Commonwealth Bank Travel Card: Foreign Currency Rates & Fees explained

TransferWise
12.04.19
10 minute read

Travel money cards allow users to load foreign currency before travelling, which they can then spend or withdraw from ATMs as they travel. One advantage is that you’re locking in the exchange rate available when you add money - and of course, they are also pretty convenient and safe. The Commonwealth Bank travel money card is issued by Visa, and comes with a range of features, and some fees you should consider before choosing to use it.

This handy guide covers all you need to know, including:

  • The limits and costs applied to the CommBank travel card
  • The currencies available for customers using the Commonwealth Bank card
  • How to get and use your card, including troubleshooting for some common issues
  • A look at the features and benefits - and how they compare with an alternative, the borderless card from TransferWise

Exchange rates

When you’re choosing a travel money card, it’s smart to check the exchange rate that’s used to convert your balance from dollars to the currency you need for your holiday. Exchange rates move all the time, depending on a wide range of factors including global economic performance and investor confidence. The best way to see how your exchange rate is trending is to check an online currency converter, or simply use a google search.

This will give you the mid-market exchange rate for your currency pair, which is the one used on the global financial markets, and so the best benchmark to use when comparing the exchange rates used by bank and currency exchange services. Check this rate against the exchange rate Commonwealth Bank will use for your travel money.

You can find the exchange rates which are applied for different currency transactions on the Commonwealth Bank website. It’s helpful to know that there is a different rate to load your travel money card, compared to the rate used to withdraw cash from your card. That’s because the Commonwealth Bank buy and sell rate for currencies are different. This will usually mean it costs you more to buy your foreign currency than you’ll get if you sell currency back to the bank. Look carefully at the table to make sure you’re using the right rate for your needs.

You can check out the rate for your particular currency against other options out there to make sure you’re getting the best available deal. One option which uses the mid-market exchange rate for all currency conversion is TransferWise. You can get the real mid-market rate for international currency transfers, or get yourself a TransferWise multi-currency borderless account to make managing your money while you travel even easier.

The borderless account lets you hold your money in 40+ currencies, and switch between them for a small transparent fee using the mid-market exchange rate. You can get a linked debit card which you can use similarly to a travel money card issued by other Australian highstreet providers, to make ATM withdrawals, and spend with merchants as you travel. Simply load your account with dollars, switch to the currency of your choice for a low fee, and you’re all set.

Fees & charges

Before you choose a travel card, you’ll want to check out the fees applied. Different cards have quite different fee structures, so a bit of research can mean you get a much better deal in the end. Here are some of the most important charges you need to know about, for the Commonwealth Bank card.

ServiceFee
Card purchase feeFree if you order online$15 if ordered in a branch
Card replacement$15
ATM withdrawalThe charge for ATM withdrawals relates to the currency being withdrawn. For example, getting cash from an ATM in the US will cost USD2.50, in the UK it’ll be GBP2 and in the euro area, you can expect to pay EUR2.20 In some countries, and at some ATMs, you may be charged an additional fee which is levied by the ATM operator You may also pay more for your withdrawal if you choose to pay in Australian dollars while overseas. More on this in a minute. You can withdraw fee free from CommBank and BankWest ATMs in Australia
Currency conversion fee for purchases and withdrawalsThe exchange rate used when converting your currencies is the Visa rate plus a percentage markup of 5.25% You may pay a fee for your purchase if you choose to pay in Australian dollars while overseas. More on this in a minute.
Card close feeThis is set by the Commonwealth Bank, and you’ll be notified the total amount when you apply to close the card

It’s helpful to know about dynamic currency conversion - DCC - if you’re planning on using your prepaid card, debit or credit card while you’re overseas.

DCC is where you’re asked if you would rather pay in Australian dollars instead of the local currency when you’re travelling. This might seem like it’ll make life easier because you don’t need to work out the conversion yourself. However, if you choose to pay in dollars, the exchange rate used will be set buy the merchant or ATM operator, and may include fees and charges. This usually means you pay more than you would if you choose to pay in the local currency instead.

