Money Overseas - ATM, Trav Cheques or VISA

Discussion in 'Open Discussion' started by brisbull, Jul 15, 2005.

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  1. brisbull

    brisbull Intern

    Jun 27, 2005
    Hi everyone

    I am looking for some advice on the best way to obtain foreign currency overseas. I will going to USA, UK and Europe, so there will be 3 major currencies that I will encounter.

    I bank with ANZ, and they charge AU$5 for each transaction performed overseas. While this is not too bad when taking out large amounts of cash, I am not sure if their exchange rates are all that competitive.

    I have thought about getting some travellers cheques, but dont know how easy they will be to cash - or if there is a fee to cash them in. The fact that they can be replaced is not a bad feature, though... and ANZ is offering them commission free for the next month.

    The other option, which I know very little about, is using a VISA for cash withdrawls in other currencies - does anyone here know what fees are involved?

    At this stage, the ATM method might win out based on ease, but it may be good to complement this with some TCs.

    All advice welcome


  2. cssaus

    cssaus Active Member

    Dec 13, 2004
    Some points to keep in mind.

    Using an ATM card in the USA doesn't present too many problems but in Europe and the UK you can easily be caught out.

    In Europe, most of the ATMs do not give you the option to specify whether or not you want to withdraw your cash from a Savings or Cheque account, but instead wants to default to withdraw from your savings account. If your primary account from which you draw funds from is designated as a "cheque" account, you'll find will not be able to withdraw a cent.

    Also, in a lot of cases, most ATMs in Europe and the UK expect you to use a numeric pin number and quite often the pin number is meant to be 4 digits. You need to ask your Bank what happens if you were to encounter an ATM that only expects a 4 digit pin as against a 6 character pin which you might use here.

    The ATM keypads do not show the alpha characters. A tip: if you run into one of these ATMS, grab your mobile phone and use the alpha/numeric mapping to see what number corresponds to which letter.

    About 12 months ago I opened up an account with HSBC and it's easily used throughout the world in all ATMs and doesn't have the problems described above. You can find HSBC bank branched pretty much all over the world...very convenient.

    Some friends of mine were recently in a 12 hr stopover in Tokyo and all they had was a VISA card. When they tried a cash advance from an ATM it just wouldn't work. As there were no banks open during the time they were there they had to survive on about $A10 which they managed to pick up a couple of pieces of Sushi with. I believe that ATM VISA cash advances in Europe may be equally difficult but I have no experience on this.

    As for fees, sure you'll get hit all over the place but in the end the convenience far outweighs the cost.

    One final hint, take two ATM cards and keep one well concealed and completely separate from the other. If you lose your luggage, or run into a bag snatcher, your not going to be left begging on the streets.
  3. Kiwi Flyer

    Kiwi Flyer Senior Member

    Sep 24, 2004
    Always have some cash that is readily accepted or convertible on you (eg US$ or euros).

    Relying on ATMs - machines may be down or out of money.

    Relying on TCs - bureau may be closed as happened to me in Istanbul.
  4. serfty


    Nov 16, 2004
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    G'day brisbull, there is a recent thread on this topic in the Your Questions forum of this board. Here is a link to it: CURRENCY EXCHANGE ...!.

    I think you should have a look at WestPac, where most cards (Debit/Credit/Savings AC etc) have a "Fee Free" deal with the following O/S banks:
  5. HardieBoys

    HardieBoys Member

    Sep 28, 2003
    I also suggest that you consider opening a Westpac account if you have time, due to the fee-free withdrawals. The participating banks, such as Bank of America in the US, and Barclays in the UK, are quite widespread. Sometimes it´s been easier to access money fee-free overseas than in Australia.
  6. bigjobs

    bigjobs Active Member

    Jun 4, 2005
    'in the mouth of 2 or 3 witnesses ...'

    i also offer you my thoughts on using westpac, as others have. very simple, fee free, your cash is secure (in the bank) and you can get it most places. i've never had a hassle and found their partner institutions are plentiful.

  7. Warks

    Warks Established Member

    Oct 9, 2003
    Back before you could use your ATM cards overseas the best way was to load up your credit card with cash (MC or VISA) and get cash advances at the banks. There was the odd small fee but I think things have changed since then and there seems to be a fee everywhere you look. Another problem with this method is that you may exhaust your cash reserves by paying for things like hotels effectively with your cash. You could carry a second card though to get around this.
  8. drron

    drron Enthusiast

    Jul 4, 2002
    Sunshine Coast
    Travellers cheques are easy to use in the US.I use them in stores,restaurants and hotels without problems.You get your change in cash to build up your reserves and this way there is no fee for cashing them.So if you can get them commission free then this is the most economical way to go.
    I havent travelled to europe for some time so cant comment on there.
  9. netaddict

    netaddict Member

    Mar 14, 2004
    Adelaide, Australia
    Recently back from UK & Europe

    I've just recently come back from the UK & Europe so have experienced some of this first hand.

