My brother first told me about prepaid travel money cards a couple of years ago.
He and his wife used a cash passport for their year long trip through South America and raved about how easy and convenient it was.
We all want ease and convenience when travelling, especially when it comes to money.
We also want to reduce our bank and transaction fees as much as possible.
Traveller’s cheques are too restrictive, and then there are fees and inconsistent low exchange rates to consider.
International transaction fees can be hefty when using credit cards. I know because in our business our expenses often alternate between US and Australian dollars. The conversion fees quickly add up.
If you are travelling and using your credit card for purchases, you’ll be shocked to discover how much you handed back to the bank. You’ll also be enraged at the amount you will pay in ATM withdrawal fees. It can be as much as $15 per withdrawal.
Do this a few times in a month and you are letting go an extra night or two in your favourite destination.
Choosing the Right Prepaid Travel Money Card
For our recent trip to Thailand we decided to use a prepaid travel money card for the first time. We did our research online to find the best prepaid travel money card in Australia.
You have to be really careful of hidden fees and high charges. We spoke to the Commonwealth Bank about their prepaid travel money card and were happy with what they offered.
But, I did not want to take the banks word for it, I need to research myself.
We recently discovered the Travel Money Oz cash passport at Sydney’s Travel Expo which has no ATM fees, but, after talking with a rep I discovered the currency conversion fee is 6%. (This is not listed in any promotional materials or website). They also have a low exchange rate.
Be careful. Do thorough research.
We chose the Commonwealth Bank card because they had no currency conversion fees, whereas ANZ did on Australia currency only. They are also our primary bank so we found it easier to stay with them.
Advantages of Prepaid Travel Money Cards
- Use them wherever you see a Visa/Mastercard sign.
- Load different currencies on them before you leave home.
- It’s prepaid, so if you budget right you know what you are spending.
- A safe way to carry money – protected by pin and signature and can easily be cancelled.
- Can access you money via multiple currencies (great for round the world trips).
- You can cross convert between currencies.
- The ability to lock in an exchange rate. I had a friend who did this when the USD exchange rate was really good! An excellent strategy for securing more money for nothing.
- Monitor your balance and transactions online.
What to Look for in Prepaid Travel Money Cards
- Sign up fee: These can range from $0- $20
- Reload fee: Usually a commission or flat fee.
- Currency conversion fees. Be careful as some may only charge this if you convert your AUD currency stored on the card. If it is another currency they won’t.
- ATM withdrawal fees.
- Card cancellation fees.
- Monthly fees to keep the card open
- How many days required before reloading money is cleared. (we got caught out with this in Thailand. Needed extra money urgently, BUT, had a three day transfer process, ouch).
- What currencies can be loaded onto the card
- Can you lock in the exchange rate?
- How many cards you can get. (Great to have an extra card for back up)
Tip: It might be a great idea to talk with your own bank first as you may get some extra perks for being a regular customer. Due to our relationship with Commonwealth Bank, they waived the $15 purchasing fee for the prepaid travel money card. YES!! That is 3 massages in Thailand.
How We Used our CBA Prepaid Money Card
- Worked out our budget for our trip to Thailand and put that amount on the card.
- Decided how much cash we felt comfortable carrying around with us and left the rest in our room safe. We made that lump sum withdrawal twice in two weeks. It is so important to do this. You don’t want to withdraw daily as those fees will add up, even though they are only $3.50 at a time. The less you give to the bank, the more you have.
- Being in Thailand we did not have much opportunity to use the credit card side to it. This might be a consideration for you as to whether it is worth getting the prepaid travel card or not. We went ahead because we wanted to save on the ATM withdrawal fee. It all adds up! Plus as we were using the same bank the conversion rate would be the same.
- We got caught out when we had to pay a deposit for our accommodation booked online. We could not pay for it with the prepaid travel money card, so we had to use our credit card and suffer the transaction fee.
- Put more cash on the card than you think you’ll need on your trip, just to be sure you won’t need to wait the three day period to top it up. When you return to Australia, use any remaining balance the same way as you did on the road. Use it as a credit card or as cash at EFTPOS machines. Avoid taking money out at the ATM so you don’t pay any fees.
- Be aware of fees you ATM withdrawal fees you will be charged by the bank of the country’s ATM you are withdrawing the money from #doublewhammy
- Always have a back up source to access money in case things go wrong.
- Place a budget buffer on the card i.e. for when you go over budget, because you will.
What I Didn’t Like about the Prepaid Money Card
Two major fails I found with the Commonwealth Bank prepaid travel money card:
- To reload via online banking (Netbank) you needed to have a code sent via SMS. I never put data roaming on my phone overseas as the charges are ridiculous. The other option was to reload via phone bank. Again, unless you have Skype set up, expensive overseas calls will add up, as will the inconvenience of finding a phone and being put on hold!!
- To reload your card via Bpay takes 3 working days. In the world of instant banking I find this insanely STUPID. I certainly was not happy when we unexpectedly had to add more money (which can happen when travelling). We were left stranded on a weekend with no money in Thailand. NOT HAPPY. (Apparently this is a BPay thing rather than a Commonwealth Bank thing).
- Because loading Thai baht onto the card before we left Australia was not an option, the exchange rate given to us by the Thai bank when withdrawing was not as good. As Thailand is such a popular destination for Australians, I think the Commonwealth Bank should have this as a currency option. The ANZ prepaid travel money card does have Thai Baht as a currency loading option.
For a trip that involves multiple destinations, I think prepaid travel money cards are a great option.
For shorter trips, in countries such as Thailand, where the credit card facility options are less, you might want to consider other ways to access money overseas. It still might end up being a better way to save on bank fees, but you will need to research carefully.
Lastly, by using your travel money card and not your credit card for purchases you are missing out on amassing frequent flyer points if you have a CC attached to a points program. Something to think about.