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The world is your ATM

Smita Tripathi | May 01, 2004

It was a familiar ritual for any traveller heading to foreign shores. First you stood in a queue for your visa and then you headed off to convert your foreign exchange into travellers' cheques.

Now there's a new option and it comes in the form of a pre-paid card. Travelex, the world's largest dealer in foreign exchange which started operations in India last November, calls their card the Cash Passport. And the State Bank of India has just introduced a similar product with a desi-flavoured name: the Vishwa Yatra card.

Both are basically pre-paid cards, which can be loaded with dollars and then used at over 850,000 Visa ATMs across the world to withdraw money in that country's currency. So if you use the card in Paris to withdraw cash from an ATM, you will get euros and in England the card can be used to withdraw pounds. The equivalent in dollar terms will be reduced from your card.

The cards are pin protected and are therefore safer than carrying cash or travellers cheques. Says Gavin Azavedo, CEO, Travelex India, "The most lucrative aspect of the Cash Passport is that it provides safety when it comes to carrying foreign exchange. Also, it's convenient to carry and gives you the freedom of withdrawing the exact amount you need." So if you need 40 euros to buy something in Paris, you don't need to encash a travellers' cheque of $100; you can withdraw the exact amount.

There's another advantage of these cards: they can be reloaded instantly. This is especially useful for students studying abroad. Supposing your child has gone to the US for higher studies and you initially buy him a card loaded with $5,000. Now if he or she needs more, all you have to do is to contact Travelex or the SBI (depending upon whether you have Cash Passport or the Vishwa Yatra card) and the card will be reloaded instantly with the desired amount.

Of course, you have to pay a fee for this. In case of Travelex, it is $2 for every reload, while SBI charges Rs 50. The minimum reload in case of Travelex is $100 while the minimum reload for SBI is $250.

Cash Passport comes with an international helpline number for emergencies. This number is your lifeline on foreign shores as it provides assistance in every field from medical and legal emergencies to loss of passport and even translation services. Assistance is free but you'll have to pay for the services.

For example, if you meet with an accident you can call up Travelex for help. Travelex will make sure you are taken to a hospital and taken care of. You will have to pay the doctor and the hospital charges.

SBI's Vishwa Yatra card provides a personal accident cover of Rs 200,000. So in case of death due to accident, your nominee will get Rs 200,000. The card also provides travel insurance, which covers loss of checked-in baggage (Rs 50,000) and delay in checked-in baggage (beyond 12 hours) Rs 15,000.

The Vishwa Yatra Card scores over the Cash Passport as it can also be used as a debit card at over 13 million Visa Electron merchant establishments worldwide. Says an SBI official, "Travellers going abroad on a leisure trip may find the card most convenient as it saves precious time in locating authorised money changers. Also, different money changers charge different exchange rates and so the traveller may lose out."

However, the Vishwa Yatra Card does not come with the facility of an add-on card. Thus, only one card is issued in the name of the traveller.

Travelex, on the other hand, issues an add-on card, which has a different pin. So the card can have a common pool of $10,000 and both you and your wife can use it. The add-on card fee is $2.

While both the Cash Passport and the Vishwa Yatra Card have a maximum limit of $10,000, the Cash Passport can be bought for a minimum of $100 while the Vishwa Yatra Card has to be bought for a minimum of $500.

SBI issues its card for a fee of Rs 100 while Travelex charges 1 per cent of the card amount as issuance fee.

Travelex India also offers the buyback policy. Under this you can sell all unused foreign exchange to Travelex at the same exchange rate at which you bought it. Hence, you are safe from exchange rate fluctuations. Currently, no other foreign exchange player offers such a service.

However, in order to make use of the facility you need to inform the branch, when buying the card, that you will be availing of this facility when you return. You need to pay a fee of Rs 100 for this facility.

Under the Vishwa Yatra rules, the unused amount of the card can be returned to SBI and no return fee will be charged provided the balance amount is claimed within three months of the expiry of the card. If claim is made after three months of expiry of the card the amount will be refunded after deducting Rs 100 as bank charges. However, the dollars will be converted into rupees at the prevailing exchange rate.

These cards do have their disadvantages. The biggest is that Visa charges between 2 per cent to 3 per cent of the amount as transaction fee every time you withdraw from an ATM. You also need to pay around $0.40 to check your balance.

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