Travel is full of wonderful surprises, but international transaction fees are not among them. When you purchase outside of Australia or in a foreign currency, expect a fee to follow. While a few dollars might not seem like a lot, they add up — especially if you travel a lot. These fees can, however, be avoided.
What is an international transaction fee?
An international transaction fee is of the most common types of credit card fees you could face if you use your credit card at a non-Australian retailer. International transaction fees are assessed by your credit card issuer and tend to be charged as a percentage of the purchase that you’re making, usually around 3%.
While 3% might not seem like much, the charges can add up. For example, if you jet off to Europe for a month and charge $1,000 on a card with a 3% foreign transaction fee, you’ll have to pay an extra $30 when the bill comes due.
International transaction fees are charged when you use your card overseas, but you don’t have to be out of the country to see this charge. These fees apply whenever you make a purchase with your card from a non-Australian retailer, so if you buy an item online from a company based in another country, you could see the fee on your credit card statement.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has warned people to look out for international fees, both when shopping online and travelling overseas.
Other overseas fees to know
Foreign currency conversion fees
An international transaction fee shouldn’t be confused with a currency conversion fee. Although both can occur on purchases made abroad — and even on the same purchase — they are significantly different. Foreign currency conversion fees are “hidden” fees that are charged when you ask that your transactions be presented to you in dollars.
This fee can also apply to foreign transactions made with a debit card.
International and overseas ATM fees
Banks and credit unions typically charge either a flat fee — often up to $5 — or a percentage of the amount you withdraw when you use a debit card to withdraw cash from an international ATM. This fee may differ from your institution’s domestic out-of-network ATM fee.
If you use a credit card to “buy” foreign cash from an ATM, you should expect to pay cash advance fees and additional interest.
In addition, the machine owner may also have its own ATM fee in addition to what your bank charges, generally a similar amount.
How to avoid international transaction fees
There are plenty of ways to avoid paying withdrawal and purchase fees while you’re on holiday. It takes a little extra planning and preparation, but it’s worth the effort. If you’re going away for an extended time, this can save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.
Stretch your trip budget further by minimising or avoiding international fees, and gain confidence in communicating and negotiating with your bank. It’s a financial skill that’ll pay off.
- Look for banks with no- and low-fee options. Some banks and online institutions have accounts that are friendly to travellers. They may have no foreign transaction fees or traveller-friendly ATM fee reimbursements on international ATMs.
- Find banks with international networks. Some institutions have partnerships with banks in other countries so travellers can use their ATMs and not pay out-of-network fees. Before you travel, you can check to see if your bank has an arrangement of that type.
- Get a prepaid travel card. There are specific travel cards for preloaded foreign currencies, such as Travelex or the Australia Post prepaid card. While these products are great if you want to lock in an exchange rate and ATM international withdrawal fees, they have limitations. Travelex, for example, charges monthly inactivity and closure fees.
- Use payment cards like credit and debit cards. These options are generally cheaper than International Money Transfers (IMTs), withdrawing foreign cash while overseas, and using prepaid travel cards for overseas purchases, according to the ACCC report This includes withdrawing foreign cash while overseas. Additionally, some banks have no international transaction fees or money transfer charges.
- Skip foreign cash exchanges. There’s one universal rule when it comes to overseas travel: avoid foreign cash exchanges at the airport. Don’t be lured in by the ‘no fees, no commissions’ sign. These providers rely on a highly unfavourable exchange rate (and travellers who aren’t well-versed in these calculations).
- Work with your bank. Like everything finance-related, it pays to talk to your bank for specific advice. Your bank is there to provide you with all the relevant options, so make it part of your financial plan to reach out regularly to discuss upcoming plans and long-term goals.
- Avoid freezes. It’s also important to tell your bank about any future trips, so if you do use your cards, they won’t automatically put a block on them, mistaking your overseas purchases for someone else using your card. You can inform your bank of your trip dates through your online login to prevent issues using your card abroad. Westpac customers, for example, will navigate to the ‘notify going overseas’ page.
» MORE: 9 things to know before getting a credit card
Common overseas fees charged by Australian banks
This is a general guide to the types of overseas fees charged on different products by various Australian banks. Please note that using a credit card at an ATM results in a cash advance fee, and currency conversion fees and additional charges from the ATM owner may also apply.
|Bank and product||Overseas ATM Fee||International Transaction Fee|
|Commonwealth Bank Travel Money Card||$3.50, or foreign currency equivalent using the Visa exchange rate at the time of the withdrawal||N/A|
|Commonwealth Bank Debit Mastercard||$2 within network, $5 out-of-network||3%|
|Commonwealth Bank Credit Card||$3, or 3%||3%|
|Westpac Worldwide Wallet||$0 within network, or $1.50-$2.00 out-of-network (based on the currency)||N/A|
|Westpac Debit Mastercard||$0 within network, or $5 out-of-network||2.2% in Autralia, 3% when overseas|
|Credit Card Westpac||$0 within network, or $5 out-of-network||2.2% in Autralia, 3% when overseas|
|NAB Debit Card or NAB Visa Debit card||$5||3%|
|NAB Platinum Visa Debit Card||$5||$0 on purchases, 3% on cash withdrawls|
|NAB StraightUp Card||N/A||N/A|
|Other NAB Credit Cards||$5||3%|
|ANZ credit cards||$4||3%|
|ANZ debit cards||$5 per cash withdrawal at a non-ANZ ATM, plus 3% of the transaction value (including any ATM operator fees)||3%|
|ING credit cards||$0-$5 (rebates available)||$0-3% (rebates available)|
|ING debit cards||$0-$5 (rebates available)||$0-3% (rebates available)|
|ING Orange Everyday card||$0-$5 (rebates available for the first 5)||$0-3% (rebates available)|
|Macquarie Bank debit cards||$0||$0|
|Macquarie Bank credit cards||$5, or 3%||$0|
|American Express Credit Cards||$2.50, or 2%||3% currency conversion fee|
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), “Foreign currency conversion services inquiry (2 September 2019),” accessed Feb. 06, 2023.
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