In a world of tap-and-go convenience and ATMs, many travellers may consider heading overseas without cash – but travel experts warn: don’t do it!
While carrying wads of folding money is a thing of the past, it’s always advisable to have some local currency with you for emergencies incidentals.
Flight Centre travel consultant Nathan Varney said cash isn’t the main source of payment overseas anymore. However, it is good to have some cash, especially when it comes to things such as splitting dining bills with mates.
“Many places, especially in Europe won’t split bills on cards, so it is best to have cash at the ready, otherwise one person will have to pay for everything and then paying that person back is always awkward,” Mr Varney said.
“You can avoid that by having a breakdown of different notes on you at all times, but I wouldn’t advise having anything exceeding $150.”
Having some cash stashed away can save lots of headaches and is a godsend when you can’t find an ATM, or a bank system crashes.
Amy Bradney-George, credit card expert at comparison website Finder, also suggests keeping an appropriate amount of cash on you for things such as tipping and shopping at markets. but warns to avoid bringing large amounts that could be lost or stolen.
“While card payments are accepted almost everywhere, some businesses might have a minimum transaction amount, which can make cash payments easier,” she said.
“Similarly, if you are travelling to a country where tipping is required, such as the US or the UK, having cash could make it easier to leave a tip that’s affordable for you.”
If you are concerned about using a credit card overseas, Ms Bradney-George said all credit cards have fraud protection that helps keep the account safe wherever you are.
“If your card is stolen and used for unauthorised transactions, this means you can get the money back,” she said.
Her advice if you are going to use a credit card is to look for a card with no foreign transaction fees, as these can add up quickly.
“Some cards also offer comprehensive complimentary international travel insurance – including a few that cover claims relating to Covid,” she added.
For frequent travellers, a card that earns points and has perks such as lounge passes has the potential to add value to future trips.
“Some cards even have sign-up bonuses that are big enough to redeem for overseas flights, but remember to check the rates and annual fees, as these are typically higher on frequent-flyer credit cards,” she said.
Her advice to those who don’t want to use a credit card is if you have a Visa or Mastercard debit card that’s linked to an everyday account, you can continue to use it when you’re travelling.
“This gives you a way to spend your own money without transferring or converting it beforehand, but be sure to check if your debit cards offer travel benefits such as international ATM alliances. You want to avoid any overseas withdrawal fees or currency conversion fees,” she said.
Ms Bradney-George added that debit cards also come with security features and support if they are used for fraud.
“Just keep in mind that it can take weeks for the money to be returned to your account if something does happen,” she said.
Flight Centre travel consultant James Spencer also reminds holidaymakers that they have the choice of cash or card in most major cities around the world – but for many regional towns or rural areas, cash could be the only option available.
“Always bring a safe amount of local currency with you wherever you plan to visit,” he said.
He uses the Travel Money Oz card, which is available through Flight Centre.
“You can load as you go,” he said, “meaning you can ensure there’s never too much money on the card. In the event of theft, you can freeze the card via the app and their support team can provide a refund of any remaining funds on the card. I always bring two cards on each trip in the event of loss or theft.”
The main advantage of using a debit card overseas is that you won’t pay foreign transaction fees every time you spend.
While many credit cards won’t charge fees for cash withdrawals either, you will still usually be charged interest from the date of the transaction.
Travel Money Oz has two types of cards – a personal card and a default card, which offer more than 60 currencies at competitive exchange rates and make international money transfers very easy.
“If you are worried about people stealing your money then get the personalised card, as TMOZ can find the charge and cancel amounts and potentially refund you,” said Mr Varney. “Alternatively, if you are worried about having a credit card and someone stealing your personal details, their default card means you don’t need to put in your personal information to be tracked however if you lose this card then you lose all the funds on it.”
Since Covid, contactless payment systems are quickly becoming the preferred way to settle accounts although many of these systems still rely on credit cards.
Smartphone-based payments are now becoming the norm in many travel destinations and many banks offer contactless payments via digital wallets such as Google Pay, Samsung Pay and Apple Pay.
Neobanks are considered to be the future of banking and only operate online using new technology to help make saving and spending easy. They include Hay, which offers great exchange rates online and abroad with no fees, markup or limit on international transactions.
Wise also offers “rate alerts”, advising when exchange rates are favourable before transferring the money.