Travelling overseas means dealing with credit card providers flippantly dipping into your wallet for a taste of your hard earned – all with minimal work on their end. Finance expert Noel Whittaker gives his advice for the best ways to avoid handing over too much when you’re abroad.


Wehave just arrived home from a five-week trip overseas which took us to Paris, London, and finally Los Angeles, to be with our son James for the birth of his first child.

The trip gave me the opportunity to update my research on the most efficient way to pay for trips overseas, and the first point of difference in this trip was that it was cashless. All local transport was by Uber, we carried our own bags in hotels, and used cards everywhere else.

For years, I have extolled the virtues of the 28° MasterCard, which is one of the cards I carried. There is no annual fee, small fees on transactions, and a good conversion rate. However, I also took my ING debit card, which is a Visa card.

After testing identical transactions, I found both cards offered the same competitive exchange rate, but the ING card has extra features. It can be used at ATMs around the world with all fees refunded, and does not charge a fee if you deposit money into the card when you are travelling. The 28° MasterCard charges $0.95 for every deposit as well as not insignificant fees on cash withdrawals.

The MasterCard is a credit card, and the ING card is a debit card. They both have great phone apps that enable you to keep track of all your spending in detail. But once again ING had the edge. Within seconds of making a transaction it appeared on the app with the name of the merchant and the Australian equivalent. 28° MasterCard displayed the transaction in real time, but took about three days to show the merchant’s name.

Of course, the special benefit of a debit card is that you cannot overspend, because all you are doing is spending money in the account linked to it.

Of course, the special benefit of a debit card is that you cannot overspend, because all you are doing is spending money in the account linked to it.

The ING card taught me something else I wish I had known years ago. Apparently, many of those overseas transactions which appear on your statement have hidden fees. How did I find out? By noticing all the credit entries on my ING card marked “international transaction fee rebate”. Some were for just 42 cents, but one was as high as $15.76. The amount appears to be around 3.5% of most transactions. I reckon I got back close to $100, which goes a long way to paying my $10 a day Telstra roaming plan.

Don’t forget to have a backup card. When we checked out of our hotel in London I tried to prepay for accommodation at the same hotel for a return visit in September. The hotel tried to process the payment, but 28° MasterCard declined it. We then tried to repeat the transaction with half the cost of the original – that was approved. Next day when I looked at the app, I noticed that the declined transaction had appeared as an approved transaction, and as a result there were no funds left on the credit card.

Don’t forget to have a backup card.

We were then stuck between a rock and a hard place. The hotel claimed the money had not been paid to them, and after several long phone calls to Australia the MasterCard people said it was held “pending” until the hotel “released it”. The hotel denied that. At date of writing I am still trying to resolve it. But imagine the situation for anyone in that situation who did not have a backup card. They would be stranded overseas with no money! The final insult was a text from 28° MasterCard saying they were investigating the matter and expected an outcome within 21 days!!

Noel Whittaker is the author of Making Money Made Simple and numerous other books on personal finance.