    Travellers CHQ's that I got from AMEX you can cash commission free at any of there office's in UK & Europe commission free. Certain other places also allow you to do the same.

    Be careful of what card you use in ATM's in UK & Europe. As previous posts have mentioned you can only ever use your default account on the linked card. Say hypothetically you got a MasterCard with your savings account linked; your credit account will be the primary account so any withdrawal you make will always be debited from the credit account hence a cash advance on the card.

    When I travelled some of the people I was with used the Travelex cash passport system. This seemed to work well for them. Not sure how cost effective it is but worth a looking at. Check it out at Also know most credit unions and Suncorp resell them.

    Another card recently launched is the Wizard clear advantage MasterCard. It has no fee's except the interest rate from what I can see.

    Finally my advice is to ensure you take atleast 2 cards and keep them seperate, if possible more then that.
  10. NM


    Aug 27, 2004
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    I use a Citibank Readicredit card for overseas cash withdrawls. There are no foreign exchange fees or ATM fees. I have been able to use it almost everywhere. The only exceptions I have found have been one day in Helsinki (None of my cards works, including Mastercard, Cirrus or Readicredit, so perhaps a local problem on that day for foreign authorizations), and in Malaysia I had 100% success with Maybank ATMs, but no success as the few other banks I tried - Maybank is by far the largest bank in Malaysia. Be aware that most ATMs in Malaysia are not 24 hour accessible, just s few at places like the airport, main centres like Maybank's Menara head office etc.

    I have not had to do over-the-counter exchanges in many years. Always just use ATMs and make sure I carry a few cards just in case one gets lost, compromised or eaten by a machine (as happened to me in Luzern in Switzerland on a Saturday night).
  11. clifford

    clifford Established Member

    Jul 6, 2004
    Canberra / London
    Just confirming previous posters' advice, USD travellers cheques are the way to go in the US. Back-up credit cards (Visa/Mastercard) would also be prudent.

    Europe and the UK are quite a bit different. If you're not careful, travellers cheques can be hit with significant commissions when cashing. My advice would be, if you wish to take TT's to Europe, to stick with Amex cheques and make sure that you cash them either at Amex offices or banks that have a no-fee agreement with Amex (such as the Banco Santander in Spain). You can check this out on the Amex website, but be warned!

    My strong recommendation (as I've said before in other forums) is to get an ANZ gold Visa card. You can have your Westpacs, but I believe that the ANZ card is the only one that gives you totally fee-free cash advances overseas and also gives you free travel insurance, for less than $100 per annum.

    Anything else will cost you money unnecessarily.
  12. aspro2

    aspro2 Member

    Nov 26, 2004
    I think it's important to reiterate the point that you must have a *backup* plan. For maximum peace of mind, ensure that you have two cards from different issuers or of different types, plus a sufficient amount of readily exchangeable cash. I always travel with A$200 in a safe place (or EUR or USD). On a recent trip to Europe I had two periods greater than 12 hours where my HSBC VISA debit card was rejected by ATMs, and I've also seen a UK card rejected by some French ATMs.
  13. danielh

    danielh Member

    Dec 5, 2003
    I thought I'd mention to look for an ATM that has the Cirrus or Maestro logo on it. If you try to take money from an OS ATM that doesn't work, chances are it is not a Cirrus or Maestro linked one.

    The logos should be on the back of most CCs in case you have no clues what I'm talking about.

  14. NM


    Aug 27, 2004
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    Good advice indeed. On my last arrival into KUL, the ATM in the arrivals hall was "out of service" and the KLIA Ekspres counter was unable to accept CC due to their CC authorisation system being down. So the only option to catch the train was cash. It was good thing I still have RM35 in cash from my last trip and could purchase my ticket.

    It just so happens that I know why the ATM and CC authorisation system was unavailable at that particular time. And I can assure you that it can and does happen in many countries from time to time. Having some cash, either in local currency or readily exchangeable currency (in my case A$, US$, Euro, UKP, S$ would have been just fine) is always recommended. All I needed was RM35 (about A$13) for the train ride into KL Sentral.
  15. aspro2

    aspro2 Member

    Nov 26, 2004
    Yeah NM, it's amazing how a little stash of useful notes can save the day. I guess it's also worth commenting that carrying large denomination notes is a bad idea.

    That's certainly a mistake that some people make, but more often I think it's just system failures and banking idiosyncracies which are responsible, despite the correct symbols being displayed.
  16. ero

    ero Junior Member

    Jun 19, 2006
    Sorry to bring up an old topic but it's relevant to me as I will soon be travelling.

    Last time I travelled was a few years ago and always used ATM's as I believed they provided the best exhange rate and I used to only pay $4 per withdrawal...well, things seem to have changed.

    CBA now seems to charge $5 per withdrawal and $1.50 per account balance.