Currencies available

Here are the currency options open to you when using the Commonwealth bank travel money card:

  • US dollars (USD)
  • Euros (EUR)
  • Great British pounds (GBP)
  • Australian dollars (AUD)
  • Japanese yen (JPY)
  • New Zealand dollars (NZD)
  • Hong Kong dollars (HKD)
  • Canadian dollars (CAD)
  • Singapore dollars (SGD)
  • Thai baht (THB)
  • Vietnamese dong (VND)
  • Chinese renminbi (CNY)
  • Emirati dirham (AED)

Limits

Here’s an overview of main limits you’ll want to know about if you are thinking of getting a travel money card from the Commonwealth Bank.

Maximum load amountAUD50,000 or currency equivalent
Maximum balanceAUD50,000 or currency equivalent
Maximum daily ATM withdrawalAUD2,500 or currency equivalent
Maximum ATM withdrawal per transactionDecided by ATM provider
Maximum spending per day (excluding ATM withdrawals)AUD7,500 or currency equivalent
Minimum amount per load and minimum balance allowedAUD 1.00 or foreign currency equivalent
Maximum number of loads, over the counter withdrawals and currency transfers from your card per day14

App

You can use the CommBank app, which is available for both Apple and Android devices, to view transactions, and carry out other actions such as reporting or locking lost card. This is similar to the NetBank online banking option which is also available to travel money card holders. The CommBank app gets good user reviews at the time of writing - hitting a solid 4.1/5 for the Apple version.

You can also choose to keep track of spending on your card using SMS alerts if you prefer.

So, is it good?

Travel money cards are very popular, especially with younger travellers aged 24 - 34. Men in particular are using travel card products as an alternative to carrying cash, or relying on a credit or debit card when overseas.

Travel money cards allow you to lock in the exchange rate that is being used at the point you top up your balance. If you think the rates are likely to get worse over time, adding credit to your card when the rates look favourable can be a good way to get the best possible deal on your currency. However, there are various fees and charges applied whenever you use your travel money card. These vary from product to product, so it’s a good idea to check out a few different options to find the one which works best for your needs.

Compare the travel cards you find on the high street, with some of the smart online alternatives out there such as the borderless card from TransferWise. Load up your account with dollars, and switch to the currency you need using the mid-market rate, and just a small transparent fee. You can then use the card to pay fee free using currencies you hold in your account, and withdraw up to the equivalent of $250 from ATMs without charge. After that amount, there’s a low withdrawal fee of 2% to pay. Because banks often charge a fee to use your regular debit or credit card abroad, and may use an exchange rate which includes a markup, this can work out to be a much cheaper option.

How to get & use a Commonwealth Bank travel card

Here are the steps you need to take to get started with your Commonwealth Bank travel money card.

Order

You can order your card online by logging into NetBank, or call into your local branch. You’ll be asked to load an opening amount - this can be as low as $1 to begin with - to get your card up and running.

Users are given 2 cards which both relate to the same account. This is so that you have a second linked card available if your first card is lost or stolen. If you order online, you’ll receive your cards in 5 - 10 days, and it’ll have your name printed on it. If you choose to order in branch, it’ll cost $15, but you can get your hands on the cards straight away.

Activation

Once you have your card, you’ll need to activate it and set your secure PIN number either using the CommBank app or by logging into NetBank.

Using it

Once you have your card, you’ll just need to top up the balance by selecting the currency or currencies you want to spend. You can then use it for ATM withdrawals, and to pay directly with merchants, subject to the limits set out above.

In most cases you can use your card wherever you see the Visa symbol. However, there are a few exceptions. Some services which require prepayment - such as buying fuel direct at the pump, or hiring a car - may not accept prepaid cards, so do check before you choose to use your travel card

Top-up

You can top up your card online with the CommBank app or using the NetBank online banking system. The cards are valid for 2 years, so you can top up well in advance of travelling if you’d like to, or if it helps you to budget for your break.

