Cash vs multi-currency cards: which one reigns supreme? Find out.
To make every dollar that you’ll be spending at your travel destination count, it’s worth pondering the cash vs multi-currency card dilemma. After all, travel isn’t cheap by any means, especially in today’s revenge travel environment where air tickets and everything else are soaring.
In this article, we’ll dive into the following:
- What are multi-currency cards?
- Pros and cons of using multi-currency cards
- Pros and cons of obtaining cash from money changers
- Best credit cards for overseas spending
- How do I avoid foreign transaction fees?
- Is it better to use cash or cards overseas?
What are multi-currency cards?
Multi-currency cards are cards that let users spend and make ATM withdrawals across different currencies and countries. That said, keep in mind there could be fees incurred when ATM withdrawals are made.
Multi-currency cards allow users to pay in foreign currencies conveniently and are typically debit cards linked to multi-currency accounts. Digital in nature, there’s zero physical cash where multi-currency cards are involved.
Unlike credit cards, multi-currency cards do not have prerequisites like annual income requirements or minimum spending.
Pros and cons of using multi-currency cards
Pro #1: Convenience
Multi-currency cards offer utmost convenience and are globally accepted since they are typically backed by Visa or Mastercard — payment networks with millions of merchants worldwide.
Pro #2: Competitive Foreign Exchange (FX) rates
The main advantage of multi-currency cards is their relatively attractive FX rates. In fact, the FX rates offered are almost always better than those you get at physical money changers!
Depending on the multi-currency card you hold, you may even get to decide on the FX rate you’re comfortable exchanging your SGD for since you can top-up your linked multi-currency account and exchange those funds for the supported foreign currencies.
Pro #3: Low to no FX fees
Believe it or not, multi-currency cards have low to no FX fees. They are a much better option than regular credit cards if your aim is to save on these fees and don’t mind giving up on the ability to chalk up credit card rewards on your foreign currency purchases.
The only multi-currency card that lets you have your cake and eat it too is the Instarem amaze card. It’s the very reason why I’m such a big fan of the card despite its increasingly tightened terms and conditions.
Con #1: Some merchants only accept cash
This is something you have to consider when deciding whether or not you need to have cold, hard cash in hand. Some destinations are great for cashless transactions, whereas others only accept local currency in cash predominantly.
Con #2: Your money may be stuck in your multi-currency account
If you’re using YouTrip for example, your money can go in, but not out. With Revolut and Wise, you can withdraw your funds and transfer it to your bank account.
Pros and cons of obtaining cash from money changers
Pro #1: Cash is still preferred at certain destinations
This is particularly true if you happen to be visiting less modernised cities or patronising small businesses that are still very reliant on cash.
For example, my friend who’d recently visited Bali recounted that some places —especially roadside stalls— didn’t accept cards.
As for my recent short getaway to Phuket, local cash was necessary as well. Cash was a necessity for scooter rental and deposit, meals at local eateries, snacks on the different islands, tipping the island tour guide etc. I could use cards at big supermarkets, at the resort and at touristy bars.
Pro #2: You can have foreign currencies delivered to your doorstep
Did you know you can buy foreign currencies online and have them delivered to your place of residence? Enter legitimate, MAS-licensed online money changer Thin Margin.
I’ve used their service twice in the past, and the convenience was truly a godsend.
That being said, I can’t be sure Thin Margin’s FX rates were the most favourable compared to multi-currency cards and traditional money changers. Nonetheless, you can be certain it’s going to be way better than what physical money changers littered at the airport and hotels have to offer.
Con #1: The exchange rates may not be the best
Money changers aren’t charities, and that’s precisely why you aren’t going to get the best exchange rates from them when exchanging SGD for foreign currencies. Also, remember that exchange rates vary by location. Some are going to be better than others.
What’s a good exchange rate? In general, it’s safe to compare with what you see on XE.com or Google.
Con #2: Extra time and effort required to physically exchange currencies at money changers
Like it or not, most people turn to money changers for their foreign cash needs. Not only do you have to make the trip down yourself, but queuing in line also takes time and effort.
Con #3: Less secure than carrying a card
Here’s the hard truth: lost or stolen cash is most likely gone forever. Cash is less secure than carrying a card, especially if you have a sizable sum in your bag or wallet.
Credit cards and multi-currency cards are built with your security in mind. Should you lose your card or misplace it temporarily, you can easily deactivate your card in-app right away.
Best credit cards for overseas spending
As of time of writing, Instarem amaze card is the least fussy and most rewarding multi-currency card out there.
While it lasts, link your amaze card to your preferred Mastercard credit card to double-dip on rewards, enjoy competitive FX rates and avoid FX fees altogether.
Here are my top Mastercard credit card picks for your upcoming travel adventures:
|Best for||Credit Card|
|Free lounge access & travel insurance||Citi PremierMiles|
|Singapore Airlines & Scoot perks||UOB KrisFlyer Credit Card|
|6mpd on major airlines & hotels globally||UOB PRVI Miles Mastercard|
|8% cashback||Citi Cash Back Card|
Maybank Family & Friends Card
How do I avoid foreign transaction fees?
You can avoid pesky foreign transaction fees by using cash or multi-currency cards like the Instarem amaze card, YouTrip, Revolut, or DBS multi-currency card to make payments overseas or online on international e-Commerce sites.
For the DBS multi-currency card, it’s worth noting you can avoid foreign transaction fees only if you’re spending the currencies you hold! As for Revolut, when you exchange currencies in-app matters. Learn more here.
Is it better to use cash or cards overseas?
Cash may still be king in certain destinations
I’m afraid there’s no straightforward answer to this question. Cash may still be king in certain destinations; there’s just little to no place for cards be it debit or credit cards, or multi-currency cards.
The difficult issue with cash is that you’ll never know how much you need! This often leads to one having inadequate or too much cash on hand — neither situation is ideal.
Multi-currency cards help you minimise FX fees
Being the savvy consumer that I trust you are, multi-currency cards can help you avoid (or at least cut down on) hefty FX fees while letting you enjoy relatively competitive FX rates.
Credit cards let you earn rewards but boast unfavourable FX rates and FX fees
Banks don’t offer the best FX rates and they’re known for tacking on FX fees. This is a trade-off you have to contend with if you’re on a mission to chalk up credit card rewards.
The Instarem amaze card lets you rack up credit card rewards and avoid FX fees
While you can link up to five credit or debit cards to your Instarem amaze card, take note that at this time, these can only be Mastercard cards. Learn how the Instarem amaze card works here.
The Instarem amaze card was all I used in London and Maldives back in April. Those two trips were completely cashless and fuss-free. To my delight, even the ice-cream truck near Tower Bridge accepted contactless Mastercard payment!
When travelling, how much cash should you have on hand? That’s a difficult question to answer.
While multi-currency cards are super convenient, you may want to consider having some foreign currency on hand — perhaps a few hundred dollars worth of SGD, taking into account the cost of tourism at your destination and your trip duration — so you wouldn’t have to panic if you really need some cash right away. It’s just good sense.