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What is a travel money card?


How to use a travel money card

Fees and charges to watch for

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What is a travel money card?

Travel money cards canstarTravel cards are a type of specially-designed debit card so you can spend your own money while travelling overseas. They are popular because they’re a convenient way to load up one card with already-converted foreign currency and take it overseas with you. They’re also more secure than carrying cash or traveller’s cheques.

Another advantage is that you can buy this pre-paid card whenever you want, so you can pick a time when the exchange rate is in your favour and the Aussie dollar is looking strong. Using a pre-paid card also means you don’t pay a conversion fee every time you buy something in the local currency. You can even pre-load several currencies if you’re travelling through multiple countries.

You can use your card to withdraw cash from ATMs, shop for souvenirs, pay for restaurant meals, and book accommodation. You can even use it for online transactions like a debit or credit card. You can reload your card or switch currencies whenever you need to while travelling, on the internet or your mobile phone.

According to ABS figures for the year ending June 2015, Australian residents took almost 9.2 million short-term overseas trips this year, compared to 9 million in 2013-2014. The most common destinations of choice were New Zealand, Indonesia and the USA, followed by the UK, Thailand, and China.

As for the future, a survey by Expedia shows that the overwhelming majority of young Aussies (83%) aged 18-24 plan to take an international holiday in the next 12 months. With prices for international flights very competitive, there’s no better time to travel.


What should you look for in a travel money card?

The ideal card according to CANSTAR’s research is one that allows the following:

  1. Lock in an exchange before you leave.
  2. Load multiple foreign currencies onto one card.
  3. Load your own money onto the card. This is not a travel credit card.
  4. Cheap or no extra fees, such as reloading fee, ATM cash withdrawal fee, ETFPOS transaction fee, or fee charged for ‘non-native transactions’ when you run out of local currency on the card and it switches to a different currency automatically.
  5. Convenient to use the card overseas.
  6. High daily limit so you can spend more on high activity days during your holiday.
  7. Low cost to convert leftover money back into Australian dollars.

It can be hard to know what travel money card is the best, so our brightest researchers at CANSTAR have done the hard work for you. Compare travel money cards on our website.


How to use a travel money card:

All travellers like to get around differently so we all have individual needs, but there are some common strategies for making the most of a multi-currency travel money card:

  • Shop around for the best travel money card ages before you go.
  • Choose carefully which currencies to use and how much to load, so you don’t run out of one and get charged a non-native transaction conversion fee to use another one.
  • Check your transaction list for the card online every day as you travel, to avoid accidentally running out and to check for fraud.
  • Know how long it will take for an online transfer or BPAY to be credited to the card, so you know you’re not going to run out before the money arrives on the card.
  • Bring a credit card just in case. You don’t want to get stuck high and dry because you didn’t allow a margin in your budget for things going wrong. Check our travel credit card ratings for some tips on which credit cards are outstanding value for overseas travel.

Pro Travel Tip:

If you run out of local currency cash, and you’re staying at a really posh hotel, it’s worth asking at the front desk. Some hotels will give you a cash advance and just add it to the bill for your room.


Usual fees charged on travel money cards:

Your “awesome holiday” can start to feel a little less awesome if you return home to find a bunch of unexpected fees have been charged to your travel money card. Keep in mind that a better conversion rate might still make paying those fees worthwhile. The usual fees you might expect to pay are as follows.

  • Initial card purchase fee to buy your new travel money card. Can be up to $15.
  • Cash reload fee to reload more money onto your card. Can be up to 1.1%. Check if your card has a maximum cap on the amount you can load on it, too. Our 5-star rated cards do not charge reload fees, and have a relatively high maximum cap.
  • ATM fees to make a cash withdrawal at an ATM. Usually amounts to a nominal flat flee in the local currency.
  • Wrong currency conversion fee to buy something when you’re run out of the local currency but you have money loaded in other currencies on your card. Can be up to 5.95% of the transaction.
  • Monthly inactivity fee if you stop using your card (because you’ve come home) but haven’t closed the account. Can be up to $4 per month. Easy to avoid by converting leftover money on the card back into Aussie dollars and closing the account.
  • Closing fee to close the account when you get home and don’t need it anymore.


Types of travellers who use a travel money card:

We research travel money cards and travel credit and debit cards for use overseas under two scenarios:

  1. The Occasional Traveller who would travel overseas once a year and may be looking for a travel money card or debit card, and a credit card to take with them just in case.
  2. The Regular Overseas Traveller who would make several overseas trips every year and is looking for a credit card to take overseas with them on a regular basis.

Whether you use a travel money card or a credit card may depend on how often you travel overseas, the cost of having the different cards, and whether or not you plan to withdraw cash from an ATM.

What else should you get before you travel?

