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How To Avoid Bank Fees And Access Money While Travelling (Kiwi Edition)

Note: This post will focus on New Zealand residents and how to best navigate the options available to New Zealanders. If you’re from another country, try these blog posts from some fellow nomads: Canada: Best Canadian bank for overseas travel by Wandertooth
USA: Travel banking 101 by Expert Vagabond
Australia and UK: Best banks for world travelers with lowest ATM fees 


As a New Zealander, finding the right bank, credit, and debit card options for travel has been quite a frustrating affair. Banks in larger countries are faced with higher competition and are forced to give their customers bundles of perks, while in NZ the banks enjoy a nice oligopoly which leaves us at the mercy of a few big players.

What that means is we never enjoy double and triple frequent flyer point deals, large signup bonuses, zero foreign transaction fees and ATM fee refunds. However, what we can do is arrange our money in a way that will keep our bank fees as low as possible.

In this post I’ll be sharing how I’ve managed to keep my bank fees down while enjoying affordable and easy access to all my money on the road.

Note: This is a long post with a lot of numbers. If you don’t care for the analysis and just want to know what cards/accounts to get, you can skip straight to the bottom.


Part 1: Minimising ATM fees as a NZ traveller

I mostly access my money overseas by withdrawing cash from ATM’s. It’s the most convenient and you usually will get the best conversion rate this way. However, if you don’t set it up right it can be expensive. Here’s an example of when it doesn’t work out so well for you:

bankfee

Let’s take a look at this.

I wanted to withdraw 10,000 Philippine pesos, which is around $265 NZD. At the time of this withdrawal, the interbank exchange rate (the ‘real’ rate that banks use) was around 38:1, and I was given 38.34, so that’s actually really good (at a money exchanger, you’d lose 2-3% off that at least).

However, let’s look at the fees here:

Service Margin Fee: This is basically a fee they charge for withdrawing foreign currency, and will usually be between 1-2%. In my case, the fee is 1.1%, or $2.93 (that’s actually low for a NZ bank).

Overseas ATM Fee: This is a fee charged for using an ATM outside your banking network. It usually ranges between $5-$10. ASB charges $7.50 for this (quite high).

Local ATM Fee: This is a fee the local bank will charge for using their ATM when you’re not a member of their network. As you can see, I wanted 10,000 pesos, but got charged 10,200. That extra 200 is the usage fee (around $5.50).

So for one $265 withdrawal I’ve been charged $3 in service margins, $7.50 by ASB and $5.50 by the local bank whose ATM I’m using. That’s a total of $16 for one withdrawal. If I do that once a week it’s going to add up to around $700 a year – not cool.

So, how do we avoid this? Two ways:

The Global ATM Alliance

This is a joint venture between several international banks which allows clients to make free overseas ATM withdrawals. In New Zealand, the only current member is Westpac.

They have an electronic account that has no monthly fee and no transaction fees, as long as you cancel your paper statements and don’t go into the branch to do anything. Once you have an account with Westpac, you can withdraw money from any alliance member’s ATMs in the following countries:

  • Bank of America (United States)
  • Barclays (United Kingdom, France, Spain, Portugal, Pakistan, Gibraltar, Ghana, Kenya, and other countries in Africa)
  • BNP Paribas (France)
  • BNP Paribas Ukrsybbank (Ukraine)
  • Banca Nazionale del Lavoro (Italy)
  • Deutsche Bank (Germany, Poland, Belgium, India, Spain and Portugal)
  • Scotiabank (Canada, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Guyana, and the Caribbean)
  • Westpac (Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Vanuatu, Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands)
    • Westpac Banking Corporation (Australia, Fiji, Cook Islands, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu)
    • Westpac New Zealand Limited (New Zealand)
    • Westpac Bank – PNG – Limited (Papua New Guinea)
    • Westpac Bank Samoa Limited (Samoa)
    • Westpac Bank of Tonga (Tonga)
  • ABSA (South Africa)

You can read more about the Global ATM Alliance here.

While this sounds great – it’s actually not so amazing. Westpac waives the overseas ATM fee, but will charge you a ‘foreign currency fee’ of 2.5%. That is more than double what ASB charges! 

ANZ in Asia

Even if you do decide to go the Westpac route, you’ll notice the Global ATM Alliance doesn’t cover all countries, and most annoyingly has no banks in the Asia. That’s a serious bummer since Asia is one of the most popular travel destinations for Kiwis. Luckily though, ANZ has branches throughout Asia and other parts of the world, and if you’re an ANZ customer you can withdraw from their ATMs without paying fees. I don’t have much experience with this, but if you do have any trouble with it just know that you’ve got them on record 😉

They have a “Go” account that has no monthly fee or transaction fees, as long as you cancel your paper statements. And as a bonus, they’re the only bank in New Zealand with credit cards connected to the Qantas/Oneworld Frequent Flyer program.

You’ll be able to find their ATM’s throughout Asia, the Pacific Islands, and a few scattered through Europe and the US as well. You can find all of ANZ’s ATMs here.


If you get yourself both an ANZ and Westpac account, you can technically enjoy “free” ATM withdrawals throughout a good portion of the world. However, if you really want to see who gives the best deal, we need to look at the numbers:

New Zealand banks overseas ATM fee summary (updated Oct 2017)

  ATM fee FX fee
ASB $7.50 1.10%
Kiwibank $6 2.50%
ANZ $5 2.50%
Westpac $3 2.50%
BNZ $7.50 2.25%
ANZ (ANZ ATM only) $0 2.50%
Westpac (Alliance ATM only) $0 2.50%

But what we really care about are actual dollar amounts. Here’s what your fees will look like when making the following withdrawals.

