how to travel with money : DBS multi-currency

Posted in Money Matters, Travel Tips by

Back in the day when I didn’t have a credit card (and when I didn’t want to use a credit card for overseas travel), I would change out wads of cash for each trip. So there I was – short little me hiding a few hundred to thousand dollars in my bag. When I got to the room(s) where we would call home for a few days – be it a hotel, guesthouse or a really dinghy ‘hotel’ room, I would withdraw the amount I had allotted for the day and leave the rest of the money in the room. Without placing it in the safe (90% of the time there won’t be a safe). I was that trusting.

Thankfully, nothing was ever stolen. As time went by, I started carrying all the cash on me because I did away with a daily budget. When I was in Japan in 2014, I withdrew money from my Citibank account because there was no withdrawal charge…but the exchange rate was bleh.

Then a friend told me to use my credit card for travel. My argument was that the bank charges and exchange rate would be horrible. The retort was that the impact would be minimal. And did I really want to bring $3,000 in cash to the US for my trip? That was in 2015. So I activated my Citibank Rewards CC and flew off to New York. I spent a bomb in the US (oh, shopping) and came back crying. Not really. But I almost cried when I saw my credit card bill. Almost. 

Although the exchange rates and bank charges were always at the back of my mind when I went overseas, I had no choice but to use my credit cards. I used it when I was in Europe and Korea. But…but…the exchange rate and bank charges still bugged me. Over time, I fell back on changing wads of cash and carrying it around with me. It was easier.

Just before my Japan trip just this past month, I stumbled across DBS Multi-Currency Autosave. Seeing the words “No Foreign Exchange Fees” and being a sucker for gimmicky taglines (not to forget that 80% of my purchases are done online and overseas), I decided to check this new thing out…new to me, that is. I compared the DBS exchange rates and decided that though not as good as going to a physical money changer, it was still okay. Better than using your credit card.  

My first course of action was to create the account (took less than a minute) and change out some GBP because I wanted to buy some of my favorite Lush soap from UK. Then I realized that I didn’t have a DBS Debit Visa Card. Urgh. I hurriedly applied for it online so that it would come in time for Japan. When it arrived, I decided to change out just a small sum from SGD to JPY. I didn’t really think I would use it because I had changed out an adequate spending amount for Japan. Boy, was I wrong.

First, when we decided to use make a pair of glasses at Owndays in Japan, we quickly realized that using our cash would drain us. So I whipped out my debit card and paid for my glasses. Then Sister #5 asked me if I had enough money in my debit account to pay for hers. I didn’t. But that was easily solved when I sat in a corner at Owndays and did a quick transfer from SGD to JPY from my savings account to the Multi-Currency Account. Tip: remember to bring your ibanking tokens with you when you go overseas. At that very moment, I became a convert.

The only problem I faced was when I was at Narita Airport, almost out of cash and wanted to buy my beloved Royce chocolates. I knew that the JPY currency in my account was not enough to cover the cost of my purchases so I went online to transfer more SGD to JPY. Or rather, I tried to transfer – only to get a notice saying that the service was only available during working hours. I had to borrow money from Sister #6 to buy my chocolates. Thank goodness for little sisters. 

When I was back in Singapore, I die die had to buy my Lush soap because I had a deadline. So I went online, added my purchases in the cart, got my colleague’s shopping list and checked out using the debit card. The rate was 1.7 (something). Not bad. Not bad at all.

Then I got thinking…how much was I losing by using this method for overseas spending? Let’s take a quick look. But first, here’s how it looks like.

Here’s the page where you do your transfer – similar to any normal transfers to your own account. You need to chose the currency you want.

You’ll be able to see how much the final amount would be before you submit. 

There you have it. Simple right? But yah, the rates…how does it compare? Below are the rates I pulled out from DBS Foreign Currencies and Google (dated today: 1 March 2017). But it might not really make sense until you see the impact.

Say you travel down to Raffles Place and decide to change money at the ‘Best Rate’ available (according to CashChanger), the rate you’ll get is 1.753. But chances are that unless you work nearby, live nearby or have a lot of time, you’ll just change at a place near your home. Which will give you rates like 1.75+ to 1.76.

The little table below shows how much you will get if you change S$100 at a money changer (using the ‘best rate’) and DBS Multi-Currency. You lose out £0.26 for every S$100 changed. That would make it £2.60 for every S$1,000. Say you decide to change out S$2,000 for 10 days in the UK, you will ‘lose’ out £5.20 by using the Multi-Currency account. That is about S$9.10. The cost of 2 cups of bubble tea from Gong Cha or about half of your taxi fare to Raffles Place to change out your cash.

If you change at some random money changer near your home, the money you ‘lose’ gets smaller and smaller and soon enough, the difference is hardly significant. I recently used my Amex card to pay for something in GBP. The rate? 1.8. Hah.

Disclaimer: my math is terrible. Like really terrible. Excuse me if the calculation above is wrong. 

I’ll leave it to you to read up on the pros of this account. There are lots of other features for this account but I’m only interested in it for traveling and online purchases. Let me tell you the cons now:

  • Not everywhere accepts Visa card. Want to buy some delicious smelling pie from a street vendor? You’ll most probably have to pay in cash.
  • You have to monitor the exchange rate to see when you want to transfer your cash. But I would also monitor the money changer’s rates…so I guess this should not be a  considered a con.
  • They have limited currencies. See all their available currencies here. At least I think they should be all available with the Multi-Currency Account. Why don’t they have Ringgit?? Haha.
  • You can only transfer the money during working hours.
  • You lose out on whatever points/perks compared to if you are using your credit card. I would think that this is the biggest drawback for me.

Alright, I shall end here. Personally, I would most probably use the Multi-Currency for half of my budgeted spending when I travel (if the currency is available for that particular country). The other half would be in cash because you can’t always use your card. Or maybe this would be a backup method for the times when I run out of cash though it’s definitely much safer to use the card then to wave around cash. And oh, the biggest pro? Even if your card is stolen and used (before you can cancel it), it’s a DEBIT card. Not a CREDIT card. Score. 🙂

Btw, this is not a sponsored post. I wish. But good things must share right?



March 1, 2017
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