If you are travelling the world on $10 a day, the last thing you want is hefty ATM and conversion fees from your local bank. This is where clever travel banking comes into play. By properly organising your online travel banking you can save money, cut your spending and make sure you don’t get a nasty surprise – like a blocked debit card! If ever there is a way to dampen the travel vibes, it’s a blocked bank card…
To learn everything you need to know about travel banking, let’s dive straight in! In this post, we shall cover…
Table of Contents
Avoiding ATM fees
There is nothing more frustrating when it comes to travel banking than being charged unnecessary fees every time you make a transaction from a foreign ATM. Those transaction fees can be the cost of your transport or the price of a beer.
My number one tip for stretching your money further may seem a little counterintuitive but I suggest withdrawing large amounts of cash at once, rather than extracting money each day. I know that in certain countries it can leave you feeling a little wary if you are carrying large wads of cash on you, so investing in a belt with a hidden security pocket is a good move.
Here is exactly how you can eliminate those nasty ATM fees…
Choose a global ATM banking network (ones that have free ATM withdrawals). HSBC is one of the best choices out there. If you’re from the UK, I recommend Norwich and Peterborough; they have zero fees as long as you deposit £500 a month.
Always make sure to ask your bank about their fees before you hit the road.
Pick ATMs in secure locations at major banks – fees tend to be lower than ATMs in hostels, shops or bars.
Getting Excellent Exchange Rates
First things first for this step of travel banking is you need to familiarise yourself with the exchange rate of the country you are going to. There are a tonne of currency exchange apps you can download onto your phone but my favourite is XE Currency Pro and it’s free! There are also some great online tools available such as this site!
My next piece of advice is to avoid currency exchange booths at all costs. Usually, people flock to these at airports but this is the most likely place to get stung with high fees. The best decision is to use ATM machines in the country you are travelling to, that way you will receive the local currency.
On the road, you will be bumping into fellow travellers constantly. If they happen to be travelling in the opposite direction to you, exchange your cash with them. I have used this trick quite a few times and swapped cash with plenty of travellers I’ve met on the road.
International Money Transfers
Personally, I often have to move money around when travelling.
I’ve found Transferwise to be the cheapest and fastest way to internationally transfer money between bank accounts.
These days, I have a Thai bank account which I use for most of my day to day living expenses, since I’m currently based in South East Asia. Sending money internationally between banks can be extremely expensive. I use Transferwise to send money, the fee can be as low as 1% and your first transfer is free if you use this link.
Using Travel Cash Cards
Travel cash cards are a great alternative to credit or debit cards as you can pre-load cash cards with multiple currencies. I strongly recommend the Travelex prepaid currency card as you can lock in your exchange rate ahead of time and there are zero ATM charges.
The Travelex prepaid currency card is well worth checking out, it can…
- Be loaded with Euros, British Pounds, Australian dollars, Japanese yen, Canadian dollars and Mexican Pesos, US dollars and a whole bunch of other currencies.
- Be used abroad at millions of locations.
- Be reloaded whilst on the road.
Cash cards are not linked to a bank account, which makes them a lot safer to use. If your cash card is stolen it can be emptied but this is far preferable to somebody emptying your bank account and if you cancel your cash card in time, you’re all good. The Travelex cash cards are contactless and in my opinion, these are one of the best options for backpackers heading to Australia, Mexico, America, Japan or Europe. If you are backpacking Europe in particular, you should take a cash card.
Check out the Travelex cash cards here…
Travelex is pretty much my preferred vendor for all things travel money and I always purchase cash from these guys when I am heading somewhere like Venezuela or Pakistan and I need to stock up ahead of time.
Sourcing a Travel Credit Card
There are several travel credit cards available (depending on where you are from) that allow you to transfer and withdraw money from ATMs with zero fees under a certain limit. There really are so many pluses in getting yourself a travel credit card but which one should you choose?
The chip and pin card from Barclays bank is a solid choice. This card allows you the freedom to pay for travel with your card and then redeem travel points.
If gathering airline miles is more on your agenda, then the Chase Sapphire Preferred card is a good option. This card comes with an incredible sign-up bonus. You earn 5000 bonus points after spending $4000 in the first three months of opening your account. Sounds pretty epic to me!
Travel hacking is used by many backpackers (including myself) to get cheap/free flights and accommodation via rewards on credit cards.
No matter which travel credit card you decide to go with, make sure to have done your research comparisons on which card will be the best travel banking solution for you. Check out this post to find out a ton more about hacking travel credit cards and scoring free shit. Check out my travel banking credit cards comparison table below for some more intel…
Travel Cards Pros Cons Star Rating Chase Sapphire Preferred Card No foreign transaction fee & flexible rewards programme Annual fee of $95 after year one 5* Barclay Plus Arrival Card No Foreign transaction fees & redeem your awards with any airline or hotel chain Not the ideal card for someone who spends less than $4,200 on credit cards a year 4* Discover It Miles Those who want to wait one year for full bonus If you spend a lot, this isn't the card for you. 3* Bank America Travel Awards Get unlimited 1.5 points for every $1 you spend on all purchases everywhere Not as competitive as Barclay Plus. 3*
Informing your bank
If your bank notices unusual activity on your card (making transactions abroad) it may suspend your account to prevent fraudulent activity. However, when it’s you making those transactions, a suspended bank card is a major pain in the ass.
Prevent an unwelcome surprise by informing your bank of your travel plans before you go. They will often put a note on your account to ensure your card is not frozen when you use it in the country you are travelling to.
If you are heading overseas for a longer time there will be a whole host of different aspects you will need to consider, not only banking and access to funds alone. Check out Western Union’s post How to Become an Expat for some top tips on getting yourself set up in your new home!
Hiding Your Money on the road
For tips and tricks, check out this post on the best ways to hide your money when travelling.
I strongly recommend keeping your cards in an RFID blocking wallet.
Yay for transparency! The links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you buy anything, I’ll earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. I only link to stuff I’ve actually used and never endorse crap. Your support helps me keep the site going.
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Freeborn Aiden. Senior Editor, resident travel insurance expert and 2nd longest-serving member of team Broke Backpacker. Can’t resist a colourful shirt, ideally one with no buttons. Rampant Psytrance addict and seriel cat fancier. Aiden recently realised that his entire reality is little more than a badly written 90’s sitcom.