(I’ve included the Westpac Global Alliance and overseas ANZ withdrawal amounts in grey at the bottom, as they’re conditional on finding a compatible ATM).

ATM withdrawal $250 $500 $1,000 $2,000
ASB $10 $13 $19 $30
Kiwibank $12 $19 $31 $56
ANZ $11 $18 $30 $55
Westpac $9 $16 $28 $53
BNZ $13 $19 $30 $53
ANZ (ANZ ATM only) $6 $13 $25 $50
Westpac (Alliance ATM only) $6 $13 $25 $50

So if that all looks like jumbo to you, here’s what we see.

If you plan on making small withdrawals of $250 or less, Westpac is probably the best bet. Along with Global ATM Alliance benefits, it has the lowest ATM fee. ANZ is a close runner up, IF you can find an ANZ ATM overseas.

Once you get over $500, it becomes far better to own an ASB card. ASB has a much lower FX fee than all the other major banks. If you withdraw $500, the fees are even less than the “free” withdrawals offered by Westpac and ANZ. If you withdraw up to $1,000 in cash, you’ll save around $10 each time. I usually withdraw the maximum so I can use the ATM as little as possible, so ASB suits me best.

Summary for minimising ATM withdrawal fees:

  • For large ATM withdrawals over $500, ASB is the cheapest.
  • For small ATM withdrawals, Westpac is the cheapest.
  • Try to make a few, large withdrawals to minimise the frequency of fees you need to pay.

Also, if any of you are wondering how you can use your NZ EFTPOS card at overseas ATMs, it works exactly the same as it does back home. As long as your Eftpos card has a PLUS, Cirrus or Maestro symbol on the back, you can use it at almost any ATM in the world. Check the back of your card and you should see one of those symbols, most NZ cards are either PLUS or Cirrus.

Then when you visit an ATM, you’ll see a sticker that shows what cards they accept, it will look like this:

Since those symbols are displayed there, it means your EFTPOS card will work just fine. 


Part 2: Prepaid debit cards/travel cards

You may have noticed quite a few ‘travel’ debit cards available in New Zealand lately. They basically allow you to pre load different currencies (around 9 different ones) onto a prepaid debit card, meaning you can make purchases/ATM withdrawals in those currencies without paying the foreign exchange fees. Some also offer free ATM withdrawals.

The 3 main ones are the Air NZ Onesmart, The Travelex Cash Passport and the Loaded for Travel card. I’m going to compare the fees, features and the different exchange rates they give us on a single day (I’ll be using July 22, 2014 as a comparison date). Let’s take a look.

Onesmart

The Air NZ Onesmart card is a Mastercard debit card by Air NZ. Let’s take a look at the rate:

onesmart2

$1,000 gives us $838.60 USD, and considering the interbank rate is 0.8672, that’s a pretty big spread (around 2.8%). However the Onesmart does give you other perks, such as earning Air NZ Airpoints on your purchases and 3 free ATM withdrawals a month. Fees are pretty much nil, other than a $1 monthly fee. Getting the card is free.

Travelex Cash Passport

The Cash Passport is available from Travelex and also from ANZ and Westpac. Here’s the rate:

travelex

That’s much better than the Onesmart, which only gave us $838.60. It also offers free ATM withdrawals, but has a bunch of other fees that I’d prefer not to pay ($10 initial load fee, 1% subsequent load fee, $4 monthly inactivity fee, $10 closure fee). Looking at that you’re already guaranteed $20 in fees to simply open and close an account.

Could be better than a Onesmart though, depending on how often you plan on using it.

Loaded for Travel card

The Loaded for Travel card is the prepaid travel card offering from NZ Post/Kiwibank. First let’s check out the rate:

loaded

That’s the best so far. However, you’ll be paying $12 just to get the card in the first place and $6 for every ATM withdrawal. That already makes it a bad choice in my opinion, as ATM withdrawals from your EFTPOS card will only cost around $7-$8 anyway. They also charge a $1 monthly inactivity fee, and then a fee when you wish to close the card. That’s a lot of fees, and you know how much I hate fees.

Which card you should get will depend on how you plan on using it, so let’s compare them in detail:

  Onesmart Cash Passport Loaded for travel
Exchange rate margin 2.8% 1.9% 1.4%
Setup fee None $10 $12
Load fee Free via internet, or $4 1% 1% ($10 max)
ATM withdrawal fee 3 free per month Free $6
Closure fee None $10 $15
Inactivity fee None (but monthly fee applies) $4 per month after 12 months $1 per month after 12 months
Monthly fee $1 None None
Airpoints Yes No No

 

As you can see I can’t give you a definitive answer on the best card here – they’re all good in some places and crap in another.

The Onesmart exchange rate is so crap that I would disregard it altogether – there is no way you would save money using it. That leaves the Cash Passport and the Loaded card.

If you plan on doing mostly ATM withdrawals, take the Cash Passport – they are free and the exchange rate is passable.

If you’re planning on paying for everything with card during your trip, take the Loaded For Travel card. The load fee is capped at $10, and the exchange rate is not bad. 

The reason I personally don’t use a prepaid travel card is because I spend a lot of time in places where everything is done in cash – think small cities in Asia and Africa – meaning I get most of my money from ATMs. Therefore I just use my regular EFTPOS card. If you’re planning on visiting mainland Europe or North America however, you could use plastic for most of your trip without much trouble – one of these cards could make sense for you.

