Tips for dividing your travel money between cash and card

Joan wants to know how best to split her travel budget between card and cash.

Splitting between cash and card

Joan is confused about how she should divide her travel budget. How much cash should she carry and how much should she place on a prepaid card?



Q. Joan
I’m off to the US in September this year and I’m wondering what would be the best way to split my travel money between cash and card. 

A. Depending on where you are travelling will determine how you divide your budget. In some countries it is the norm to tip for services received, therefore you will need more cash than in other places. Our suggestions for splitting your travel budget for the US follows, but to help others out as well, we thought we’d also share tips for other countries.

United States
Australians travelling to the United States generally find the whole tipping equation quite perplexing as it isn't common practice for us to tip for services. As a general rule, you should allow 15–20 per cent of the pre-tax bill for service at a restaurant or taxi service, while $2 to $5 per night for housekeeping service would be acceptable. Therefore, split your travel budget 60/40 with 60 per cent on a prepaid card and 40 per cent in cash to make tipping easier. ATMs are not hard to find so you shouldn’t have any trouble accessing funds if you find you need more cash.

United Kingdom
Many transactions in the United Kingdom are cashless, so it is fairly similar to Australia when it comes to a cash and card split. If you are spending time in London and plan on using the public transport system while there, your Currency Pass can also double as your Oyster Card as a means of swiping on and off the Tube. We would suggest carrying 70 per cent of your currency on a prepaid travel money card and take the rest of your spending money in cash.

South East Asia
While you will find ATMs very accessible in the major city centres in South East Asia, they can be few and far between in the rural areas. No holiday to this region would be complete without trying your hand at haggling with the street vendors or at the local markets. Taking the larger portion of your spending money in cash, with a good mix in smaller notes would be advisable.

New Zealand
If you’re just popping across the ditch, you’ll find we Aussies and Kiwis transact in very similar ways, with tipping not being the norm in New Zealand either. Use a prepaid card for the majority of your spending and take a small amount of cash for small purchases like snacks and drinks.

If you have a Travel SOS question, send it to [email protected] and we’ll do our best to answer it for you, or find someone who can.



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    14th Jul 2018
    Maybe one should note that in the US the ATMs have only $20 notes available and the limit per withdrawal somewhat restricted. Was in a bank at Honolulu when an Aussie in front of me wanted a few hundred dollars at the counter with an Aussie Travel Cash Card. Bank told him it was only good at ATMs. He was very unhappy saying he should have brought cash with him and the teller agreed. Most ATMs that I used have a maximum of $300 at a time and every time it was $4 plus a fee back home as well. So for the US I would recommend a stack of $100s. They still use a lot of cheques to pay bills maybe that's the reason for only $20 notes available at ATM.. If frequently going to the States, possibly a US checking account is the answer. There are no costs but also no interest and you can fill it up from your Aussie bank before you leave. These accounts are very handy, I could not even get a shuttle bus to LA airport with cash.
    14th Jul 2018
    I personally wouldn't keep more than $100 - 150 (or foreign currency equivalent) in cash on me at any time. There's usually ATMs in most areas you're travelling to. There's always a cost for any ATM withdrawal, but I'd rather pay a small fee than have loads of cash which, when stolen or lost, it's gone forever.

    If you're a member of either Velocity or QANTAS frequent flyer, you can apply for a Prepaid Visa or Master card which comes with your membership card. On one side is your membership # and your name and the Visa/Master card is on the other. Both of these cards have 11 currencies. You can purchase a 2nd card from Velocity for $10, to use as a backup card, which won't have your membership number on it.

    There is one other card with your name on it - the ANZ prepaid travel Visa card - internet applied for only. Cost $11 for 2 cards. This card has 10 currencies. You can also apply for them over the counter in branch, but they don't have your name on the card.

    I wouldn't withdraw cash out in Australia, as it'll cost you around $1.95 from any travel card.