    So, I had a look at Westpac that this thread (and others) have recommended...$0 fee for ATM's from an institution in the Global ATM Alliance and $5 fee from other ATM's.....thought that was great - called them yesterday....the gentleman said yep, that's all true and so I opened a "Westpac One" account with them and will need to go into a branch tomorrow to apply for a Handicard for ATM access.

    Further reading yesterday presented the following:
    The PDS can be found$File/FSR_DepositAccountsPDS.pdf?OpenElement

    on page 22 of the document (p13 of the Acrobat document)

    The most important term to me is:
    In speaking to Westpac again today they are adament there are NO transaction fees if the money is taken from an institution in the Global ATM Alliance using a Handicard. Transaction fees ONLY apply if the money is taken from a Credit Card account. I acknowlegded that latter cash from Credit Card fact but asked again that from the sentence I am reading it appears to apply to all Cirrus ATM withdrawals. I also explained it's a new fee commencing 1/7/2006 and perhaps they just don't know about it. They were adament...transaction fees are only for transactions via Credit Card or cash withdrawal using Credit card.

    The bullet point for Mastercard as can be seen above is seperate to that of the transaction fee so I think it's an independant fee.

    I spoke to one of their consultants AND a Supervisor. I tried to get them to look at the specific document but they said the information they can access from their system is much more than can be found elsewhere and is the correct information. They would not follow me through the web to get to that document.

    Have people any experience on this? From reading the above (and PDS) do you think I am correct in believing there will be a 1.5% charge on all ATM withdrawals via a Cirrus ATM? If I am reading this correctly, their charges are EXTREMELY Expensive....Let's say I withdraw $800 (maximum with CBA), via CBA the cost is $5 (I have checked about for foreign currency transaction fees with CBA but cannot find anything....just a pure $5 charge). Via Westpac charge would be $12 (1.5% of $800). If using an non ATM Global Alliance ATM, their cost would be $17.

    I originally asked to have what she told me in writing but the Supervisor explained they don't do that. I then asked her to note my query on my record for future reference just in case.

    I then looked up Wizard and their new Mastercard. They DO NOT charge any fees. I confirmed this via their website, calling their number AND speaking with GE.

    Here's a great statment from their FAQ:
    I called GE only because I noticed they are the company giving the credit on behalf of Wizard. I thought I might receive the same benefits with my MyWorld card who also provided credit from GE. I called GE asking them about any transaction and foreign currency fees using my MyWorld Mastercard. He explained there would be a 3.5% charge in total which to me sounds about accurate. I then asked about the Wizard card and he said there are no fees. I trust him becuase he answered the same question differently to both cards without any hesitations or needing to look anything up.

    Also, in case this is of any interest....using the Wizard card you can use ANY ATM in the world, including Australia, that has the Mastercard logo (I think he also said "or Cirrus logo", but I could be wrong about that one) and there would be no transaction fees.....Geez, for me personally, everytime I use my CBA ATM card in any ATM (other than a CBA) in Australia I get charged $1.50...
  17. JohnK

    JohnK Veteran Member

    Mar 22, 2005
    BNE, SYD and CNX
    You are probably referring to savings/cheque accounts but with CBA Mastercard or Visa credit cards they charge a 1.5% foreign currency conversion fee on each withdrawal using overseas ATM.
  18. ned

    ned Newbie

    Oct 9, 2006
    What the banks charge you is divided up into different types of fees.

    Westpac might not charge you a ATM withdrawal fee but it does charge you a foreign currency fee. Even if a bank may not charge this foreign currency fee they will most likely recoup this commission through an interest rate spread of say 40 basis points for example.
    What you need to look at is which bank charges the least over all, being a combination of the:
    ATM fee,
    the currency conversion fee
    and how big the interest rate spread is
    compared to say what you see on the news which is generally the close for the currency markets. Comparing these will give you a good idea about which card is best.
    I applied for a Wizard one before because it looked the best in terms of no overseas fees and taking a comparitavly small spread on the interest rate compared to other banks. However, when I received my card they were only willing to give me a $500 limit which was next to useless when I was travelling in Europe for a month. Just one more thing to consider.;)
  19. serfty


    Nov 16, 2004
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    Hi ned; welcome to AFF.

    The Wizard card being the no frills/fees critter that is, can be very useful. Unless you intended to fund your trip with the credit, you have a good tool.

    Before departing you can simply wack a couple of grand (or whatever your trip budget is) onto the card and off you go.
  20. kpc

    kpc Senior Member

    Mar 11, 2003
    Another vote for Wizard Mastercard:p

    I have used it without any problems in NZ, Singapore and Malaysia since I got it 3 months ago. T/F some money into it before you go O/S, and you can withdraw cash advances O/S without any fees whatsoever:mrgreen::mrgreen:

    On return, I still had some cash in credit, so I transferred some money in to round it off exactly, and then simply went to my local ATM to withdraw my remaining credit in its entirety.

    I'm not sure the credit card providers would like the way I'm using their card!!

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