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Need £ and € cash before trip?

I’m getting my ducks in a row for our 1st trip to Europe this June. 2 more months to go! We will be going to the UK for a week before our 14 day BOE tour starting in Paris. Is it advisable to get cash (UK pounds and euros) here in the US or wait til we get there? Pls advise. Thanks!

Posted by
463 posts

We only change about $100 to the currency of the first country we go just for peace of mind. That will get us to our hotel/b&b/etc.. We then get currency at an ATM preferably in the lobby of a bank in case the machine eats the card. Anywhere you go here in the states will hit you with a bad exchange rate.

Posted by
6625 posts

Yes it is advisable. I would get about 100 of each small bills so if you take a Taxi it is easier to make change.
Then after that runs out use ATM's attached to banks during open hours.
Note that It is cheaper to use ATM's abroad than getting money here in the USA before your trip but many like to have local currency before arriving to avoid looking for ATM's in a daze after an overnight flight.

Posted by
3110 posts

It isn’t necessary to get cash in advance, really. However many people feel better if they have some in their pocket.

Everything you need to do between the airport and your hotel can be done on a card. Heathrow Express or the tube take cards, taxis take cards, food establishments take cards, etc.

My advice is to buy a Heathrow Express ticket now, as far in advance as you can. It lowers the price dramatically. You print out the ticket at home, scan it at the entrance gate, and are on your way. I paid only 7.5 pounds for my ticket because I purchased it in advance.

If you feel better having some cash, don’t hesitate to get some. It really doesn’t cost that much and takes away a worry. Reality is, however, you don’t need to arrive with cash on you.

Posted by
6539 posts

I don't like to give money away for no good cause and don't need to pay more for a peace of mind, so I wait to use an ATM overseas no matter where I go because ATMs are ubiquitous. There's a tradeoff: get money ahead of time = pay extra for the "convenience" of a human handling the transaction OR wait to you get there and use an ATM = don't pay extra. Do whatever you feel most comfortable with. Just make sure you have an ATM card (and credit card) that is competitive (no high foreign fees to withdraw funds).

Posted by
58 posts

I like the idea of having a small amount of cash with me. I think $100 worth is just right. Thanks for that advice! But regarding the use of a card, when we were in Canada, they charged us with a fee everytime we used the card. Is it the same in Europe? I don’t want to carry a lot of cash but I don’t want to be charged with a fee everytime I use the card either. Is there any other alternative?

Posted by
7122 posts

I don’t want to be charged with a fee every time I use the card either. Is there any other alternative?

Get a credit card that has no foreign transaction fees. Capitol One, is one of several that have the 'no fee' feature.

If you are questioning about a debit card, Schwab has one. And there are other sources as well

Posted by
1185 posts

"My advice is to buy a Heathrow Express ticket now, as far in advance as you can. It lowers the price dramatically. "

Depending on where you staying in London, my advise is not to waste your money on the Heathrow Express. Instead just take the tube into London. Much less in cost and, if you are going to be in London for several days, it would definitely be advantageous to purchase an Oyster Card.
I am also in the group that says wait until you get there to get your pounds/euros. Last spring we went to England and I got pounds from an ATM at Heathrow. There was no difference in the rates there and when I got additional local currency at a bank ATM.

Posted by
5624 posts

This is a FAQ. Some wait till feet on the ground to obtain FX from an ATM. Others like the comfort of FX in their pockets on arrival. Here's RS' advice: https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/money/cash-tips

Resist the urge to buy foreign currency before your trip. Some
tourists feel like they just have to have euros or British pounds in
their pockets when they step off the airplane, but they pay the price
in bad stateside exchange rates. Wait until you arrive to withdraw
money. I've yet to see a European airport that didn't have plenty of
ATMs.

While I follow RS' advice, I do have back up ATM/Debit accounts and go through the foreign travel notification for each card.
PS My wife's Schwab does not charge FX transaction fees, My CU and Fidelity ATM/Debit accounts charge a 1% FX transaction fee.

Posted by
2786 posts

I have gone to Europe 16 times in the last 18 years and always wait until I get to my destination airport there before buying any local currency using a debit card from an ATM that is not connected to one of those commercial money exchange companies that charge rip off prices.

