Travel money pros and cons, from prepaid travel cards to cash currency

WT Writer
Apr 12, 2020
Top tips on managing your travel money, from whether it’s worth visiting the bureau de change or sticking to your credit or debit card


In many countries, cash is still king, especially for small transactions, which is why it’s always best to take some small bills in the local currency to use for basic essentials, such as tips and taxis. It’s not advisable to carry large amounts of cash on you, however. The amount you can take in and out of a country varies, so check before you travel, as you may need to declare it at customs. Always opt to exchange cash at a local bank or trusted currency exchange as you’ll likely get better rates than you would at the airport or hotels.

Good for: The first day of your trip, and when travelling to remote areas. 

Yes it’s flexible, but you run the risk of losing your wallet and facing claim difficulties

Pros: Flexibility and convenience.

Cons: If you lose your wallet, it can be hard to make a claim for cash on your travel insurance, unless you have proof of how much money you had on you.

World Traveller recommends: Currency app XE to keep track of currency exchange rates – and whether you’re getting a good deal.

Debit Card

This handy piece of plastic affords you easy access to cash from ATMs, alongside the option for making electronic payments. When using an ATM abroad, however, expect to be charged – usually a flat fee of US$1-5, as well as a percentage of the amount you withdraw. Look for an ATM associated with your bank for the best deal. 

Keep an eye out for fees when using your card in a different country

Good for: Those who prefer to stick to a clear budget.

Pros: Widely accepted and convenient for getting cash in hand from the ATM.

Cons: Hefty ATM and exchange fees could apply. Plus, if the card is hacked or stolen, your available funds are at risk.

World Traveller recommends: Make sure your card is from one of the major providers, such as Visa and Mastercard, which are widely accepted around the world. If you’re planning to rely on it, ensure it’s accepted in the destination you’re travelling to.

Credit Card

Unlike cash and debit cards, credit cards provide the ultimate protection against fraud. Another perk is that you’re usually granted access to great rewards. With an Emirates NBD dnata World credit card, for example, you can earn 15% reward points back on every purchase with dnata Travel. Plus, you get extra travel benefits when you sign up, including AED2,500 worth of travel vouchers, complimentary access to VIP airport lounges and more. 

When it comes to protection against fraud, credit cards are a good bet

Good for: Frequent travellers. 

Pros: An extra layer of security, and travel benefits. 

Cons: Credit cards can have fees attached, such as international finance charges, that range anywhere from two to five per cent, so always check the small print before you travel.  

World Traveller recommends: If you travel a lot, look for a credit card that’s aimed specifically at globetrotters and reap the extra benefits. Word to the wise: always notify your bank of your travel plans so they don’t put a pause on your card for suspicious or fraudulent activity. 

Prepaid Travel Card

These handy cards can hold a number of different currencies at once, making them useful for trips with multiple stops. This ultimately allows you to spend overseas without paying a currency conversion fee (provided the currency held on the card matches the local currency) and to lock-in the exchange rates before you travel. Plus, the card isn’t linked to your bank account, which means ultimate security and comes with a back-up in case the first card is lost or stolen.

Planning multiple trips? Then a travel card might work in your favour

Good for: Multi-trip holidays.

Pros: If your card is stolen, your loss is limited to the amount on the card. 

Cons: The fees can rack up – some issuers charge an activation fee and will bill you for every use of the card, so be sure to check the terms and conditions. 

World Traveller recommends: Reading the small print before you sign up.

See more travel tips here, from how to conquer your fear of flying to how to write your travel wish list for 2020.