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The Truth About Using your Bank Card Overseas

30th October 2019

There’s no doubt about it, most Aussies love to do things the easy way. Unfortunately, this means that when we travel we are pretty likely to just use our current debit or credit card overseas without investigating other options that may actually save us hundreds of dollars.

Picture this:

You use your credit card to withdraw cash from overseas. Instantly, you’re hit by the currency conversion fee to get your cash converted to the local currency. Then you cop both rounds of ATM fees, from both your bank and the local one. Then you find out that your cash advance had been accruing interest the whole time you were overseas.

You probably just watched at least $10 disappear into thin air (a.k.a the pockets of the big banks) simply by withdrawing or spending your own hard earned cash. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) have been investigating just how much money Australians are forking out each year in foreign transaction and exchange fees, and it ain’t pretty. Hundreds of millions in unnecessary fees have been paid by Aussie travellers just to access or transfer their own money, most of which could be eliminated simply by switching to a currency card when holidaying.

What are the most important features of a currency card?

Travel Money Oz is serious about delivering the best currency card for our customers, which is exactly why we conducted research into exactly what it is that Aussies want from their currency cards. When it comes to what’s important for Aussie travellers and their travel currency cards, these can be split into 3 distinct categories – Security/Support features, Monetary features and Functionality features. Our research found that for 66% and 63% of overseas travellers, no currency conversion or ATM fees were the most important aspects of a travel card. This was closely followed by 50% stating that 24/7 fraud protection was the most important security feature. Who wants to have their holiday money hacked?!

Most important Security/Support features

  • 24/7 fraud monitoring – check
  • Card Blocking feature - check


Most important Monetary features

  • No currency conversion or transaction fees – check
  • No overseas ATM fees – check


Most important Functionality features

  • Card acceptance guarantee – Currency Pass is as good as a Mastercard, big CHECK
  • Multiple methods for loading the currency pass – check
  • Being able to manage your card and balances online – check


Why loyalty doesn’t pay when it comes to foreign exchange

Be honest, when you went on your last overseas trip or made a purchase in foreign currency did you compare dozens of exchange rates, card features and fees charged between the big 4 banks and their competitors? If you answered yes to that question, kudos to you, you’re likely not one of the Aussies forking out exorbitant fees for currency conversion. However, the ACCC has pinpointed that on the whole we prefer to go with the status quo and use our credit cards on overseas holidays. For example,  the average Australian traveller burns on average $385 more on fees whilst on holiday than if they were to do a little research prior.

Don’t get us started on those airport foreign exchange booths either – The ACCC report found that when purchasing 200 USD in February 2019, consumers could have saved 40AUD simply by purchasing from a non-fee charging supplier at a non-airport location, compared with the most expensive supplier at the airport. That’s an extra 20% in your spending kitty just by being prepared and exchanging your AUD for foreign currency before getting to the airport. Talk about money for nothing.

What are the currency conversion fees and cash advance fees of the big banks?

Chances are, if you’ve done any travel before and used your debit or credit card overseas, you’re well acquainted with the exorbitant fees charged by the big banks just to use your own money. Avoiding currency conversion fees, overseas ATM fees, cash advance fees and any other fees the banks want to make up is easy as pie if you’ve got yourself a shiny new Currency Pass, but not so easy if you’re working with hardware from these guys:

Bank Currency Conversion Fee Overseas ATM Fee Cash Adavnce Fee
Debit Credit Debit Credit Credit Card
ANZ 3.00% of transaction 3.00% of transaction $5.00 plus 3% of the value of any International
$5.00 $4.00 or 2% of the value, whichever is greater
CBA 3.00% 3.00%
Amex 3.5%
$5.00 plus 3.00% of the transaction value $3.00 or 3.00% of transaction value, whichever is greater $3.00 or 3.00% of the transaction amount – whichever is greater.
NAB 3.0% 3.0% $5.00 $5.00 $2.50 or 2.0% whichever is greater
Westpac 3.0% 3.0% $5.00 $5.00 2.0%
Suncorp 3.0% 3.40% $5.00 per $1000 withdrawal $3.50 or 3.50% whichever is greater 1.5% plus foreign exchange fee
Bankwest 2.95% 2.95% $5.00 $5.00 $4.00 or 2.00%, whichever is higher

