Travelling with a standard Canadian credit card can be an expensive endeavor, due to ever-changing exchange rates and repeated foreign transaction and ATM withdrawal fees. For those who travel quite a bit, one way to save effort and money is to carry a card preloaded with the local currency of a travel destination.

The CIBC Air Canada® AC Conversion™ Visa* Prepaid Card allows cardholders to load an impressive amount of cash across a wide variety of currencies, and at a locked-in exchange rate. Factor in its lack of an annual fee and it’s one of the best cards to travel with.

Multiple currency feature

The highlight of the CIBC prepaid card is its array of 10 supported currencies, which can be purchased and loaded onto the card at any time online. The supported currencies are as follows:

  • Canadian Dollars (CAD)
  • United States Dollars (USD)
  • Euros (EUR)
  • British Pounds (GBP)
  • Australian Dollars (AUD)
  • Japanese Yen (JPY)
  • Hong Kong Dollars (HKD)
  • Turkish Lira (TRY)
  • Swiss Francs (CHF)
  • Mexican Pesos (MXN)

This is a relief to those who had previously waited in line at the bank, exchanging cash for their upcoming trip at the bank’s own rates. It’s also safer than travelling in an unfamiliar country with a wad of bills. Loading these currencies to the card using Canadian dollars is easy via CIBC’s website, and CIBC characterizes each currency by the rate you bought it at. This allows you to lock in favourable exchange rates as the market changes and store currencies for later use.

If you know that you’ll be travelling to the UK at some point in the future, for example, you can wait until the Canadian dollar is in a good position relative to the Pound to load up for your upcoming trip.

Other notable perks

  • Use stored currencies to make purchases online as well
  • Load the card with up to the equivalent of $20,000 CAD
  • Unlimited ATM withdrawals in Canada
  • 24/7 support
  • $0 annual fee

Drawbacks and limitations

  • Can’t buy on credit
  • Doesn’t build credit
  • Absence of relevant currency on the card means foreign transaction fees are applied
  • Only 1 free international ATM withdrawal per month
  • ‘Small’ fee charged for loading currency to the card
  • Few other typical travel card perks

Some of the biggest drawbacks of the card are simply symptomatic of its prepaid nature. For example, if you run out of prepaid funds abroad, you can’t use credit like you would with another card. You instead must load more money online. By the same token, the card automatically withdraws the relevant currency when paying overseas—it uses Yen while in Japan, for example. If you don’t have Yen on the card, and only Canadian dollars or another type of currency, then you’ll be hit with 2.50% foreign transaction fees. Cardholders shouldn’t use the card while abroad unless they’ve already loaded CAD and exchanged it online to the proper currency through CIBC’s dashboard.

CIBC hasn’t published a set fee that they charge for exchanging currencies/loading currencies to the card through their dashboard. What they’ve told us about the fees (though not in writing) is as follows:

  • Every currency exchange/load through their platform does incur some kind of a ‘small’, variable fee.
  • Cardholders have to confirm that they agree to be charged the fee before exchanging/loading currency
  • The fees are less than the standard 2.5% foreign transaction fee
  • These fees are added on top of the regular currency exchange rate set by Visa

We would prefer seeing fixed, transparent fees guaranteed in writing. But if what CIBC says is true, and the fee is always less than 2.5%, the card is a worthwhile alternative to other Canadian credit cards that either waive or make up for foreign transaction fees.

Who’s the card for?

The CIBC AC Conversion card is designed with travellers in mind, as it can be used to lock in favourable exchange rates with the Canadian dollar and lessen the burden of foreign transaction fees. The card’s prepaid nature also suits those without a great credit score or high income, who might not qualify for ‘no foreign transaction fee’ credit cards.

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