    Other cards are available and most have either 5 or 10 currencies on them, but your name isn't on the card it has Valued Customer, or nothing.

    I wouldn't use any of these cards for hiring a car overseas, or even here @ home, as the rental companies don't accept cards with no personal name on them, I had this problem in the UK in 2013. I'd paid for the hiring of the vehicle here in Aus before I travelled with my prepaid visa card (from Australia Post) (the agent accepting my booking didn't advise me that I needed the name on the card). When I arrived in the UK, it took all of 3 hours to convince the rental company that I didn't have any funds on my home Visa Debit card (all of the money was on the Travel card). In the end, they relented & accepted my prepaid card. Never again will I travel with a prepaid travel card that doesn't have my name on it.

    When you're transferring from one currency to another, do it in one transaction so that you're only charged one currency exchange rate, rather than several for smaller amounts.

    The night before you travel, change your 'main' currency to the one you're going to be using when you land.

    DISCLAIMER: I'm not trying to promote any card over another, but this is from my personal experience. Do your research for the card that's right for you.
    14th Jul 2018
    some good comments here. As an aside re tipping. Been O/S, Europe and USA few times. I cannot recall ever really been asked for a tip so tipping seems to be a non event to me.
    14th Jul 2018
    There are some cards that don’t charge for overseas transactions, or will refund those incurred.

    The ones I have heard mentioned are ING, Citibank CC and another I can’t recall properly ? Something 21? Good luck
    14th Jul 2018
    We have found Citibank debit card the best it was visa but now is Mastercard. We just load up with Aussie dollars and away we go.
    All the countries we have been to accept them at ATM's and it gives you the local currency and no conversion fees. We have never been charged any fees by Citibank only got caught at one ATM and that was in Barcelona. Interest is not paid on this card. We also use 28degrees credit card.
    14th Jul 2018
    ozrog is right about the Citibank debit card, can be used in Asia without any problems. But one has to have a credit card as well, you pay the hotel bill after your stay with the debit card but they do want a credit card imprint which they tear up on check out, or so we found out. Can be used in Australia as well and can be loaded up the post office.
    15th Jul 2018
    Have you read the PDS document from the card issuer? If you have, then you'll notice that all ATM transactions have a fee from the ATM company, and you'll still have to pay from 2.5 - 5% in currency exchange fee each time you transfer from your AUD wallet to the wallet of the country you're in. This is usually calculated at the time of the withdrawal, unless you've already transferred the funds into the wallet you're using. Then the fee is processed at the time of transfer.

    ALL ATMs the world over charge you for using their machines. These ATM withdrawal fees are taken from your account when the transaction is completed- see the bottom of page 10 of the current PDS. There is a monthly service fee of $8.00 too, which most prepaid cards don't have (unless you don't have any transactions on your card for 12 months). The fee will also be on your statement as an ATM fee straight after your withdrawal amount, or included in the withdrawal amount.

    All cards charge between 2.5 and 5% in currency conversion rates. There's no getting out of this.

    As I've said in my original post above, do your research.

    ALL cards can be used anywhere in the world.

    I try to pre-pay all my accommodation (in the currency of the country I'm travelling to, using the hotel's website, and after doing a bulk transfer to the currency I'm going to be using). You'll then receive a confirmation of your booking and you don't have to worry about trying to find the funds to pay for the hotel/s at the end of your trip, as it's all done. You don't have to present a card and they take an imprint until you check out. It's just not worth it.

    If you use, then you already give them your card details, and the card you use can be the prepaid card number, not an actual credit card.
    16th Jul 2018
    SuziJ is quite right if you pre-book every stay and pay up front but I feel like travelling without exactly knowing where we are going to stay that night. Might stay 1 or even 3 days if we like the place and then you DO need a credit card imprint. You can still pay in cash or debit card when checking out. In Asia sometimes they send up a staff member to check whether you have souvenired some items, specially when travelling on an Aussie passport, hehehe! They radio down to reception and you are free to go.

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