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Cashless in England?

Our family of 4 is heading to England in a few days. Over our 3 weeks in England, we'll be based in London and Canterbury and day tripping from there. I continue to see 'we are now cashless' on various attraction websites... much more so than my previous visits. How prevalent is cashless now? Does it still make sense to secure some pounds before we leave? What would we be using it for? I was looking forward to giving our young teens some pocket money and the independence to walk down the street for an ice cream on their own, but if no one is accepting cash, we'll need to figure out something else for them.

Thanks!

Posted by
7638 posts

A similar question was posted yesterday, and I was surprised that “going cashless” was even something to consider. My husband and I will be there in less than 2 weeks, and we planned to get some cash at an ATM as on all previous trips, and will still do so. In the past, doing a walk with London Walks required cash, but I believe they now also take plastic. We’ve used our credit cards more and more, in the USA and abroad, but for smaller amounts, and in certain circumstances, having some bills and coins is useful. Making a donation in the museum boxes is especially one of those instances!

Have a great trip! Here’s that other thread, with a variety of responses: https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/tours/question-about-money-in-uk

And another, from almost 3 years ago: https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/england/cash-vs-card-in-london

Posted by
4 posts

And here I thought I'd been keeping up on the posts here lately! :) Thanks for pointing me to the previous thread! Sounds like we don't need nearly as much cash as we are used to taking with us. That should make things overall easier.

As an aside, I think covid has caused a big shift in this area. My kids went to the mall a couple of months ago with friends and discovered that none of the stores carry cash to make change anymore! They had to pool their cash and coins to get close to exact change for their smoothies at Jamba Juice!

Posted by
7638 posts

I guess maybe the kids had to share their drinks, then, too! Did each of them get their own straw?

And as you said, COVID may be a contributor to the situation. The “Tap to Pay” means no one else handling your card, no P.I.N. keypad to have to touch that other people have put their fingers all over, and no card to insert where countless other cards, touched by other people, have been stuck.

Posted by
1588 posts

In 2018, I was in Manchester for one week. On the first two days, I had no GBP in my wallet. Not a problem as everyone took cards.

Posted by
33324 posts

I've related this story before so if you've heard it, look away now.

Just before the pandemic over 2 years ago now (Feb 2020) I had £70 in notes in my wallet. One of the £20 notes was being withdrawn so I wanted to change it. I bought lunch with it at a Royal Horticultural Society garden in the summer of 2020, between lockdowns and got back a £10 note in change. Other than that my wallet still has exactly the same notes in it.

I did, in January, use 3 pound coins to buy a dozen eggs at a cash-only-under-a-£10-purchase farm shop and got back a few pieces of shrapnel to put in the dusty coin tray.

Those have been the sole extent of my cash usage since Feb 2020.

Everything else has been contactless or on line, except pay at the pump fuel which is chip and pin.

It is true that I am a local, not a tourist, and being petrified of covid (I look after my disabled wife and couldn't if flat on my back or worse) don't tend to mix with crowds.

Posted by
6808 posts

I spent the first week of March in London and the trip could have been completely cashless had I wanted it to be. Every place we went assumed we’d be paying by card. We used cash on occasion to use up the remaining paper £20 notes I had and reduce to total amount of cash that had been sitting around the house for a couple years. Some vendors at markets, like Borough, might only accept cash. Even the Tesco Express and Sainsbury Local stores are almost exclusively card only. If you want some pounds, I’d wait until arriving, then pick up some.

Posted by
7718 posts

I think I would describe the situation more as: Cashless, particularly Contactless Cards (Tap to Pay) and Phone Apps (Google/Apple Pay), has taken off, and actually become the expected or preferred method of payment. They may not yet be "Scandinavian" cash free, but close.

However, as life is somewhat returning to normal, businesses, particularly those that cater to tourists, are back to accepting cash (Come on, a business turning away customers? Think about it).

But, check your credit cards, all of mine have reissued cards in the past year or two that are Tap to Pay capable, and they are handy in that you tap, no PIN required (good for those Chip and Signature card holders). If you incur fees for use, time to look for another card.

Posted by
4592 posts

In Paris in December everywhere was tap to pay, I'm RTW here in LA this week and everywhere near my office is tap to pay, that is the new normal. But everyone on the trip should ALWAYS have some cash in pocket, just because. 50 or 100 pounds. Just like having a spare tire, but not planning to ever use it. If you don't want to take it home, spend it at the airport when leaving.

My standard recommend (to paraphrase Nigel, look away if you've heard it) is to open a fee-free Schwab account and put your vacation money in it and go to any ATM as often as you wish.

