Best way to pay for things when travelling in New Zealand
This blogpost is from your friends at MoaTrek to help you work out the best way to carry and use money safely and affordably on your big trip to New Zealand.
Once you’ve decided now’s the time for your dream trip to New Zealand, there are a few logistics you need to figure out, like what’s the best way to access your money and pay for things when you're here?
What’s the best way to access your cash to buy things like meals, activities and souvenirs? When should you use a Debit Card? When is a Credit Card best? Which Credit Cards are best for travelling in New Zealand with? And how do you minimize the fees you pay to withdraw cash while you’re travelling?
We'll help you answer all these questions and share a few valuable money travel tips for visiting New Zealand.
We're MoaTrek and we’ve been showing overseas travellers all our favourite holiday spots on our small group tours since 1971 and since then times sure have changed (remember travellers’ cheques?) when it comes to safely travelling with money and paying for things and we’ve heard from lots of guests over the years about what works best.
We’ve also canvassed some of recent travellers from one of our tours to ask their top tips for travelling with money and paying for things.
QuickRead: Top tips for carrying cash and paying for things in New Zealand
1. Make sure you have some local cash on you at all times and an emergency fund.
2. Use Debit Cards for cash withdrawals and small daily purchases.
3. Use Credit Cards for larger purchases which may need a post purchase guarantee.
4. Visa and Mastercard are the most widely accepted Credit Cards in New Zealand.
5. Bring your Bitcoin wallet - Just joking. Maybe one day but not widespread yet.
Safety and security with your money in New Zealand
Whenever you travel overseas you should always be careful of your money and valuables, but the good thing about visiting New Zealand is that it is a relatively safe country, with random thefts targeting visitors, hotel rooms or tour buses very rare.
You should always be careful and aware when you’re travelling here in New Zealand, but you don’t have to prepare your money and luggage in fortress fashion that you sometimes feel you have to when you’re travelling to some parts of the world.
For more read our article about Safety in New Zealand for Travellers.
How much cash should you carry? What currency is best?
We recommend having a few hundred dollars in New Zealand currency ($200 - $300) in small denominations ($20 and $10 dollar notes) on you at all times and preparing this before you arrive.
It’s always useful to have local currency to pay for things you might not be expecting or to help you out if something goes wrong with your cards. To be really safe you can split this cash up and put some of it in your hand luggage or carry bag and some on your person.
You can always exchange major currencies into New Zealand dollars at Auckland International Airport once you arrive, this is available 24/7 so if you can’t get NZD close to home then don’t panic.
Our preference is to get local currency before we leave home as we always like to minimize the amount of things we have to do in the airport when we arrive as it’s always a busy time and if you’re arriving to a country for the very first time the less to think about the better, we reckon.
MoaTrek Guest Tip - Always travel with some USD cash
“I always travel with USD $1000 that I don’t touch and have in case of emergencies like a natural disaster and ATMs are down etc. USD are acceptable everywhere.” Abby from Atlanta in the USA.
What’s the best way to access cash when you’re travelling in New Zealand?
The answer to this is to use your Debit Card at an ATM. Debit cards are accepted all over New Zealand, at ATMs and at almost all retailers including smaller places like cafes, gasoline stations and grocery stores as long as you make sure your card has an electronic chip and is set up for international use.
Basically you load up your debit card with money in advance and draw down on the balance as you travel. You can even top it up while you’re on the road using online banking.
Debit cards are better than credit cards for withdrawing cash as they don’t have the cash advance fee and high interest associated if your card goes into debit.
Here are some handy tools to help you find the right ATM when you’re here in New Zealand, take a look and see how close the nearest one is to your accommodation in places like Auckland, Rotorua or Queenstown.
For UK travellers, Tui Travel Money offers a full range of currency services at good commission rates and service too.
What about prepaid foreign currency cards?
Debit cards take different formats these days, the well known Visa or Mastercard are probably the most common ones globally.
More common recently are prepaid foreign exchange cards, which allow you to load multiple currencies on one card and lock in a rate in advance for you to access at ATMs or at retailers overseas.
Pre loading foreign currency means you will know exactly what rate you’re getting for your foreign exchange which is reassuring. Most debit cards and prepaid cards from major banks and financial institutions are accepted globally, but it’s worth checking and telling the card issuer it’s for a trip to New Zealand.
Many people don’t realize that if you load up a credit balance on your credit card it effectively becomes a debit card, and you can make cash withdrawals without the usual fees.
The downside of this is that It can be tricky to keep track of your balance when you’re travelling and if you go into debit and get a cash advance you pay fees and interest immediately. It’s always good to have more than one card in case you lose one we recommend separate debit and credit cards for your trip to New Zealand.
One thing to be aware of about Debit Cards is that you may not be able to use them for larger purchases like rental car bookings or anything which involves a guarantee.
MoaTrek Guest Tip - Use different cards for different things
"Use a debit card for small daily purchases and a credit card for larger purchases which need a guarantee" - Peter from London.
What’s the best credit card to travel in New Zealand with?
We recommend Visa or Mastercard for use while travelling within New Zealand.
New Zealanders love paying for things with plastic, even everyday purchases like newspaper and coffee, so credit cards are accepted all over the country, even at very small retailers.
Many New Zealanders have adopted cash-free lifestyles and it’s definitely easier to get around without cash than it is in the United States, for example.
Visa and Mastercard are equally accepted all over New Zealand and are the credit cards of choice for most international visitors. Amex and Diners Club are popular with corporate travellers and are both accepted at many places in New Zealand but not as widely as Visa or Mastercard.
We recently had a guest on a tour whose preferred card is Amex due to all the associated benefits, but she found there were quite a few places which didn’t accept it. As a rule, bigger businesses did, but smaller ones didn’t. She did have a Visa card and got by with this and cash, but we wouldn’t recommend travelling with just an Amex to New Zealand.
