American Express Serve, and
Post Office Travel Money Cards
Prepaid ATM/debit cards replace traveler's checks
ABOVE: With a prepaid travel cash card, you're likely to
whacked with two fees (a transaction charge and a "conversion fee") every time you
withdraw money from an ATM overseas.
Prepaid debit cards are
popular with travelers as modern-day replacements for traveler's checks.
Safety is the main appeal of a prepaid travel cash card: If your
card is lost or stolen, the card company will issue a new card or refund
the unused balance.
However, you'll pay a premium for this reassurance,
especially if you use the cards to obtain foreign currency--and you'll still
need to carry a credit card for occasions when the prepaid card can't be used
(e.g., to secure car-rental or hotel reservations).
Visa Travelmoney Card
the U.S., the best-known prepaid travel card is the
Visa TravelMoney Card, which is sold by a variety of banks, "big box"
retailers, auto clubs, and other issuers.
Fees vary from vendor to vendor, but you could pay
anywhere from US $6.95 to $12.95 just to get the card, plus fees for checking
your balance, withdrawing money from ATMs, etc. You may even be charged a
monthly fee until you've exhausted the balance of your account.
TravelMoney is available in various preloaded amounts, depending
on where you're buying it. (Some vendors have minimums as low as $25 and maximum
loads of $5,000 or $10,000.). Normally, you can reload the card at the vendor's Web
site or by calling a toll-free number, with reload fees that can range from
several dollars to $15.
Using the Travelmoney card is like using a credit or check card,
and you can withdraw money from any ATM that displays the Visa logo.
American Express Serve
Another card, the
American Express Serve, is similar to Visa's TravelMoney Card.
slogan is "low fees and nothing to hide"--a fair enough claim, since the
fees are clearly spelled out in a chart on the American Express Serve Web site.
(Look for a link under "No Hidden Fees.)
A prepaid card for UK residents
If you live in Britain, you might want to investigate the
Post Office Travel Money Card
card can be purchased in eight currencies, and the fees are clearly explained on
the Post Office's Web site.
Traveling abroad? Read this warning:
If you withdraw
cash or make purchases in a currency other than the one on a prepaid travel
card, you're likely to be hit with an eye-popping conversion fee
in addition to the ATM transaction fee.
You may even get clobbered with the
fee if you make a purchase in your own currency outside your country's
example, if you're an American paying in dollars on a U.S. cruise ship in international waters).
Should you buy a prepaid traveler's cash card?
It depends. As a rule, we'd say "No." It makes far more sense to carry a
standard ATM card with a credit card as backup. If you want additional peace of
mind, buy a few traveler's checks and keep them in a neck wallet or money belt.
Need more money advice? See the articles below.
Top photo copyright ©Jennifer Trenchard.