Posted by
11 posts

What about needing some coins for using the WC? Still needed?

Posted by
1332 posts

My last trip in 2019 was very close to cashless and it was completely cashless in London. Never ran across a minimum spend to pay by card in London.

In other pars of the U.K. I did run into the £10 minimum at a few pubs. I’m a solo traveler and thankfully a pint or gin isn’t £10! There was also a bar which only did chip and pin, and wouldn’t take American cards.

I plan to get minimal cash this time around. As of now, London walks seems to require booking in advance via card. I know that makes things easier for them, but I also liked the idea of just being able to turn up. A glorious sunny day makes for a wonderful experience with a London walk outdoors.

The U.K. changes its currency fairly frequently. Non residents definitely want to make sure they bring home as little as possible. I agree with ‘assume you will return’ but obviously Covid showed us that life has curveballs to throw at us.

Posted by
58 posts

Do yourself a favor and set up Apple Pay/Google Pay on your phone before you go. Living in England I (as an American with American-based credit cards that are linked to my Apple Pay) pay for pretty much everything using my phone. It's super easy. I wouldn't bother with cash.

Have fun!

Posted by
11294 posts

The U.K. changes its currency fairly frequently. <

I know it seemed that way over the past few years, but all the changes are now finished. They have changed all the paper notes (£5, £10, £20, and £50) to polymer, and changed the pound coins from fully rounded to 12-sided.

If you do have any paper notes, you can change them at the Bank of England in London (at the Bank tube stop). And while you can't spend "round pounds" in shops, they can be deposited in British bank accounts, so I used them as donations in museums.

Even pre-Covid, the UK was a leader in contactless payment. Of course that doesn't mean that you'll never need cash, but as long as you have a contactless card you can use without foreign transaction fees, you're set for the vast majority of your purchases.

Posted by
1 posts

You can and should use cards, preferably contactless, almost everywhere and not take too much cash, In general the only places that don't take cards and insist on cash are very small shops/stores, some street stalls and some small cafes. other than that if it's a larger place with a good turnover and will only accept cash, they may be trying to avoid paying their fair share of tax, so avoid. One other thing, don't accept £50 notes/bills when changing your money into GBP. People here don't generally use them and again, some of the people who do use them are not using them for legitimate business transactions, so everyone is a bit suspicious of them. £20, £10 and £5 notes/bills are fine

Posted by
1874 posts

Am I the only one who would use my credit card more often as 'tap to pay', except my card (a Mastercard) is very inconsistent in working that way. Half the time I end up having to insert the card anyway. Therefore, if I encounter that problem in the UK, too, will I have the option of inserting instead of tapping?

Posted by
579 posts

Therefore, if I encounter that problem in the UK, too, will I have the option of inserting instead of tapping?

Yes, in shops, but you’ll then need your 4-digit PIN.

And you can’t use it that way on the tube… tap only there.

Posted by
420 posts

Yes, you can insert your card if tap doesn't work, albeit you may need to explain how this works for staff more used to people just tapping! Obviously if you're using it for the tube/bus/ticket machine etc you need it to tap.
If your card works sometimes but not always for tap, it might be worth just replacing it.

Posted by
5383 posts

There are limits to contactless use by the issuer based on various factors such as total amount, total number of taps, number of taps in a limited time etc. For people with chip-and-PIN using the PIN once resets this. I suppose chip-and-sig does this as well although signature doesn't really have the same kind of security feature.

Some transport providers have arrangements with Visa / MC etc that it will always work.

Posted by
1874 posts

Apologies to jcmh71 if I took your post down a path you did not intend. Thanks, however, to everyone who responded to my question. I should have added a little more detail. I have an Oyster card from previous trips which I will use in underground, good reminder to me to bring my pin for my credit card, I try not to have financial aps on my phone so do not use Google Pay. Finally, I use cash as a way to budget my discretionary spending, both at home and when I travel. With the move to contactless cards I know this method's days are numbered (sigh.) PS, tap worked at Target today, late last week it did not. My problem may be with Target, not my card.

Posted by
5383 posts

"total number of taps, number of taps in a limited time etc. For people with chip-and-PIN using the PIN once resets this"

In Canada, that only applies to Debit cards, and NOT Credit cards.

Ultimately it depends on the tolerance of the banks or card issuers against fraud. One that never requires additional authentication will be willing to sometimes swallow a big fraud cost

Posted by
5427 posts

Cash is stilll used in the UK, no-one is going to refuse cash even it is less covenient,, By all means send your kids to the ice cream man with cash.