What is a travel money card?

24 October 2016

Co-author: William Jolly

What is a travel money card? How do I use one? And what makes them useful? 

Travel money cards are a popular, convenient and secure way to buy foreign currency and take it overseas. Essentially, travel money cards are specially designed debit cards that you load up with foreign currencies prior to travelling.

The advantage of pre-loading the card with your choice of currency is that you can do so when the exchange rate is at its most favourable – you can convert your money into foreign currency when it’s worth the most. Spending in the local currency also means you won’t pay currency conversion fees every time.

For the traveller going to one country or several, a travel money card has many pros and cons over other types of travel money. A travel money card can be easier (and more secure) than carrying cash or traveller’s cheques, because you can preload a card with a single currency or several, according to your travel plans. Different cards offer different currencies but most products offer US dollars, UK pounds, Euros, and New Zealand dollars, among others.

Once abroad, you can reload your card or change the currencies around via the internet or your mobile phone. You can use your card to withdraw cash from ATMs, shop for souvenirs, pay for restaurant meals or book accommodation online.

Aussies are frequent flyers, with more than 800,000 leaving our shores for short overseas holidays in any given month (ABS, August 2016 data). That compares to around 350,000 equivalent trips per month in 2006 – a significant increase over the past two decades.

As our travel habits have changed, so too have our payment methods, with technology making traveller’s cheques all but obsolete. Travel money cards have essentially replaced cheques as the most popular foreign currency tool.

The travel card is an area of financial services that is undergoing significant change. They are no longer offered solely by financial institutions, with airlines Qantas and Virgin entering the market in recent years, as well as Australia Post.

What are travel money cards

What to look for in a travel money card

The ideal card in our books has two main features: it allows you to lock in a favourable exchange rate before you go, and gives you the ability to load multiple foreign currencies onto the one card. The exchange rate offered is of great importance to us when comparing travel money cards on your behalf.

Another key consideration for a travel money card is fees; we look at various charges which can add up and eat a hole in your travel budget. For instance, what does it cost to load and reload the card, and what is the cost of a foreign transaction? This is the cost payable when there are insufficient funds available in the local currency and the card automatically loads funds from a different currency.

We also assess the convenience and cost of converting any foreign money back to Australian dollars when you return home.

Travel money cards must be loaded with your own funds – it can’t be a travel credit card in disguise.

5-Star Rated travel money cards

When comparing travel money card products, Canstar’s Star Ratings may prove useful. In its 2020 Ratings, Canstar Research assessed 14 travel money cards on our database based on price and features, and gave 5-Star Ratings to the products found to offer outstanding value. These were:

  • Citi Global Currency Account
  • HSBC Everyday Global Account
  • Travelex Money Card


How to use a travel money card

So with this in mind – how do you use a travel money card? Whilst all travellers have individual needs, there are some common strategies to get the most from your multi-currency travel money card:

Shop in advance Shopping around for your card well in advance of your trip will ensure that you can select a card with the currencies and features that suit your needs.
Allocate currency amounts carefully In which countries are you likely to spend the most money? Think carefully about the allocation of currencies on your card, as any purchases you inadvertently make in a “foreign” or “non-native” currency can cost you a currency conversion fee.
Minimise your fees Look for a card that charges no fees on ATM withdrawals and EFTPOS transactions, as these small fees can accumulate incrementally. Also pay attention to the reload fee and load your card when the fee is at its lowest.
Monitor your card online Get in the habit of checking your transaction list every day as you go, to both avoid fraud and accidental overspending.
Set it up early Once you buy your travel card, make sure to log in online, transfer funds onto it and then test it out as soon as possible. The last thing you want is to use your card overseas for the first time only to find it doesn’t work!



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