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

Learn more about the best card to use, if you should use a UK debit card and other ways to take spending money to New Zealand.

Since The Lord of the Rings, the Land of the Long White Cloud has been growing in popularity as a destination for tourists and expats alike. Whether you’re heading to see the Redwoods of Whakarewarewa Forest or to hit the slopes near Queenstown, find out the best way to access New Zealand dollars when you’re there.

Low-cost travel money options for New Zealand

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Using a debit card

As in the UK, you can use a debit card to make ATM withdrawals, purchases over the counter and get cash out using EFTPOS in New Zealand. Most of the debit cards available to British people will charge an additional fee for currency conversion when you transact in New Zealand dollars. There’s also the international ATM withdrawal fee to think about too.

Using a credit card

If you want to apply for a credit card to use overseas, start by looking at the credit cards we’ve listed in the comparison table. Look out for cards that don’t charge a currency conversion fee when you’re transacting in a currency other than British pounds. Some cards also offer up to a number of interest-free days when you pay your balance in full before the end of the statement period, which could help you save on interest costs. Some credit cards also offer complimentary travel insurance, which could save you the time and money you’d need to organise your own.

Don’t use your credit card to withdraw money from an ATM, though. Credit card withdrawals are considered cash advances and will usually incur high interest and a fee. You can avoid some of these fees by loading your own money onto a credit card. Note that the card scheme anti-fraud guarantees don’t apply if you’re using a credit card with a positive balance.

Using a travel prepaid card

You can hold New Zealand dollars on every prepaid travel card on the market. The benefits of a travel card include that you can load British pounds and convert the funds to New Zealand dollars at a fixed rate of exchange. This means that you can spend in New Zealand without paying extra for currency conversion. You also get a backup travel card, which could come in handy if you lose your card.

There are drawbacks too, however. There are a number of fees on the front and back end, such as international ATM withdrawal fees, card issue fees, initial load fees and reload fees. Some travel cards even charge for inactivity.

Using traveller’s cheques

Traveller’s cheques have been replaced by other travel money products such as debit cards, credit cards and travel money cards. A cheaper way to get cash in New Zealand is to make an ATM withdrawal. This is especially so if your card provider has a relationship with the bank that owns the ATM. The main advantage of traveller’s cheques is they can be replaced if they’re lost or stolen, and only you can cash them. The card schemes (Mastercard, for example) give you a money-back guarantee if you’re the victim of card fraud. This means traveller’s cheques are often more hassle than they’re worth.

Paying with cash in New Zealand

Save on foreign currency exchange fees by using a product which lets you make cheap ATM withdrawals. Currency exchange offices charge a commission to exchange British pounds as well as making money off a margin applied to the exchange rate.

How many dollars do I need to bring to New Zealand?

AucklandBudgetMid-rangeExpensive
sleep

Hostel dorm

£15–£20 per night

2-star hotel

£35–£80 per night

5-star hotel

£150–£500+

food

Vegan and vegetarian diner

£5–£10

Dinner at a mid-range restaurant

£25 per person

5-star restaurant

£60+ per person

skydiveWalking tour of Indigenous New Zealand

£15–£30 per person

Waitomo Caves and
Rotorua day trip
£160
Skydive from
16,500ft tour
£250

*Prices are approximate and are subject to change.

Which should I opt for: travel card, debit card or credit card?

If you’re wondering about card acceptance, it works in New Zealand the same as the UK. ATMs are everywhere and nearly all businesses accept EFTPOS payments, which you can use for contactless purchases and to get cash out over the counter when you use your debit card. To give you an idea, 70% of all EFTPOS transactions in New Zealand go through the Worldline (formerly Paymark) system, so there’s no issue using your Visa and Mastercard credit card or debit card. American Express cards are accepted in fewer places than Visa and Mastercard. ATMs are available in most towns with the major banks represented: ANZ, ASB, Bank of New Zealand (BNZ) and Westpac.