Now as you can see, it wouldn’t take much for fees to really start stacking up. It’s easy to see now how the average Aussie can rack up nearly $400 in fees and charges alone while on holiday. That’s some serious coin that goes straight to the big banks. All you’d have to do is withdraw your own cash a few times, make a few purchases in store and get some cash advance from your credit card and boom, there goes a week’s worth of accommodation in Thailand.

Can I avoid fees with Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC)?

In short, no. Dynamic currency conversion is another one of those things that is great in theory, but when utilised by the big banks, only ends up sucking more fees and charges from your holiday funds. DCC allows you to choose to pay for items in Australian dollars, rather than the local currency. Handy if you don’t feel like doing any sums in your head about the conversion rate but our research shows that you don’t really get any bang from your buck.

For example, using dynamic currency conversion doesn’t help you to avoid currency conversion fees in the first place which means that you could end up paying them along with a foreign transaction fee and a lower than average exchange rate of the day too.

The best way to go about it is to be vigilant and either pay using local currency cash, or your Currency Pass.

Top 10 reasons why our Currency Pass is perfect for your overseas travels

  1. Safe and secure - unlike a credit card, none of your personal information is stored on the Currency Pass
  2. Load up to 10 currencies including: USD, EUR, GBP, NZD, CAD, HKD, JPY, SGD, THB and AUD. Or, if you're heading somewhere else just load in AUD (or any of the others) and withdraw the local currency from an ATM
  3. Call us 24/7 – If you lose your card; we’ll suspend it, if it gets stolen; we’ll close it to prevent fraud and you may even be eligible for emergency cash on the road! Just call us, we’ve got your back
  4. Use the currency pass wherever Mastercard is accepted; that’s more than 210 countries where you can tap and spend or withdraw from ATM’s
  5. Currency Pass locks in the exchange rate the day you load your currency – no more hanging on the moves of the AUD each day and watching your currency shrink overnight
  6. Arrived home with cash leftover to splash? Easy. Just transfer your remaining balance to AUD and use the Currency Pass as a regular Debit card
  7. Currency Pass is easy to load on the road – top up 24/7 instantly with a debit or credit card, bank transfer (takes 1 business day) or BPAY (2-3 business days)
  8. Track your spending on the go with the Travel Money Oz App so there’s no surprises
  9. No more dead money - unlike your regular credit card or bank card, the Currency Pass has no currency conversion fees
  10. Keep your Currency Pass for up to 5 years and don’t worry, there’s no inactivity fees either


Find out more details by reviewing our Currency Card Fees and Limits.

If you’re travelling soon your best option is to spend some time shopping around. Don’t give the big banks the satisfaction of doing it the easy way. Exchange services like Travel Money Oz can save you plenty of money and hassle, plus you can also set up a currency Rate Alert so you get an email when the foreign currency you need hits your desired exchange rate. We do all the hard work for you, so you can focus on the more important things. Like, spending your money your way!

Fee information for ANZ, CBA, NAB, Westpac, Suncorp and Bankwest as per their respective website pages on Overseas Fees and Charges. Currency Card: Lock in your exchange rates mean the exchange rate is locked in for the initial load only. The exchange rates for subsequent reloads will be set at the prevailing exchange rate at the time of the transaction.This blog is provided for information only and does not take into consideration your objectives, financial situation or needs.  You should consider whether the information and suggestions contained in any blog entry are appropriate for you, having regard to your own objectives, financial situation and needs.  While we take reasonable care in providing the blog, we give no warranties or representations that it is complete or accurate, or is appropriate for you.  We are not liable for any loss caused, whether due to negligence or otherwise, arising from use of, or reliance on, the information and/or suggestions contained in this blog.