Summary for prepaid travel cards:

  • Loaded for Travel is the cheapest option if you plan on paying by card a lot (low load fee and good exchange rate). Don’t use for ATM withdrawals.
  • Cash Passport is an okay option if you plan on using cash a lot (free ATM withdrawals). 
  • Onesmart’s poor exchange rates makes it a poor option – I would avoid.

Part 3: The best credit card for NZ travellers

Let’s move onto credit card fees. You’ll want to use a credit card on the road that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. Here’s why:

kiwibank

For this particular transaction, I purchased a $111 USD air ticket on Cambodia Angkor Air.

On that date the interbank rate was 0.875, and they gave me 0.873. That’s good. But you’ll also see I got charged fees of $3.18; around 2.5%. Factor that in and the ‘real’ rate I got was 0.851. Still ok but any fee is a bad fee. I personally do not want to add 2.5% to everything I buy, just because I’m using plastic.

Unfortunately there is currently no bank in New Zealand that offers a card without foreign transaction fees, so this is unavoidable (however if you live in Aussie, I would recommend grabbing yourself a Bankwest Zero Platinum Mastercard or a 28 Degrees Mastercard – both have no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees).

Having a credit card is very handy during your travels, so I think it’s a good idea to always have one on you, even if our options aren’t great in NZ. Since there are literally hundreds of different cards available in New Zealand, I’m not going to compare them all. What I will do is compare a few “free” credit cards to see which gives us the best deal.

The following credits cards all have no annual fee and are reasonably easy to get:

  ASB Visa Light Kiwibank Mastercard Zero Warehouse VISA AMEX Airpoints
Annual fee none none none none
Cash advance fee $7.50 $6 $2 $5
FX fee 2.10% 1.85% 2% 2.50%
Interest rate 13.50% 16.90% 19.95% 19.95%
Cash advance interest 22.95% 22.95% 22.95% 21.95%

Let’s see how that translates into actual dollar amounts. Below is a table of how much it will cost you to use the cards for both ATM withdrawals and regular purchases:

  ASB Visa Light Kiwibank Mastercard Zero Warehouse VISA AMEX Airpoints
$250 from ATM $12.75 $11 $7 $11
$500 from ATM $18 $15 $12 $18
$1,000 from ATM $28.50 $25 $22 $30
$2,000 from ATM $49.50 $43 $42 $55
         
$500 in purchases $10.50 $9.25 $10 $12.50
$2,500 in purchases $52.50 $46.25 $50 $62.50
$5,000 in purchases $105 $92.50 $100 $125

For ATM withdrawals, the Warehouse card easily will have the lowest fees (and even lower than most EFTPOS cards!)

For just purchasing stuff on your card in shops and buying train tickets etc, the Kiwibank Mastercard Zero will have the lowest fees.

Another credit card tip: Paying in NZD (if it’s a good deal!)

Sometimes shops and websites will ask if you want to pay in NZD instead of local currency.

This can be a good idea sometimes. 

Whenever the shopkeeper asks if you’d like to pay in NZD, always ask what the amount will be. Then pull out your phone and do a quick conversion (I use the Oanda app) and check if it’s a fair amount. Nine times out of ten they will have loaded the amount with a fee. That means even though you’ll avoid FX fees on your credit card, you’ll end up paying more to the shop and it will probably end up costing you more overall.

There are good opportunities to do this though. Take a look at this example.

This is a hotel booking form from one of my favourite booking sites, Agoda. It’s for a hotel in Bangkok:

agoda

Their prices are USD listed ($88.55), however they also give me the option to pay in NZD ($102.25).

If I choose to pay in NZD, I’ll be getting a conversion rate of 0.866, compared to the current interbank rate of 0.867. That’s very good, and much better than what Kiwibank will give me if I pay in USD and let them convert it (it was around 2%, remember?)

Therefore I often make online bookings in NZD (assuming the rate is good), which eliminates foreign transaction fees and allows me to save my ATM withdrawn cash for other stuff.

Summary for minimising credit card fees:

There is no ‘good’ travel credit card in NZ (that I know of). However, it’s always good to have one anyway. The cheapest options are:


Part 4: Foreign exchange fees

The next fee and probably the most annoying one is the foreign exchange fee. I’m sure you’ve seen many signs like this outside foreign exchange booths:

asb2

The difference between the ‘buy’ rate and the ‘sell’ rate is known as the spread, and is how these guys make money. Basically they buy NZD from you at a cheap rate and sell it to someone else at an expensive one. The bigger the spread, the more you’re getting ripped off.

So how do we get the best rate?

Generally it falls in this order:

  1. Credit cards (the best)
  2. ATMs of big banks
  3. ATMs of small banks (or those random traveller ATMs)
  4. Money changers in the city
  5. Money changers in the airport
  6. Money changers that advertise “zero commission”

The takeaway here is get local cash from ATMs where possible, when you run out use your credit card, and as a last resort exchange some cash at a money changer (avoiding the booths in the airport).


What do I use?

