Top-up to travel!

Are colleagues from abroad or NRI relatives visiting India soon? You may want to tell them that about the new option to buy pre-paid Rupee-based travel card.

Launched recently by Axis Bank, the India Travel Card is a first-of-its-kind service that can be used like any international credit or debit card, but is less cumbersome because it is Indian-rupee denominated.

Who can apply?

Only foreign nationals and non-resident Indians can apply for this card. Documentation requirements aren't difficult either as you will need to submit a copy of your passport and visa along with a completed and signed application form to get the India Travel Card.

Where can you apply?

The card will initially be available at select Axis Bank branches in Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai as well as a select network of money changers. The bank, however, is looking to expand this network. to make the card available at 192 of its centrally located branches over the next few months.

To ‘load' the card with cash, you will need to exchange your foreign currency or travellers' cheque with the Axis Bank branches or money changers. The card would then be credited with Indian rupees at the prevailing exchange rate. But you can load it with a maximum amount of Rs 50,000 only in one go. This limit holds true for top-ups too.

For reloading, you will have to go in person to any of the 192 AXIS Bank branches.

How do you use it ?

Swipe it, just the way you would with your debit or credit card . The card is accepted only at VISA-enabled point-of-sale terminals in India, which gives you a choice of over 4.7 lakh merchant outlets. Certainly, no dearth of options! And if you need cash, you can use the card for cash withdrawals across 44,000 ATMs around the country. The card can also be used for online shopping through Verified by VISA (VBV) facility.

What's more, you can use the internet banking facility of the bank (free of charge) to view account statements or place a request for a duplicate PIN via email.

Our take

The card does promise to come in handy for foreign nationals and NRIs visiting India as it gives them a fixed exchange rate (at the time of conversion as against floating ones when you use international debit or credit cards).

It also does away with some inconvenience and associated risks of carrying a lot of Indian currency or travellers' cheques.

The fact that you don't need a bank account to get this card is perhaps its biggest USP.

But then how does it compare to using international cards?Well, a lot will depend on what card you hold. For example, if you are visiting India from the US and hold a MasterCard or Visa credit card, the international MasterCard and Visa networks add a conversion fee of 1 per cent, and most US banks add their own 2 per cent fee, according to IndexCreditCards.com, a credit card news and comparison Web site.

Similarly, when you use a debit (ATM) card for cash outside the US, your bank adds some combination of a per-withdrawal fee up to $5, a conversion fee up to 3 per cent, or maybe both. The card does score over carrying cash everywhere you go. Use it if you plan to travel or shop a lot when in India, but not before making sure it is more economical vis-à-vis swiping your international cards.

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