Financial Advice Blog

The best ways to access money while travelling overseas

Whether you’re heading to Barcelona, Bali or Bangkok, it’s important you're able to access your money as cost-effectively and seamlessly as possible. Here, we break down your options so you can splash your cash (or credit card) without a worry in the world.

It’s one thing to save for your overseas adventure but what happens when are actually get there? Accessing your money when travelling can create obstacles like hidden international transaction fees or safety issues. But don’t worry, we’ve broken your options down so you can choose what’s right for you.

1. Cash

Taking a stash of cash on your adventure involves getting your Australian dollars exchanged for your foreign currency of choice. This usually happens at a bank, post office, bureau de change or money dealer, and those institutions charge you fees or commission on the exchange – which can really cost you.

Our advice? Shop around for a money exchange that gives a good rate, as they do vary greatly (hint: the exchange at the airport is often the most expensive) and only keep a small amount of cash on you for your arrival into the new country and for emergencies. Obviously if you carry too much cash around it poses a safety risk, and if you lose it it’s gone for good. But on the upside, everywhere accepts it.

2. Credit cards

Using your credit card to travel is very convenient – almost everywhere in the world accepts major credit cards. You also have the bank on your side if anything goes wrong or your card gets lost, as they’ll help stop your funds from being stolen and cover unauthorised payments. Many cards come with benefits like travel insurance and bonus reward points too.

The downside? If you’re not diligent with money you can risk overspending or even opt for cash advances, which could wreak havoc on your travel budget. Also, many credit card companies charge you a percentage of your spend, which quickly adds up and can leave you with a terrifying bill when you return home. Finally, credit card scams like skimming are rife in some overseas countries, so handing over your plastic can leave you more susceptible.

3. Prepaid travel cards

If you’ve saved all your money upfront and you want a safer option than cash, then a pre-paid travel money card might work for you. Found at most banks and post offices, you load prepaid travel money cards up with a set amount of foreign currency – locked in at the exchange rate of the day you load it – and then use it like your regular debit card at ATMs or shops. If you run out of money you can top your card up on your mobile while you’re away, and it’s a much safer option than cash.

If this sounds like you then shop around for the card with the best exchange rate and lowest fees, and ensure you’re not paying for ATM withdrawals. Also make sure the currency you’re after is available and that there isn’t an ‘inactive’ fee attached to the card, as some do have this feature and you can get charged once you’re home. Another note: if you’re using it to pay for expensive items like your accommodation, a ‘hold’ will be put on your card and you might not be able to access your cash until it’s lifted.

4. Travel credit cards

For frequent flyers, it might be worth investing in a travel credit card. The annual fees and interest rates are often higher than regular credit cards, but if you travel frequently these may be offset by the benefits that include reward programs, no foreign transaction fees, access to airport lounges, travel credits, travel insurance and an overseas concierge service. Shop around for the best travel credit card perks and prices, as they all offer something slightly different.

5. Debit cards

Your everyday debit card is an easy option with loads of convenience, but it does carry some cautions. You will most likely be charged international fees unless your bank has a partnership with a foreign bank and not all stores accept debit cards. If you are using your debit card overseas, it’s cheaper to take out large amounts less frequently – but be careful to stash it somewhere safe.

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