Credit cards are often the easiest way to spend your hard-earned abroad, but cash is still king in many countries for smaller payments such as taxi fares, market shopping and even that first cup of coffee after you arrive.
Yet withdrawing foreign currency from an overseas ATM can trigger a barrage of fees and service charges that most would rather avoid – and by following a few simple steps, you usually can.
1. Get familiar with your bank’s fees
We looked at the basic everyday banking products of ANZ, the Commonwealth Bank, NAB and Westpac, and found a common theme – each of the Big Four levies its own A$5 charge for most overseas ATM withdrawals.
Add to that a further 3% international transaction fee every time you punch in your PIN on foreign soil and you’ve already been stung for $8 to get your hands on the equivalent of just A$100.
That’s a whopping 8% lost to bank service charges, atop any withdrawal fee imposed by the ATM itself.
At that rate, there’s little advantage to using an ATM when you could simply pre-order foreign cash via Travelex and collect it at the airport on your departure.
2. Withdraw cash at your bank's partner ATMs
Accountholders with CBA and Westpac benefit from reduced-fee ATM withdrawals abroad when using their Debit MasterCard at a participating ATM.
CBA waives its usual 3% forex fee and lowers the fixed ATM usage cost to A$2 when transacting at ASB Bank ATMs in New Zealand and Commonwealth Bank ATMs in both Indonesia and Vietnam.
Westpac, on the other hand, is part of the Global ATM Alliance with its cardholders avoiding the regular $5 charge and any normal ATM-imposed fees at over 50,000 ATMs worldwide, although its 3% international transaction fee still applies.
Among the roster of Global Alliance partners: Westpac New Zealand, Barclays Bank (UK), Bank of America (USA), BNP Paribas (France, Italy), Deutsche Bank (Germany, Spain, Poland) and ScotiaBank (Canada).
Standard charges apply to both CBA and Westpac customers when withdrawing cash from ATMs outside their bank’s partnered international network, while ANZ and NAB cardholders are billed the same ATM usage fees wherever they transact overseas.
3. Switch to a fee-free bank account
If you travel often enough that ATM fees begin to take their toll or you're planning a trip to several countries where each uses its own currency, a bank account with no foreign ATM fees trumps the competition.
Case in point: the Citibank Plus Transaction Account and its companion Visa Debit card, with no monthly account-keeping fees, international ATM withdrawal or international transaction fees.
That gives you the freedom to make as few or as many trips to the ATM as needed throughout your journey without being hit with fees every time – although as with any bank, you're still at the mercy of any transaction fees imposed by the ATM itself.
Many travel insurance policies also limit the payout on lost or stolen cash to around A$250, so by withdrawing and holding only what your own policy will cover at any one time, you’re not putting your money on the line if your wallet goes walkabout.
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About Chris Chamberlin
Chris lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a great latte, an opera ticket and a glass of wine!