Travel money cards are not all made alike, and they can be mighty confusing. Travellers need to arm themselves with a thorough knowledge of the fine print to get the most out of these convenient travel cards.
How do travel money cards work?
So how do travel cards such as Global Wallet, Travelex Multi Currency Cash Passport, Qantas Cash, NAB Traveller Card and others, work?
Your travel money card typically looks like a Visa or MasterCard debit card, and it can be used wherever those brands are accepted. Travel money cards can be used to withdraw cash at ATMs or spend as you would with a debit card in Australia.
A variety of foreign currencies can be loaded into separate “wallets” on the card. The exchange rate for each currency is locked in when cash is loaded on the card, which can work either in the traveller’s favour or against it.
The card is as secure as a normal debit card because it is chip and PIN protected, and if the card is lost or stolen it can be blocked. Your travel money card is not connected directly to your regular bank account, giving protection against further theft if the card is stolen or skimmed.
Travel money cards do come with costs and traps for the unwary, however. Each provider has a different formula for charging to transfer money to cards, and the exchange rate can cost customers an extra margin that they don’t even realise they’re spending. Then there are additional fees if you accidentally spend money in currencies that your card doesn’t support. Here are some other travel money card fees and charges to watch out for.
What to consider when choosing a travel money card
It’s a really good idea to read all the fine print of your chosen card. That way there will be fewer surprises on holiday, when you least want to have banking hassles. In particular, consider the following.
Choose your currency
It goes without saying that it’s best to use a card that offers the currency of the countries you’re visiting. 11 out of 12 travel money cards researched by CANSTAR offer 10 currencies or more, but some offer as many as 14 currencies or as few as just 5 currencies. The table below shows which cards offer which currencies at the time of writing:
Watch ATM withdrawals
ATM withdrawals in other countries are free on some cards, but others may charge you after a certain number of withdrawals per month. You need to know what yours does.
Fees, fees, and more fees
When choosing a card make sure you understand all of the fees. Banks do very well out of these cards, especially if you don’t use them in the most cost-efficient way. There are fees to load cash onto your travel money card, fees to check your balance, ATM fees, currency conversion fees, inactivity fees if you don’t close a card within a year of getting home, disputed transaction fees, replacement card fees, transfer out fees, text fees, and so on. Not every provider charges all of these, but chances are you’ll be hit with many of them unless you use your card right.
Check exchange rates
Some providers make a percent or two extra from you (on top of the conversion rate) when converting your cash. That needs to be factored into your decision of which card to buy.
Much as Canstar always likes Aussies to get the best deal, sometimes the convenience of having all your cards at one bank or getting a travel card that’s connected to your frequent flyer card might outweigh other concerns.
Compare your options
We’ve made this step easier by comparing travel money cards for you on our website. We research and rate the cards available in Australia at least once per year, and a 5-star rating indicates that a card provides outstanding value for you as a traveller.