Best currency to buy?

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We have some advice for Bryce who wonders which currency is the best to buy when loading an overseas cash card.

Q. Bryce

Do you have any advice about which currency to purchase when loading an overseas cash card?


This is not an easy question to answer Bryce, as it all depends on where you are travelling and what cash card you are using when overseas.

We featured an article in October last year comparing the Australia Post cash card and the MasterCard travel cash card.

The Australia Post card has five currencies available to load:  AUD, NZD, USD, GBP and EUR whereas MasterCard has 10 – AUD, USD, EUR, GBP, NZD, THB, CAD, HKD, JPY, SGD. Other cards on the market such as the Qantas and Velocity cards offer 10 currencies, while CBA’s Travel Money card offers the most currencies at 13.

Where travel cash cards differ is in the fees they charge for initially loading currency and subsequent reloads, with most cards charging anything from one per cent to a $15 cap. Try to be realistic about the amount you are likely to spend and load as much as you are able to begin with.

Be aware also of the ATM fees charged as they can be anywhere from $1.95 to $3.95 in some cases – this can certainly eat into your balance. Another “hidden” cost charged by some cards is an “inactivity” fee whereby, after 12 months of no transactions, a monthly fee will be charged until you start using the card. One way to avoid this is to use your card when online shopping once you get home from your holiday.

Lastly, if you use your card to purchase items in a currency which is not included on your card you will get slugged with a currency conversion fee – three per cent on most cards, but this can be up to nearly six per cent on other cards.

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Written by Andrea


Total Comments: 12
  1. 0

    Another thing to be careful about is voided transactions.
    Whilst in London checking out of an hotel, unbeknown to us, the cashier made a mistake and overcharged by 2 pence. Without discussing it with us, she voided the transaction and put through the correct amount.
    Sounds fine, but the bank withheld the amount of the voided transaction for about 30 days and the cash was unavailable to us!
    Lucky we had the funds to pay twice for the hotel bill and we were at the end of our trip but it could have been very embarrassing.

  2. 0

    The hidden costs and devious charges with cash cards make many of them a dead loss.
    Monthly fees, inactivity fees, outrageous exchange rates, fees for starting the account, fees for adding funds, fees for taking out funds, fees for card-to-card transfers, fees for transactions – and at the end, a fee for closing your card account! – all make for a “nice lil’ earner” for the card issuers.
    My wife and I travelled through France, Portugal, Spain and Italy for a month in July 2010 and all we did was use our regular Bendigo Bank debit cards to get cash as required from our Bendigo accounts, from ATM’s.
    We used CC’s as much as possible for probably 85-90% of our transactions.
    We just withdrew 200-300 Euros a week and carried a portion of that daily, securely held on our person, for cash purchases.
    We kept “brand name” bags, jewellery and attractive expensive things that make you look like a dumb tourist, to a minimum, and we never encountered a single problem.
    We even rode the notorious subway in Madrid at peak hour, and spent several days in Barcelona – and didn’t get robbed!
    I always kept my wallet in my front pocket and kept any valuables in the hotel safe.
    Bendigo charged us $5 for every ATM transaction, and gave us a satisfactory exchange rate for Euros, and that was the sum total of all the charges involved.
    Numerous places give you the option of paying in Euros or your local currency, this helps with any outrageous currency exchange fees.

  3. 0

    We did USA, Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium, France and UK on a CBA Travel Card loaded with USD, Euro and GBP only. We did a lot of research before leaving and never had to pay unforeseen fees or any other “travel nasties” – it worked a treat from end to end! And we bought the currency when the dollar was very strong (2+ years ago), so have been waiting patiently ever since for it to “bottom out” so we can make a very nice profit when cashing in the unused funds… Highly recommended!

  4. 0

    Highly recommend the Qantas Cash card. No fees for loading funds via direct bank transfer or you can Bpay to load funds, can load multiple currencies and withdrawing cash in the local currency is easy and no exchange fees. Yes, there may be an ATM fee, but not many cards can avoid this. Also, the card can be used as a debit card when in Australia and attracts frequent flyer points for foreign transactions and when used for purchases when at home. In fact, combined with a Woolworths Frequent Flyer rewards card, points can accumulate very quickly. We have in less than 12 months accumulated enough points to give us a return flight to New Zealand, our preferred destination because we have family there, and are on our way to earning the second fare. If using the card overseas for purchases points rack up at twice the rate as at home, and even using the card for travel expenses in Australia as we did on a recent holiday road trip for accommodation, fuel, dining etc, makes this card well worth having for the reward scheme in addition to the convenience.

  5. 0

    I’ve used a Post Office cash card in a number of countries for some years now. I have found them excellent, and having a spare card locked away safely is also reassuring.

    However, on one occasion I had $60 or so left over after my travels, and I withdrew this from my Local ATM at home. I was horrified to find there was a $30.00 charge.

    I was told that the cards are for overseas use only, not domestic, and possibly depriving some bank of earning a few $$ for exchange rates etc.

  6. 0

    What I would love to hear from some posters what the bank exchange was when they loaded their cards and WHAT THEY ACTUALLY GOT. From the limited research I have done it looks like most card providers charge between 3% and 5% when you load the card and this seems a bit steep. For $500 when you load up $10 000 one could have some serious meals abroad rather than bolster bank CEO pay packets.

    • 0

      You’re dead right, Mick – but exchange rates still apply, regardless of which way you change your money for travel, either here or in the country you’re visiting. And some of those “bureaux de change” are not averse to robbing travellers, either! It’s always up to the traveller to look for the best rates – in exactly the same way it’s up to the traveller to look for the best accommodation (not always based on price alone). Extensive research and word of mouth are the best answers, I’ve found – and even then it pays to be careful. I’d love to help by telling you what I got from CBA but have long forgotten. I do remember, though, that I weighed up the exchange rates at the time with other “travel money” options and decided to take the CBA Travel cards – which was a decision I’m very happy with now because I think most of us knew at the time that the AUD would never stay as strong as it was, so we were always going to make a profit on selling our unused currency back to the bank, as we are!

    • 0

      Thanks for the advice. Glad we could have a more congenial discussion than last exchange.
      FYI: have a look at the 28degrees Mastercard put out by GE. There are zero exchange fees and you get the quoted exchange rate plus no other fees either. I cannot get the card as the criteria the company uses is crazy. We will be bleeding money as a result but I’ll have a look at the CBA card which should not be an issue as I have a Commsec account.
      Thanks again.

    • 0

      No worries, Mick – congeniality is a two-way street; and travel money is not nearly as polarising an issue as politics and/or this pathetic govt’s now failed attempt to play scrooge with the ADF…

    • 0

      I agree and glad to see another side of you.
      I end up being an attack dog defending a party I neither vote for nor support when I see the obvious trolling on the website. Before you tell me…I know I need to get a life. Its called Europe 2015. Cheers!

  7. 0

    Recently went on a Mediterranean cruise and used a Bank Travel Card loaded up with Euros.
    Never again!!!! Although there were supposedly “no fees” we lost so much on the punitive exchange rates that it would have been far cheaper to just use Visa Credit Card cash advances as required (as we had done on a previous trip to China).



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