I've written previously about the various ways of accessing your spending money whilst overseas but after my most recent trip to Europe (June/July 2018) and the release of the latest report by CANSTAR, I thought it timely to provide an update on what I consider to be the best travel money card for Europe.
Note: Whilst this article was written from an Australian traveller's perspective, the Travelex Money Card that I recommend is available for purchase by US citizens. If you're a US citizen, click here to order your Travelex Money Card.
Travel Money Cards, also called Cash Passports, cash cards or currency cards, are debit cards that allow you to pre-purchase foreign currencies before you start your holiday. The biggest advantage is that you are using your own money - prepaid and loaded onto your card before you leave home - so you're not in for any nasty credit cards bills on your return.
By loading the funds on to your Travel Money Card before you travel, you lock in the exchange rate at the time of purchase so if the rate drops whilst you are away, you won't be affected. Conversely, if the exchange rate improves after you've loaded your card, you won't benefit.
Most major Australian institutions, as well as our two major airlines, offer travel money cards, each slightly different in their name and fee structure. Some have an initial purchase fee (generally around $10 - $15) and all allow various numbers of different currencies to be loaded on to the card.
On previous trips to Europe I have used a Commonwealth Bank Travel Money Card, an OzForex (now called OFX) Travel Money Card and a Velocity Global Wallet card.
After hearing lots of different opinions, on my most recent trip (June/July 2018) I took both a Velocity Global Wallet card (which still had some funds loaded on it from a previous trip) and a Travelex Money Card, and compared the two.
If you are also wanting to compare travel cards for Europe, I hope you will find the following findings helpful.
Travelex Money Card vs Velocity Global Wallet travel card comparison
|Travelex Money Card||Velocity Global Wallet|
|Initial purchase fee||1.1% of initial load up to $15 maximum||Nil|
|Additional card available||Yes - $5 fee applies||Yes - $10 fee applies|
|Inactive card fee||$4/month if inactive for 12 months||$1.95/month after 12 months|
|Reload/top-up fee||Free if done via Travelex website||Yes|
|Ability to add funds via BPAY||Yes||Yes|
|Fee for International ATM withdrawals||Free+||$1.95 per transaction|
|Able to use for contactless payments||Yes||Yes|
|Number of currencies available||10||11|
|Average fee for using non-loaded currencies||5.95%||5.95%|
|Order/purchase card online||Can be ordered online but must be collected in-store*||Yes|
|Collection fee||$10 fee applies for orders under $2000#||N/A|
|24/7 online assistance||Yes||No, email or phone only|
|Emergency cash/card available if lost or stolen||Yes||Yes|
|App available for tracking transactions||Yes||Yes|
|CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO|
*over 2000 collection locations in Australia including some Australia Post outlets
#applicable to collections from Australia Post outlets only
+Some ATM operators may charge their own fees
In preparation for my European trip, I purchased a Travelex Money Card which I loaded with Euro at an exchange rate of 0.6214 (to the Australian dollar). On the same day, I checked the exchange rates being offered by Velocity Global Wallet - I already held a card from a previous trip - and their rate was 0.6135.
On a AUD$5000 purchase, the Travelex exchange rate resulted in me receiving around €30 more, and even with a AUD$15 initial card purchase fee charged by Travelex, I was still better off.
I also added additional funds to my Velocity Global Wallet card, and again, when comparing the exchange rates, Travelex offered a better rate.
Throughout my trip I often made two transactions in the same location - one with my Travelex card and one with my Velocity card - to compare the results.
Overall, my findings were that as well as offering a better exchange rate, cash withdrawals from ATMs were free with my Travelex card, whereas I was charged €1.20 for each ATM withdrawal on my Velocity card.
Neither card can be loaded with any European currencies other than Euros or British pounds so withdrawing funds or using either card for payments in countries like Switzerland or the Czech Republic (which have their own currencies), is expensive.
In these instances, I was charged almost 6% to convert my pre-loaded Euros to the local currency.
Thankfully I kept within my spending budget throughout my trip but should I have needed more funds, I could have loaded additional funds onto either card via BPAY.
Travelex Money Card review
In the latest CANSTAR report (June 2018), the Travelex Money Card was one of the four best travel cards for Europe (or multi-currency cash passports) that were each given a 5* rating. This is based on a number of criteria which you can read here.
