Cash, Card or Travel Card – When Traveling Overseas – For Australians

Cash, Card or Travel Card – When Traveling Overseas – For Australians

Here is a write up of what cards I use & recommend for Australians who are planning a trip overseas. The Debit Cards & Credit Cards that will save you a tonne of money!

Disclaimer – Please Understand

I am not a financial adviser, I am not affiliated or trying to sell these products. These are just my personal favorite bank cards I believe every traveler should have to save money for them self. The details below may have changed or be inaccurate. Please check their website for full details as this is just intended as a guide to help you make an informed decision of the products available. Should I be aware of change I will update. Make sure these products are suited to your situation by checking there website as this is just a guide.

Back to the money stuff…

Gone are the days of NAB Gold account where you could spend $10 a month to have unlimited withdraws from any where world wide.Which was waived if you deposited so much a month into the account. Replaced with a fee ridden Travel Card sold as “the all mighty Travelers best friend” Not just this one. Every travel card you look closely is only good for the bank.

First let me explain some terminology

The wholesale exchange rate- is basically the closest you or I will get to the real rate. Its used by Banks, Large corporations, Private & Public institutions for large currency transactions.

The Bank Exchange Rate – Is the wholesale rate minus what ever fee’s they want. To make the magic rate they offer. So the banks rate is always lower than wholesale and bank to bank it will vary.

Examples of Wholesale vs Bank Rate

Heres an example of the difference of wholesale vs bank rate from a Big Australian bank.
Screenshoted both at same time.
Along with the travel card fees sheet

Sites Used above for wholesale vs for bank rate

Compare with any travel card or rate you are getting alternatively can check on google

Difference of A$38

Do note the wording they don’t charge you to withdraw your money but the ATM owners may. Just note in Thailand alone they charge 180baht – 300 baht (A$7-12) per Transaction. Some ATMs in Asia only let you take out A$200-$300 at 1 time. So if you want A$1000 and need cash you will have to pay $35-60 just to take money out the ATM not including the difference in wholesale rate and bank rate.

The fees are worse on your normal non travel bank card

I hate to tell you the odds get even worse if not a travel card normally a 3% currency conversion charge on top of the Bank Exchange Rate and a international withdrawal fee. For NAB classic account its $5 per international withdrawal.

Quick Maths on $200 AUD withdrawal internationally from NAB classic card – about the same for all banks

  • $5 – Nab international Fee
  • $6 – 3% of $200 AUD international conversion fee
  • $7-12 Thai ATM Fee (fee’s vary per country and ATM)
  • = $18 to $23 per withdrawal of $200
    So basically your loosing about 10% on this example
    This example doesn’t even include bank vs wholesale rate difference.

Everybody hates the fine print!

No one wants to read the fine print of anything. We just want a simple solution. All they do is extract their % out of your travel budget. I’d rather spend this on beer and a fancy new monkey t-shirt.

One possible benefit of the travel card if you can predict the future.

The only benefit they do have that is different to the recommendations below. Is you lock in an exchange rate which you happily agree on. This will be below market rate at the bank rate.

So unless you can predict the future and know the market is going to to crash before you holiday. There really is no benefit in my opinion. It could go up and you loose out there because its locked in.

Take Cash

Whilst I find a lot of people recommending this option, I don’t believe its the best. Take some cash but not all. Even with a hotel room safe they are not always 100% safe. The hotel has got a master key and depending on what country you are in they may not have 100% honest staff. Generally travel insurance does not cover loss of cash or if does it is a very small amount. Ask yourself, If I lost all my spending money should it be from a pick pocket, safe, drunk night out can I survive with out it? I like to take enough cash to keep me afloat for a few days should something happen to my bank card. Also wise to keep your cards separate if you don’t need them both.

So how do you get the wholesale rate?

Easy these 3 cards I use all are designed for international use. With no additional fee’s involved if you use them properly. Here are the 3 cards I wont leave home without. Also the 4th option is who I recommend if you wish to transfer money to an International bank account at the wholesale rate.

ING Orange Debit Card

My #1 Card. A must have!
A great fee free card with a couple of caveats.
They offer a card that you can withdraw out of any ATM world wide and they will reimburse you the ATM charge. They also give you the wholesale rate.

Something to note. If you want $200 and the ATM fee is $10. you must have $210 in your account. The ATM fee is generally reimbursed instantly but there terms say within 5 business days

There is a few conditions you must meet each month

  • Deposit $1000 a month into the account
  • Make 5 purchases using card (excludes cash withdrawals and balance check, EFTPOS cash withdraws and cash advances)
  • The 5 transactions must settle before end of month (not pending)

The first month you automatically get the benefit
If you meet the above conditions they will also give you bonus interest on your linked saving account with no other conditions or withdrawal restrictions as well.

