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Finance and money

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Avoiding ATM fees using Global Alliance bank ATM's

Posted by busylizzy on 31/1/2014 at 16:37

As a New Zealander, I normally have to pay NZD $7.50 - $8 on ATM fees for each withdrawal. This is frustrating, especially when in countries that limit the amount that you can withdraw per transaction (eg Laos) or add their own country-specific ATM fees (eg Thailand). It is also frustrating to continually hear how US residents can get access to banking facilities in the US that refund all international ATM fees (eg Charles Schwab) .

I have recently discovered (how did I miss this?!) that Westpac Bank (in NZ, Australia) belong to the ATM Global Alliance which, using their ATM card, means that you don't have to pay the $8 international transaction fee when using an ATM that belongs to the Alliance. Unfortunately, this doesn't seem to apply to any ATM's in Asia - but does to the rest of the world (including US, Europe, NZ, Aust, South Pacific Islands, African countries, etc.

Other banks in the Alliance include , Barclays, Deutsche Bank, Bank of America and Scotia Bank in specific countries - and others. See this Wiki article for more specific details.

It's a pity that there are no Asian countries involved in the Alliance - but maybe this will be of interest to people who are also travelling to other parts of the world.

More info for Kiwi's here: http://www.westpac.co.nz/international-migrant/travel/atm-global-alliance/. - but you can also just google 'ATM Global Alliance'for more info.

#1 busylizzy has been a member since 31/12/2007. Location: New Zealand. Posts: 2,152

Posted by busylizzy on 31/1/2014 at 16:53

Another option for New Zealanders is the Air NZ Onesmart card which offers 3 free ATM withdrawals per month and allows you to store money on the card in up to 4 currencies, from a choice of 8. You can use this card at ATM's, EFT-POS machines, or for online shopping. And it can be used world-wide.

In theory it looks attractive, but they are monthly fees in some situations. (They used to have more a more complicated fee structure but it looks like they have simplified in in the last few months). I'd be interested to know if anyone has used these and what their opinions are.

#2 busylizzy has been a member since 31/12/2007. Location: New Zealand. Posts: 2,152

Posted by exacto on 31/1/2014 at 17:05


have you had a chance to compare the exchange rates you get with these cards? are their rates comparable to the banks that charge the international transaction fee or at least good enough that you still come out ahead?

#3 exacto has been a member since 12/2/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 2,816

Posted by busylizzy on 1/2/2014 at 17:14

Not yet, exacto. I will do but I have a few other higher priority ''research' things to do first. Besides, dealing with exchange rates, currency conversions etc makes my head spin and leads to procrastination. But stay tuned... I'll report back.

#4 busylizzy has been a member since 31/12/2007. Location: New Zealand. Posts: 2,152

Posted by busylizzy on 10/2/2014 at 22:55

OK, so I've finally spent some time on this today (yes, I procrastinated for 10 days!).

What I learned is that the best option is determined by which countries you are visiting, and what currency they use. Here is a not-so-brief summary (sorry!) of what I've learned. If anyone has any holes to pick, please feel free. I'm not an expert by any means so would welcome any other thoughts / insight. (Apologies again - this is info is really only beneficial to fellow NZ'ers).

What I considered:
- ATM cash withdrawals only. (OneSmart can be used as a credit card but that's not of interest to me).
- 3 banks/cards for comparison: Air NZ OneSmart, Westpac (as a member of the ATM Global Alliance) and my own bank's ATM card (ASB - but they all operate similarly in NZ in that they charge $7.50 - $8 per transaction).
- Two currencies for comparison: EUR and USD.

Summary of results:
- OneSmart gives the best currency exchange overall when withdrawing cash in a country that uses the currency that you are withdrawing. (ie in the US, pulling out USD, or in a European country, pulling out Euro).
- Westpac gave the next best exchange (not far behind OneSmart) IF you used it at an ATM in the Global ATM Alliance.
- ASB gave a much worse exchange overall.
- Westpac gave the worst exchange IF you use a non-Global Alliance ATM.

Conversion examples done today: converting NZD $500 (from best to worst):
- Onesmart : $397.50USD and $291 EUR.
- Westpac : $394.88USD and $289.28 EUR (including 2.5% conversion fee – IF using a Global Alliance ATM.
- ASB : $389.28USD and $282.12 EURO (including 2.5% conversion fee and $7.50 ATM fee)
- Westpac: $386.88USD and $281.28 EUR (including 2.5% conversion fee – IF NOT using a Global Alliance ATM.

- Westpac have a (slightly) better exchange rate but they add a 2.5% conversion fee (and an $8 transaction fee if you use it at an ATM outside the Global ATM Alliance.)
- OneSmart exchange rates look significantly worse but they don’t charge a conversion fee or an ATM transaction fee (unless you make more than 3 withdrawals/month)
- I ignored monthly fees ($1 per month for OneSmart if you have money loaded, it varies for the bank accounts depending on what type of account you get)
Other considerations for OneSmart:
- The exchange rate is locked in at the time you transfer from your NZD wallet to a currency wallet. (ie transfer the money when the rates are favourable, but use it later.)
- You won’t earn interest on money sitting in your wallet. Minimise this by only keeping a months worth of money on the card and just load it more often).
- It can be used as a credit card, but from what I’ve read, you get better rates on your credit card than with OneSmart.
- Don’t use it to ‘pre-authorise’ payment for hotel bookings or car hire – use your credit card instead. Doing so will place a hold on the money on your card meaning that you can’t access your cash.
- OneSmart may not be the best option if using it in other countries where you get cash out of an ATM in an unsupported currency (eg Thai Baht) or when you are given the option to withdraw cash in a currency on your wallet (eg when in Mexico, and want to draw out USD). It looks as though a double-conversion takes place – eg from Peso to NZD, then to US,rather than taking the money out of your USD wallet. This MAY be attributed to how the person had their wallets set up. I have no way to determine what exchange rates are used in this case.

- You can hold up to 4 of 8 currencies in your wallet, and you can easily switch money between them (paying the converson rate of course). These are USD, AUD, JPY, SGD, HKD, CAD, EUR and GPB.

What did I decide?
Because of my particular upcoming travel plans (mostly Eastern Europe initially) I decided to go with OneSmart since I already have it (unactivated). Because of the overlap with European countries in the ATM Alliance, I didn't feel there as any benefit in the Westpac card for me at the moment.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t help when in SE Asia – unless you are going to Singapore or Hong Kong. If anyone has used the card in SEA and can comment about the exchange rate, that would be good!

Someone else in NZ has done a fair bit of analysis on OneSmart that you may find worth reading:
OneSmart evaluation
Comparison on Exchange Rates and Travel Cards

and there have been discussions on FlyerTalk and TripAdvisor forums worth checking out.

OK, now my brain really hurts. Time for a Pinot Noir as I watch the sunset.... :-)

#5 busylizzy has been a member since 31/12/2007. Location: New Zealand. Posts: 2,152

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