In my opinion, and that of CANSTAR, one of the strong selling points of the Travelex Money Card is the above average exchange rates it offers compared to other providers. Click here to browse all the Travelex Money Card’s features.
Other things I like about the Travelex Money Card:
- No ATM fees - I used my card at a range of different banks in various European countries and when withdrawing funds I was changed no ATM fees.
- Easy to use app - you can download an app on your mobile device to monitor your card balance and check transactions.
- You can view exchange rates on the website before you actually purchase the card.
- The card can be topped up for free using BPAY via the Travelex website (a fee applies if you top up with BPAY via your own bank’s website or app).
- Purchase of the card includes free access to millions of WiFi hotspots around the world using the Boingo network. (I didn’t use this service but it was available to me.)
What I don’t like about the Travelex Money Card
- As I live in regional Victoria, I couldn’t pick up the card in my town and had to drive to the nearest Travelex store which is 45 minutes away. I did have the option of collecting the card at the airport prior to my departure, but I thought that was fraught with danger - imagine if I had got so caught up in checking in, etc that I forgot to collect it!
You can view a list of Travelex stores in Australia here
- There is an inactive fee of $4 per month if the card hasn’t been used for 12 months (if there is a balance remaining on the card). You can avoid this fee by converting the remaining funds on your card to Australian dollars and making a purchase in Australia.
If you are unlikely to use the foreign currency again within the next 12 to 18 months, my advice is to spend or withdraw the remaining funds whilst still overseas.
Velocity Global Wallet review
Pros of the Velocity Global Wallet card
Obtaining a Velocity Global Wallet card offers a number of advantages, the main one being particularly relevant to members of Virgin Australia’s frequent flyer program, Velocity. Two points are earned for every AUD$1 spent overseas so if you load AUD$2000 onto your card, you will earn 4,000 Velocity points.
The Global Wallet card is available to both Velocity members and non-members and is posted out by mail. This can be more convenient for those that live in regional Australia but you are subject to mail delays.
An app can be downloaded to your mobile device to monitor transactions and an email is sent to the card holder after each transaction is made.
Things I don’t like about the Velocity Global Wallet
The downsides of the Velocity card for me are:
- ATM fees - I was charged €1.20 each time I withdrew cash from an ATM in Europe, regardless of the currency I was withdrawing.
- The exchange rates were not as competitive as the Travelex card
- Velocity exchange rates can’t be viewed until you have set up an account/ordered your card
Need assistance working out a budget for your Euro trip? Click here to read my article ‘What to budget for a 4 week holiday in Europe (by car or train)
Why you should purchase a travel card for Europe
I’ve often been asked if it’s worth the effort of purchasing a travel money card rather than just using a regular bank-issued EFTPOS card at overseas ATMs and my answer is a definitive YES.
Your local bank will charge a transaction fee for withdrawing funds from a foreign bank using your regular ATM/debit card, and fees can range from 3% to around 6%. This can add up to a substantial amount by the end of your trip.
Why pay bank fees when you can withdraw from an international ATM for free with the Travelex Money Card?
(US residents, CLICK HERE to order your card)
When NOT to use a travel money card in Europe
There are times when I advise you NOT to use a travel money card for purchases or withdrawing funds. If you are travelling in a country whose currency is unable to be loaded onto a prepaid currency card, I recommend you use a credit card.
Whilst visiting Iceland, Switzerland and the Czech Republic, I paid lower fees when using my Mastercard (credit card) than I did using either travel money card that I had with me.
The average fee for using my Mastercard for transactions in Europe was 3% compared to almost 6% with a preloaded travel card.
If you are searching for the best travel money card for Switzerland, unfortunately at the moment there isn’t one!
Hopefully, in the not too distant future, more currencies will be able to be preloaded onto travel money cards as they are a fantastic way to access your own money overseas.
Which travel card is best for Europe?
There are many different travel money cards available so before you make your purchase be sure to read the terms and conditions that apply to each card.
At the end of the day, they all work the same in that you load an amount of currency of your choice onto a card before travel, locking in the exchange rate in advance, but based on my experiences, I think the Travelex Money Card is the best travel card to use in Europe.
I am happy to put up with the inconvenience of driving 45 minutes to my nearest Travelex store to collect my card knowing that the exchange rate is better, and that there will be no ATM fees on purchases I make overseas.
And as for the monthly inactive fee - I just have to be smart and make sure I spend all my pre-loaded funds before I return home!
Have you used a travel money card when travelling overseas? What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages?