Travel Money Cards for the USA

9 October 2018

Co-Author: William Jolly

Heading to America for a holiday? Here are some factors to think about if you’re considering a travel money card for your spending while you’re there.

The United States is the world’s third most popular tourist destination with almost 77 million visitors in 2017 – behind only France and Spain – according to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

And Aussie travellers are no exception, with almost a million of us visiting the US in the 12 months up to June 2017, according to the Australian Government.

There’s certainly a lot to see and do there, like taking a tour of celebrity homes in Hollywood, sightseeing at the Grand Canyon or wandering along the High Line in New York, hot dog in hand. But, while it may be known as ‘the land of the free’, all of this costs money, so you may want to consider your options for accessing cash when you arrive in the US.

There’s plenty to see and do in ‘the land of the free’. Unfortunately not all of it’s free. Source: oneinchpunch (Shutterstock)

One way of withdrawing cash and making card payments with retailers during your US holiday is to use a travel money card.

Compare travel money cards for the USA

The following table displays a snapshot of travel money card products on Canstar’s database available for travel to the United States, sorted by Star Rating (highest to lowest) then by provider name (alphabetically). Check upfront with your provider to confirm the details of a particular product, and whether it meets your needs before deciding to commit to it.

How do travel money cards work?

Typically travel money cards work like this: you exchange your Aussie dollars for US dollars and load them onto your card before your trip. Then, when you arrive, you can use the card to withdraw US dollars and make card payments in-store or online. You may also be able to reload your card with extra funds if you need them. Bear in mind, though, that some cards may only offer some of these options.

It may be a good idea to carry some spare cash with you just in case. Source: luckysky1911 (Shutterstock)

You can read more about travel money cards here:

Is a travel money card the right option?

Depending on the type of traveller you are, travel money cards can be useful for a number of reasons. For example:

  • They allow you to lock in the exchange rate in advance of your trip
  • They are designed to be easy to use – similar in function to a debit card
  • They can be used with multiple currencies
  • They aren’t connected to your transaction account, so you can only lose the amount that’s on the card if it’s stolen

There can also be disadvantages to using a travel money card:

  • You may lose out if the exchange rate improves after you’ve locked in your rate
  • Travel money cards can come with various fees, such as currency conversion fees, ATM fees and inactivity fees
  • They may not be accepted everywhere

Travel money cards aren’t perfect for every situation, so it can be smart to consider a combination of different travel money options for your trip to the US, such as loose cash, as well as a travel credit or debit card.

What exchange rate will I get?

The exchange rate you might get when converting your Aussie dollars into their US equivalent is likely to vary depending on when you load your card, as exchange rates generally fluctuate regularly due to a number of factors. Check with your travel money card provider as to what the current rate is when you are loading money onto a travel money card.

It’s important to note, however, that the exchange rate quoted by your card provider may be different to the official exchange rate quoted by the RBA.

Doing some research into the different exchange rates on offer can help you budget for your trip. Source: Atstock Productions (Shutterstock)

This is because travel money card providers typically charge an ‘exchange fee’ on top of the quoted exchange rate. This fee can vary from card to card, so it’s worth comparing what each one offers for the US dollar – as well as considering the other features and terms offered by the provider – to see which card best suits your needs. It’s worth considering that some travel money card providers may not list an ‘exchange fee’ as such – instead the cost of the exchange to the cardholder would be factored into the exchange rate they offer.

What to be aware of when travelling to the USA

Having a travel money card with low fees for accessing your money can come in handy in America, as its culture can still be quite cash heavy at times in some areas. For example, it’s customary to tip in many places such as bars and restaurants, which usually involves rounding up your bill or leaving your server 15-20% of the total price.

Our comprehensive tipping guide goes into more detail on this, but it may be useful to have a few spare dollar bills on you at all times during your trip to avoid any tipping faux pas. A travel money card may be a good way of ensuring easy access to cash.

Tipping is a customary practice in the US. Check out our tipping guide for more information. Source: kckate16 (Shutterstock)

For more details on what to be aware of when visiting America, visit our article on travel insurance for the USA.

Don’t forget to consider travel insurance

When travelling to the US you may also want to think about an insurance policy to cover you for things like:

  • Cancellation costs for flights, accommodation and tours
  • Overseas emergency medical expenses
  • Travel delay/changed travel plans
  • Cover for theft or lost luggage and personal items

The table below displays a snapshot of travel insurance policies rated by Canstar, sorted by Star Rating (highest to lowest) then by provider name (A-Z) with links to providers’ websites. These results are based on a couple under 70 travelling to America. Check upfront with your provider and read the PDS to confirm the details of a particular product, and whether it meets your needs, before deciding to commit to it.

Compare travel money cards for other destinations

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