If you’re heading for sunnier shores, the last thing on your mind may be changing your pounds into Euros, Dollars or Lire; but leaving your travel money until the last minute could end up costing you a packet…
Don’t wait until the airport to panic buy your currency; planning ahead could see you securing the best possible rates for your big adventure, so read APH’s guide to getting your travel money sorted and get the most out of your hard earned cash.
Top travel money tips
There are a few things to consider when heading abroad; these are our top tips for avoiding getting stung financially:
- Check there are ATMs at your destination; if you’re heading to a big city this may not be much of an issue as it’s a safe bet that there will be ATMS that will accept your card, but a tiny Greek Island on the other hand may be more of a question mark.
- Take a mix of payment types with you. Although credit and debit cards are now widely accepted, it’s always a good idea to have local currency to hand, especially smaller notes, for when you first land and want to buy a drink or hop in a taxi.
- Make a note of your card providers 24-hour helpline number in case your card gets lost or stolen.
- Tell your bank that you are going abroad; this could save the over-efficient fraud team from blocking your transactions while you’re trying to enjoy yourself.
- If you are asked in a shop or restaurant if you want to pay in local currency or in pounds, always choose the local currency. If you opt to pay in pounds then the retailer calculates the exchange rate, and more often than not this will be less favourable than if you left it up to your bank and paid in local currency.
- Know the exchange rate of your currency of choice. Having an idea in your mind of what you can get for your sterling will make you a savvier shopper when it comes to exchanging cash before you fly out.
- Never, ever exchange cash at the airport. The rates will be terrible and you be left feeling like you’ve been fleeced.
- When you get your currency, always pay with a debit card or cash, as credit cards charge a cash withdrawal fee, you’ll also be hit with higher rates of interest on the cash withdrawn, even if you pay it off in full at the end of the month.
Having even a small amount of local currency on you really is a must for your trip. Paying for drinks and snacks, getting public transport and tipping waiters is all far easier when you’ve got notes in your pocket. Make sure you shop around before handing over your pounds; the best rates are usually to be found online, but there will often be a delivery charge for ordering your currency online.
The downside of taking only cash with you, is that should something happen and you lose you wallet, or worst-case scenario have it stolen from you, it is not replaceable. Most travel insurance will cover you for a small amount of cash, but it is worth checking your policy if you are planning on taking only notes.
Pro: Having cash to hand makes budgeting for you holiday very easy, it is also accepted everywhere.
Con: Carrying large amounts of cash on your person, or storing it in the hotel room is not exactly ideal.
Accepted pretty much everywhere and easy to replace should the worst happen, a credit card is a really useful piece of plastic when travelling. You are covered against fraud so it’s a great way to purchase bigger ticket items like tours and flights, as should the services not be provided you can claw the money back!
Not all cards are created equal however, and it is worth shopping around before you take off. Some cards carry hidden fees for using the card abroad, like charges to pay over the counter, exchange fees and charges for withdrawing cash. It’s also worth noting that if you don’t pay off your balance in full every month you will get stung by interest charges.
Pro: Easily replaced and you are covered against fraud.
Con: Can have nasty hidden charges, so check the small print and if your card doesn’t deliver, take out a new one.
Also accepted almost anywhere, and offering you the added bonus that you’re using your own money; you won’t have to pay interest charges if you fail to pay it off in full like you would with a credit card. You are also protected against fraudulent activity if your card is cloned or stolen.
Charges are the real negative point here, debit cards can often come with lots of hidden and sinister charges when used abroad, so again, check the small print on your account and know what you’re dealing with. There are some debit cards that offer free withdrawals and transactions abroad, so if you’re anti-credit card and happy to open a new account then it is worth doing some research. The Money Advice Service gives free and impartial advice on all things money!
Pro: Easy to use, protected from fraud and can be used almost anywhere.
Con: Charges, charges, charges; beware!
The newest way to transport your holiday money; a pre-paid card allows you to ‘top up’ with money and then use it abroad. It’s not like a bank account, so if the card gets lost or stolen it can be easily replaced and your money remains safe and sound.
Its simple to use, you buy the card for a small amount, and then you just charge up your card with the amount of money you need; you can use it in shops and restaurants to pay for whatever you like and use it to withdraw cash.
The downside of these cards can be the charges, so it’s worth shopping around and doing some research before you take the plunge. Look out for things like replacement card charges, fees to top up money, fees to withdraw money and fees to transfer funds back to you bank account should you have money leftover.
Pro: Easily replaced, your money is safe and sound.
Con: It’s easy to get stung by costly charges, so shop around before you buy.
These dinosaurs of travel money do still exist; offering a secure way to take your money abroad, you exchange your money for the cheques and then cash them at a Bureau de Change or bank when you need more currency. Safer than taking cash abroad, if the cheques are stolen they are easily cancelled and can be replaced within 24 hours.
The downside is, that like the dinosaurs, these relics are almost on their way out, and you may find it tricky to get them changed if agents won’t accept them.
Pro: A safer way to carry your cash, they can be replaced quickly if lost or stolen.
Con: Finding somewhere to get them changed could prove difficult.
Keep your money safe
So you’ve got your money, cards and cheques sorted, but how do you keep them safe while you’re away?
1 Keep the majority of your money, passports and cards close to you; investing in a money belt or pouch is a great way of storing your all-important cash and cards as it can be worn around your waist, underneath clothing.
2. Don’t flash the cash; keep a small amount of currency easily accessible so that you don’t have to show off where you’re keeping your valuable every time you want to buy a coffee.
3. If your hotel room comes complete with a safe, use it! Don’t leave valuables lying around.
4. Split your money up; don’t keep all your currency and cards in one place, if you’re travelling with a friend or partner, divide the cash equally between you so that if one of you gets mugged, the thieves won’t get their hands on everything.
5. Make copies of your passport, driving licence and credit cards, leave one with a trusted friend and keep the other one separately from the rest of your documents. Alternatively you can scan them and email them to yourself so you can access them wherever you have the internet.
6. Beware tourist hot spots where pickpockets operate and street scams take place; always know where your money is! For more advice, check out our guide to avoiding travel scams.