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London - getting enough cash from ATM

I am staying at a "self-catering" mini apartment for a week in late November in London and, as is usual for this kind of accommodation, am required to pay in cash. My deposit went in through Pay Pal. My hosts said they can only get 300 pounds a day from their bank, but I need to arrive with 500 pounds for them and some to get me started too. So, should I wander around and go to two different banks' cash points? I live in a rural area and would have to jump through a few hoops here to get pounds to take with me and I know that's not generally advised - to carry currency from home. When I arrived at Heathrow last May I did eventually find a fee-free ATM so I could at least get my Oyster Card and get my day started, but I had trouble identifying what was a bank and what wasn't in that setting, knowing I should seek a bank ATM. Of course, I don't remember now what cash point I used there, but I was planning to look around this time too and at least start there. (For anyone who recognizes my name/identification info, after my questions on Wales, I decided to go to London instead.) Ann.

Posted by
1178 posts

Solution: 1. Take pounds with you...easiest..the bank can get them for you. 2. Pay part the first day to the hosts and the balance the second. You can NOT get more than the limit by going to different cash points there in London....all access the same computer system and know how much you have received on any given day. You should be able to use the card for additional purchases. not cash withdrawals, over the 300 limit...that has been my experience in Spain.

Posted by
9110 posts

Daily withdrawal limits are a matter between you and your bank. Should an atm have a limit, you can overcome it by using two machines, making two transactions in the same machine with the same card, or running two cards through the same machine.

Most British ATMs have preselect options from a little bit up to two hundred pounds, but there's also an 'other amount' button -- I've gotten five hundred pounds by using that, but do it so seldom that I'm not sure it will always work.

TravelEx has the lock on the airport machines. Once you get into town there's going to be a regular atm in just about every block.

Posted by
4536 posts

I have an account that allows £500 withdrawals; the limit set by the ATM operator is higher than that. So you need to find out what your bank allows, bearing in mind it may be less abroad than it is at home.

I have said this before, but guards need to be up on all ATMs these days against dynamic currency conversion, including those operated by high street banks. Fortunately this is declinable sometimes with a struggle including the Heathrow ATMs, which also don't in general charge a user fee (if they do, this has to be clearly displayed anyway). The idea that bank machines are good and independent operators are bad is outmoded and too simple.

Posted by
1399 posts

We typically call our bank before we leave and ask for an increase in our daily amount.

Posted by
269 posts

Please be cautious with buying British Pounds here in the States. I rarely if ever get local currency before going to Europe but for some reason I had this great idea to get some British Pounds before going to England. I went to our local large national bank and received notes from 5s-20s. It turns out the 20 pound notes I received are no longer valid and no one would take them. I checked a number of different locations to no avail. Standing in line for the VAT refund at Heathrow we talked to another family that experienced the same issue.
My advice is to get your currency upon arrival.

Posted by
9110 posts

The Elgar notes died almost five years ago!!
Did your stupid bank take them back?

Posted by
4536 posts

Could have given you an opportunity to visit the Bank of England going passed those salmon jacketed doormen.

Posted by
115 posts

Thanks for your replies. No, I never intended to take pounds with me, for a number of reasons. I was not aware that my bank here in the U.S. dictated how much I could take out abroad. Also, though, I wondered what the screen on a London cash point would offer to me -- if I could input any old amount, as long as my home bank approved of that amount. At worst, I will pay my hosts as much as I can upon arrival and give them more the next day. Ann

Posted by
115 posts

Sorry, forgot to ask this in my last post: Marco, please explain your post to me, reprinted here, I don't understand.

"I have said this before, but guards need to be up on all ATMs these days against dynamic currency conversion, including those operated by high street banks. Fortunately this is declinable sometimes with a struggle including the Heathrow ATMs, which also don't in general charge a user fee (if they do, this has to be clearly displayed anyway). The idea that bank machines are good and independent operators are bad is outmoded and too simple." Thanks. Ann

Posted by
8889 posts

"Dynamic Currency Conversion" is a scam, con or whatever you like to call it (and this is from somebody who gets annoyed about the many spurious claims of 'scams' on this site by people who just don't want to obey the local laws).

What happens is that your put in your card (debit or credit) into either a cash machine or when paying a bill. Then instead of displaying up with the amount of the bill (or amount you typed in of it is a cash machine), it shows an amount in "your" currency.
If this happens DO NOT ACCEPT THE TRANSACTION, DO NOT PAY THE BILL, and if you are in a shop or restaurant tell the person you refuse to pay they bill until the change it to the actual amount on the bill.

What is happening is that the shop/restaurant/bank is converting the original amount into the currency of your card using whatever exchange rate they feel like. You think it is OK because it is in "your" currency. But:

  • This is usually 5-10% worse off than if you had paid in the original local currency that the bill was in.
  • You still run the risk that your bank will charge for a foreign withdrawal, regardless of what currency the charge is in.