Posted by
20973 posts

The only fee that you MIGHT be charged is a fee for using that particular ATM in Europe and it will be fully disclosed. However, after that, all of the fees charge solely determined by your card issuer. So talk to your card issuer or get a debit card that doesn't charge fees. Our credit union only charges 1% after the first six withdraws per month.

Posted by
6554 posts

I always carry two ATM and two credit cards when traveling. I always want a backup.
My primary ATM card is from a credit union, and it comes without all the big charges. My Wells Fargo bank ATM charges a ridiculous 5% discount and $5 on any cash withdrawal.
We use credit cards on most purchases--rental cars, restaurants and hotels that take the cards. We use minimal cash withdrawals on the ATM's--only as required to get by.

Posted by
11450 posts

Jovie/ Canadian here , my bank doesn’t charge me a fee when I use my cards here , never for debit , or credit , it’s the type of account I have ( my kids do get fees as they have more basic accounts and a limited amount of withdrawals a month - so wondering it the fees were because your bank has no partner banks here ?

Posted by
8009 posts

Like David I’m a belt and suspenders kind of gal. I take 2 debit cards - one from my Credit Union one from my money market. Both charge 1%. I closed another bank account that had a 3% + 5$ a time fee!! I also take 2 CC’s.

I like money ahead. I travel solo and feel fuzzy when I land so want enough cash to get me to town and a couple of meals. The first trip I got money ahead but now I just make sure I withdraw Euro or Pounds before I return home so I’ve got my starter cash.

Interestingly I went in to a discount grocery store in my “neighborhood” in Paris a few days ago and they no longer take cash! Only Carte Bleue, said the cashier. But I still want cadh for the taxi.

I agree that for London the Express might not be your best mode of transport depending on where your hotel is. I now take the National Express bus as the coach station is literally a half a block from where I stay.

I also carry a few snack size ziplocks to separate my money if I am going to UK and the continent ( plus my dollars). I realized I needed to work on this when I tried to pay a Milan taxi with GBP. No wonder he was looking at me weird!!

Posted by
17867 posts

Everything you need to do between the airport and your hotel can be done on a card.

That could be true in the UK (although I would fell better if it were someone from London saying it, not SO from Wash DC), but I would not trust that to be true in other European countries. Specifically, Germany is very much a cash society; I would not depend on cabs, etc, taking credit cards in Germany.

My Wells Fargo bank ATM charges a ridiculous 5% discount and $5 on any cash withdrawal.

Are you sure that is still true? Maybe Well Fargo charges vary by location, but a year ago, Wells Fargo charged me $5 for a withdrawal of up to $500 in Germany. That's just about 1%. Period.

And, for cash euro here in the US before you go, WF charges an average of 5% over the Interbank rate.

I've yet to see a European airport that didn't have plenty of ATMs.

In 2004, I arrived in Frankfurt with three ATM cards in my wallet. Fortunately three, because the first two were refused by the airport ATMs ("call your bank". Not so easy when it's 1 AM at home and you don't have money to use in a phone.). The third card worked, but I wasn't that concerned because I had $200 in euro in by wallet.

Rick should provide a European number to call in case your cards are refused. His people will come right out to give you some cash. Right?

Posted by
3110 posts

Lee, Not Washington DC, Washington.....

I just did the trip in from airport in London without cash.

OP is landing in London.

Posted by
9211 posts

If you will have peace of mind to have some foreign currency in your pocket before leaving then do so. Just don't get a lot. ATM's in Europe have an option for English and they work the same as the ones here. Your best exchange rate will be at ATM's.

If you were charged a fee every time you used your ATM card in Canada then your card issuer charges fees. You might want to consider getting a card that doesn't charge these fees as they can add up. I have a Schwab Debit Card and they charge no fees. And if I should use an ATM that does, Schwab refunds them.

How to get from the airport to your hotel in London depends on where your hotel is located. Sometimes the Heathrow Express is a good idea, sometimes it is not.

You can use your credit card on just about all types of transport from the airport into London.

Posted by
58 posts

Thank you for all the advice. I will call my credit union tomorrow and verify about their fees for debit and credit card use in Europe since I have both cards from them. I hope I don’t have to open a different card/s from another bank.

Regarding our UK stay, I’m not worried about transportation since my husband’s cousin will pick us up from Manchester airport where we will be arriving from Orlando. And my friend will pick us up from the London train station and will act as our tour guide once we get to London.