  1. Buy travel insurance in case anything goes wrong while you’re away from home. You can compare travel insurance prices and features on our website.
  2. Check the Smart Traveller website to find out the risk of travelling to your chosen country.
  3. Register your travel plans with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade so that someone knows where you’ve gone and how to reach you in an emergency.
  4. Have a copy of all your documentation with you – and leave a copy of all your documentation with someone back home.
  5. Write down the contact details of the Australian Embassy in your country of destination – just in case you need it.

What currencies can you put on your travel money card?

The currency you need to put on your travel money card depends 100% on which countries you will be visiting, but not every currency in the world is available. If you’re travelling somewhere where a travel money card won’t do it, you might want to consider a travel credit or debit card and a supply of cash.  We’ve listed the currencies quite commonly offered by Australian travel money card providers:

  1. THB: Thailand baht
  2. AED: United Arab Emirates Emirati Dirham
  3. USD: United States of America dollar
  4. CAD: Canadian dollar
  5. HKD: Hong Kong dollar
  6. NZD: New Zealand dollar
  7. SGD: Singapore dollar
  8. VND: Vietnam dong
  9. EUR: euros valid for European countries including Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain
  10. GBP: United Kingdom/Great Britain pounds
  11. ZAR: South Africa rand
  12. JPY: Japan yen
  13. CNY: China Yuan/Renminbi

(Not all providers will offer all of these currencies. You should check yourcard’s product disclosure statement.)


Written by: TJ Ryan

Pros and cons of travel money cards


  • Cards can be used for most standard debit transactions, so you’re not weighed down with piles of cash or traveller’s cheques.
  • Use global ATMs to withdraw cash when you do need it for eating on the street.
  • While there are never any guarantees, try to lock in a good exchange rate before you travel. This helps you budget for the trip because you know how much money you have available to spend. If the exchange rate takes a dive while you’re overseas, it doesn’t affect you at all.
  • Avoid currency conversion fees, because you’re spending the local currency already loaded onto the card.
  • Low risk – you can’t lose more money than what you’ve loaded onto the card.
  • Add a variety of currencies to your account. Yen, Euros, dollars, pounds, and more – you’re covered for your favourite destinations.
  • Make purchases in a different currency loaded on the card if you run out of the local currency, and have the funds converted on the go. This is helpful if you get stuck in one place longer than you planned.
  • Keep track of the money on your card through internet banking and top it up from your bank as needed.
  • Most travel cards come in pairs, so one goes in your wallet while the secondary card stays snug in the safe at your hotel.
  • Earn rewards points with some travel money cards, e.g. Qantas Cash Travel Card, Velocity Global Wallet.


  • If the Aussie dollar suddenly spikes upward, you’ll miss out because you’re locked in to the currencies you chose at the previous rate.
  • Money can take up to three days to load onto your card when you do a reload transfer. You could get stranded without money.
  • Fees are higher than credit and debit cards. You face purchase fees, load and reload fees, and fees when cashing out the remaining balance to close the account.
  • Not as useful for pre-authorisations or holds as a credit card. MasterCard warns that hotel and car hire rental agency authorisations can tie up funds on your card for up to 90 days.
  • Currency conversion fee is charged if you spend money in a different currency.
  • You still need some cash for things like eating and buying souvenirs at local markets.
  • You could pay an ATM fee and a fee for using the wrong provider’s ATM as well.
  • You could accidentally overspend if you’re checking your internet banking for the card but some transactions aren’t visible online yet.
  • If you don’t close the card straight away, you can eat up your leftover money in monthly inactivity fees.

How do travel money cards compare?

How does using a travel money card compare to using cash, a normal credit card, or a normal debit card? Does it stack up as a cheap, convenient, and safe option?


Features that travel money cards share with credit cards and debit cards:

The following features are current at the time of writing and you should check the features currently on offer for any travel money card you are considering.

CANSTAR Table: Comparison of selected Travel Money Card offerings in Australia
Cash MasterCard
Global Wallet Visa
Travel Card Visa
Commonwealth Bank Travel Money Card Mastercard Westpac
Global Currency Card Visa
Traveller Card Mastercard
Initial card fee Nil Nil $11 Nil Nil Nil
Reload fees Nil Nil 1.10% Nil 1% 1%
Secondary card fee N/A $10 Nil Nil Nil N/A
Replacement card fee Nil Nil $35 $15 $15 Nil
Maximum No. of currencies at one time 11 5 10 13 5 10
Emergency fund access Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Refund balance fee Nil Nil Nil Nil Nil Nil
Card closure fee Nil Nil Nil Nil Nil Nil
Monthly inactive fee Nil $1 Nil Nil Nil $4
ATM withdrawal fee – USD $US 1.95 $US 1.95 $US 2.50 $US 2.50 $US 2.00 Nil
USD rate as of August 28, 2015* 0.679 0.6774 0.6808 0.6782 0.6843 0.6731
$5,000 AUD value to USD $3,395 $3,387 $3,404 $3,391 $3,422 $3,366
Frequent flyer points Qantas FF points Velocity FF points N/A N/A N/A N/A
Source: CANSTAR Travel Money Card Star Ratings Report 2015 available on
* Currency rates obtained from provider’s website.


