Almost every Australian has one. That little piece of plastic sitting in their wallets ready to be pulled out for everything from regular purchases to ATM withdrawals. But did you know that, a debit card could be the perfect option for overseas spending as well? Many debit cards issued by Australian banks and other institutions run on the Mastercard or Visa networks, meaning your card can be used at a host of checkouts and ATMs across the world.
But how do you know which travel debit card could be the right fit for your next trip, and what are the tips and traps you should know about them before you fly? Read on as we tackle some of the most common questions relating to travel debit cards.
What are the benefits of using a travel debit card?
Whether you’re flying to Hawaii for you best friend’s wedding or embarking on a three month trek through Southeast Asia, finding the right travel money option to take with you will be key to making your trip run smoothly. Most Aussies heading abroad will rely on a payment mix of either a travel debit card, travel credit card, prepaid travel card or cash while they’re away, but what are the benefits of adding a debit card to your wallet?
Budget-friendly: The main reason many travellers rely on a travel debit card is because it provides a cost-effective option which only uses their own money. So if you’re sticking to a tight budget while you’re on holiday, using a debit card may be a better option than a credit card to ensure your spending doesn’t go overboard.
Low fee: Depending on the travel debit card you choose - especially one with low or zero overseas ATM and international transaction fees - you could seriously cut down on the amount of fees you pay compared to a standard credit card.
Secure: Aside from the benefit of not having to carry around a pile of foreign currency wherever you go, Australian issued debit cards linked to either Mastercard or Visa enjoy protection against fraud and unwarranted purchases via the respective Zero Liability programs.
Handy for online shopping: While a travel debit card can be a handy option to take with you on holiday overseas, it can be equally useful for anyone who enjoys shopping online on foreign websites. This is particularly true of travel debit cards without international transactions fees, because you’ll be able to purchase clothes or other goods online without having to fork out an additional pesky fee.
What are the travel debit card fees I should know about?
When it comes to choosing a travel debit card which can help minimise costs and maximise convenience while you’re abroad there are a number of fees and features to consider. So while you’re probably already aware of the debit card fees and features relevant to everyday transactions in Australia, what are the travel specific ones which could affect your spending overseas?
International transaction fees
If you’re a fan of online shopping or you’ve been overseas before, you will probably have noticed the international transaction fees (otherwise known as overseas transaction fees) popping up on your account statement after a purchase. That’s because most banks and providers will charge an extra fee for transactions which require a currency conversion.
For example, say you’re on holiday in New Zealand and you use your Australian debit card to pay for your food, drinks and other smaller purchases while you’re over there. Typically your bank will charge you an international transaction fee on every one of these purchases because they’re exchanging Australian Dollars (AUD) to New Zealand Dollars (NZD) for you.
While these fees are generally a fraction of the actual transaction - usually in the 2-4% range - they can certainly add up over time, especially if you’re on a longer trip and regularly using your card. Fortunately there are now a handful of debit cards on the market that don’t charge international transaction fees, making them even more cost-effective travel money partners.
Overseas ATM fees
Unless you’re wanting to drag around a suitcase full of foreign currency while you’re away, you’ll probably want to access foreign ATMs as you go. You won’t have any problem making cash withdrawals with the majority of Australian debit cards, especially those linked to Mastercard and Visa which have ATM partnerships all around the world, but withdrawals generally do come at a cost.
You should expect to pay at least a couple of dollars for each withdrawal at an ATM overseas, though using a debit card to take out money abroad is still likely to be a cheaper option than using a credit card.
Like international transaction fees, taking the hit to your wallet for a couple of overseas ATM withdrawals might not be huge issue for you if you only do it a few times, but if you’re taking a longer holiday away they can seriously add up. That’s why comparing travel debit cards with low or zero overseas ATM fees before you leave could prove a good way to keep unnecessary costs down while you’re away.
How do I know if I can use my debit card overseas?
Chances are that if you’ve been overseas before you’ll have seen logos for Mastercard or Visa at ATMs and cash registers around the world. The same goes for anyone who’s used a foreign website for online shopping. In fact, both Mastercard and Visa offer cardholders access to over one million ATMs worldwide in over 200 countries.
But what’s that got to do with my NAB or Bendigo Bank debit card I hear you asking? Well the majority of debit cards issued by Australian banks and institutions are linked to either Mastercard or Visa, which means you’ll be able to use them at ATMs and checkouts all over the world wherever Mastercard or Visa are accepted.
Use our debit card fee finder tool above to see how much you’ll pay and whether you can use your card or not.
Are there travel debit cards without fees?
If you think a travel debit card without international transaction fees or overseas ATM fees sounds like the perfect companion for your next jaunt abroad, you’re in luck! A growing number of banks are making debit cards more travel-friendly by getting rid of overseas transaction and ATM withdrawal fees.
Just bear in mind that, depending on the provider, you may have to fulfil some basic requirements before you can access these fee-free features.
What should I do if I lose my travel debit card overseas?
It’s up there with missing a flight in terms of top worries for many travellers, but what is the best course of action if your travel debit card is misplaced or stolen?
1. Lock down your card: If you’ve only misplaced your card you may be able to place a temporary lock on it through your bank’s app or online banking platform. And if you find it again you’ll simply be able to remove the lock.
2. Cancel it: If your card’s been stolen or you think it’s unlikely you’re going to find it again, make sure you cancel it through your bank’s app, it’s online banking platform or by contacting them directly as soon as possible.
3. Contact your bank for a replacement: Once your card’s been cancelled you’re probably going to want a replacement, especially if you’re relying on your debit card for any travelling ahead. Keep in mind that while banks generally don’t charge a fee to send out a replacement card in Australia, you probably will be charged to have it delivered overseas.
What are my other travel money options?
Aside from a travel debit card, there are a number of other options that would-be travellers can use to pay overseas.
Travel credit cards
Another great option for Aussie jetsetters looking to pay with plastic while they’re overseas, a travel credit card could prove a handy way to purchase big ticket items like flights and accommodation without having to dip into your own cash reserves.
Like some travel debit cards there are a number of travel credit cards on the market which don’t charge fees for international transactions, plus many come with alluring features like complimentary insurances and the ability to earn rewards points. Just make sure you do your research on any fees you may be liable to pay with a travel credit card, as well as the interest you’ll be charged on your purchases.
Prepaid travel cards
Also known as a cash passport or travel money card, a prepaid travel card could be a useful option for Australians travelling to multiple countries with different currencies. With a prepaid travel card you’ll be able to preload the currency or currencies of your choice such as USD, Euros, Pounds and many more onto the card, then use it as you would a regular debit card for making over the counter purchases or ATM withdrawals.
Again, it’s worthwhile weighing up the fees you may be charged to load currency onto a prepaid travel card or to recover your money from the card once your trip is over.
Depending on where you’re heading it’s never a bad idea to carry a bit of local currency with you, even if it’s just a back up to a card. Whether it’s American Dollars or British Pounds you’re going to want the best bang for your buck when you convert you Australian Dollars though, but converting your cash at the airport might not be the best place to get value for your money. To find out just how much you’ll be able to get for your dollar with a bank or specialist foreign exchange provider, check out the Mozo foreign exchange calculator.