One of the questions we get asked often at TTFN Travel is ‘How should I take my money overseas?’ Pre-millennium, travellers cheques were the norm. I remember doing a student exchange in France in 1992 and my parents would regularly send me travellers cheques which I would then have to change inside the bank or at a ‘cambio d’echange’. It was a laborious process at both ends (buying them in the first place also took time) and thankfully it’s one that is no-longer necessary.
Use your regular ATM card
These days I simply use my regular debit-credit card. It’s so convenient and no matter where I am (from Argentina to Zambia) it works. I don’t even bother to get any local currency before I leave Australia as there are always ATMs at the airport. That said, there are several issues that you need to be aware of…
Issue – High fees that get charged by the overseas ATMs and my own bank
Banks are not kind to travelers. They know that they can get away with charging us an arm and a leg. Each transaction can cost around 2.5% of the amount I withdraw plus a hefty $5 or so from my bank.
What to do?
Purchase as much as you can using EFTPOS / credit and only pay cash when you have to. Withdraw large amounts (for about a week’s worth of spending) so that your fees are minimised otherwise they can really add up.
Issue – ATM Fraud
You may have heard stories unwary travellers having all their savings stolen after they’ve used an ATM. Fraudsters place devices on the ATM that can scrape your card’s details and your pin number.
What to do?
There are some key things I do to try to avoid this happening to me. Whilst it’s not fail-safe, it may help. #1 is to set up an automated transfer of weekly funds from another account into the one I’m using. That way, if this does happen to me, they haven’t cleared me out completely – only a week’s worth. #2 is always feel around the slot that you place your card in. Is it loose? Could you pull it out? If so – don’t use that ATM. #3 Try to use ATMs that are inside the bank or the glass boxes. They are more likely to have a security camera on them.
Use a pre-paid debit card like OzForex
If you don’t want to use your own card, you can always use a pre-paid travel card like OxForex. The benefits of these kind of cards is that you can lock in exchange rates for multiple currencies and (hopefully) maximize your spending money when our dollar is at its strongest. Generally these cards will also have lower fees.
Taking a bunch of cash from Australia for your whole holiday is not recommended unless you are starting somewhere really remote. But nowhere is that remote anymore and you’re opening yourself up to a fair bit of risk (and not to mention stress as you’ll always be worrying about it). If you are going somewhere remote what you probably want to do is take some small denominations of the local currency with you. There’s no point in taking the equivalent of a $50 or $100 note when you’re trying to buy a beer or souvenir in an off the beaten track town. They simply won’t have change and it will also highlight you as a potential target for robbing. Load up on the smallest denominations you can.
Article by Nicola Billens
Nicola Billens is an experienced traveller, having visited all the continents (except Antarctica) over the last 20 years. She’s lived in France, England, Austria and New Zealand and spent many years and many dollars experiencing what this wonderful world has to offer.