Ok, so that was a lot of info. Only now do I realise what a ridiculous amount of time I’ve spent researching this over the years. But it’s also helped me save a bit of money, and here’s the general strategy I use to access my money overseas:

  • I have a Westpac Electronic Account (no fees), which I use to withdraw small amounts of money from alliance ATMs (also no fees).
  • I have an ASB Streamline Account (no fees), which I use to withdraw larger amounts of money from ATMs.
  • I have a Warehouse VISA card, which I use to withdraw money from ATMs if ny debit cards aren’t working (it happens).
  • I have a Kiwibank Low Fee Airpoints Mastercard, which I use for all my online NZD payments (such as bookings on Agoda, Hotels.com, and Skyscanner). The annual fee is $25 – however the Airpoints makes it worth it for me. 
  • I have an Airpoints American Express, which has no fees and has a better Airpoints earn rate than my Kiwibank Airpoints card. I mostly only use this in New Zealand.
  • I carry a small amount of USD, and change $50 here and there whenever I am running out of cash and don’t want to buck up for an ATM withdrawal (maybe if I’m only in a city for a few days, etc).

Between these options I manage to keep my bank fees reasonably low, earn a few frequent flyer points and not have too many cards to manage. 


What should you use?

This all depends on your travel specifics.

If you’re on a big, round-the-world trip, I would suggest using

  • A Westpac EFTPOS for smaller ATM withdrawals.
  • An ASB EFTPOS for larger ATM withdrawals.
  • If you’re going through Asia, maybe an ANZ EFTPOS – they have ATMs throughout Asia which will allow you to make free ATM withdrawals. They can be hard to find though. I’d mark this as highly optional.
  • A Warehouse VISA for ATM withdrawals where your EFTPOS cards might not work (VISA always works).
  • A Kiwibank Mastercard Zero as your backup credit card (good idea to carry two, I’ve lost quite a few on the road).
  • If you plan on paying for a lot of things with plastic, and will be spending a lot of time in North America or Europe, A Loaded For Travel card might be good too.

If you’re on a shorter trip (say 2 weeks – 1 month), it becomes much less important what card you will use. I would go with a Kiwibank Mastercard Zero for purchases, and a Westpac or ASB EFTPOS card for ATM withdrawals. You could get a Cash Passport if you’re visiting a lot of different places, but for such a short trip I’d probably do everything with cash. That’s a personal preference thing and totally up to you!

That’s it!

It might all seem pedantic, but those fees do really add up. During my travels I’m guessing I’ve paid the banks in the thousands, just for the simple pleasure of having access to my own money that I earned and worked for. Don’t let the banks siphon away your hard earned cash, that should be yours to spend on your travels!

Like I said, we’re not spoilt for choice down here in NZ, but we can do a few things to keep those bank fees as low as possible.

Good luck!

Heading overseas? A few tips:

  • I highly recommend using Skyscanner to book your flights. Flying out of New Zealand can be expensive but if you follow some basic tips you can find something affordable and save some money. I have a free guide on using Skyscanner and finding cheap flights here.
  • I highly recommend purchasing travel insurance before any trip. If you’re not already covered by your credit card (check!) then I would recommend using World Nomads. They offer affordable coverage with generous limits and it’s super simple – you can literally be covered within two minutes. Prices are on par or even cheaper than many New Zealand companies. I use them often.
  • For affordable accommodation while you’re travelling, I highly recommend using Airbnb. You will find many good offers that will be cheaper and more comfortable than hotels and hostels. You can get $25 of free Airbnb credit using this link.
     
    Have fun!

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71 thoughts on “How To Avoid Bank Fees And Access Money While Travelling (Kiwi Edition)

  1. Another great usuful post Bren! I have done some researched on it myself and thought that the best option for me is ANZ (i have been a custumer for a long time anyway) and a Loaded for travel, which I manage to use a lot as an EFTPOS card to avoid withdrawn fees, also the exchange rate was much better than cash passaport everytime time I looked and I really like the fact that the maximum load fee is NZ$ 10, depending on how much you want to load that can really make a difference. I avoid inactitve fees using my card now and then in NZ and plan on using it for the 2 years the card is valid for so wont pay to cancel it. I heard, but have not verified, that if you put money into your normal credit card, as in paying it more that you owe, you dont pay international transaction fees, It would be pretty good if it is true but I am still very jealous of canadians and americans with their awsome deals and rewards!!!

    1. I also heard that you don’t pay fees if you credit card is loaded with cash, but I double checked this with ASB and they said it doesn’t work like that. Otherwise I would definitely be doing that. I haven’t checked with the other banks though. Doesn’t Loaded for Travel cost $6 per ATM withdrawal? At least that’s what their website says.

  2. Great post – thanks for doing all that research and sharing it with everyone. I’m on ASB and whenever I travelled I would just withdraw and didn’t give those fees much thought but next time I travel I’ll think about getting a Westpac card. Although bank fees are a pain – a better way to think of it is at least we have banks and don’t have to carry suitcases of cash everywhere we go! So you can look at those fees as payment for their services such as keeping our money safe 🙂

    1. That’ true, and I don’t mind paying bank fees at all, however, $13 just to get my own money out of an ATM – that’s a bit much for me. I know it doesn’t cost the bank that much, because if ANZ and Westpac can let you do it for free and still stay in business, I’m sure the other banks too 🙂 I’m also with ASB, however I’ll be winding down my accounts with them soon and shifting to ANZ (and I’m already with Westpac). Glad you found this helpful, and happy travels 🙂

  3. Yes, they do charge $6, I didn’t express myself very well. What I meant is that I tried to pay with my card as much as I can instead of getting cash from an ATM. For the amount of money I loaded for my Italy trip I would have to withdraw cash many times for Loaded for travel to be more expensive than Cash passport because of the loading fee and exchange rate difference. So I guess it depends on the trip, I had a spreadsheet with all the fess and some scenario testing to help me chose 🙂

  4. Thanks for that info Bren. I emailed you through a question in regards to the money situation about a month ago and wanted to thank you for your reply. My partner and I decided to go with the westpac credit card and the Air NZ Onesmart card as we already had both of these. Thanks for all the other informative blogs. Off to Indonesia next week to start our backpacking adventure around asia!

