In short “use plastic, but make sure it's the right plastic” We recommend you use credit cards for big purchases, car rental & hotel security bonds. Use debit cards for cash as it is less expensive. We suggest you forget about traveler’s cheques or exchanging currency. Read the details below and make up your own mind.
Credit Cards & Charge Cards
Bring your credit and charge cards - they are widely accepted throughout New Zealand. Those commonly used include American Express, Diners Club, Visa, MasterCard and Bankcard. Visa and MasterCard are more likely to be accepted by general merchants than American Express or Diners Club. All cards are accepted at major hotels and shops. Debit cards are not as widely accepted as credit cards, especially in smaller rural communities.
Charges: The general principles of using plastic in foreign countries are relatively the same in New Zealand. Our research shows that when you use a MasterCard or Visa credit card overseas, the international MasterCard and Visa networks add a conversion fee of 1%, and most banks add their own 2% fee, for a total of 3%.
When you use a debit (ATM) card for cash overseas, your bank adds some combination of a per-withdrawal fee up to $5, and most banks add a conversion fee up to 3%, or maybe both. By contrast, when you use travelers checks or currency you generally lose anywhere from 5% to 10% in various conversion fees and charges.
Please note: This information was compiled with care and the information is provided in good faith. Please contact your own card issuer to see if the information is relevant to you.
Debit cards are not as widely accepted as credit cards, and there are pros and cons worth considering:
Debit (ATM) cards for cash: Until recently this is the cheapest way to get cash, the only extra charge you paid was a flat fee for each withdrawal from a foreign ATM, regardless of the amount of money you received. Lately, however, some big banks have added a conversion surcharge. This is still considered the most cost effective way to get cash in New Zealand.
Acceptability: Debit cards not issued in New Zealand will be accepted at most banks to withdraw cash with the appropriate identification (passport and drivers license) during opening hours. Generally, if your debit card has a Visa, MasterCard, Maestro or Plus logo on it, you can use it in any ATM for cash withdrawal as long as they have a four-digit PIN encoded.
There are plenty of ATMs in New Zealand. However debit cards are not as widely accepted as credit cards, especially in smaller rural communities.
The PIN hassle: New Zealand has embraced major banks switching from the stripe-plus-signature system to a smart chip-plus-PIN system for maintaining credit card security. We have received reports from clients having problems using their non-chip debit cards.
Security bonds: If you use your debit card for the car rental bond, be warned. They don’t take an imprint, like a credit card - they swipe it and put a freeze on those funds for the duration of your hire or stay. This reduces the amount of funds available to you. However if you use a credit card, they will only take an imprint.
Services Not Available: Some companies have policies that will only allow their goods and services to be purchased by credit card only. This is a way to verify customer's details, such as their age. Most debit cards and especially Visa Debit Cards can be issued to people aged as young as 15, while most credit cards can only be issued to those 18 and over.
Catastrophe!! My Card Doesn’t Work
Your credit or debit card is not working??? A number of travellers have tried to use their cards overseas only to find their bank has stopped it, fearing fraudulent use. No bank insists on customers telling it when they go abroad, but while some will contact customers when they see a possible problem others see the need to stop cards first and ask questions later. The best way to guard against this is to inform your bank if you plan to use your card when you go away.
Cash, Cheques & Banking
ATM Machines and Banking: Automated Teller Machines (ATM) are widely available at banks, along main shopping streets and in malls. International credit cards and ATM cards from major banks will work for cash withdrawal as long as they have a four-digit PIN encoded. Check with your bank before leaving home. Relevant bank charges apply. Most banks are open from 9.30am to 4.30pm Monday to Friday.
Travellers Cheques: If you intend taking traveler's cheques, get your cheques in New Zealand dollars for convenience (no issues with exchange rates) and they are commonly accepted. In our opinion travellers cheques are more expensive than a debit card at an ATM to use.
Cash: New Zealand's unit of currency is the New Zealand dollar (NZ$). Coins have values of 10, 20 and 50 cents, $1 and $2; notes have values of $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100. Foreign currency can easily be exchanged at banks, some hotels, and Bureau de Change kiosks, which are found at international airports and most city centre’s and some travel agents.
Tipping and Service Charges: New Zealanders do not expect tips for normal service - even in restaurants and bars. However, tipping for extra special service or kindness is at the discretion of the visitor. Hotels and restaurants in New Zealand do not add service charges to their bills.
More articles to help you plan your trip to New Zealand...
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Travel Insurance for New Zealand
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What is the Best Time to Visit New Zealand?
Safety in New Zealand's Great Outdoors
What to Pack for a New Zealand Holiday
New Zealand Accommodation Guide
New Zealand's Need to Know Facts
What do things cost in New Zealand
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