Travel cards: What are the best options in Malaysia? 2022

If you love to travel, or shop online with international retailers, you may be wondering:

  • What’s the best way to spend in foreign currencies without getting hit by high bank fees?

  • How do I get the best exchange rate when I’m overseas?

  • Are international debit or credit cards worth using - and how do they compare with my normal bank card?

International travel credit and debit cards can be a great choice if you spend in foreign currencies, and want to cut your costs or earn better rewards as you spend. This guide walks through the advantages of international and travel focused cards, how they work, and which ones to look out for from Malaysian providers.

5 travel cards that we’ll cover in this article:

Travel cards: the best options in Malaysia

Wise debit card
  • Hold 50+ currencies in your account

  • Currency exchange offers the mid-market rate with no markups

  • Up to 2 ATM withdrawals, worth 1,000 MYR, free per month with a low fee after that

Maybank Visa Signature


  • Popular card from one of the biggest banks in the region

  • Travel perks available

  • Credit card - so interest and fees may apply

  • 2.25% foreign transaction fee + 5% cash advance fee if you withdraw from an ATM

HSBC Visa Signature Card
  • Higher rewards on foreign currency spending, plus travel focused treats like lounge passes

  • 600 MYR annual fee for the primary card, plus 300 MYR for secondary card

  • 1% currency fee for foreign transactions + additional costs imposed by Visa

Hong Leong AirAsia Credit Card

 

  • Flexible card which is widely accepted

  • Earn extra points and benefits from Air Asia

  • 200 MYR - 300 MYR annual fee

  • 5% cash advance fee, with a 15 MYR minimum + 2% foreign transaction fee on any overseas spending

RHB Visa Signature
  • No annual fee

  • Travel related perks and rewards

  • At least 1% foreign transaction fee - extra fees from Visa may apply + 5% cash advance fee with a 15 MYR minimum for ATM use

What is a travel card?

Travel cards are simply payment cards which are convenient to use internationally. That means you can use your travel card to spend when you travel, make international ATM withdrawals or shop with foreign retailers online - just like you would with your normal payment card. 

The key difference when it comes to travel cards is that they may offer cheaper international purchases by lowering the costs of currency exchange - or they may have travel focused perks and rewards which mean you unlock specific benefits when you travel. We’ll look at a few specific examples in detail, later.

How does the travel card work?

Depending on the type of travel card you get, you’ll find a few different features. 

Travel debit cards - like the Wise card which we’ll look at shortly - allow you to hold and exchange foreign currencies in an online account, which you can then spend conveniently when you travel. Because they’re debit cards you don’t need to worry about running up high bills, or hitting unexpected interest charges. Cards like these are easy to apply for online or in a provider app, and can offer a flexible way to cut your international spending costs.

Travel focused credit cards on the other hand, typically offer higher levels of rewards for foreign and travel spending, with travel perks like lounge access and insurance often thrown in, too. These cards are credit cards, which does mean you’ll need to keep an eye on your balance and pay off your bills promptly to avoid penalties and late fees, and make the most of the rewards on offer.

How can I use a travel card abroad?

Broadly speaking you’ll use your travel card overseas in exactly the same way you’d use a card at home, to pay merchants in person, or make withdrawals. You’ll need to double check the network your card is issued on is accepted by the merchant or ATM, and read through the fee schedule carefully before you travel.

It’s worth noting that credit cards - even those which offer perks for travellers - can have fairly steep international fees, including foreign transaction charges and cash advance fees if you choose to make ATM withdrawals.

How to request a travel card

If you want to apply for a travel credit card you’ll usually need to complete an online form which may include a credit check. You’ll also need to provide proof of minimum salary, or pay a deposit to get your card.

Travel debit cards from specialist providers are usually pretty easy to get, and don’t require any credit checks or minimum salary. As an example, here’s how to order a Wise card:

  • Download the Wise app or head to the Wise desktop site

  • Sign up for a Wise account with just an email address, Google, Facebook or Apple ID

  • Get verified using your passport or MyKad

  • Order your card online or in the Wise app for a one off 13.7 MYR fee

  • Your physical card will arrive within 2 weeks - or you can access your card details in the Wise app right away for mobile payments

Types of travel card

You’ll most commonly run into 3 different types of travel cards - prepaid cards, travel debit cards and travel credit cards. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, and different card types will suit different customers. Here’s a run through of a few things to consider.

Prepaid travel card

Prepaid travel cards, which can also be called travel money cards, may allow you to top up your card in MYR and convert online or in an app to the foreign currency you need. This has the advantage that you’ll know in advance how much you have to spend when you travel. However, these cards do come with fees, which may include charges for topping up the account and for currency exchange.