  5. Hey Bren – this post couldn’t have come at a better time for me, so thank you! I’m an ANZ customer and will be travelling through Asia. I was going to go with a Loaded for Travel card (so at least I could have baht for Thailand and USD for Cambodia) but the $6 ATM withdrawal fee is ludicrous! I’m looking into just taking my debit card and sticking to ANZ ATMs, as per your suggestion – do you know if they still charge the currency conversion fees?

    1. Yes I believe they do, I know Westpac does anyway. I don’t think any bank in NZ lets you off those, but the rate can differ (ASB is only 1.1%, compared to Westpac’s 2.5%

  6. Hey, thanks so much for this post!
    With the Global Alliance/Westpac account – do you know if there are fees if you use the eftpos card like an eftpos card overseas, or would it just be the offshore service margin charged? And the same question in regards to the prepaid credit cards – if you used them like an eftpos/credit card, are there any fees? I presume there is not offshore service charge because the money has already been changed to the local currency…

    1. As far as I know the Westpac card can only be used for ATM withdrawals. As for the prepaid cards, there will be no fees if you have money loaded in the correct currency. Hope that helps!

  7. Hi Bren – I’m off to the States for a month and was planning on using my Westpac eftpos card at bank of America ATMs (global alliance bank) to withdraw cash, and then was tossing up between using my Westpac debit plus card or a Onesmart card for any credit card transactions. What would you recommend? Would hotels, car rentals etc accept the Onesmart card? Also, do you know (from your experience) whether the States is a cash friendly place to visit or do merchants prefer credit cards? Thanks!

    1. Yes I was also using my Westpac card in the States, there are no ATM withdrawal fees but they do charge a currency conversion fee when you make a withdrawal which was quite hefty at 2.5%. Sometimes it was cheaper to use my ASB card if withdrawing a large amount, which charges $7.50 + 1.1%.

      If you’re only going for a month it will probably be cheaper to use your debit plus instead of activating a Onesmart. The Onesmart doesn’t give as good exchange rates, and plus, it’s biggest advantages are the free ATM withdrawals which you can get on your Westpac anyway.

      To answer your other questions, the Onesmart should be accepted anywhere that accepts Mastercard. Most of the states should be card friendly – depends on the city I guess. It’s a big place!

      Hope that helps,
      Bren

  8. Have you done any research on opening up accounts with international banks? I know a lot of my American friends use Charles Schwab. They offer great interest rates and no fees for overseas ATM withdrawals.

    I’ve been meaning to check into it for some time now but haven’t gotten around to it.

    1. I haven’t looked into it but I think you need a US residency to open a Charles Schwab. Most American travellers I know use them also, they’re very good.

  9. Hey Bren! Thanks for sharing this 🙂 We are also from NZ and last years atm fees in Vietnam were such a bum for 5 months! so now were more prepared 🙂 keep sharing, good stuff!

    1. Hey Kate, no worries! I think there’s an ANZ in Vietnam if you’re heading back. As a side note I’m moving to Cash Passport over Onesmart because the exchange rate is better, in case you’re going that route.

  10. This post was exactly what I have been looking for. Joining ANZ however does not seem very helpful as to get to the ATM locations would cost me more than the fees required normally, the ATMS are too far and few. Thanks for this post however very helpful and informative.

    1. I am planning on using the westpac card in most of my journey through Europe and USA but I will be doing a bit of travel in Asia first so I have just done a bit of research, and looking at Westpac, BNZ, ANZ and Kiwibank they all charge 2.5% plus the ATM withdrawal fee Which varies from $5.00 to $7.50. In this case would the AirNZ onesmart card not be the best option as they charge minimal fees and includes 3 free withdrawals per month potentially saving you $22.50 a month. As stated above I would not really be willing to go with the ANZ card as it seems to be a bit awkward to get to the ATM locations.

      Are there other hidden transaction costs that I am not seeing here with the onesmart card? Would like to know your thought.

      Regards,
      Stevo

      1. Gday Stevo, the thing with the Onesmart is it doesn’t give a very good exchange rate, so this adds up over time. On a big withdrawal the difference can be up to $20 or $30. Last I checked ASB only charges 1.1% plus $7.50 – in USA and Europe, where you can make quite big withdrawals, this can work out better than Westpac’s 2.5% even after the $8 fee is waived for alliance ATM’s. I have an ASB, a Westpac and a Onesmart and I cycle them, depending on the situation. Annoying, I know.

  11. Hi Bren, thanks for your post!! I’ve been searching online for days trying to find info about NZ travel/credit cards. My eyes hurt. Real bad! My problem is that I’m travelling to South America, where the currencies aren’t an option on any of the travel cards … and if I had NZD on the Travel Cards, the huge 5.75% conversion will likely wipe out any benefit of no ATM fees in the long run.

    After my own research comparing foreign curency conversion rates, atm withdrawl fees and card fees, I’m leaning towards opening a westpac debit account, simply to avoid the ATM fees. My question to you, is whether you have travelled SA and whether you had any trouble finding the global banks aligned with Westpac to avoid fees???

    I will also keep my ASB cards as the give a marginally better conversation rate than westpac. (2.1% so I’m interested how you get 1.1%!!)