Travel money options for New Zealand at a glance

Travel money optionProsCons
Debit cards for travel
  • Ability to use your ATM card in most places while in New Zealand
  • Protected by PIN & chip
  • Debit cards will not incur an interest rate as it uses your own money from your transaction account
  • International ATM withdrawal fees may apply
  • Most of the debit cards will charge an additional currency conversion fees
  • Not a credit product. No emergency funds available though a cash advance facility.
Prepaid travel money cards
  • Ability to hold New Zealand dollars on almost every prepaid travel on the market
  • Ability to lock in the exchange rate for the funds that you ‘load’ on to the card before you go
  • Secured by PIN & chip technology
  • Emergency card replacement and backup cards
  • Easily reloadable via a secure online platform
  • International ATM withdrawal fees, card issue fees and initial load fees may apply
  • Reload fees could be high
  • Some travel cards charge for inactivity fee
Credit cards for travel
  • Protected by PIN & chip
  • Accepted worldwide
  • Some credit cards offer complimentary travel insurance
  • Interest-free days when you pay your account in full
  • Emergency card replacement
  • Withdrawing cash can be considered a “cash advance” and can charge you fees and high interests
  • Card scheme anti-fraud guarantees don’t apply in a credit card with a positive balance
  • Higher spending limit (depends on your approved credit limit)
  • Attracts an annual fee
Traveller’s cheques
  • Have the added security of needing ID to be cashed
  • Availability to cash at banks
  • Secure and can be easily replaced if lost or stolen
  • Card schemes such as Mastercard give you a money back guarantee if you’re a victim of card fraud
  • Expect to be charged a commission when cashing your cheques
  • Fees for purchasing and cashing traveller’s cheques may apply
  • Currency exchange rate varies over time
Cash
  • Greater payment flexibility
  • Convenience
  • More difficult to manage expenses
  • Higher risk of theft

This table is a general summary of the travel money products in the market. Features and benefits can vary between cards.

nzbanknotes

NZcoins

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Example: Skiing in Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world

Mike was travelling in New Zealand and wanted to spend some time in Queenstown, a town in the South Island that is recognised as providing the best overall skiing experience in New Zealand. The snow, the nightlife, the food and the atmosphere are all top notch.

Where did he go?

Mike visited the Coronet Peak resort, which is about 20 minutes away from Queenstown. He stayed in town for a couple of weeks and did the commute each day. He also skied at The Remarkables and Cardrona peaks.

Where could he use his cards?

Mike discovered he could use his debit and credit card almost everywhere, including on the mountain to pay for his ski pass, rental and drinks at the end of the day. However, small purchases like coffee and hot chocolate were mostly cash only. In Queenstown he used his card at restaurants, bars and clubs. He took the shuttle to the mountain and back every day and used his card to purchase 10 tickets at a time from the Queenstown Snow Centre.

What about ATM withdrawals?

Mike used an ATM a couple of times, but was mostly able to pay with his travel Visa debit card. He got cash out when he made purchases with the travel Visa a couple of times. He was able to get up to a hundred dollars on each occasion, but this depends on the merchant and how much cash they have in the till. When he did use the ATM, he had to pay the local ATM operator fee. There were no issues with card acceptance at New Zealand ATMs.

Travel money tips?

If you’re travelling by shuttle bus to the peaks around Queenstown, purchase the tickets in bulk. A single ticket costs NZ$20, but there’s a discount if you purchase packs of 10 or 15 tickets at a time.

* This is a fictional, but realistic, example.

Buying currency in the UK

You can bring the British pound equivalent of $10,000 New Zealand dollars with you from the UK. If you take any more than this, you have to declare your cash when you pass through customs. You will get a better deal if you wait to get your money changed in New Zealand, and even better still if you make a withdrawal from an ATM rather than use a money changer. If you want to get your money changed in the UK, have a look at these companies – they can sell your foreign cash.

Bottom line

As a flourishing modern economy New Zealand offers visitors the ability to withdraw cash from a wide range of ATMs across the country. Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted, while American Express can be used but is not as widely accepted by merchants.

New Zealand dollars can be held on pretty much every prepaid travel money card on the market today, leaving you with plenty of choice when it comes to buying currency at a decent, fixed rate. So whether you use cash, prepaid travel money cards or credit and debit cards, you’ll be well accommodated.

We show offers we can track - that's not every product on the market...yet. Unless we've said otherwise, products are in no particular order. The terms "best", "top", "cheap" (and variations of these) aren't ratings, though we always explain what's great about a product when we highlight it. This is subject to our terms of use. When you make major financial decisions, consider getting independent financial advice. Always consider your own circumstances when you compare products so you get what's right for you. Most of the data in Finder's comparison tables has the source: Moneyfacts Group PLC. In other cases, Finder has sourced data directly from providers.

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