Foreign ATMs and Aussie Banks

In Australia I bank with Up Bank and Commonwealth Bank. The Up Bank App has a neat interface and they have an awesome developer API that allows me to pull all my transactions directly into MoneyLounge. I use it for all my day to day purchases. Commbank just kinda sits there as a sort of investment slush fund. For this trip to North and Central America I’ve been using neither Up nor Commbank. I opened a TransferWise (now Wise) account, deposited some money into it and got nice green Wise Visa Debit card. For the past 3 months I’ve been sending Australian Dollars into my Wise account, then converting it to either NZD, USD, CAD or MXN depending on which country I was in. Then I can either use that green Wise Visa card to pay for things in that local currency or use the card to withdraw cash at an ATM. I’d assumed that Wise was the cheapest option of those Aussie banks that I’m with.

Is Wise really the cheapest?

Back when I was in the US I decided to run a little experiment. I tested taking US$200 out of an ATM using each of those 3 cards. A total of US$600. To make the comparison I’d then check how much each of those cash withdrawals actually cost me in Australian Dollars. It’s a little tricky to make the comparison with Wise, because it withdrew the money from my USD Wise account, so I needed to check what the exchange rate was at the time I made the withdraw and used that to figure out the AUS cost. Also complicating the comparison was the fact that the US ATM charged a flat US$3.00 for each of the withdraws (which is a complete rip-off). Up Bank appeared to show that US$3 charge as an 3rd party bank fee as they don’t charge a fee themselves for withdrawals, Commbank might have included it in their international transaction fee and I think it got included in their crazy expensive A$13.81 of fees. Wise had it appear as a “3rd party ATM fee”, and showed on their statement that I had in fact withdrawn US$203. It all got a little confusing, but in the end the only thing I care about is – how much did it cost me in AUD? Here’s the results…

BankCost AUD (lowest is best)
Up Bank$293.75
CBA$307.56
Wise$293.18

Clearly my Commbank card will be staying buried deep inside my wallet and will only be used for the most dire of emergencies. And that’s no surprise. I think we all know that the standard Visa Debit card offered by all the major Aussie banks shouldn’t be used overseas. However, the Up Bank card was a surprise. Not only were there no fees open the withdrawal but the exchange rate they used was obviously comparable to that offered by Wise.

Now that I’m in Mexico I’m keen to run the experiment again using the Up Bank and Wise cards. However, this time rather than withdrawing cash I’ll just purchase two of the same priced item at the same time with each card and see how much it costs me in Australian dollars. That’ll avoid the annoying ATM fee and let me see if it makes any difference to transact in Mexican Peso rather than US dollars. I’ll add the results soon. Until then, Wise wins but Up Bank is a very respectable second place.

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