    Thanks in advance. Megan 🙂

    1. I’ve been to SA a few times but the global alliance doesn’t have great reach throughout the continent. I’d say it’s best to use a cash passport or an ASB. As for the service margin – this is from ASB Fastnet – ** The Offshore Service Margin is 1.10% for a FastCash overseas withdrawal and 2.10% for a Visa Debit overseas transaction. 

      In other words, withdraw from your ASB checking account rather than your credit account.

      Good luck!

  12. Hi Bren, heres a scenario… i am in Spain and log onto Google NZ and book accommodation with my NZ credit/or debit card buying in NZD (obviously) and paying no foriegn currency changes. (Because the bank see’s a NZ transaction being processed in NZ even though i am in Spain)…. hows that sound? And is it possible?

    Cheers Graham

    1. Hi Graham. Usually the website is very clear on which currency you’re being charged in. It’s possible to book accommodation in NZD on international sites and I do it often (e.g. hotels.com, agoda). And yes, that will avoid the foreign currency rates. The only thing to look out for is to make sure you’re getting a fair exchange rate. Cross check the price you’re given with current rates and see if it’s a reasonable conversion.

  13. Hi Bren,
    Just been reading your useful article.
    Regarding credit cards. I have a Warehouse Credit card and overseas transaction fees are only 1% !
    This is easily the cheapest. Check it out!
    Cheers
    Paul

    PS I am in the process of contacting Charles Swarb bank USA re opening a no fees chequeing ac in USA for a Kiwi resident. I will post on their reply.

    1. Hi Paul. Nice find. I probably won’t be using my credit card too much overseas until they bring one out with 0% foreign transaction fees + Airpoints. Until then I pay with most things in cash. Do let me know what Charles Schwab say!

      1. Hi Bren,
        Just had an online chat session with Charles Schwab. It is possible to open an account with them for free chequeing and them also providing a Visa card ! (don’t know limit though) BUT the catch is to open an International account the minimum deposit is US$10000!

  14. Hey I’ve been booking in NZ dollars on the accommodation sites and I still get charged the 2.5%(WPac) charge every time. It has after all been converted from a currency that is not mine at some stage!! Westpac credit cards WERE free if your card was in credit but they axed that about 6-7 years ago!!

    1. Hey Nic,

      If the site charges you in NZD it shouldn’t incur a charge. I don’t have a Wpac credit card so can’t say if what is happening to you is normal, but on my Kiwibank and ASB I’m getting charged in NZD with no currency conversion.

  15. Hi and thank you! I am going to Cambodia and so got myself a ANZ account for free ATM cash withdrawals but will have to pay 2.5% conversion. My Kiwibank Air NZ mastercard only charges 1.85% conversion but $6 for ATM use abroad PLUS it says possible extra charge from the overseas bank you withdraw from. Any experience of this double ATM charge in Cambodia please? Difficult to work out which option will cost less.

    1. I’ve been using my Kiwibank Mastercard more and more just because the fee is relatively low and it’s convenient. I don’t remember if the local ATM charged fees in Cambodia. ANZ banks are there but I only saw one or two. They use USD there too. If you’re only there a short time take some USD and you may only need to make one withdrawal, so the cost should be negligible.

  16. Great article. We are getting slammed in Central and South America using our ANZ australia account, so have switched back to kiwibank (unfortunately not much cash on that side of the ditch). ANZ Australia and Westpac Australia both charge a 3% (!!!) foreign currency conversion fee for ATM withdrawals and CC purchases, plus the spread on the conversion (usually quite low) plus the ATM fees (not for CC obviously).

    Kiwibank charges 1.7% which is pretty decent. I have an ASB account but left the card at home unfortunately, didn’t realise their rate was 1.1%.

    To answer the global alliance questions, the only countries in Central and South America that are included are Mexico (apparently difficult to find but I never tried), Peru and Chile. We are only in Ecuador so can’t comment on the latter two but will hopefully chase them down when we are there.

    We’ve found the best way to avoid getting screwed over was actually the cash we withdrew (AUD) and got changed to USD before leaving NZ at a little Chinese currency conversion place in Newmarket (spread was about 1.5% I think). Many places accept USD here and if you look, you can find good conversion rates in some countries and at most borders (be careful, a tired me got done at the Colombia/Ecuador border because I wasn’t paying attention, but the rate WOULD have been good!). Nicaragua for example was the best, they basically converted at the mid-market rate everywhere.

    Also, had a look at the Charles Schwab thing. You can sign up as a non-US resident, but I believe you need a minimum $25k USD and also looks like there’s a tonne of paperwork, so not for us at current, but maybe kiwis planning on travelling can look into this if they have time. Our US friends are always rubbing it in our faces…

    Thanks again
    JC

    1. Yes, Ecuador is great because they use the USD. Westpac is only okay because you don’t get charged the $8 ATM fee, but they still charge currency conversion at 2.5%. ASB is still the best I know of for that region. Just try and take your money out in big chunks to keep the number of withdrawals as low as possible.

  17. Hi Bren I live in the USA and I have a ASB card that I use! What is the best option for me to cut down on offshore fees?

  18. Hi Bren, thank you for the article. Appreciate the work you have put in explaining these financial issues to a lay person like me. Can I ask if you know of the best travel card for Thai Baht? I will be heading to Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos but most of my time will be in Thailand. I bank with ASB and have a Visa Debit Card. Thanks,

    1. Hi Colm, Thailand is not great for Kiwis when it comes to currency. I would suggest just taking one big lump sum out on your ASB cheque account, it will cost you $7.50 + 1.1%. Alternatively you could do it in Cambodia, because the ATMs there give USD, then you can change that to local currency in the other countries.

