Passport to smarter spending

Michael Gebecki shares his tips on the best ways with money overseas.

MOST travellers are keen as hounds when it comes to tracking down the cheapest airfare or the best hotel deal but when the topic turns to travel money, it's another story. There is no single right way to access funds overseas that will work for all travellers in all places all the time. Whether it's a short trip or a long one, where you're heading, how much you're taking and the level of security you need are all factors you need to consider.

Cash is not a smart form for the bulk of your holiday money to take. However, it's not a bad idea to hit your destination with a small amount of local currency. A small supply of US dollars, still the world's most accepted currency, will usually get you out of the airport and to your hotel.

Travellers' cheques have lost their lustre now that ATMs are almost universal. On the upside, if you lose your TCs, you only have to contact the nearest office of the issuing authority with the numbers on your unredeemed cheques to get them replaced, usually within 24 hours. If you plan to travel in the Third World for an extended period, a small amount in TCs is a great backup.

ATMs are just about everywhere and they're by far the most convenient way to access funds when you're on the road. Provided you have an ATM card that is authorised for use overseas - your bank or financial institution can advise - you're in the money. Do not rely on your ATM card as your sole source of funds. Plus, you're better off with more than one card. A cash advance fee and a foreign currency conversion fee apply each time you withdraw.

Another way to access funds is with a prepaid currency card. You buy the card and deposit money you can then withdraw from ATMs. The card is convenient, secure and replaceable if you lose it. The most popular of these is the Travelex Cash Passport (, available online or from outlets including Australia Post. When you buy your Travelex Cash Passport, you pay an initial card fee and an in-store reload fee. You will also pay an ATM fee every time you use the card. When you top up the card via Bpay, the reload fee is 1 per cent.

The Cash Passport is available in seven major currencies but if you use it to withdraw money in another currency - Argentine pesos, for example - you pay a currency conversion margin of between 5.95 per cent and 8.45 per cent.

Another option is the 28 Degrees MasterCard (, which has no annual fees, no reload fees and no international transaction fees. If you transfer funds to the card, which you then use to withdraw money from ATMs, you avoid the card's interest fees of more than 20 per cent a year on cash advances. See the Travel Money Buying Guide at Choice (

- Sun-Herald