For $9.95, you get a chip-and-pin MasterCard that can get you foreign cash at ATMs all over the world. And if the card is lost or stolen, it will be replaced (along with your money) within 48 hours.
The worst: The fees are outrageous.
Seems to me, this option is best for trekkers, hostelers and round-the-world travelers who are willing to pay a premium to take the guesswork out of budgeting for long trips. It may be the ideal travel money solution for people heading into the backcountry who need to leave their valuables behind on portions of an overseas trip.
When I first heard about the cash passport, I thought: American Express Traveler's Cheques for the 21st Century! Cool! Finally, I'll have a chip-and-pin card for those pesky Euro card readers that won't take anything else. Even better: this card comes pre-loaded and practically identity-theft-proof; it's not attached to any of my personal accounts. My money's secure no matter what happens. If the card is lost or stolen and I'm on the move, I'll have a backup loaded after a single phone call. I'll be able to top up my passport online, from my US bank account, just like I do with my Oyster card. Plus, I'll be able to withdraw my money for free at those sneaky Travelex machines that pose as ATMs all over Europe.
Travelex has sold its cash passport business, and with it went the online banking. No more free withdrawals at Travelex machines; you'll pay 2-10 Euros, like every other schlep, to take $500 or more out of an ATM in Berlin. No more backup cards issued at point of sale. If you lose the card, stay put: you'll spend the next day looking for a forex affiliate who will give your money back.
|Ah, the good old days!|
I didn't learn any of this until after I bought my cash passport at Dulles airport the other day at a sky-high exchange rate. I had no choice. If you want to pick up and register a card in person, you have to be escorted past security to the B gates to buy one. Bring your passport. Crazy system.
The manager assured me on two different days beforehand that the "product-plus" Travelex features I had researched on the Internet (online banking, backup card and free withdrawals) were still in force.
Nope. Not any more.
When I got home and read the fine print, I was livid. I rang the London-based customer support team. They apologized and added EUR 10 to my passport, to ensure free withdrawal of the cash I had loaded to pay for my apartment keys on a weekend arrival in Paris. They asked if I wanted to lodge a complaint. I thanked them for the 10 euros and decided to write this post.
|Ice? Not so nice.|
I'll test the card on my upcoming trip. Bottom line: it lets you buy foreign currency now, lock in your exchange rate, load money in five currencies on the same chip-and-pin card, and it secures your cash.
I have definitely experienced European ATM hell. Cards have been eaten; machines have broken; systems have crashed for days on end; cards have been hacked. If this happens to you with a cash passport, all you've lost is a piece of silicon-chipped plastic. You haven't lost your lifeline to cash. And maybe that's worth a premium, after all. I paid about 10% in exchanges and fees to load money onto a new cash passport. Ouch!
I've only had the thing a couple days and already my advice is: caveat emptor.
The user guide warns you not to use the cash passport for big purchases like rental cars and hotel rooms, since vendors will hold reserves against your case the same way they hold reserves against your credit cards. So it's a credit card--but don't use it like a credit card? I guess they mean stick to street vendors and gondoliers with chip card readers.
The multi-currency cash passport allows you to buy and secure foreign cash you cannot afford to lose or spend rashly. And reports confirm that you can use it to buy train tickets on deserted railway platforms in the dead of night.
So film noir.
If this sounds like your idea of the perfect evening, you'll sleep soundly anywhere in the world knowing that nobody can steal your money--as long as you've got it on plastic in the five currencies supported by MasterCard.