  19. Hi Bren, Great information here about the charges on the cards and the best ones to use overseas, but the other side to this is the customer service backup when things go wrong. I am currently in Spain and have a Loadedfortravel card (for the second year running) and it’s has been great and cheap however it has been skimmed and all money gone. I have contacted Kiwibank many times over the last 10 days and they have been so unresponsive and I cannot believe the lack of response to this serious situation. There systems and customer support are obviously not sophisticated enough to deal with problems when things go wrong. People really need to check the support they will get before deciding on which card to use. They should definitely use one of the bigger banks and not Kiwibank and Loadedfortravel.

    1. Hi Louise, thanks for the tip. I’ve never used that card so I’m not sure what your recourse could be. However, if you don’t have any luck with Kiwibank maybe your travel insurance will help you out.

  20. Really good information thanks! Just wanted to let people know if they travel to Singapore and Malaysia, moneychangers are very heavily regulated by the respective governments. Rates only vary by a small amount OUTSIDE THE AIRPORT and are much better than anything you’ll get with a credit card, there are also no fees. But NEVER ever change your cash at the airport, the rates are terrible and nobody local would ever do that!
    There are moneychangers in most medium to large shopping centres/malls. In Singapore for example, just take the MRT train 10 minutes (at a cost of no more than $1.60) to Expo Station and use the moneychanger in the shopping centre next to the station entrance… You could also pick up some inexpensive but great local food in the food court at the same time!

  21. This is so helpful, thank you so much! Unfortunately, I’m living long term in Indonesia but unable to open a local bank account. THere’s no option for any pre-loaded travel cards in Indonesian rupiah. I get charged about a total of $10NZD for every withdrawal (which I try and minimise but it is difficult). I don’t suppose you have come across any extra information about money saving tips for this region? I’m with ASB and generally use my ASB visa for all withdrawals etc.
    Love this blog post!

  22. Hi guys, I leave for Singapore coming Saturday and then 12 hours later leave for South Africa, Just wanted to know with about $3500 spending money, should I exchange some cash here in New Zealand and load some on a card? Which is best please? I would also lie to know whether I should just use a card in Singapore since I don’t plan to spend much there?

    1. If it were me, I would just withdraw everything from ATMs in South Africa. You can either just use your eftpos card or if you prefer you can get a travel card. However, if you’re planning on spending all that money in SA and you prefer to use plastic, then you could get a travel card and load it all as South African Rand. Loaded for Travel is probably the best card for that amount of money as there is no load fee. If you’re only in Singapore for 12 hours you probably won’t even leave the airport, and you can use any major currency in the airport. If you do leave you could just change a little currency in the city, won’t be a big deal if it’s just a small amount. Have fun!

  23. Hi Bren
    Wow what a lot of info, it’s all very overwhelming, but like you, I hate banks getting anymore money than necessary. We are off to the UK, Europe and Dubai and am just debating how much cash to carry vs loading my Onesmart. We can get an exemption of fees at the airport for buying currency but are the exchange rates worse than at the local branches, wondering if it’s worth our while?
    We also bank with ASB and hadn’t even considered just using an ATM card. Decisions decisions, any hot tips for Europe would be much appreciated. Regards

    1. It really depends on so many things – Euro UK and Dubai probably means you can use plastic a lot and if you’re planning on loading a lot of money the Loaded For Travel card can work well because there is no load fee. There are Global Alliance ATMs in UK and Europe so you can use Westpac for free ATM withdrawals but they charge 2% conversion fee anyway which can add up to quite a lot. But try and figure out which one will work best based on your budget. ASB is fine too – they charge 1.1% but charge a flat $7.50 per withdrawal, so it can still work out cheaper than Westpac depending on how big your withdrawals are. Onesmart is probably not a good idea as the rates are usually really bad on that.

  24. Great tips Bren
    My ASB Visa Platinum reward card has a 2.1% foreign currency fee but then that is offset by the accumulation of 1% true reward benefit so I’m thinking that using that card extensively where ever it is accepted is a better option at 1.1% net, than paying cash by using a Westpac Card at Alliance ATMs which has a 2.5% foreign currency fee. This assumes that the retailer/supplier has not applied an additional local credit card fee in the credit card transaction. What am I missing?

    1. This is true as long as you account for your True Reward Fee and your Platinum card account fee and if the country you’re visiting accepts cards everywhere. The reason I like using cash is because a lot of the places I go to are cash only (markets, street food, cabs etc) and I don’t need to carry my card everywhere. Plus I often use my ASB cash card over my Westpac at ATMs these days, as the fee usually works out lower. Crunch some numbers and if it works out cheaper for you to go Visa then go for it!

  25. The Gem onecard Visa now has a currency conversion fee of 1.9% and foreign ATM and cash advance fee of only $1.50! This means you have to get over $750NZD from an ATM before the ASB EFTPOS card wins. By simply prepaying your credit card you avoid the interest on the cash advance. It costs $65/yr but free for the first 12 months. I’m planning on travelling to Nepal with this card and then cancel it at a later date in preference to using my Air New Zealand
    American Express Card for Airpoints 🙂 What are your thoughts on that plan?

    1. Sounds good! Also if you don’t mind micro-managing your cards (opening and cancelling constantly) you could keep this up for quite a while, as most credit cards in NZ have “special” signups where they’ll waive the annual fee for a year and give you all sorts of other bonuses (Airpoints etc). Just gotta keep an eye out!