Posted by
1127 posts

I wouldn’t bother unless it’s something that will be bugging you the whole trip over. Keep in mind that the £10 note and £5 note have changed over the last couple of years and the old paper versions will not be accepted. Ordering from a domestic bank may not guarantee you the most recent notes. Also, £50 notes aren’t easy to spend.

I have found the UK to be almost cashless. The exception are the rare orinary local pub.

Posted by
58 posts

So, I just checked with my bank and they charge a $2 fee each ATM transaction plus the ATM fee, and a 1% charge each transaction with the credit card, which is not too bad. But since I can’t afford to open a Schwab brokerage/checking account, I’ll just have to minimize my ATM withdrawals. Do you know how much is the maximum amount you can withdraw? Is it the same in most European countries?

Posted by
6539 posts

they charge a $2 fee each ATM transaction plus the ATM fee

What's the "ATM fee" on top of the $2 per transaction? It sounds like you need another bank (European banks don't charge ATM fees, that kind of fee would be charged by your own bank). Luckily you have enough time to shop around. I'm with a credit union and they simply charge 1% of each transaction.

Your bank typically sets your maximum withdrawal amount. Keep in mind that you can use credit cards in Europe (unless you're really in rural areas of off-the-beaten-path somewhere), you don't need huge wads of cash.

Posted by
58 posts

My bank charges $2 with each ATM transaction (unless you use a credit union ATM then it is waived), and ATMs charge a fee as well if you are using an out-of-network machine.

Posted by
60 posts

I'm traveling in 2 weeks and went ahead and got Euros and Pounds beforehand so I won't need to hit an ATM immediately upon arrival. My brother, when he travels, does the same. As he sees it, what if the ATM is down or otherwise closed or if the machine eats your card? My sister, on the other hand, never takes out cash beforehand and always uses the ATM at her destination. So far, she's never had an issue. So tomato-tomahto.

I agree with other posters who say having at least a small amount on you is preferable. You may need it for tipping a shuttle driver, paying for a taxi or even picking up something to eat or drink.

Safe travels in June!

Posted by
556 posts

Hi,

I used to be in the camp of 'just wait until you get there and then only use ATMs.' However, a few years back I arrived in France (can't remember which airport off the top of my head) and I needed to buy a train ticket to leave the airport. But no matter which card I used (tried both credit and debit), it would NOT take my card. Then, I ended up wandering around the airport for an extra 45 minutes, carrrying my bags, just trying to find an ATM. For whatever reason, I could not locate one (probably because I didn't sleep on the flight over and I was out of it). So, I finally had to use the Currency Exchange office (which of course has the WORST rates). All to buy a train ticket that would have only cost me 18 Euros if I had had them handy. So now, I tend to try to arrive to have at least a few euros/pounds/etc. in my bag, so I can just pay cash to get out of the airport. From that point on, I just use ATMs.

To answer your question, your bank can let you know if you have a daily limit of cash withdrawls from ATMs while abroad. You can probably even ask them to raise the limit while you are gone. However, you may need to visit two ATMs at once, as sometimes the machines themselves have a maximum withdrawl amount.

Another consideration is to check with AAA (if you're a member) and see if they have better rates (for the money you are going to exchange before leaving).

Have fun.

Posted by
3444 posts

European ATMs do NOT charge a fee when you use them if they are operated by a bank, no matter what network your card is on. (At least most of them don't, so far.) Apparently the ATM operators over there are not as greedy as those in the US.

If you want to avoid the fees on the bank end of ATM transactions, Capital One 360 is a great account to have. No fees of any kind from them. Doesn't take more than $1 to open and keep the account open. Put money in it only when you need for travel. Everything is done on line with them. I have had this account for 20 years and have never had any issues and my card always works in Europe.

How much you can draw from an ATM in Europe depends on the ATM. Most allow at least €300, some a lot more some a little less. If you need more than the machine allows just do multiple transactions. The controlling factor here will most likely be your credit union and how much they allow you to withdraw per day. Don't forget that a Euro costs more than a US Dollar so you have to factor that into your withdrawal request. You should check with them to insure they allow foreign withdrawals, many people are finding out their credit unions don't allow withdrawals in many countries.