Travel money cards vs. debit cards

Pros of debit cards:

  • You can budget and control your spending because you’re using your own money.
  • ATM access may be cheaper than using a credit card.

Cons of debit cards:

  • If you have to report fraudulent transactions on your card, your money can be frozen leaving you stranded until the dispute is resolved.
  • May not be accepted for pre-authorisations at hotels or car hire rental agencies.


Travel money cards vs. credit cards

Pros of credit cards:

  • Currency conversion can be very close to the actual exchange rate, especially if you don’t have to pay a currency conversion fee.
  • You have funds up to your credit limit, which is good for emergencies and pre-authorisations at hotels and car hire rental agencies.
  • Premium cards have concierge services to help you book parts of your holiday, even while travelling.

Cons of credit cards:

  • High cash advance fees if you withdraw from an ATM, and interest accruing immediately on the cash amount, plus the currency conversion fee.
  • Temptation to spend more than you budgeted for, and end up paying off your holiday for months to follow at high interest rates.


Getting your money back off the card after you come home:

One trap for young travellers who haven’t used a travel money card before is the issue of getting any leftover money back off the card before it disappears in paying ‘inactivity’ fees.

First, jump onto the website of your travel money card provider. As of August 2015, ASIC requires that providers allow customers to reclaim unused funds, even from “expired cards”, and they must list in their product disclosure statement how customers can reclaim unused funds. Usually it means converting and withdrawing remaining funds, then closing the account.

In the old days, before the ASIC industry-wide review, the situation was far worse, and you would just lose any leftover money on a card that expired. Not anymore! If you have an expired card that you still had money on, even if it’s from a while ago, contact your provider to recover that money.

Travel Money Card glossary of terms

Please note that these are a general explanation of the meaning of terms used in relation to travel money cards. Your provider may use different wording and you should read the terms and conditions of your product carefully to understand what you are and are not covered for. Refer to the product disclosure statement from your provider.

Accommodation: Any type of dwelling or lodging where you pay a fee to stay overnight.

ATM: Automated teller machine where you put your card into the machine and withdraw cash from the account attached to that card.

ATM fee: A fee charged to your travel money card to make a cash withdrawal from an ATM.

Balance: The amount of money remaining and able to be spent on your travel money card at any point in time.

Closing fee: A fee charged to close your travel money card account.

Conversion fee: Any fee charged to convert one currency into another. Usually refers to a fee charged to your travel money card to pay for something in the local currency using a different currency loaded on your card.

Conversion rate: Also known as the exchange rate.

Currency: Money.

Currency order: The order in which the next available currency will be selected if you run out of the currency that you are using in the current transaction.

Exchange rate: The ratio at which one currency buys another. For example, the exchange rate from AUD to USD at the time of writing is $0.72 to the dollar. Determines the value of one country’s currency by comparison to another.

Foreign currency: The currency of any country outside Australia.

Funds: Money.

Home: Your usual place of residence (where you live) in Australia.

Inactive fee: A fee charged to your travel money card for not using it in that month.

Initial fee / Issuing fee: A fee charged to your travel money card for opening the account and issuing the card to you.

Journey: The time period from the day you leave home until the day you return home. Also known as a ‘trip’, ‘voyage’, ‘your travels’, or other terms.

Limit: Cards have a maximum limit to the amount of money you can load onto them, the amount you can withdraw in one day, and the amount you can reload onto them in one go.

Pre-paid: A card onto which you load your own money when you open the account. You cannot spend more money than you have loaded onto the card.

Refund: Cash or company credit given to you as reimbursement for any leftover money remaining on your travel money card, according to the terms of your card.

Reload fee: A fee charged to your travel money card for adding an additional amount of money onto your card.

Secondary card: An additional card that also accesses the funds on the same ‘travel money card’ account.

Travel insurance: A form of insurance policy that covers you for various events happening to you while you are away from home. Depending on the policy, it may include medical emergencies, unexpected changes in travel plans outside your control, and lost luggage or other items. For more information, see our travel insurance page.

Traveller’s cheques: A cheque or bill of exchange, available in fixed denominations of various currencies. Can be accepted as cash in many places.

Ratings and awards Canstar gave to travel money card providers:

CANSTAR rated 9 travel money cards from 9 different providers in 2015, and we conduct ratings every 12 months. To be eligible for consideration in the CANSTAR Star Ratings, travel money cards must:

  • Be able to store multiple foreign currencies on one card.
  • Allow you to lock in an exchange rate before you travel.
  • Allow you to use your own funds with no credit or borrowing.
  • Provide an up-to-date exchange rate on its website.

