Foreign currency and money exchange

  • There are many suppliers of foreign currency services, not just banks.
  • To get the best price we recommend you compare different suppliers and be prepared to switch between them.

What the ACCC does

  • We receive reports about misleading behaviour by businesses. These reports help us identify issues where we may need to take action.

What the ACCC can't do

Buying and converting foreign money

Shopping around can save you money

Using a supplier out of loyalty or habit can cost you money.

The ACCC’s Foreign Currency Conversion Services inquiry in 2019 found the big 4 banks were often more expensive than other suppliers for buying foreign cash and international money transfers. For common currencies, such as the United States dollar (USD) and Great British pound (GBP), we found the big 4 banks were rarely the cheapest option.

Some comparison websites don’t list all options

Comparison websites compare the services or products from more than one provider. Some of these sites display options for foreign currency.

Be aware that some commercial comparison websites:

  • are not independent and suppliers can pay to promote their services on the site
  • do not include all available services and so you are not comparing all available options.

There are 2 government-funded comparison websites for international money transfers. They compare prices of services available to Pacific Island and several South-East Asian countries:

  1. SendMoneyPacific
  2. SaverAsia.

Compare the total price

Consider all parts of the price when you compare services and suppliers. This includes the retail exchange rate and any fees. A service advertised as 'fee free' does not mean it will be the cheapest option.

Exchange rates vary across suppliers and include a margin or mark-up. They may not be as good as the rates reported on the news.

Compare prices on the same day

For an accurate comparison, compare prices on supplier websites at the same time on the same day. Some suppliers may also offer discounts, especially for large or repeated transactions.

Buy online if possible

Buy your international money transfers, foreign cash and travel money cards online if possible. Many suppliers offer better retail exchange rates and lower fees when buying online. Avoid buying foreign cash at the airport.

Foreign cash is more expensive at airports. Shop around and buy foreign cash before you get to the airport to save money.

Our research found that consumers buying USD$200 in February 2019 could save AUD$40 by buying from the cheapest supplier at a non-airport location compared with the most expensive supplier at the airport.

Buying foreign cash in Australia can be cheaper

It may be cheaper to buy foreign cash in Australia before travelling.

This avoids possible fees charged by card issuers and overseas ATM operators for using a travel money, credit, or debit card to withdraw foreign cash or for cash advances.

Sending money overseas

Shop around for the cheapest and fastest service

We found significant price differences across international money transfer suppliers.

You often save if you send a large-value transaction through an international money transfer service.

We also found that banks are not the only secure option and do not always offer the fastest delivery.

Our research found that in some circumstances consumers could save up to AUD$500 on a USD$7000 transfer if they shopped around for a cheaper service.

Some services charge extra fees

Ask the supplier if:

  • they deduct fees from the funds you transfer. These are often called correspondent banking fees
  • the bank or supplier that receives the money charges a fee.

If the supplier deducts extra fees, ask them:

  • to estimate the funds they will deliver to the recipient - some suppliers have an online tool that lets you do this
  • if you can pay the fees up-front because this can sometimes save you money.

Making purchases while travelling overseas

Choose the most appropriate payment method for your trip

There are 4 main things to consider when choosing a payment method for overseas travel:

  1. Acceptance – is the payment method commonly accepted in the overseas destination?
  2. Certainty of price – will you know what the total price is going to be?
  3. Convenience – how easy is it to transport and use?
  4. Security – what happens if it gets lost or stolen?

Travel money cards can be more expensive

Travel money cards are one option when travelling overseas.

Fees connected with travel money cards can sometimes make them more expensive than other services. This includes fees for:

  • buying a card in store
  • ATM use
  • inactivity and closure
  • using the card for transactions in a currency that is not loaded on the card.

Our research found that if a travel money card holder with one of the big 4 banks withdrew the equivalent of AUD$100 in GBP from an overseas ATM in May 2019, and GBP was not pre-loaded onto the travel money card, they would be charged an ATM fee of around GBP$2 (about AUD$3.70) plus a 5.25% currency conversion fee.

The total fees for this transaction would be about AUD$8.90 or almost 9% of the transaction amount.

Debit and credit cards can be cheaper than travel money cards

It is cheaper to use a debit or credit card to make purchases while overseas than to use travel money cards.

It is even cheaper to use credit and debit cards that don’t charge international transaction fees.

Our research found if customers of the big 4 banks used a debit or credit card:

  • without international transaction fees instead of a travel money card, they could save up to AUD$13 on a USD$200 purchase
  • with international transaction fees instead of a travel money card, they could save up to AUD$5 on a USD$200 purchase.

Debit and credit cards have several other fees, such as annual fees and interest charges on credit cards.

It may also be more difficult to see the exchange rate when using a debit or credit card. It is easier when you load foreign currency onto a travel money card or buy foreign cash. Check the fees and the difference in retail exchange rates when choosing a card.

ASIC is responsible for regulating banks and financial service providers. See Loans and credit cards on the ASIC website for more information.

Choosing to pay in Australian dollars may be more expensive

Some merchants give you the option of paying in Australian dollars or another currency when you use a debit or credit card. This is referred to as ‘dynamic currency conversion’.

Choosing to pay in Australian dollars may be the more expensive option.

An overseas bank will usually add a margin or mark-up to the exchange rate when it handles the transaction and currency conversion.

Your card issuer may still charge you an international transaction fee if you pay in Australian dollars, as the transaction occurred overseas.

Cards are not widely accepted in some overseas locations

Debit, credit and travel money cards are not accepted in some overseas locations and cash is essential to make purchases.

See Buying and converting foreign money.

Buying items from overseas suppliers

Consider an international transaction fee-free card

When you buy an item overseas, you are generally charged an international transaction fee. Fees are usually around 3% of the sale price.

If you buy overseas items or you travel overseas, consider an international transaction fee-free credit or debit card. Make sure you compare fees and charges of different options.

Avoid international transaction fees

It is not always clear from a website that an international transaction fee applies.

Even if a website has a ‘.com.au’ domain name or lists prices in Australian dollars, it doesn't mean that the business will process the payment in Australia.

You can avoid international transaction fees when buying items from overseas suppliers by:

  • checking if the transaction will be processed overseas or in Australia
  • asking if your bank can block international transactions for certain payment cards.

Request a fee or partial refund if you’ve been misled

It may be considered misleading under Australian Consumer Law if:

  • you are charged an unexpected international transaction fee for a purchase in Australian dollars, and
  • the business appeared to be in Australia.

You should contact your card issuer, such as your bank, or the international card scheme, such as Visa or Mastercard, to request a fee refund.

It may also be misleading if an overseas business indicates that you will be charged in Australian dollars but then charges in a foreign currency. As a result, you pay a higher price for the purchase than expected. You may also be charged unexpected currency conversion fees. In this situation, you should contact the business to request a partial refund. You can also contact your card issuer to request a fee refund.

ASIC is responsible for regulating banks and financial service providers. See Banking information on the ASIC website for more information.

See also

This is the report of the ACCC’s inquiry into the supply of foreign currency conversion services (FX services) in Australia. It highlights important competition and consumer issues and makes recommendations to address them. 
2 Sep 2019

Next steps if you believe you’ve been misled

Contact the business

If you have been misled when making a purchase involving foreign currency or money exchange, the first step is to contact the business to explain the problem.

If the business doesn’t resolve the problem, there are more steps you can take.

Get help contacting a business or taking a problem further

Report the misleading behaviour to the ACCC

You can also report that you have been misled when making a purchase to the ACCC.

We use these reports to identify issues that need investigation.

Make a report to the ACCC

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