Despite many of us living in a society where plastic is the common means of payment, it’s cash that is the King while travelling. But how do you get local currency cheaply in strange lands?
The easy way to get cash is via a cash exchange. However you do run the risk of theft and/or loss when carrying large amounts. You also need to find an exchange outlet that’s open, which can be difficult if you underestimate your evening meal bill! Hotels often provide an exchange service for their guests, resulting in a 10-20% margin or loss in many cases!
For a long time the traveller’s cheque was the alternative to cash. If you were lucky you were not charged commission, but often given a poor exchange rate that probably included the sellers margin. These had the benefit of locking in exchange rates, but like a cash exchange, you need someone to give you the cash. It was not unknown for extra charges to be applied for this service.
With the advent of credit cards and ATMs, getting cash at least became more convenient, reliance on outlet opening hours now a thing of the past. It did not take long for banks to realise this was also a good way to make money. Many accounts charge a foreign transaction fee and a poor exchange rate. But not all!
Many of our members have been using the 28 degrees credit card. By preloading cash onto the account so it was in a credit balance, cash withdraws could be made at ATMs overseas for no fee. The exchange rate was also comparable with published mid market rates, so no gouging there. Sadly in January this year, a fee was introduced for foreign cash withdrawals, ending the fee free ride of this product, leaving one last alternative. XXCitibank have a product called a “Plus” transaction account. It comes with a Visa Debit card and offers fee free ATM withdraws from foreign ATMs. While not having an extensive branch network, deposits can be made via NAB branches and there is a rudimentary online banking portal to keep track of your balance.
If you are serious about travelling and keeping the cost down, this card is hard to beat. But there are some things to keep an eye out for. For a start many shops now offer to charge in local currency, this is called Direct Currency Conversion or DCC. Be prepared for a shock when you compare what exchange rates are actually used. Chances are they are doing you no favours.
The other thing is local operator ATM fees. Using Citibank ATMs is the first choice but they may not be as handy in many foreign cities. Our members have been reporting back from all over the globe on what works for them and which ATMs don’t charge, as well as other tricks and tips.
Got any tips or tricks to share? Join the conversation HERE.