Truth is there is 1 bad feature

One issue I have raised with ING that they acknowledged was a good feature is there is no way to bypass a SMS security code for an online purchase, should they detect something suspicious (like your trying to buy stuff whilst in a high risk of fraud country). With 28 degrees you can opt to enter you credit limit and date of birth to bypass the sms pin. This caught me out once overseas trying to book another night in hotel at 10 mins to check out and no Telstra coverage. Although it didn’t leave me high and dry It could of if it was my only option. They need to do something as a backup option especially as its marketed for travel and foreign transactions.

Have I qualified this month

It is easy to keep track if you have met the requirements for the month in the app under the “Rebates” tab. It also tells you how much you have saved in ATM & International fees for the financial year. Yes thats I have saved $172 in ATM fees adds up quick huh!

Tell them your leaving Australia

So if you have a holiday booked in the app you can put the countries you are visiting and the dates (to do so click 3 lines top left, cog wheel top right, use card overseas). This will help your card not getting blocked for suspicious activities. On return home you will receive an email with how much you saved in ATM & Fees

How to further protect your card from ATM skimming

Option 1 Transfer from savings account

I do this process all the time. It 100% Guarantees no money can be taken out of your account by fraudulent activities.
1st -You can open a free linked savings account with higher interest rate at same time of opening card account.
2nd -Simply keep all your money in this account as it is not able to be withdrawn from atm
3rd – When you need to withdraw money simply transfer the money on the ING APP. If your unsure of the exchange rate simply check on or download the XE APP

Option 2 Put card on hold

How to put on hold?

Simply log on to the APP on your phone and click the arrow next to the account name

A spare card

You can request a spare card from ING. Just make sure you tell them your current one has not been lost or stolen. You can keep that card as a spare should something happen to your bank card like eaten by ATM or damaged.
*NOTE* Don’t activate the replacement card until you require it or it will cancel your old card. A link pops up in online banking app after they issue a new card to activate online.

28 Degrees Credit Master Card

If you are disciplined enough to pay off in full each month. This card can work really well for you. If you can not control your spend or blow budgets don’t bother even considering the card it has a high interest rate of 21.99% .

  • Interest rate of 21.99% on purchases & cash advances
  • Flight Delay Pass – If your flights delayed more than 2 hours
  • Up to 55 days interest free if paid by due dates
  • No Annual Fee
  • Mastercard Wholesale Rate
  • Free wifi internationally with boingo
  • Free International Card Replacement

Great backup

A feature I like about this card is sometimes if they think your transaction is suspicious they prompt you with a SMS code (for online purchases). This is fine if you have mobile reception but if you have a foreign sim card in phone or your provider has no towers then what? Its ok you can bypass it with you credit limit & birth date. This is a feature the ING lacks and can catch you out. Believe me I know its happened to me. Lucky I had this card as a backup!

I personally use this card for booking all my hotels and flights. As sometimes booking these things can be cheaper in a foreign currency and its usually the home country of the hotel. When you get the wholesale rate you can compare on XE or Google and know the cost will be very similar. This is the same principle with the ING orange card. Just with the ING Orange Card you have to have the cash available now I would rather have that cash sit in my Home loan offset or Savings account for the interest free period (up to 55 days) until few days before due date of credit card statement.

Citi Bank Plus Debit Card

This card saved my thousands in my trips to Bangkok before I learned about the ING card which is a lot more convenient. If your destination has Citi Bank you can use their ATM world wide at no cost. They also offer the wholesale rate on all transactions and cash withdrawals.

It takes a little more research on where it has ATM’s but its a good back up card to have. For instance there is only 4 Citi bank ATM’s in Bangkok (possibly all of Thailand) but stopping past when nearby is better than $7++ a shot at other ATM’s

Other perks of Citibank

Citibank offers a lot of perks in different countries. For example in Australia selected restaurants will offer you a complementary bottle of wine with your meal when paying with Citibank card. Or whilst I was in Malaysia a lot of restaurants offered buy one get one or 25% off the bill if you paid with a Citibank card. Even better is will all be at the wholesale rate.

ATM’s with no fees

If you are not lucky enough to have these cards yet. I know in Cambodia you can withdraw money from MAYBANK at no charge. I pretty sure I read a sign that said all MAYBANKS offer this through south east asia excluding Thailand.