If you’re a Diners Club holder and planning a trip to New Zealand, you may have seen some news about Diners Club Credit cards no longer being issued here.
This only affects New Zealand issued Diners Club cards, if you’re travelling to New Zealand with a Diners Club you will still be able to use it here.
Make sure your credit card is chip enabled, this will allow you to use it at contactless payment points and our ATMs as well. To be sure you can use it internationally tell your card issuer you are going to New Zealand, and make sure your card has the logo of one of the major international networks like Plus or Cirrus.
All major credit card issuers want their cardholders to be confident they can use their cards safely all over the world, so if you do have any problem with your credit card, ie, an unauthorized transaction, call the card issuer right away and challenge it. In most cases the card company will support you and refund your money quickly.
That’s one advantage of using credit cards over debit cards, once a transaction has taken place on a debit card you don’t have quite the same powers to challenge a transaction that you do with a credit card.
Beware of credit card surcharges when you use your cards in New Zealand
Many businesses in New Zealand have a surcharge for customers using credit cards. This may be unusual or even illegal in your home country but it is quite common practice here. This can range from small neighbourhood grocery stores to large international hotel chains or even tour operators when you book online.
The banks charge the businesses this fee and this is their way of recovering that cost. Usually these fees are anywhere between 1.5 - 2.5%, they will always tell you about them in advance but it pays to be aware.
For larger purchases and things you think you may need post purchase protection for then this small surcharge may be worthwhile. As suggested by our recent tour guest Peter, a very experienced international traveller, use the Debit Card for smaller everyday purchases and Credit Card for larger ones that need a guarantee.
What about paying for things online while you’re travelling?
Many of us are accustomed to the convenience and security of paying for goods and services online from our own devices, so why not take advantage of this while travelling internationally too?
This won’t work for everyday purchases like daily groceries or restaurant meals, but for things like activities or accommodation it’s definitely an option.
If you’re booking a tour or activity for your trip while you’re here in New Zealand then most accommodation and activity operators will have an option to book and pay through their website. If you’re on your own device you can even use your preferred payment solution like Apple Pay or PayPal.
Security tips when paying for things online while travelling internationally
There are a couple of things to be careful of when buying something online while you’re travelling though.
First of all is the security of the operator’s website and payment system. Most are very professional and have secure services to do this but if you find yourself typing credit card numbers into a webform or them asking you to send your card number in two separate emails we’d recommend you find somewhere else. Chances are companies that do this aren’t up to date with the latest card security options and you may be at risk.
The other thing to think about is the security of the network you’re connecting to the Internet on. If it’s a free Wifi at a local cafe or library, chances are it’s not that secure.
The best networks to connect to are the major telcos in New Zealand, like Spark, Vodafone, Two Degrees or Skinny. If you’re on a roaming plan with your home provider they will be connecting you through one of these network, you can check by looking at which network you’re on in the top left on your Smartphone or Tablet screen.
Most internationally hotel chains like Novotel or Hilton are secure, they rely on their reputation so have good security in place to protect their guests.
Smaller lodges and motels often use small, third party network solutions and they often don’t actually know themselves how secure it is. It’s something most of us don’t think too much about, but if you talk to flight attendants who travel internationally all the time, they know all the best places to connect and those to avoid.
If you’re not sure about the security of the network you’re connecting through one solution is to call the operator and make the booking over the phone.
Banks in New Zealand
In this day and age of online payments, ATMs and EFTPOS (Electronic Funds Transfer at Point of Sale) it’s easy to forget about the physical banks.
All the major banks in New Zealand have retail branches in the main towns and cities and you can make your withdrawal or exchange foreign currency there as well. You’ll often get a slightly better exchange rate at a bank than exchanging at a retailer or currency exchange kiosk. Of course many banks have ATMs right outside too.
Here are some branch and ATM locator tools for the main towns and cities you’re likely to visit on your trip:
MoaTrek Guest Tip - Keep your eye open for new financial products and deals
MoaTrek guests Kevin and Carole from the UK recently travelled on one our our tours and shared this tip re a new bank in the UK which they found great. Carole explains:
“We recently we recently opened a new bank account, from Starling Bank, one of the new UK banks that is challenging the incumbents, which we used successfully on our NZ trip. This account is online only, and allows you to withdraw cash via ATMs or spend on debit card anywhere in the world without fees and using the inter-bank exchange rate. It also instantly updates your balance and sends you a notification on every transaction. We were very happy with it and shall use it again for future holidays.
Kevin and Carole are very experienced international travellers, and their money management for their New Zealand trip is worth sharing too:
“Our strategy for the trip was to estimate our holiday spend, and transfer the relevant amount of money to the Starling Bank account to dip into whilst we were away. We largely stayed within this budget, with the exception of a couple of additional excursions that we booked whilst away which we put on credit cards, as we knew there would not be enough money in the account to cover these.”
MoaTrek Guest Tip - Call the credit card companies before travelling
Here are a few more tips from recent MoaTrek travellers, Gary and Jan, from Michigan:
- Call the credit card companies before a trip to notify them.
- Take a certain amount of US Dollars for emergencies.
- As a couple, we both carry credit and debit cards and split the cash between us.
- Use a debit card for cash at ATMs and credit cards for more expensive meals and hotels.
- Occasionally we exchange a small amount of US Dollars for local currency if we can’t find a handy ATM.
Travelling with MoaTrek
We hope you’ve found this guide to paying for things and carrying money in New Zealand useful. Many of the guests on our tours tell us one thing they like about booking a tour is that it cuts down on dealing with money and foreign currency, as the payment of the tour takes cares of a lot of important things for your trip like transport, accommodation and many meals and activities.