Your summer holiday money guide

Andy Webb 4 July 2022

With most travel restrictions lifted, this is going to be a big summer of getting away—here's how to make your money go further when overseas

Seeing as it could well be three years since your last summer holiday, I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve forgotten some of these top tips! Whether paying by cash or card, this article will have you covered so you’re getting the best rates on your holiday spending. 

The best cards to use abroad

In most countries you’re going to be spending in the same way you do here in the UK—with your debit or credit card. But if you do just use your normal card, there’s a strong chance you’ll be hit with some extra charges. Fortunately there are a handful of alternatives available that are fee-free. What you spend will be as close to the true exchange rate as possible with no mark up. 

If you’ve got a relatively recent mobile phone, then using it to open up a current account with Chase Bank is the leading contender as you’ll also earn one per cent cashback on top with all your debit card spending for 12 months, at home and abroad. You don’t have to make this your main bank account if you don’t want to—you can instead transfer over some funds before you go away. 

Woman holding debit card

Another card that offers cashback is the Barclaycard Rewards credit card. You’ll get less back at 0.25 per cent, but you will get added consumer protection on purchases over £100 and a credit card is likely required if you want to hire a car. This card also doesn’t require you to have a smart phone or app. 

Both these cards also let you take out cash from ATMs without charges, so will be cheaper than using a bureau de change before leaving the UK.  

Alternatives that are fee-free but won’t earn cashback are Starling Bank (debit) and Halifax Clarity (credit).

"Make sure you always choose to pay in the local currency"

I’d also recommend getting a free Curve or Currensea card as a back up. This lets you connect your existing Visa and Mastercard cards via an app and pay with them at a better rate—though it won’t be as good as the others mentioned. 

If you want to lock in rates before you go, then another digital bank, Revolut, lets you do this—effectively making it a fee-free prepaid card. However, you’ll have to pay £5 to get a physical debit card (a virtual one is included on the app). 

While we’re still on cards, make sure you always choose to pay in the local currency, even if you’re offered the choice of paying in pounds. Picking sterling will wipe out the savings you’ll make from a specialist card. 

The best way to get travel cash

Though I rarely use cash abroad, I always like to have some on me for when I arrive. And of course, more out of the way destinations might still favour notes and coins. 

The worst place to change over your money is at the airport. Once there, your choice is down to one or two places, and the exchange rates and commissions will be among the highest out there. 

Exchange

In fact, be wary of anywhere that bills itself as “commission free”. They’ll largely still be making some cash by setting their own exchange rates. 

You’re best off looking at a comparison site such as Travelmoneymax.com to see where you’ll get the best rate. There’s an option to choose delivery or to enter your postcode. Those in London will have access to more competitive rates than smaller towns. 

"Be wary of anywhere that bills itself as 'commission free'"

It’s still worth doing this even if you leave it really late—you might find the rate available to collect when you arrive at the airport is better than what you’ll get once you go through security to departures. 

I wouldn’t take too much with me unless you know you won’t have access to cash machines or the local charges to use them are high. Most travel insurance policies will have limits on how much you can claim if it’s stolen or lost. It’s better practice to withdraw as and when you need it (using one of the cards mentioned above). 

One last point here: don’t use your credit card to “buy” the foreign currency as it’s classed as a cash withdrawal, meaning you’ll be charged interest and fees. Instead, use your debit card or bring cash. 

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