Using a credit card overseas. How to get the most for your money

Samuel Clennett

If you’re travelling abroad, you’re going to need to know how to pay for stuff while you’re there: your charming Australian accent will, unfortunately, only get you so far.

That’s why we’ve put together this guide to using credit cards abroad: so that you know the best way to pay your way – without facing loads of extra fees.

First, though, let’s clear something up. It’s not just credit cards that we’ll talk about here, because that would only be a part of the picture. In fact, there are 2 other sorts of cards you can use.

Debit cards, first of all, can be a great option too – and when you’re abroad, they’re affected in much the same way as credit cards. That’s why in this article we’ll talk about debit and credit cards more or less interchangeably: the same information often applies to both.

The alternative option is a travel card. This is generally a prepaid debit card, but with one special feature: it lets you hold money in multiple currencies at the same time. If you’re someone who spends a lot of time in foreign climes, that can be a really useful feature.

So, as well as giving you the right advice on credit cards abroad, this article will tell you about debit cards and travel cards too, to give you the full lowdown on how to pay with plastic overseas.

Can you use your credit card overseas?

Let’s not hang about. The answer is: probably, yes. If your credit card – or debit card – is on the Visa or Mastercard network, you should find it’s accepted in a majority of places around the world.

Travel cards are also usually on one or other of those networks, so you should be fine there too.

That’s not a guarantee – you may still find places that don’t accept them, China being one very prominent example. And of course you might just need cash in some situations. But using a Visa credit card overseas, or a Mastercard credit card overseas – or debit or travel cards for either – should be fine most of the time.

It never hurts to have backup options, of course. One smart move is to travel with one of each – that is, one Visa and one Mastercard – just in case you run into problems with one of them.

However, do be aware what it’ll cost you. As the next section will show, the fees can be considerable.

Fees for using your card overseas

The cost of using a debit or credit card overseas can vary. The same is true for travel cards – potentially even more so, as they may have differing fee structures. Here’s a look at a few examples across the different card types – but bear in mind that your own card might have a totally different set of fees.

The information is all correct at the time of writing, but may change in the future.

FeeCommbank debit Mastercard¹ANZ Visa credit or debit card²Travelex travel money card³Wise Platinum debit Mastercard⁴
Cash withdrawal outside Australia
  • AUD 5, plus 3% of transaction value
  • If with ASB Bank in New Zealand or a Commbank ATM overseas: AUD 2
AUD 5, plus 3% of transaction valueFree (unless the machine charges you)Free up to AUD 350 per 30 days
International transaction fee3% of transaction value3% of transaction valueNoneNone
Currency conversion rateDetermined by MastercardDetermined by VisaDetermined by TravelexMid-market rate
Currency conversion feen/an/aMastercard rate plus 5.95% (applies if you don’t have enough money for a purchase in the desired currency)0.35%-2.22% depending on currencies (applies when you convert money from one currency to another)
Other fees Fees may also apply to top up currency, to withdraw/spend money domestically, or if you don’t use your card in a year

Should you use your debit card overseas?

As you can see from the table above, there’s considerable variation when it comes to using cards overseas. So, should you use your normal credit or debit card overseas, or get one specially designed for travelers?

Before making the decision, you’ll need to do the boring but responsible thing and read the smallprint that goes with your current credit or debit card. As noted above, fees can vary quite widely, so you’ll need to be 100% sure what yours will be. Watch out not only for fixed fees for ATM withdrawals, but also for international transaction fees, which are often a percentage cost of the purchase.

Travel cards often waive those particular fees, which is one of their key advantages: if you plan on making a lot of transactions during the trip, it’s more efficient not to have to pay a fee on every single one of them. However, you do need to make sure that you have enough money on your travel card, and that it’s in the correct currency, as it can sometimes become costly if your money is being held in the “wrong” one.

What’s more, there may be other fees involved in maintaining a travel card – from topping up your balance (which can also take time, don’t forget) to leaving it inactive for a while, additional travel card fees could end up costing just as much as you’ve saved by getting the card in the first place. So – even more than with your bank debit or credit card – make sure you fully understand the fees you’ll be paying with a travel card. You’ll need to find one that represents good value for you, and for the sort of trip you’re planning on making.

Overall, using some sort of card is likely to be your best option, but exactly which one is best may depend on exactly how you’ll be spending money during your trip. It’s always worth reading the fine print to understand what you’ll really be charged for.

And of course, it’s always a good idea to have a backup card when you travel – ideally one on a different network.

Whatever you do, though, don’t fall for one common trick. At a foreign ATM, always choose to be charged in the local currency. Some machines ask you which currency you prefer to use – your home currency, or the local one. If you choose your home currency, the machine will convert your money using something called Dynamic Currency Conversion – in short, a truly awful exchange rate that’ll leave you with far less cash than otherwise. Don’t let them get away with it – choose the local currency.

A simple and low-cost card for travel: the Wise debit card

One option that any traveller might want to consider is the Wise Platinum debit Mastercard, which is available to Wise users in Australia with a borderless account (which is free to set up). This multi-currency card and account can convert and hold money in 40+ currencies – so it’s perfectly suited to travel in a wide range of destinations around the world.

It even gives you virtual account details in numerous currencies: Australian, NZ and US dollars, euros and British pounds. That means you can receive money to your account just like a local, too.

There’s no monthly fee, and currency conversion fees are clearly stated and based transparently on the mid-market rate. It’s worth taking a look, whether you’re jetting off for a weekend, or doing business overseas all the time.

Whether you choose to stick with using a Mastercard or Visa debit or credit card overseas, or try out a travel card, good luck in hunting out your own best option. Just make sure you’ve got a card that you can trust will always give you the best deal.

Sources:

  1. Commbank
  2. ANZ
  3. Travelex
  4. Wise Borderless

All sources accurate as of 22 November 2019


Please see terms of use and product availability for your region or visit Wise fees and pricing for the most up to date pricing and fee information.

This publication is provided for general information purposes and does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its subsidiaries and its affiliates, and it is not intended as a substitute for obtaining advice from a financial advisor or any other professional.

We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether expressed or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

Money without borders

Find out more

Tips, news and updates for your location