192.60 thereafter
Apply today and enjoy a range of perks including 1-for-1 movie tickets with Cathay Cineplexes. Plus, complimentary travel medical insurance.
Maybank Business Platinum Mastercard
Maybank Business Platinum Mastercard
Up to 2.5%
Get your business logo printed on your card. Plus, enjoy a global concierge service
S$0 annual fee for the first 2 years and 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
Maybank eVibes Card - The Student Card
2.5%
Up to 8% off accommodation bookings globally with Agoda.
S$0 annual fee for the first 2 years and S$20 thereafter
Get an Adidas wristwatch worth S$120 when you use your card in the first month. First 500 successful applicants only.
Maybank Platinum Visa Card
Maybank Platinum Visa Card
2.5%
Get complimentary travel cover of up to S$500,000
S$0 annual fee for the first 3 years and S$80 thereafter
Get S$100 cash credit when you apply, charge to your card and withdraw from your CreditAble account with a minimum of S$250 for each of the first two months upon approval. T&Cs apply. Ends 31 Aug 2020.
Maybank Family & Friends Credit Card
Maybank Family & Friends Credit Card
2.5%
Earn up to 8% cash rebates all-year round in grocery stores, supermarkets and online grocery shopping.
S$0 annual fee for the first 3 years and S$180 thereafter
Get S$100 cash credit when you apply, charge to your card and withdraw from your CreditAble account with a minimum of S$250 for each of the first two months upon approval. T&Cs apply. Ends 31 Aug 2020.
Maybank Manchester United Platinum Visa Card
Maybank Manchester United Platinum Visa Card
2.5%
Chance to win a trip for 2 to watch Manchester United FC every season
S$0 annual fee for the first 2 years and S$80 thereafter
Get S$100 cash credit when you apply, charge to your card and withdraw from your CreditAble account with a minimum of S$250 for each of the first two months upon approval. T&Cs apply. Ends 31 Aug 2020.
Maybank DUO Platinum Mastercard
Maybank DUO Platinum Mastercard
2.5%
Car servicing vouchers, vehicle merchandise and more
S$120 annual fee
Get S$100 cash credit when you apply, charge to your card and withdraw from your CreditAble account with a minimum of S$250 for each of the first two months upon approval. T&Cs apply. Ends 31 Aug 2020.
Maybank FC Barcelona Visa Signature Card
Maybank FC Barcelona Visa Signature Card
2.5%
Chance to win a trip for 2 to watch FC Barcelona every season
S$120 annual fee
Get S$100 cash credit when you apply, charge to your card and withdraw from your CreditAble account with a minimum of S$250 for each of the first two months upon approval. T&Cs apply. Ends 31 Aug 2020.
Maybank Visa Infinite Credit Card
Maybank Visa Infinite Credit Card
2.75%
Complimentary two-way airport limousine transfers. S$3,000 minimum spend per month
S$0 annual fee for the first 1 year and S$600 thereafter
Get S$100 cash credit when you apply, charge to your card and withdraw from your CreditAble account with a minimum of S$250 for each of the first two months upon approval. T&Cs apply. Ends 31 Aug 2020.
Maybank Horizon Visa Signature Card
Maybank Horizon Visa Signature Card
2.5%
Complimentary access to selected VIP airport lounges. Plus, travel cover of up to S$1,000,000. Ts&Cs apply
S$0 annual fee for the first 3 years and S$180 thereafter
Get S$100 cash credit when you apply, charge to your card and withdraw from your CreditAble account with a minimum of S$250 for each of the first two months upon approval. T&Cs apply. Ends 31 Aug 2020.
Maybank World Mastercard
Maybank World Mastercard
2.75%
A range of dining, shopping and travel deals - including up to S$1,000,000 of travel insurance
S$0 annual fee for the first 1 year and S$240 thereafter
Get S$100 cash credit when you apply, charge to your card and withdraw from your CreditAble account with a minimum of S$250 for each of the first two months upon approval. T&Cs apply. Ends 31 Aug 2020.
Standard Chartered Prudential Visa Signature Card
Standard Chartered Prudential Visa Signature Card
3.5%
Up to 10x rewards points on foreign spend, with no minimum spend required
S$0 annual fee for the first 2 years and S$192.60 thereafter
Apply today via MyInfo and receive up to S$100 cashback. Ends 30 September 2020.
Standard Chartered Visa Infinite X Credit Card
Standard Chartered Visa Infinite X Credit Card
3.5%
3 miles per $1 spent on foreign currency.
S$695.50 annual fee
Apply today via MyInfo and receive S$20 cashback. Ends 31 July 2020.
Standard Chartered Manhattan $500 Card
Standard Chartered Manhattan $500 Card
3.5%
N/A
S$0 annual fee for the first 1 year and S$32.10 thereafter
Standard Chartered Priority Banking Visa Infinite Credit Card
Standard Chartered Priority Banking Visa Infinite Credit Card
3.5%
Earn 2.5 points for every $1 spent on your credit card
S$321 annual fee
Apply today and receive up to S$80 cashback. Ends 30 September 2020.
Standard Chartered Platinum Visa Credit Card
Standard Chartered Platinum Visa Credit Card
3.5%
Earn 1 Rewards point for every S$1 charged to your card
S$0 annual fee for the first 2 years and S$192.60 thereafter
Earn 1 Rewards point for every S$1 charged to your card.
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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.

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