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Travel with a Cash Passport

by Annique Bolliger

How do you relax when you travel with lots of cash on you? How do you make sure that you won’t lose it, or that it won’t get stolen? Read how Annique did it during her 6-week travels in Brazil with help from the Cash Passport.

In August of this year, after months of anticipation and zeal, the time finally came to fly off to the land of colours, caipirinhas, and bare bums. I had been saving up and waiting for over three years to travel to Brazil, and the next six weeks could not have started soon enough.

Budgeting (or trying to)

It was a bit of a challenge to budget properly, because I had no real way of knowing what basic expenses for food and transport would be for a period of 6 weeks, despite reading up on various information websites and blogs. I had a rough idea, thanks to what my Brazilian friends said, but all in all, I had to guesstimate everything. All I knew was that everyone who had travelled to Brazil told me that it was ‘so expensive.’ Gulp.

One of the things that did make budgeting a little easier, however, was pre-arranging some of the accommodation. The accommodation I booked with Airbnb were paid for in advance, so I didn’t need to worry about settling that in cash. As for the backpackers, I paid the deposit in advance, so I knew the difference that I’d still have to pay upon arrival. Although accommodation arrangements can easily change while you travel, doing your homework on this will give you a good idea on how much money to have ready for that part of your expenses.

Considering the Practicalities

I had come to somewhat of a conclusion as to what I was going to budget for the entire 6 weeks, but I still didn’t know how I would actually go about travelling with all the cash.

I first considered the obvious – fanny packs, bras, secret luggage compartments. Then I thought, hm, I better not take so much cash on me. I’ll just have to do regular ATM withdrawals… but ugh, then there are the withdrawal fees and the stacked odds of having my card details stolen, or maybe the connection to the server will fail. Yeah, I couldn’t quite figure out what to do. The topic was to be repressed until further notice.

Then, I made an appointment at FNB to order some US Dollars which I could take with me, as not only would it be easier to exchange that in Brazil than Rands, but also, I’d have less physical money on me while I travel. As I ordered the Dollars, the consultant asked how I plan to travel with all of this cash, and upon seeing my awkward shrug, she asked me, “Why don’t you take a Cash Passport?”

Bless her soul.

The Multi-Currency Cash Passport

This is one of the most amazing and convenient travel inventions I’ve ever come across. With the multi-currency Cash Passport (Master Card), you can load a chosen amount of money onto the card (in up to 4 currencies: USD, GBP, EUR or AUD) and wherever in the world you swipe your card, it automatically converts it to the local currency. In other words, you can basically travel the world and use the card for payments almost anywhere you go, without having to pay additional transaction fees.

FYI: There are some countries in which the card won’t work. It’s important that you take the time to read through all the terms and conditions of the card before you jet off. All the information you need is on the Cash Passport website, and it’s really convenient to read.

The card is valid for 5 years, and in case you lose it or it gets stolen, you get a free replacement.

WHERE to get it

In South Africa, you can get the card at your FNB or ABSA branch, or at your nearest American Express Forex branch. Click here to find out about the locations for participating stores.

If you are with another bank, have a look at the services they provide. Most banks have something similar to the Cash Passport, for example the Travel Wallet at Standard Bank, or Bidvest Bank’s World Currency Card.

HOW to get it

You need to apply for the card at your branch. To do this, you need to take the following documents with you:

  • Valid passport
  • Copy of flight ticket
  • Proof of residence
  • Application form (get this from your branch)
  • Payment method to load the card

In my case, I asked FNB to transfer the amount directly from my account onto my Cash Passport. Remember that you will pay a service fee for this transfer, much like you would at a bureau de change. However, if you come back home and still have money on your card, you don’t need to pay anything to transfer it back into your account.

FYI: Find out from your bank if there are other options to apply, like using online forms or a call centre (at FNB this is in fact possible).

WHEN to get it

You need to pre-order your card, so best get this done at least two weeks before you leave.

WHY to get it

You might tell yourself, “I already have a Visa/Master/Credit Card – why bother with a Cash Passport?” Fair enough, travelling with your existing card is a possibility. I took my Visa card with me as a backup too, especially since I had purchased my flight tickets with that card (I did end up needing to use it for a flight change, so if you have used your debit or credit card for any payments related to your travels, then absolutely take it with you).

However, there are a few major advantages for having the cash passport as your main card while travelling:

  • It’s not linked to your bank account

I’m not sure if your bells are ringing yet, but this point is already enough reason to opt for the Cash Passport. If for some reason you do become the victim of fraud or theft and some banana-head decides to drain whatever amount you had loaded on your Cash Passport, then at least that’s where the drainage stops!

I met three people on my trip that became victims of credit card fraud – trust me when I say that you do not want to end up in that situation. It can take many days for you and your bank to communicate and solve this problem. Not fun while you’re stuck in a foreign country.

  • No worries about finding a Bureau de Change

Because the card automatically converts your pre-loaded into whatever local currency you need, you don’t have to stress about finding a bureau de change and paying tons of commission or service fees. It’s of course always good to have some physical cash on you in the local currency – but all you need to do is use the card at an international ATM. It will withdraw the local currency. Boom!

FYI: Try to keep your international ATM withdrawals to a minimum, because every time you withdraw, you pay a fee. So, try to pay by card as much as you can (unless it seems dodgy), and when you do withdraw cash from an ATM, try to withdraw an amount that will last you for a few days at least, in order to avoid lots of returns to the ATM.

  • It’s rechargeable

If you run outta cash (this should not happen if you budget ahead…tsk,tsk) then you can top up the card. It’s pretty much like a prepaid international debit card.

In terms of disadvantages… Honestly, apart from the service fees, I can’t think of any real downsides. You can’t choose your own PIN? I can live with that.

I loaded almost my entire budget for the trip onto my Cash Passport, plus a little extra for in case. But I did take some Dollars in cash with me too so that I could exchange it for some Reais (Brazil’s currency) at the airport and spare myself from a first big ATM withdrawal.

Journeying Hassle-Free

Before I knew it, I was in Brazil, having a great time. And I must say, as far as money was concerned, I had no problems at all. Not even once. I used my Cash Passport 90% of the time.

A lot of backpacker websites say that they only accept cash upon arrival, but in the meantime they have in fact acquired card machines. I paid the majority of my accommodation, almost all my food (groceries, as well as restaurants), and my shopping with the Cash Passport. The time I turned to cash was mainly to pay for bus fares and drinks from the street stands.

I was also lucky not to encounter any fraudulent actions with my card. I probably withdrew money at the ATM about once a week at most, and I made sure to go inside a bank to do it (and not to the street ATMs, as these are more dicey for fraud and robberies). Then again, I walked into Brazilian banks like a CIA agent (or a paranoid granny) – you decide.

So, as a conclusion, all I can say is that the best way to travel with a large of amount of money is to:

  • Budget as well as you can.
  • Be careful and responsible with the money you do take.
  • Opt for something as fabulously practical and convenient as a Cash Passport.

I’m definitely using that gem for any future travels.

FundiConnect 2cents

If you plan to travel, don’t forget to notify your bank in advance so they don’t block your credit card when they see overseas activity and purchases. Also, if you use online banking, ask your bank to change your OTP (one time PIN) settings to Email (as opposed to SMS) for the time that you are travelling, so you can still make EFT payments from abroad!

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