Best ways to spend travel money in Australia: Debit and prepaid cards

Discover the best ways to spend travel money in Australia, including debit cards, prepaid cards and credit cards.

The majority of places in Australia will accept Mastercard and Visa card payments, with many also accepting American Express, so you won’t need to take a huge amount of cash with you on your travels.

ATMs are widely available in towns and cities, so if you need more cash than you have with you, you can easily use your card to withdraw more.

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Can I use my UK debit card in Australia?

Generally speaking, yes, using a debit card for payments in shops and restaurants is quick and easy and you can also use your card for cash withdrawals if needed. Visa and Mastercard debit cards are widely accepted.

However, be warned that many UK debit cards charge foreign usage fees. For example, you might be charged between 2.75% and 2.99% for purchases, plus another fee of around 2–2.75% for cash withdrawals. This can quickly add up if you’re not careful so it’s important to look for a card that won’t charge you these fees.

Pros

  • Safer than carrying around a lot of cash
  • Convenient to use for payments
  • Can withdraw cash at ATMs

Cons

  • Not everywhere accepts debit cards
  • Some debit cards charge high foreign usage fees

Prepaid travel cards

Another option is to use a prepaid travel card. These can be used like a debit or credit card, but you load them with currency before you leave. Many prepaid travel cards allow you to load them with Australian dollars, which is usually the cheapest option and means you lock in a set exchange rate. Others let you load them with pounds sterling and each time you spend, your pounds will be converted to Australian dollars at the exchange rate on that day.

Prepaid travel card providers use either the interbank exchange rate or the rate set by Mastercard or Visa, or one of these with a fee on top. Depending on the card you choose, you may not have to pay a cash withdrawal fee abroad.

Prepaid cards can be a good option if you’re on a budget as you can only spend what’s on the card. If you need more money, you’ll need to top up your card.

Pros

  • Good for budgeting
  • Not connected to your bank account if the card is stolen
  • Can help you avoid foreign usage fees
  • Many don’t require a credit check

Cons

  • May not be accepted everywhere – for example, for car hire or in petrol stations
  • Fees may apply for loading up your card with currency or for a card replacement
  • Some ATMs may charge a fee

Credit cards

You can also use a credit card to make purchases in Australia – Visa, Mastercard and American Express are all widely accepted. The advantage of this is that you’ll benefit from Section 75 protection on purchases that cost more than £100 and up to £30,000.

The drawback is that if you don’t clear your balance each month, you will usually be charged interest. You might also have to pay a foreign transaction fee of around 2.75–2.99%. If you withdraw cash, another fee will apply on top.

Luckily there are a number of credit cards designed for overseas use that won’t charge these fees. But it’s worth bearing in mind that they still shouldn’t be used for cash withdrawals as you’ll pay interest from the day of the transaction, even if you pay off your balance in full that month.

Pros

  • Widely accepted
  • Safer than carrying around cash
  • Access to funds up to your credit limit
  • Section 75 protection

Cons

  • Expensive for cash withdrawals
  • Interest might be charged if you do not pay off your balance in full
  • A foreign transaction fee may apply

Traveller’s cheques

Traveller’s cheques are not widely accepted in Australia which means you could find it difficult to cash them in. Even if you are able to, the fees for doing so could be high, so it’s generally better to avoid this option.

Pros

  • Safer than cash

Cons

  • Not widely accepted in Australia
  • Can be expensive to cash in

How many Australian dollars do I need to bring with me?

High summer season premiums will add to the cost of a trip down under, but the cost of living and travel varies depending on where you are in the country. In smaller towns, especially in the West, Australia is surprisingly affordable. On the East Coast and especially in touristic places like Sydney, Cairns, and Melbourne it can be very expensive. If you go to Australia during high season (December to February) expect to pay a premium for everything. Off-season, prices drop dramatically.

Find out some typical Aussie holiday prices

BudgetMidrangeExpensive
bldg

Campsites across Australia

£10-£25 per night

2 Star hotel in Sydney
£50-£90 per night
5 star hotel in Sydney
£200-£400+ per night
utensilBurwood Chinatown Night Market £5-£15Dinner for two at a mid-range restaurant with wine
£50 – £60
Dinner for two at a 5 star restaurant
£100-£350
cameraSightseeing
free
Walking tour of Indigenous Australia £15-£40
Day ticket to Sydney Zoo £25
Learn to surf on the South Coast
£40-£80

*Prices are for example purposes only.

Bottom line

If you’re heading off on a trip to Australia, it’s certainly worth bringing some form of plastic with you, as well as a little cash. But which type of plastic you want to take is up to you. If you’d prefer to be able to budget or you’re concerned about security risks, you might want to take a prepaid travel card with you. Alternatively, you might feel a credit or debit card is a better choice for you. Whatever option you choose, make sure it charges the lowest foreign usage fees possible so that you get more bang for your buck.

Frequently asked questions

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