Tourism is a big part of the Australian economy, especially in large cities like Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. In these cities especially, it should be incredibly easy for visitors from the UK and other countries to spend money using their credit card.
Visa and Mastercard credit cards find widespread acceptance and you should be able to use American Express and Diners Club cards with most major retailers and supermarkets. Union Pay and JCB are other credit cards that are accepted.
Best credit cards to use in Australia
Updated February 27th, 2020
Cash machines in Australia
You’ll find cash machines linked to the Plus or Cirrus systems so using your Visa or Mastercard debit or credit card will be easy. ATMs are in all Australian cities and towns, at train and bus stations, petrol stations, shopping centres and popular tourist destinations. Bank-affiliated ATMs don’t usually impose additional fees to those your bank may levy.
Cash in Australia
You may still need Australian dollars (AUD) to pay in cash for small purchases with smaller retailers. It’s recommended for you to carry some cash to use at certain newspaper vendors, cafes, restaurants, bars and retailers. Some shopkeepers are keen to accept cash only because of the charges they have to pay for card payments.
Chip and PIN
The dominant forms of payments in Australian stores tend to be EFTPOS (Electronic Funds Transfer at Point Of Sale) or “Tap and Pay” using contactless technology. EFTPOS transactions require you to choose between Cheque, Savings or Credit (your card/account type) and enter your PIN.
Australia has moved from magnetic-stripe to chip cards, and all banks in Australia now issue the latter. You’ll still be able to use your magnetic-stripe card in Australia, although you can expect some confusion. In the switching of technology, some retailers falsely believe that they can no longer accept magnetic-stripe cards while some others will not let you use them, to do their bit in reducing credit card fraud. All they basically need you to do is swipe your card instead of inserting it into the machine, and then get you to sign for the purchase. The part of the machine that you tap with your card can be in different places in Australia – if in doubt ask the merchant!
Don’t forget that if it’s the first time you’re using a card, you’ll need to enter your PIN – even for a small charge.
Is it safe to use my card in Australia?
By exercising some caution when using your credit card in Australia, you’ll have a relatively trouble-free experience.
- Keep your PIN safe. Use one hand to enter the PIN and the other to shield it from prying eyes and hidden cameras.
- Select ATMs with care. Try and stick to ATMs in banks and avoid using ones in the street.
- Watch out for “skimmers”. When installed in a cash machine, a card skimmer works by stealing information from credit and debit cards. If you feel the card slot is not as smooth as it should be or if there is a problem with the keypad, cancel your transaction and look for another ATM.
Keeping your credit card (physically) safe
Remain alert to street crime, especially where two or more people work in distracting victims before decamping with their valuables. Instances of theft at airports are not uncommon, so stay vigilant while arriving and departing. There have been numerous instances of thefts from hired cars so don’t leave your wallet or purse in a parked car.
Potential credit card fees
Credit card fees can leave a noticeable dent in your pocket when you are travelling overseas, so know what you are up against well in advance and choose a card with no or low fees.
Foreign transaction fees
British credit card issuers typically charge a fee equivalent to 1% to 3% of your transaction, so carefully review your card’s fine print to avoid statement surprises. Some cards designed for travel come with no foreign transaction fees, so this could be a good time to switch.
Currency conversion fees
If a retailer offers to bill your credit card in sterling, dynamic currency conversion comes into play. While this might sound like a good deal, you’ll actually end up getting a worse exchange rate, and you might also end up paying currency conversion fees. Whenever you are presented with an option, choose to pay in the local currency.
Cash advance fees
Using your credit card to withdraw money from an ATM may not make sense unless it’s a bona fide emergency. Each time you withdraw funds from an ATM, you’re likely to pay a cash advance fee. Your APR for cash advances is normally higher than your purchase APR, and you will typically get no grace period on interest – instead, you start paying interest immediately. Again, some cards designed for overseas spending will waive this fee.
The table below serves as an example of how much extra you may pay to use your credit card in Australia.
What is a cash advance fee?
A cash advance fee is calculated (and charged) when you withdraw cash from your credit card. It’s usually the greater of a flat fee or a percentage of the transaction. For example, “2.5% of the transaction, minimum £3.00”.
How to prepare before travelling to Australia
- Go with Visa or Mastercard. Carry at least two cards on your trip to Australia, preferably connected with Visa or Mastercard. If you just take an American Express card, you won’t get to use it in many places.
- Think no foreign transaction fees. When there are cards that come with no foreign transaction fees, using ones that charge 2% or 3% of each overseas transaction does not make sense. Some of these cards don’t charge an annual fee, either.
- Keep your bank informed. In their efforts to thwart fraudulent transactions, banks block credit cards if they detect suspicious activity such as unexpected overseas transactions. To make sure this does not happen to your card, let your bank know about your travel plans before you leave the UK.
- Keep the emergency number handy. Know which numbers you will need to call if you end up losing your card or if you need an emergency replacement.
- Know where you’ll get cash from. Consider using your debit card to withdraw cash from ATMs. If you need to exchange money, stick to banks or official money-exchange offices because possessing counterfeit money in Australia is a serious crime. Try to avoid exchanging money at airports and popular tourist destinations because of typically poor exchange rates.
Ask yourself these simple questions before you leave so your spending in Australia does not hit any roadblocks.
When you’re in Australia, you don’t have to worry about where and when you can use your credit card. Just keep some cash handy to pay for small purchases.
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