One of the best ways to save money while travelling is to make sure you’ve put your money with a bank that won’t rip you off with ATM charges and other extraneous items that can sap your travelling cash
Yesterday I withdrew some cash from a Siam Commercial Bank ATM here in Bangkok. I was using my UK ATM card to do so, and realised after I’d hit the transaction button that Siam Commercial Bank (SCB for short) had charged me 20 Baht ($0.60) simply for the privilege of using an overseas card in their ATM machine. Needless to say, I won’t be using them again, and there are plenty of other Thai Banks who have ATMs that don’t make spurious charges on tourists’ bank cards. (SCB are easy to spot – they’re big on purple and gold as their brand colours).
20 Baht isn’t much in the big scheme of things, but it is when you’re withdrawing money every week. Certainly it’s cash you want to hang on to for travelling rather than giving it away to the bank. I learnt this the hard way when I first went travelling 5 years ago. My long term bank account in the UK was with LloydsTSB, and I used my debit card all over Australia and Asia while I spent my first 18 months away. Each withdrawal was costing me around £ 1 a go, and so by the time I went back to the UK I must have thrown away over £100 just on bank charges. Really stupid.
Luckily I discovered the Nationwide building society account which lets you get a debit card where you are not charged anything when you withdraw money anywhere around the world. Not a single penny. I have been using my Nationwide card ever since and it has saved me a small fortune accessing my UK funds.
This is a view backed up by Travelfish, who asked their readers for the best bank card choices and then put together this handy guide. For American and Australian residents, there are some alternative suggestions as to worthwhile bank cards in their own countries.
As well as ensuring that your primary source of cash while travelling isn’t going to be sapping your cash, I would definitely recommend you have a credit card as backup for any emergencies on the road. Preferably bring Visa and Mastercard if you can. Check to see if you can get a 0 per cent interest period that covers your period of travel when you sign up for a new card.
However, there are two caveats – you should exercise extreme caution using a credit card, otherwise you’ll have some nasty bills mount up very fast; and that you should read up on where you can use credit cards in the countries you’re visiting. You should definitely not assume everywhere will accept them automatically. Moreover, it’s common practice in Asia to pass on the processing fee – typically 3 to 5 per cent – to the customer rather than the seller paying it themselves. Credit cards, therefore, need to be used very carefully to avoid nasty surprises.