International card with traditional banks

Malaysian banks such as RHB do often offer foreign currency accounts which may have linked debit cards, which allow you to hold foreign currencies and spend conveniently when you travel. These accounts usually have fairly high minimum balance requirements, and the exchange rates on offer may not be the best available.

An alternative from traditional banks is to get a credit card with travel features. We’ll look at a few of these in more detail later.

Travel card with neobanks

A smart alternative for many customers is to get a travel debit card from a modern online alternative, often called a neobank. These providers can provide flexible travel cards with low fees - and often a far better exchange rate compared to a traditional bank. Options like the Wise account do not have any minimum balance or monthly fee, and cards are easy to order online or in the app.

Best travel cards: a comparison

Some specialist money transfer providers offer cheaper and more flexible alternatives to the travel cards commonly issued by traditional banks. These include the Wise account and card, which is available for Malaysian customers. We’ll look at the Wise card and a few other options in more detail in a moment - first, here’s an overview of the cards we’ll profile:

Provider/card name Annual feeExchange rateWithdrawal fee
Wise cardNo annual feeReal mid-market exchange rate with no markup 

2 withdrawals per month, to the value of 1,000 MYR fee free


5 MYR + 1.75% after that

Maybank Visa Signature550 MYR, waived in year 12.25% foreign transaction fee applies to all spending overseas

5% cash advance fee + 2.25% foreign transaction fee


Cash advances may also be subject to interest

HSBC Visa Signature

600 MYR annual fee for the primary card, plus 300 MYR for secondary card


1% currency fee for foreign transactions + additional costs imposed by Visa

5% cash advance fee + relevant foreign transaction fee


Cash advances may also be subject to interest

Hong Leong AirAsia Credit Card

200 MYR - 300 MYR annual fee, depending on the card selected


2% foreign transaction fee on any overseas spending

5% cash advance fee, with a 15 MYR minimum + foreign transaction fees as applicable


Cash advances may also be subject to interest

RHB Visa Signature CardNo fee1% currency fee for foreign transactions + additional costs imposed by Visa

5% cash advance fee, with a 15 MYR minimum + foreign transaction fees as applicable


Cash advances may also be subject to interest

Wise Debit Card

It’s free to open a Wise personal multi-currency account, with no minimum balance and no monthly fee to worry about. Set up your account online or in the Wise app and order the Wise card for a one time fee. Use your Wise account to hold, convert, send and spend in 50+ currencies - and make payments in 200+ countries and in 150+ currencies with your card, with the real mid-market exchange rate every time. 

Pros of the Wise card

  • Free to open personal accounts with no monthly fees - just low transaction charges for the services you use

  • Hold, send and exchange 50+ currencies in your Wise account

  • Auto convert feature so you always get the cheapest available currency conversion

  • Check your account balances in the Wise app and get instant transaction notifications

Cons of the Wise card

  • 13.7 MYR fee for your first card

  • ATM fees apply if you make more than 2 withdrawals a month

  • Spending limits apply

  • No option to top up account in cash or with a cheque

Go to Site

Maybank Visa Signature

The Maybank Visa Signature credit card can be used to spend all around the world where you see the Visa symbol displayed. Card holders can earn points and rewards as they spend, which can vary depending on the category of spending. There are also travel focused treats like airport speed passes to let you get through immigration quicker, and a travel concierge to give local information and advice as you travel.

Pros of the Maybank Visa Signature card

  • Popular, reliable and familiar bank

  • Earn rewards and points on spending

  • Travel perks available including airport speed passes and a concierge service

Cons of the Maybank Visa Signature card

  • Credit card - you may end up owning interest of penalty fees

  • Annual income of 70,000 MYR to 100,000 MYR required

  • 550 MYR/year standard annual fee (waived in year 1)

  • 2.25% foreign transaction fee

HSBC Visa Signature Card

The HSBC Visa Signature credit card allows customers to earn reward points on day to day spend - and more when shopping with HSBC preferred partners. There’s a higher rate of rewards on foreign currency spending, making this a card to consider if you want a credit card to use internationally. Foreign currency transactions do have fees attached though, so read the terms carefully.

Pros of the HSBC Visa Signature Card

  • Higher rewards on foreign currency spend

  • Travel treats like complimentary lounge passes

  • Secure card, from a huge global banking brand

Cons of the HSBC Visa Signature Card

  • 72,000 MYR annual salary required as a minimum

  • 600 MYR annual fee for the primary card, plus 300 MYR for secondary card

  • 1% currency fee for foreign transactions + additional costs imposed by Visa

Hong Leong AirAsia Credit Card

Hong Leong offers the Hong Leong AirAsia credit card, which lets customers earn extra rewards and benefits when they fly frequently on AirAsia. Platinum card members can upgrade their frequent flyer status, and there are higher rewards on foreign currency spending compared to spending at home in Malaysia. Relatively high annual fees and salary minimums apply.