Buy back

When your holiday is over you can simply leave any unspent money on your card for your next trip, or convert it back to dollars at the prevailing rate. Once you have converted it back to dollars, you can withdraw it using an ATM, ot have it transferred to a nominated bank account if you’d rather. There may be fees to pay for this service.

Contact information

If you have any problem with your travel money card or need to contact Commonwealth Bank for advice, you have a few options:

  • If your card has been stolen or lost, you can lock it via the app or your online banking page. You can also order a new card at the same time
  • Contact customer services from within Australia by phone on 1300 660 700, any time of day or night
  • Or phone on +61 2 9999 3283 from overseas (reverse charges accepted)

Troubleshooting

Here are the solutions to a few common problems travel card users may encounter.

Lost or damaged cards

If your card is lost or damaged, you must contact the Commonwealth Bank customer service team on the numbers available above, or call into a branch to report the loss. If you don’t do this straight away, you’ll likely find that CommBank won’t refund you for any spending on your card after the loss.

However, a lost or damaged card shouldn’t stop you accessing your money. You’ll be issued 2 cards when you first apply, so you can continue to use the second card even if the first is lost or stolen while you’re travelling. You may also be eligible to apply for cardless cash - an emergency cash service - depending on the circumstances. Contact customer service to find out more.

Declined cards

There are a few common reasons your card may be declined. Firstly make sure you are using the correct PIN for your card, as each of your 2 travel cards has a unique PIN number. You’ll also need to check you have enough money on your card for the transaction, including any fees. If an ATM adds extra fees to a withdrawal for example, you’ll need to have the balance to cover this as well as your cash withdrawal.

Some retailers will not accept prepaid cards, or may impose other conditions on their use, which could also be the reason your card is declined. This is common when using services such as hotels, which may want to put a hold on some of your funds as a deposit set against your bill. In this case, you’ll need to have enough on your card to cover this hold amount, and may not be able to access it until the hotel releases the funds upon your departure.

Forgotten PIN or blocked card

If you enter the wrong PIN into an ATM or merchant terminal, you might find that your card is blocked by Commonwealth Bank’s fraud team. In this case you’ll have to call the customer services number to have your card unblocked.

Expired card

Your cards will be issued with a 2 year validity period - the end date is printed on the card as a reference. From 6 months before the end of your card’s validity, you can order a replacement in a Commonwealth Bank branch or through NetBank. Or, if you wish to close your card and account, you can withdraw your funds to another dollar account by calling customer services or visiting a branch.

Tips

Here are a few more ideas to help you get the most from your travel card:

  • You’ll be issued 2 cards when you apply for your first travel money card with CommBank. The second is there to use if your first card is damaged, lost or stolen. Make sure you keep the cards in different places while you travel, to minimise the chance of losing them both at the same time
  • DCC - dynamic currency conversion - which we covered earlier, is one of the most common headaches for travellers, and can mean you pay more than you need to. Always choose to pay in the local currency to avoid this tricky charge.
  • Choose your moment to top up your travel card. By loading funds when the exchange rate for your currency looks good, you can make sure you’re getting the best available deal.
  • Watch for extra fees added to ATM withdrawals. These are commonly found in pubs, clubs and other locations with a captive market. Get your cash from an ATM in or near a bank instead, and always check the screen for notifications of additional charges

Travel money cards offer a great alternative to outdated payment methods like travellers cheques, and are an effective supplement to other options like paying with cash or using a credit or debit card. They’re flexible, convenient, and can be a good way to get the best exchange rates available before your trip. However, there are fees and limits you should know about before choosing the travel card that’s right for you.

Do a bit of research before you make a decision, and don’t forget to look at the modern alternatives from specialist providers like TransferWise, as well as the cards offered by familiar local banks.

All sources accurate as of 31 January 2019


This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

TransferWise is the smart, new way to send money abroad.

Find out more

Tips, news and updates for your location