  26. Slightly different thread but the lounge benefits of the Amex card rocks! Recently had a 7 hour stop in Sydney and the lounge pass was worth it’s weight in gold. The free food and grog was spectacular,we were like kids in a candy store. Nearly worth flying to Sydney for lunch!

  27. Thanks for great info Bren. Used Westpac alliance to withdraw cash on last trip mainly in France and Italy. This time it is Croatia and Greece – seems no global alliance ATM options there and no ANZ branches. Any tips?

    1. I usually just use an ASB eftpos card and will take the max withdrawal out of the ATM. Because Greece uses the euro it’s not a big deal if you have some leftover – you can just keep it for another trip or it’s easy enough to change back if you need to. Croatia uses the kuna so a little more tricky – depends on how long you’re staying there. If it’s just a few days, exchange a little euro at a currency exchange with a decent rate. Not perfect but will get the job done.

  28. Hi Bren. What a can of worms this is. You’ve done a great job here of letting people communicate ideas and ask questions. I’m heading away shortly to Britain, Europe and the States for a total of 4 months. Fortunate to have a son in England who will get me Euros and Pounds, which has the disadvantage of carrying a lot of cash, but which avoids a lot of fees. I can load up my ASB Visa so that it is in credit and any overseas ATM withdrawals come out at Fastcash rates of 1.1% which is comparatively pretty good I think. I’m still trying to work out if ASB is the best option as credit card. Because we’re away for such a long time I’ll still be making a lot of CC purchases. I’ll get True Rewards points but I’d love to pick your brains to find out if you’re aware of a better solution. Thanks heaps

    1. I had a friend who used the Loaded for Travel debit card. Because she was buying everything with plastic it worked out best for her – it has a low loading fee and she never did ATM withdrawals. Also look into the Warehouse purple cards – they’re pretty good!

  29. Thanks so much for all your advice Bren on this site, it has really helped me a lot on my travels.
    Can I ask for your thoughts here…im going to North Cyprus for 8-10weeks. They use Turkish lira, but also evidently Euro and English Pounds are accepted. I have an ANZ debit card and a Onesmsrt Card. I’m in Finland at the moment. What should I do money wise.. I leave next week. I am not making money so am always using NZ dollars as my main source.

    1. For that period of time I would probably avoid using your Onesmart. The exchange rate will catch up with you a lot. I you’re comfortable carrying around a large amount of cash, I would just take a big withdrawal in Finland and try and use cash. Although in Cyprus you could probably just use your card to pay for most things – I’m not sure though as I’ve never been there.

      1. Thanks for the reply. Wish I had known about your site sooner! I am planning to try and be away for at least 12 months. Unfortunately I didn’t realize Onesmart had such high fees. Sorry to ask another two questions…so am I actually better off using my ANZ eftpos visa debit card in atm machines rather than converting NZ dollars to euros on my Onesmart card and then using that to withdraw money.
        Also is it worth it now or is it even possible to change to another travel wallet now or perhaps i shouldn’t bother.
        Thanks Been in advance for your suggestions..working out the money side of things when travelling is not my strong point! I’m hoping to do volunteer work through work away to keep me going

        1. I actually haven’t checked the Onesmart exchange rate since a few years back so it might have improved. Maybe you can go and compare the rate you’re getting from Onesmart with the rate ANZ gives you. But with the data I have it looks like your ANZ card would be better for actually paying for things with your card. If you’re doing ATM withdrawals, you could probably use either card without much difference. ANZ would give you a better rate but Onesmart ATM withdrawals are free, so it will probably even out. Again it really depends on how much you withdraw and how often.

  30. Hi Bren,

    Thanks heaps for your article.
    I am travelling to Switzerland for 6 weeks shortly and I am wanting to know the best way to get money and pay for things while over there. Since swiss francs isn’t a currency used on travel cards, is it best just to use an eftpos card?
    I am wondering if it is better just to use my Westpac eftpos card at shops since doing this or using an ATM will have the 2.5% fee but if i use an ATM I will get charged an additional $3 per transaction?

    Thanks for your help.
    Ben

    1. You can’t use an EFTPOS card to buy things there, only to withdraw from an ATM. The best card to use at an ATM would be an ASB EFTPOS card. Westpac is expensive to use at ATMs. If you want to pay with plastic I’d get a Kiwibank Mastercard Zero. Otherwise it might even be worth getting Swiss Francs from the bank in New Zealand and taking them with you. You’ll need to check what rate you get though and see if it’s fair.

  31. Just finished my 3 year trip and boy this kinda info woulda been usefull. Had to make do with ANZ Eftpos (very useful in Asia overall most places for compatibility) ASB Debit visa (unfortunately has 2.1% fx, will be changing to mastercard which has lower), BNZ Credit classic (only for online), and the AIRNZ Onesmart, which I didn’t find that useful except in the key countries it had currencies for, I found it hard to find many atms which were compatible with this card compared to my other cards, but with the recent provider change for AIRNZ maybe that has changed. It is now a Platinum Mastercard if you notice, and has the Mastercard Platinum Benefits also like inclusive travel insurance etc. Though wondering when it’s $150 standard platinum card fee a year will kick in.

    1. ASB EFTPOS is still the best I know of for standard ATM withdrawals. $7.50 + 1.1%. Minimise that standard $7.50 with big withdrawals, so especially in Europe just take out 1,000+ EUR at a time and the fee isn’t too bad. Warehouse Money Card also offers pretty cheap cash advances now – I’ve just got one of those.

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