Pros of the Hong Leong AirAsia Credit Card

  • Flexible card which is widely accepted internationally 

  • Earn rewards and extra points when you fly with AirAsia

  • Platinum cardholders can upgrade to Platinum Freedom Flyer status with Air Asia

Cons of the Hong Leong AirAsia Credit Card

  • Minimum annual income, or minimum deposit required - costs vary by card type

  • 200 MYR - 300 MYR annual fee, depending on the card selected

  • 5% cash advance fee, with a 15 MYR minimum

  • 2% foreign transaction fee on any overseas spending

RHB Visa Signature Credit Card

RHB has a good range of credit cards on offer - but if you’re a frequent traveller looking for a card which offers travel perks, this may be the one for you. Cards offer airport lounge access, travel insurance and the opportunity to earn rewards on your spending at home and abroad.

Pros of the RHB Visa Signature Credit Card

  • No annual fee

  • Earn rewards when you spend

  • Lounge privileges and golf privileges available

Cons of the RHB Visa Signature Credit Card

  • High minimum salary of 80,000 MYR

  • 5% cash advance fee with a 15 MYR minimum

  • At least 1% foreign transaction fee - extra fees from Visa may apply

What are the transaction fees applies to a travel card

Using a specific travel card when you spend internationally can save you money, or - in the case of travel credit cards - boost your rewards and net you a few extra perks. However, there are a few fees to watch out for when you pick your perfect travel card.

Exchange fee

Exchanging currency incurs costs. The way these costs are passed on to the customer can vary based on the card provider. In the case of travel credit cards, you’ll usually find a foreign transaction fee - which can be in the region of 2% or more of the transaction value - added to the costs. Travel debit cards may exchange your currency using the real exchange rate, and charge a separate fee for conversion - which can be cheaper and easier to calculate.

Withdrawal fee

The other key cost to look out for when using a card internationally is any withdrawal fee applied. The card issuer may charge a fee - and the operator of the ATM may also have their own charges which are added, as well. If you’re using a travel credit card you could be liable for a cash advance fee - often around 5% - and interest which may be applied instantly from the point of the withdrawal. Check the terms and conditions carefully so you don’t run into surprise fees.

Advantages of travel cards

Depending on your preferences and the type of transactions you’re likely to make, getting a travel card can be a smart move. 

Travel debit cards can offer flexible ways to manage your money across currencies, with low fees and a better exchange rate than a normal bank. You’ll also avoid interest charges, and benefit from secure spending as your account isn’t linked to your primary bank account.

Travel credit cards do usually come with fairly high fees, but can offer rewards in the form of cash back or benefits, including things of value to travellers like airport lounge passes and travel insurance. If you’re interested in getting a travel credit card, weigh up the advantages against the potential costs to make sure you’re choosing the right one for you.

Conclusion: is it worth getting a travel card?

Travel cards include prepaid cards, travel debit cards, and international credit cards, and can be issued by both traditional banks and online modern alternative providers. Different card types suit different customers - but they can offer some great features and benefits if you pick the right one for your specific needs.

If you’re looking for a low cost way to hold, exchange and spend in a broad range of foreign currencies, check out the Wise travel card as a great option which you can apply for securely and quickly online. Or, if you’re considering a travel credit card, use the top picks in our guide to compare the features and fees and see which may suit you best. Happy travels. 

Learn more about Wise Debit Card

FAQ

**What is a travel card?**

Travel cards are intended for spending and making withdrawals in foreign currencies. They can include prepaid cards, debit cards and credit cards.

**How to get a travel card?**

If you want a travel credit card you’ll likely have to apply online and provide proof of income. A credit check may be required. If you’re interested in a travel debit card from an online provider or neobank you will be able to apply online or through an app, with no need for a credit check.

**How to use my travel card abroad?**

Travel cards can usually be used abroad in exactly the same way you’d use your normal card at home. Make withdrawals, pay merchants, and spend with international retailers online - just keep an eye on the costs to make sure you know of any extra fees involved with overseas spending.

**What are the fees for a travel card?**

Travel card fees vary widely. Travel debit cards from online providers may have no monthly charges and no annual fee. Because they’re debit cards you also don’t need to worry about running up high bills and hitting interest charges. Travel credit cards may have annual fees, foreign transaction fees, cash advance charges, late payment fees and interest.

**Are travel cards a good idea?**

Picking the right travel card can mean you cut your costs when you spend in foreign currencies, or that you earn more rewards, perks and benefits. Use this guide as a starting point to see if a travel card is right for you.

By Seyma Mektepli
Updated 22 August 2022