Have you ever encountered times when you saw a marvellous deal overseas but realised you didn’t have enough cash? What did you do? Walked away sulkily, trying hard to forget that you ever saw that great deal? Or did you explore other options so you could still bag it home?

In this article, I will share the various alternatives and how to proceed with that coveted purchase. You will also learn the pros and cons of each option so as to stretch your dollar when travelling!

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Managing Your Money While Travelling

1. Withdraw cash on an overseas ATM with a Singapore-registered card

Image credit: Junior Libby | PublicDomainPictures.net

This is probably the most traditional method that many of us are aware of, especially in the good old days when financial technology wasn’t too advanced yet. But before you rush to the nearest ATM to withdraw cash overseas, did you activate your card for overseas use before leaving Singapore? Fortunately, thanks to the proliferation of internet banking apps, you can still activate your card for overseas usage when abroad if you forgot to do so earlier. Check that your card has the Plus or Cirrus logo so that you can use it to withdraw cash from an overseas ATM with the same logo.

Although withdrawing cash with your Singapore-registered card is typically free at home, be warned that this usually comes with a fee when you use it overseas. Here’s what you can expect to pay when using a local ATM card from the following banks to withdraw cash overseas:

CitibankNo withdrawal fee (admin fee of up to 25%)All overseas Citibank ATMs
Standard Chartered Bank No withdrawal fee 2% processing fee of amount withdrawn (minimum S$5 and maximum S$60)All Cirrus ATMs
OCBC3% service charge levied on the SGD equivalent of the amount withdrawn (minimum S$5 and maximum S$20 per transaction) + 2.25% of the foreign currency transactionAll other overseas ATMs with Plus logo
OCBCS$5MAS Electronic Payment System (MEPS) participating banks' ATMs in Malaysia
OCBCFreeOCBC Wing Hang ATMs in Hong Kong and Macau; OCBC Malaysia ATMs in Malaysia; and OCBC NISP ATMs in Indonesia
UOBS$5 + processing fee of 2.8%non-UOB overseas ATMs with Plus logo
UOBFreeAll UOB ATMs in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand
DBS/ POSBS$7 All other overseas ATMs with Plus/ Cirrus logos
DBS/ POSBS$2 ATMs of HDFC (India); Cirrus Card via ATMs of Bank of Central Asia (BCA, Indonesia) and Bank of Philippines Island (Philippines)
DBS/ POSBFree Westpac Group ATMs in Australia; DBS Hong Kong; DBS Taiwan; and Plus Card via DBS ATMs in India and Indonesia

Do note that additional charges, if any, may be imposed by the foreign bank, beyond the control of the above banks. To minimise the charges imposed on your withdrawal, it’s best to withdraw money from the same bank your card is issued, or partner banks that offer free withdrawals. So do your homework before travelling!

2. Is it better to just use a credit card?

Image credit: Credit cards | Alpha Stock Images

With varying types of fees and charges levied on that cash withdrawal at an overseas ATM, you might just want to save all the hassle and use your credit card instead. Wait. Credit cards may give you the spending power without the hassle of carrying around stacks of cash, but the convenience does come at an expense.

In general, there are 3 types of charges for swiping your card overseas:

  • Foreign exchange fee
  • Cross-border transaction fee
  • Card company fee

Regardless of the bank, the card company fees are fixed when you make purchases abroad, but the other 2 charges change based on the bank. All in all, expect to pay about 2.5% to 3.3% in fees when you use your credit card. But if you are using a credit card which rewards you more points or cash rebates for overseas spending compared to spending in Singapore, probably the extra charges don’t really matter anymore.

  • If cash rebates matter most to you, the CIMB Visa Signature and Platinum Mastercard probably appeal most to you with their generous 10% cashback on selected categories of foreign currency transactions. After deducting the additional 3% fee off your purchase, it still works out to be a nett rebate of 7%! The catch: minimum spending of $600 in a month before you are entitled to the cashback, with each category cashback capped at $50 a month.


