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Changing currency at airport???

My family will be going overseas for the first time this Easter. We'll arrive in London and be met by a tour guide (recommended by RS) and he'll take us to Bath right away. Where should I purchase English currency? At the airport? Or the next day at a local bank?
THe tour company will charge me 3% to pay w/cc.

Posted by
7205 posts

Just use the nearest ATM and withdraw it straight from your checking account. No need to pay a middleman ANYTHING.

Posted by
2490 posts

You do not "purchase" currency -that costs money, 5-10%. You use your debit card to withdraw your own money from your own account from any bank-operated ATM. this will cost you hopefully just over 1/2 of 1 percent, assuming you have an account and card that does not charge ATM fees.

Do a search here on this board. There have been innumerable threads on this with advice on the best accounts to have. Since you are not going until Easter, you have sufficient time to establish an account at Schwab, CapOne, any credit union, etc.

By the way, to pay with credit card will also cost you an additional 3% on top of the tour company's charge, as virtually every credit card charges a 3% foreign transaction fee (CapitalOne's Mastercard is one of the rare ones that does not charge this)

Posted by
8889 posts

This is discussed many times on this site. The cheapest place is a bank cash machine (ATM) using your own bank debit card NOT credit card. There are cash machines in all airport arrival areas.
Stick to bank-owned machines, "independent" ones sometimes have surcharges.
Tell your bank ASAP that your are travelling, to make sure your they don't block it as a suspcious transaction.

You may feel slightly worried arriving in a foreign country without any money. Many people feel happier changing enough money for 1-2 days at their home bank before they leave. In your case, if the tour company prefers cash, it may be safer (and reduce your worries), to change that amount before you leave home.

All currency transactions (ATM, credit card, bank transfer) result in you loosing 3%-5%. You cannot avoid this. Changing "real money" at a bank or change office in an airport will probably loose you 5-15%.
Most local banks only change foreign currency for their customers. Trying to change (or use) your home currency in any European country will be a very frustrating experience.

P.S. The British currency is pounds (£), divided into pence (p). £1 = 100p

Posted by
21844 posts

Except at Heathrow most of the ATMs are control by Currency Exchange which can tack on some fees. So I would go your local bank, Am Express office, etc., and purchased a 100 pounds before you go. You will pay about 8% or so in fees but for $8 the convenience for us is worth it. The next day in Bath you can hit a local bank's ATM and get all the pounds you need. Unless you have a credit or debit cards that do not charge currency conversion fees, 3 % is pretty standard and not deal breaker.

EDITED -- Chris and I were posting at the same time so didn't notice one of his statements
All currency transactions (ATM, credit card, bank transfer) result in you loosing 3%-5%. You cannot avoid this. I would accept that some currency transactions but certainly not ALL. All of my credit and debit cards do not change any fees beyond the base network fee which is always less than 1%. With the correct credit and debit cards it is easy to avoid transaction fees. And most of us do.

Posted by
11613 posts

I almost always have some local currency before I go - your bank can get it for you within a few days, if they don't stock it. You'll pay a FedEx charge but I think the transaction charge is minimal. If you get pounds sterling a little before you go, you can familiarize yourself with the denominations (the bank will order the denominations you request, stick with smaller notes unless you need to pay your tour guide a chunk of money up front).

Posted by
13210 posts

Note Frank's comment about the ATM's at Heathrow. There are no bank ATM's; they are private ones that do not give a good exchange rate. So we always arrive with £50-80 in hand (purchased at home) and then visit a bank ATM once we get into town.

Posted by
3580 posts

There are lots of banks in Bath. You can ask your tour guide to point you to one. You may not need any cash until day 2, but it's always nice to have some.

Posted by
43 posts

I have recently read {] that in Europe [except Dublin] all the bank ATMs at the airport have been replaced by Travellex ATMs, which do not give as good a rate. Apparently Travellex pays the airports a "commission" to replace the banks ATMs with their own. So if you have enough local currency to get into town and use a bank ATM there you may save some money. Also see if your bank belongs to the "Global ATM Alliance" or something similar, member banks waive some of the fees for customers of member banks.

Posted by
2490 posts

immcdonnell, please check and provide the source. This has been discussed here before, unless something has suddenly changed in the last few weeks and ATM machines have been shuttered and removed from the major airports, this is not true. It holds for Heathrow where BA and the airport cut a deal to give Travelex exclusive rights. If you go to the Cirrus and Plus network websites and check their ATM locations, you will find that they are in all the other major airports. unless, like i said, you have something to show they have suddenly been removed.

Posted by
3651 posts

The small amount you will pay your local bank to obtain 100-200 pounds to have money in hand when you land is minimal in the overall scheme of things. Thereafter you can use bank ATMs to get the best exchange rate by getting money from your bank account. In the opinion of many, many travelers, it is the only way to go. TC