There are too many misleading or uninformed articles across the internet advocating for overpriced and often deceptive Australian travel cards.

Having paid the price of complacency, I have been ripped off with bad travel cards previously.

We’ve used these cards overseas ourselves. We list these cards simply because they are the most affordable, safest, and easiest to use.

Although often confusing, this short list of the best travel cards for Australians should be all you need to know.

Keep reading on because we’ve included important advice for both your physical and online security for overseas banking and tips to get you out of some bad situations.

Up Bank Debit Card – Must Have

Up Bank’s debit card is the best travel card an Australian can own. Behind the millennial marketing is a great card with excellent online features and the best exchange rates.

Up use Wise for currency conversions, rates are lower than any big bank’s travel cards that use Visa or Mastercard rates.

In Thailand, I lose about 0.7% of the real exchange rate. For reference, big banks’ travel cards can take around 4%. That’s six times more expensive.

Now, you may be thinking you’d like the security of a big bank. Up are a subsidiary of Bendigo and Adelaide Bank Limited. 

As for their support, the reply time on the in-app support chat is phenomenal and the quality of service is great.

Wise Multi-Currency Account – Must Have

The Wise Multi-Currency Account serves several purposes: It has the equal best exchange rate, a widely accepted debit card, and the app allows you to make and receive payments in different foreign accounts and currencies.

In other words, you can open bank accounts in around 50 currencies (with some caveats). This makes spending and receiving money online and through bank transfers much easier and a helpful utility you can’t get with other cards.

There is a 2% ATM withdrawal fee if you spend over $350AUD a month, but if you aren’t withdrawing a lot each month the low exchange rate negates this loss. 

Wise’s is facilitated by Visa, so if an ATM doesn’t accept an Up Bank Card (Mastercard payment processor) you can try Wise’s card. 

HSBC Everyday Global Account – Recommended

HSBC’s Everyday Global Account is possibly the best option from any large bank. There is comfort and security that comes with having an account with a multinational bank.

They offer ten different currencies that you can hold in your account, with a focus on the west, Hong Kong, Singapore, and China.

There are no monthly or ATM fees for the account. Bear in mind, the account pays no interest and international money transfers cost $8, but these are best done with your Wise account.

Note: A Citibank Plus Account is a good alternative to this, however, they do have a 2.5% ATM withdrawal fee.

Macquarie – Recommended

Macquarie Transaction Account is a great everyday account. There are no fees on international transactions and purchases and they offer good interest rates.

Of all large Australian banks, Macquarie is the best option for overseas travelers.

Quick tips

Have cards with multiple banks. Then if a card, bank, or payment processor is not working you can try another card.

Carry some US dollars in cash wherever you go. USD is the global currency and can be used to pay for almost anything. It’s a good idea to have a decent amount of the local currency in cash too.

Always have enough money to get you out of a bad situation on the card, but not too much. That way if you lose your phone or password you can still get some cash out with the card.

Never allow the ATM or EFTPOS machine to charge you in Australian dollars or do the currency conversion for you. They will try deceptive language like ‘currency conversion for your convenience’, whereas, in reality, their fees are extortionate and overpriced. Always say no to their conversion.

Some banks in certain countries will charge very high flat-rate fees for ATM withdrawals with a foreign card. In Thailand for example, all banks charge ฿220 ($11) for each cash withdrawal. That is why we recommend opening a local bank account in a country you’re spending a decent amount of time.

Always tell your banks where you are going. If your bank doesn’t know you’re overseas they will likely lock your account as they assume it’s been compromised.

Be aware of buy/sell rates at currency exchange shops. If they aren’t advertising the buy/sell rates and splits on the screen out the front that should be a red flag.

Physical safety while banking

Check for card skimming machines, these are overlaid onto ATM and POS machines. They look as though they are part of the larger machine, but as you pass your card through they steal your bank details. To avoid this, visit ATMs inside bank branches and check for any bulky or unusual plates or readers on the machine.

Depending on where you are, be aware that after visiting an ATM it’s assumed you have cash on you. Therefore, be wary of anyone approaching you in the area as they may be trying to scam you.

How to bank online safely

The importance of online safety can not be overstated. Financial crimes have been increasing rapidly in recent times.

When banking online make sure you always have a VPN in use and are connected to a secure network. If you have a data plan on your phone, use this instead of your Wi-Fi.

As for a VPN, connecting to your home country seems to reduce the chance of your account being locked and makes things easier. We recommend Nord VPN as it is tried and tested and is easy to use.

Have a password manager for all your passwords. If all your bank accounts have the same password and one is compromised that can cause a disaster. Use Nord Pass, as this will make things easier thanks to the similar interface to Nord VPN.

Enable two-factor authentication to make your accounts far more secure. We suggest the Google Authenticator app or any other authenticator app. Make sure to save the backup codes in several safe places.

Note: Make sure SMS verification is either disabled or set to someone’s phone in Australia. Take your SIM card with you, that way you can authenticate anything you forget to change to an authenticator app with data roaming.

How to make international transfers

As we mentioned previously, Wise is great because you can make international transactions and set up foreign bank accounts.

These become very helpful for receiving foreign payments. For example, your hotel in Thailand can’t refund your canceled stay in cash or make a foreign transfer. Simple fix. Give them your Thai bank account details through Wise and they’ll have no trouble refunding your stay.

What should you do?

Get accounts and cards with Up Bank and Wise, as well as one of the other options listed above. Set them up before you leave and tell the bank where you’re going.

Get two-factor authentication, a VPN, and if you have lots to keep track of, a password manager.

When traveling, store the cards in separate places. I like to have one in my backpack, another in my phone case, and one in my laptop bag.

Make sure to update your banks if you go to any new countries and keep cash on you at all times. Always have some USD, especially when crossing borders.

If you’re spending a decent amount of time in a country, it might be worth opening a local bank account.