  • If you prefer rapid miles accumulation, opt for the UOB PRVI Miles American Express Card, which lets you earn top market rates of 1.4 miles per $1 spent locally, 2.4 miles overseas, and 10 miles with major airlines and hotels. Ultimately, whichever credit card you choose, it is always good to ensure it is widely accepted in your travel destination, so it doesn’t become a white elephant. Mastercard is believed to have the largest network while American Express is preferred in the United States. So bring the card that best suits your needs and stretches your dollar for your trip!

3. What about multi-currency wallets like Youtrip?

Image credit: youtripsg | Instagram

In recent years, the concept of a multi-currency account (MCA) or travel wallet has caught on with many frequent travellers, particularly the millennials who are more financial and tech savvy. If you are still confused about how it works, read on to understand more.

Essentially, an MCA is a savings or a current account where you can deposit or withdraw cash in multiple currencies. Instead of the hassle of opening multiple accounts in different countries for regular multi-country transactions, you only need one account to handle all these. The best part is there is no foreign transaction or extra fees to incur. Take a look at the most popular MCA travel wallets available in Singapore now:

MCA Wallet Currencies availableMain features

RHB TravelFX

SGD + 10 other foreign currencies: AUD, CAD, CHF, EUR, GBP, HKD, JPY, NZD, THB, USD

  • Withdraw cash for free up to 20 times annually at overseas Visa Plus ATMs
  • Free travel accident insurance when you purchase your return trip tickets with the card
  • Transfer SGD from any bank account to your card wallet and pay in local currency when you shop online or travel overseas at no forex conversion fees
  • YouTrip by EZ-Link

    SGD + over 150 currencies for in-app exchange, such as AUD, CHF, EUR, GBP, HKD, JPY, NZD, SEK, USD

  • Sign up for free to receive a Youtrip Mastercard, which you need to top up with money for spending overseas
  • Check rates and exchange 10 foreign currencies on the go with the mobile app
  • Monthly fee of $5 is payable if you do not use the card for 12 months in a row
  • Citibank Debit Mastercard

    SGD + 9 other foreign currencies: AUD, CAD, CHF, EUR, GBP, HKD, JPY, NZD, USD

  • Gain access to 9 foreign currencies and perform transactions on a single platform with a Global Foreign Currency Account
  • Enjoy ATM withdrawals overseas for free at all Citibank ATMs worldwide
  • Better exchange rates than if you were to use a regular ATM card
  • UOB MightyFX

    SGD + 10 other foreign currencies: AUD, CAD, CHF, CNY, EUR, GBP, HKD, JPY, NZD, USD

  • Interest rate of 0.05% on AUD, CAD, GBP, NZD and USD and 0.02% on CNY (offshore)
  • No admin fees with your Mighty FX Debit Card on overseas spend
  • Competitive 24/7 live exchange rates across 11 currencies

    SGD + 12 other foreign currencies: AUD, CAD, CNY, EUR, HKD, JPY, NZD, NOK, GBP, SEK, THB, USD

  • Buy and save at your preferred forex rate and save the funds for later shopping, investments, overseas transfers or payments
  • Link your DBS Visa Debit Card to your MCA to avoid carrying bulky cash when travelling
  • Interest rate of 0.05% on SGD and CNY, and 0.03% on USD

    All the above MCA travel wallets work in a similar manner, allowing you to hold several foreign currencies in one single platform for convenience. If you prefer to earn some interest on the cash stored in your account, consider signing up an account with one of the banks. On the other hand, if you travel widely, the YouTrip card may prove to be more useful. YouTrip is especially useful in countries where their currencies aren’t accepted by the other accounts or cards, such as Vietnamese Dong or Icelandic króna.

    4. So which is the best thing next to cash to bring along when we travel?

    Image credit: mroach | Flickr

    We have all heard of the age-old saying “Cash is king”, but concerns about safety and convenience in carrying huge stacks of cash when travelling are certainly legit. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for a non-cash alternative though, as it boils down to several factors and personal preference.

    Personally, I will do my homework prior to the trip to confirm which credit card or travel wallet offers the best privileges for my travel destination. Why? So that I can reap the most benefits with a smaller pool of money for a wonderful holiday.

    What about you? Do share other noteworthy alternatives not listed here so we can all stretch our travel budget!

    *Featured Image credit: Pedro Lastra on Unsplash 


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