Avoid Sneaky International Bank Fees With These Travel Hacks

Avoid Sneaky International Bank Fees With These Travel Hacks
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When travelling overseas, it can be notoriously easy to blow out your budget through unplanned expenses, be it transportation costs, mandatory tipping or higher-than-expected food prices. And that’s before you factor bank fees into the equation.

This can be a serious, unexpected money sink – especially if you’re making multiple transactions per day. With that in mind, here are some travel hacks that will keep any extra fees to a bare minimum.

Plenty of friends of mine have been able to go on a trip or two every couple of years while still meeting their budgets. It just takes a little more thought than spontaneously booking a trip to Europe last-minute. That includes bank and currency fees. While it may seem trivial to save a few extra dollars when you’re dropping hundreds on flights and accommodation, those fees can quickly add up.

Here’s how to avoid getting stung with those pesky hidden fees.

Avoid Sorting Your Currency at the Airport

It’s a common mistake: when you’re so busy scrambling to organise your life before a trip, you completely forget to organise currency for wherever it is you’re flitting off to. But, if you can help it, try not to panic and sprint to the nearest currency conversion booths in the airport. They tend to sting you between 10% and 26% higher exchange rates than other places, which can throw your budget completely off course.

Your best bet is to wait until you’re out of the airport, where you can do a bit of research and find the best deal with the lowest fees. Or, even better, plan ahead and start researching conversion fees before your trip. If you see that there’s a good rate, get the cash out before you leave for the airport.

Take It Easy With Card Transactions

If you look into the fine-print of most debit or credit cards, you’ll find that your bank charges you a small conversion fee per overseas transaction. So, if you’re using your card every time you eat out or buy a little treat, those fees can start to become a problem for the money-conscious travellers.

To keep the fees to a minimum, you’re better off getting a good chunk of your spending money out at the ATM. Sure, they’ll likely still charge you a fee, but it’ll be contained to that one transaction and if you take out enough cash, you’ll be less inclined to use your card more than a few times for the entire holiday.

Hunt For a Decent Travel Card

The first few times I went overseas, I relied heavily on my travel cards.Your preferred bank will usually give you two — one to keep on you and one to store safely in your luggage — so the chances of you being stranded overseas, cardless and penniless, is immediately halved. You can also lock in an exchange rate before you jet off, which helps you avoid the unpredictable exchange rate.

Keep in mind, a lot of travel cards do have fees depending on who you’re with and the transactions they’re making, but banks will tell you just what those fees are to avoid them sneaking their way into your travel budget unannounced.

Another thing to be wary of is that once the currency is locked in, you can’t score a lower deal which might not be the right decision for everyone.

Thoroughly Research Your Current Bank’s Rates

Occasionally, it can pay to look into the bank you’re currently with. There’s a chance that their fees are lower than that travel card you’ve been scoping out, and the fees can vary greatly bank-to-bank so it’s always wise to research your options and make an informed decision.

Just ensure you’re aware of those hidden fees, with some banks hitting Australian travellers with hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign currency fees.

Look Elsewhere

If you discover that your current bank is not the most ideal choice for overseas journeys, it may be time to scope out other options. This is especially true for the money-conscious travellers out there. Hidden fees might not seem like a major worry to some, but those travellers might not bother paying attention to the smaller costs. Out of sight, out of mind.

However, if you do want to be smarter with your money – especially if you’re saving for something other than ticking off your bucket list — being selective with your bank accounts can be a crucial step. For instance, if you sign up for a CUA Everyday Snap Account before your trip, you can have international ATM and Visa Debit card transaction fees refunded back to your account.

So, while you’ll still pay for the same fees as other travellers, you could get a decent reimbursement when you’re back on Australian soil. Bear in mind though, CUA will only refund you for their own fees, so just be wary that ATMs or restaurants don’t charge you their own fees on top of that.

Back in Australia, you’ll also benefit from no monthly account fees, unlimited fee-free transactions and savings top-ups between $0.50 and $5 if you make CUA Visa Debit card purchases over $10. For added convenience, you can also pay for everything on your phone with Google Pay, Apple Pay, or Samsung Pay. To get the full benefits of your CUA account, all you have to do is deposit a minimum $2,000 from an external account and make five Visa Debit card purchases per month, so if you’re transferring your pay into your account, you should be sorted.

With a bit of research, you’ll be avoiding those hidden fees like the plague.

This article originally appeared on POPSUGAR Australia.


  • In Bali – Hunt down the CBA ATMs. You can pay around AUD$20 to pull out AUD$250 at every other ATM, but if you can find a CBA one some of the inter-bank fees are waived.
    This would only apply if they waive the fees in Australia too under some of the recent changes. I was with NAB and sadly it took me $80 before I learnt this trick. Good idea especially considering you can only take out AUD$200-$250 at a time

  • There are 5 Mastercard credit cards that I know of that do not charge international transaction fees. I also know of 1 VISA credit card that rebates the fee under some fairly easy to meet conditions. Another VISA card has no fees in international purchases. Two of these throws in access to BOINGO wifi sites. At least one of the above has no annual fees.
    Latitude 28° Global Platinum Mastercard
    Bankwest Zero Platinum Mastercard
    Westpac Lite
    Coles – $99 annual fee
    ANZ Rewards Travel Adventures credit card – has an annual fee
    for starters.

    As for getting money out of an international ATM without at least a 2.5% charge … any suggestions.

  • Commonwealth Bank Low Fee Gold Credit Card 0% on purchases but 3% on ATM withdrawals.

    Citi, HSBC, and St George have foreign multi-currency accounts which may be worth looking at. There are still conversion fees but they are hidden somewhat within the buy/sell rate rather than a percentage fee on the mid-rate which credit cards use.

    The Commonwealth Bank World Debit Mastercard has no ATM fees but the foreign bank may have them and they will not be avoided and they can be a lot. They do not charge a transaction fee %, even on ATM withdrawals from what I could see! They do charge $10 per month and seem to be geared to you cancelling it when you get home, in fact they may cancel after 6 months of non-use. You get 2 lounge passes and travel insurance. Worth checking out. NAB has a similar product NAB Classic Banking with Platinum Visa Debit Card.

    Revolut – a UK based online bank. A free account gives you $350 worth of free ATM withdrawals a month (2% thereafter) A premium account ($11/month) gives you $700 of withdrawals a month, lounge access, virtual cards (for making one-off payments) …

    ING is the only one I can find that has guaranteed no ATM access or currency fee (they rebate even the foreign bank fee) but only if you have 5+ card transactions and $1000 deposit in the previous month. They have both a debit and credit card (VISA with an annual fee, reduced in the first year) with these features.

  • If you are travelling to Europe, a German bank – N26 – has very simlar offering to Revolut but without the $350 limit on free ATM withdrawals. Being an Australian resident is not a problem.
    Xinja is a new Australian online bank that is offering something I think is again quite similar but they do not cover ATM fees the foreign bank levies.

    Up Bank is also similar, fee free international purchases, $5 for an ATM cash withdrawal.

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