In Australia currently the Big 4 banks all charge no Owners ATM fee

If you know of other ATMs that charge no fees. Drop a comment below

Why not just take cash

Sure another good option. But if you run out or it gets stolen there’s less you can do about it. If anything take a mix of both. Keep an emergency stash of cash in case your card gets lost or blocked. Also wise to keep your cards separate if you don’t need them both.

Do you know about emergency cash?

Did you know that Mastercard and Visa have an emergency cash feature. If you lost your card, ATM swallowed it or it simply just does not work for some reason. They will work out a way to get you money from 2 options. Your money in your account or a cash advance from your credit card. There maybe fees involved for all above methods but they will advise you. Its better to pay a little than be stranded right.
They may send it multiple ways. To a branch or even Western Union it to you. You dont have to worry they do this all the time and will guide you through the process.

Learn from your mistakes

I found out about this after a boozy night woke up with no wallet. Silly me was in a bad frame of mind and was not thinking. Took all my cards and cash out with me. Stuck in Indonesia with just a phone. Thank god I left my passport in the safe.

Call them if you need cash!

Here are the global emergency contact links
Mastercard Emergency Services
Visa Card Emergency Services

Transferring money to overseas bank account

If you have family overseas or a friend who you trust you can transfer money at the wholesale rate with Transferwise with a small fee depending on what payment method you choose. POLI being the best option which allows you to login to your Australian bank account and pay via Direct Debit style transfer. I have used this many times with the money being processed very quickly and generally the money being transferred in about 24/48 hours to the international account. All depends on the currency and your payment method to how long it takes.

Comparing with western union

There is no comparison. Just do a quick conversion for yourself and you will see western union charges a BANK RATE as well as fees. Transferwise are upfront with everything from the start. If you check you will find Transferwise is almost the same unlike other money sending options.

One Free or reduced fee transfer fee

Clicking link from this page will give you one transfer fee free when transferring up to $500 AUD or reduced fee if it is over $500
Transferwise offer a referral bonus of $90 if 3 people sign up from link on this article. This same offer is available to you if you sign up with them to give to your friends. Please consider using the link if you found this article helpful.

Never heard of transfer wise?

This company was created with Sir Richard Branson, the guy who owns virgin airlines and some founders from Paypal. Rest assure they are safe to use.

If you just want to take cash, Some Tips

So if you are unable to get one of these cards or just purely want to take cash here’s some tips.

Dont exchange here- Most people want to change there money before they leave. The truth is in Australia you are going to get a bank rate plus chance of a fee for the convenience of doing it. The company Travel Money OZ does give you a fee free exchange for exchanging currency but there commissions are built into the rate giving you a average bank rate.

Dont exchange all at airport – First off don’t exchange any in the airport before you get to the new country. This is another terrible option with worse rates and fees. If you only taking cash with you the best idea is to just exchange a little bit when arriving at the new country’s airport. Enough for your first day or 2. So you can eat and get a taxi if needed. Then to find a exchange near your hotel or where your going.

Check the rate in hotel- Compare the rate in the hotel your staying. Bigger hotels generally will give a bank rate even in the host country and I would avoid. Smaller hotels especially ones owned by a person from the country your from may want to exchange money back which is beneficial for both of you.

Do a little research before leaving- The best place to change your money is after the airport (In the city) of the place you are going. Google to find one although if staying in a Tourist Hotspot there will be one.

-For Bali I Recommend “BMC money changers”
-For Thailand I Recommend “Super Rich Money changers”

Check your money before leaving counter!

There are so many scams in Asia with changing money its not funny. Bali being the worst I have encountered. I have been scammed before, I have gone to the small exchange booths to be scammed just to experience it and understand how they try do. If you are new to traveling just exchange a day or 2 at a time until you feel comfortable with the currency.

My best advice is – Count your money at the counter, Even if they count it to you count it again right there. If you have to count it 2 or 3 times because you are getting confused that’s ok take your time. Once you leave its almost impossible to dispute discrepancy.

Don’t let them touch your money after you have counted– In Bali they tend to try grab your money and recount it after you have. This is alarm bells of a note or 2 is going to go missing. Check again and be firm.

Legitimate money exchanges- Will always give you a receipt! Also you will generally have to sign it too.

Rate too good to be true- Make sure the best rate you have seen includes TAX & COMMISSIONS. Bali is another notorious place for this happening. Rates well above advertised at a repeatable place. I had one guy taking 30% off the amazing price!

Final words

I hope this has helped you save some of your hard earned dollars. This article took around 8 hours to write. If you would like more like this feel free to buy be a beer below 🙂



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