The features we assessed when granting star ratings were as follows:

  • Terms and Conditions: Ability to lock exchange rate, inclusion of back-up card, emergency card replacement, emergency fund access
  • Currency Available: Single or multiple currency card, maximum number of currencies held at one time on card, which currencies are available
  • Fees: Fees for card closure, replacement card fee
  • Limits: Maximum number of cards a single person can hold, maximum amount you can load/reload, maximum ATM withdrawal
  • Account Facility: Purchase the card online, access the account online, view transactions online
  • Reload: Ability to reload card, reload using BPAY, reload at time of purchase
  • Convenience: Ability to use the card for online purchases, ATMS and POS
  • Security: Chip and PIN protected, signature panel on reverse of card, not linked to personal bank account
  • Distribution Outlet: Ability to purchase through credit unions, travel agents, etc.

Other travel-related financial products that we rate include travel credit and debit cards, and travel insurance.


Who offers travel money cards?

The following travel money card providers were included in our comparisons at the time of writing and details are correct as at that time. Please check the current terms and conditions of the card providers.

  1. ANZ: You can purchase ANZ’s pre-paid Travel Visa Card online anytime, or at a branch if you’re leaving within 5 business days. Their Travel Card Visa offers online purchases, a maximum of 10 currencies and $80,000, an $11 issuing fee, 3% conversion fee, 1.1% reload fee, and no monthly inactive fee or closure fee.
  2. Australia Post: Australia Post can organise your travel money card, travel insurance, global roaming mobile phone SIM cards, a hold on your mail while you’re away, and most importantly, your passport! They also have a neat Postcard App available on the Apple Store that sends a postcard of your own photos to friends and family. Their Load&Go Travel Visa offers emergency fund transfers, a maximum of 5 currencies and $10,000, no issuing fee, 3% conversion fee, and no reload fee, monthly inactive fee or closure fee.
  3. Commonwealth Bank: Commonwealth Bank offers traveller’s cheques, foreign cash conversion, travel insurance, and savings accounts to work towards your next holiday, as well as travel money cards. Their Travel Money MasterCard offers online purchases, emergency fund transfers, a maximum of 13 currencies and $100,000, $15 issuing fee, 0% conversion fee, and no reload fee, monthly inactive fee or closure fee.
  4. Cash Passport: Cash Passport is a MasterCard company. They have a delightful offer where you get an extra $25 loaded onto your travel money card just for choosing them. Their Multi-Currency Cash Passport MasterCard offers online purchases, emergency fund transfers, a maximum of 10 currencies and $100,000, no issuing fee, a high 5.95% conversion fee, 1.1% reload fee, $4 monthly inactive fee, and no closure fee.
  5. NAB: NAB offer travel insurance, travel loans, travel credit cards and other foreign currency cash, and a great foreign exchange calculator and before-you-travel checklist. They teamed up with Expedia to create a range of “Like a Local” travel guides to travelling in certain countries. Their Traveller MasterCard offers emergency fund transfers, a maximum of 10 currencies and $45,000, no issuing fee, 4% conversion fee, 1% reload fee, $4 monthly inactive fee, and no closure fee.
  6. OzForex: OzForex also offer international money transfers and FX products. Their Travel MasterCard offers online purchases, a maximum of 9 currencies and $25,000, $15 issuing fee, 3% conversion fee, and no reload fee, monthly inactive fee or closure fee.
  7. Qantas: Qantas Cash travel money cards received our highest rating of 5 stars in 2015. Qantas are one of Australia’s travel giants so they also offer airline flights, travel insurance, hotel packages, car hire, cruises and more. Their Cash MasterCard offers online purchases, emergency fund transfers, earning rewards points, a maximum of 11 currencies and $100,000, no issuing fee, 3% conversion fee, and no reload fee, monthly inactive fee or closure fee.
  8. Velocity Frequent Flyer: Velocity Frequent Flyer is a rewards program where you earn points from purchasing flights and other products from their program partners, then redeeming the points for flights and other products. Their Global Wallet Visa offers online purchases, emergency fund transfers, earning rewards points, a maximum of 5 currencies and $25,000, no issuing fee, 3% conversion fee, no reload fee, $1 monthly inactive fee, and no closure fee.
  9. Westpac: Westpac also offers currency conversion, travel insurance and traveller’s cheques. One perk of choosing Westpac is their global network of over 50,000 partner ATMs, and the worldwide acceptance of Visa. Their Global Currency Visa offers online purchases, emergency fund transfers, a maximum of 5 currencies and $50,000, no issuing fee, 3% conversion fee, 1% or $10 reload fee, and no monthly inactive fee or closure fee.