Travel money, for lack of a better term, essentially means the options of credit cards, debit cards, prepaid cards and foreign currency — all designed for travel and foreign transactions. Each form of travel money has different benefits and depending on the destination, one may be suited as better than another.
When considering travel money, be sure to do your research. It’s wise to always take a combination of products to ensure that you’ll have an acceptable option of payment no matter where you are.
This table is a general summary of the travel money products in the market. Features and benefits can vary between cards.
How to decide which type of travel money is best for you?
The best travel money option for you will depend on your destination, how you plan to spend and what you can afford. Prepaid travel cards, credit cards and debit cards all have their uses, but the differences lie in their features and fees. To be safe, many travelers bring more than one type for convenience and security.
Here you can compare the different travel money options available to discover which one offers you the best value for your next trip.
Prepaid travel money cards
To determine whether a travel card is the right choice for you, weigh up some of the pros and cons below.
Benefits of using a prepaid travel card
Multiple currencies. When you load dollars onto a prepaid travel card, you can transfer them into a supported foreign currency so that you can spend or withdraw your own funds without the cost of currency conversion fees.
Locked-in exchange rates. When you convert your dollars into a supported foreign currency, the funds will be locked in at the current exchange rate. Depending on which way the currency goes, this can be a good way to avoid negative exchange rate fluctuations while traveling.
Things to consider using prepaid travel cards
Availability. Most prepaid travel cards are either Visa or Mastercard, meaning you can use them worldwide.
Fees. The fees you’ll have to pay will depend on the card, but some include a purchase fee, loading or reloading fee, currency conversion fee, inactivity fee and account inactivity fee.
ATM withdrawal limits. If your prepaid travel card charges a fee per transaction and you need a large amount of money, it could get expensive quickly if the ATMs you withdraw from only allow a small amount per transaction .
Currencies. Your prepaid travel card will support a number of foreign currencies, though the exact ones will depend on the individual card.
Why we like: Travelex Money Card
Load GBP, EUR, CAD, AUD, JPY or MXN onto this prepaid travel money card and use it at millions of locations worldwide.
Not linked to your bank account for safety.
Convert currency with a 5.50% Foreign Exchange Fee
Enjoy financial security, flexibility and extra features with a credit card. Look for a credit card that is designed for overseas use, preferably one that doesn’t charge currency conversion fees, foreign transaction fees or overseas ATM withdrawal fees.
Plus, credit cards come with features like travel insurance, a concierge service and rewards programs.
Benefits of using a credit card overseas
Access to credit. A line of credit is often larger than your savings, which can come in handy for large or emergency purchases. Remember that you have to repay everything (plus interest) to the card.
Rewards. These cards are typically more expensive, so make sure that the value of the rewards you redeem will outweigh the costs.
Extras. Complimentary travel insurance, purchase protection and concierge services will surely benefit any traveler.
Considerations when using credit cards for travel
Availability. Visa, Mastercard and American Express should be accepted widely around the world. Some cards can’t be used in some locations (such as Cuba, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Sudan and Syria) due to economic sanctions. Check with the provider to confirm whether your card can be used in your destination before you leave.
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 — which tend to be pricey — if you use your card for ATM withdrawals
Currencies. Look for a card that will waive currency conversion or foreign transaction fees, otherwise you’ll rack up fees every time you use your card for purchases in the local currency.
The advantages of using a debit card can include international ATM alliances , no withdrawal fees, no currency conversion fees, no foreign transaction fee and access to your personal money. And since it is your personal money, it allows you to budget effectively.
How debit cards can benefit you overseas
Access and manage your own cash. 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 savings. This saves you the inconvenience of loading a prepaid card, but might deter the overspending that comes with credit.
Fewer fees than credit cards and prepaid travel cards. If you get a debit card designed for overseas use, you might not have to pay ATM withdrawal, currency conversion or foreign transaction fees.
ATM availability worldwide. If your debit card is a Visa or Mastercard, you should be able to withdraw from ATMs around the world. To avoid ATM withdrawal fees, look for a card that belongs to the Global ATM Alliance like a Barclaycard or Bank of America card.
Fraud protection. Your provider is likely to offer protection against fraudulent transactions made on your account so long as you follow the necessary steps to report unusual activity.
Considerations to keep in mind
No backup or additional card. Debit card accounts don’t provide a backup. This means that you may have to wait up to two weeks for a replacement to arrive to your overseas destination.
Daily currency exchange rate. You’ll receive the daily exchange rate for your withdrawal from Mastercard or Visa. Due to the uncertainty of exchange rates, it is wise to do market research to find which option may be better for you.
Holding a certain amount of foreign cash provides you with convenience and payment flexibility. Some stops on your destination may be cash-only and having extra on you can provide a smooth transition to wherever your destination may be.
Exchanging money is as easy as ordering online and picking up in store.
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.
A currency conversion fee is charged when you use your card with US dollars to make a purchase in a foreign country. The money is exchanged from US dollars into the local currency electronically.
Banks like Barclaycard or Bank of America who have international ATM alliances will allow you to withdraw cash for free. Also, look for travel-friendly debit cards that waive the ATM withdrawal fee.
Many premium credit card issuers will offer complimentary travel insurance as an added bonus. The decision on whether to go with this complimentary coverage or to purchase a standalone policy will really come down to your cover requirements and budget — compare the benefits available from both options.
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’ll lose remaining funds, 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.
Kyle Morgan is a producer for finder.com who has worked for the USA Today network and Relix magazine, among other publications. He can be found writing about everything from the latest car loan stats to tips on saving money when traveling overseas. He lives in Asbury Park, where he loves exploring new places and sipping on hoppy beer. Oh, and he doesn't discriminate against buffalo wings — grilled or fried are just fine.
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