Cancel the transaction and pay the correct amount in the original currency, and not a penny/cent/rappen/groszy more.
If your bank charges you a bad exchange rate you can get annoyed at them. If a foreign bank or restaurant charges a bad rate, once you have paid there is nothing you can do.

Posted by
5366 posts

Well, if I can sum up some of the points...

Certainly it is best to get cash from an ATM there, but limits cause problems. For that you identified one... see if the owners will take a couple payments over a few days that fits your withdrawal limits.

Aside from that, certainly see if your bank will increase your daily limit. Otherwise, check to see if each cardholder has the daily limit as opposed to the account..for example, I have a $350/day limit...but found out that I have that; and my wife also, on the same account, has that on her card...so $700/day between the two of us.

Beyond ATM, it gets tricky to find the cheapest option. You can investigate bringing Pounds (maybe a cost of ~5% at a good bank in the US) Exchanging over there (5-10% cost); maybe ask the owners about a bank transfer (3-7%?), Pay-Pal again just before the trip...still a fee?, Cash advance on a credit card at an ATM there...may have some fees, interest from point of transaction...but probably cheaper than exchanging if you have a card with no international transaction fee. There are probably more options.

As for Dynamic Currency Conversion, avoid it, always if getting a wierd "would you like the transaction in "home" or "local" currency" Always pick local, or if worded differently (for the UK, Pounds) then pick Local or Pounds.

But...and this is important...keep in mind that you could pay more per night to stay in a hotel and have the convienance of paying by credit card (which could cost you 3%), but you are getting a good deal...so even having to pay a premium to get cash, you are still way ahead and I would not sweat it.

Posted by
14409 posts

Find out what your bank's withdrawal limit is. Then take cash dollars for the balance and change it in London. That should still be cheaper and certainly easier than trying to buy sterling in advance.

Posted by
295 posts

You have gotten a lot of advice but I would add the following...
Call you bank. They can tell you how much you are allowed to withdrawal in one day. My bank always allows me to increase that amount while I travel. You need to ask them if you can change it and give them a request. For example, normally I can take out $350 but I ask to increase it to $500. Maybe your bank will even do more. The more I can withdrawal the less I have to go to the machine and therefore the less fees I accumulate. Banks set the daily withdrawal limit and you can't go over that even if you try multiple machines or multiple attempts at one machine. Its basically a safe guard incase your card is stolen. Hope that helps.

Posted by
115 posts

Thanks to one and all. Great information and support! xxoo Ann.

Posted by
2081 posts

a.jenson,

this has been my experience so far in the UK.

Cash Advances:

Any of the ATMs i have used all had a limit. I think its in the 250/300 BPS range. When ever i withdrew my daily limit, that was it for the day (12 hours?). I tried different ATMs at different locations and banks and branches. No luck at all. Note that the cash advances are like a loan so there are charges associated with this.

Savings/Checking withdrawl.

I also tried to access my Savings or Checking and i wasnt able to get into this feature. I was able to do it in other countries, but no in the UK or with the ATMs i used.

So, if you NEED the extra BPS on arrival, i would either ask if they can wait until the next day or get some $$ from your bank or credit union or where ever you have your account. You can also bring US greenback and convert once there, but you dont get a good rate.

If you have a 2nd or 3rd or 4th credit/debit card then its moot and you can use the other card to withdrawl $$$.

happy trails.

Posted by
9363 posts

Ray does things different from the rest of us. He prefers taking cash advances on a credit card rather than using an ATM/debit card. There is no problem accessing the primary account to which your debit card is attached (usually a checking account, though people with only savings accounts say that works, too) at an ATM in the UK. If you have both savings and checking you will not be able to select which to access, though.

Posted by
2262 posts

Hey a.jenson - I just noticed how you worded this. Would that "self-catering apartment by any chance be Captain Bligh House? They did our deposit via Pay Pal, and we pay cash on arrival. With us last time and for our next visit in April they had no problem, after our asking, with our paying as much as we could get on arrival and completing our payment the next day when we could pull the rest of the cash.

Also for any one else that this comes up. My wife and I each have an ATM card for our CapOne moneyMarket account. They are different cards. We are each individually allowed to pull the daily limit, so our daily limit is a double.

Posted by
3547 posts

Another possibility: Set up a separate chequing account at a different bank, giving you another ATM card (and I would acquire a second credit card, Visa if you have MasterCard or vice versa.) Having back-up is always reassuring.

Posted by
1976 posts

Note that the charges Ray refers to with regard to the cash advances are interest rate fees which can be 25% or more per withdrawal. The credit card companies consider cash advances to be loans and interest rates apply immediately upon each withdrawal. Your best bet is to use an ATM or debit card to withdraw money from your checking account. That said, it is a good idea to know the PIN for each credit card in case you need a cash advance in an emergency, which is the only situation I would get a cash advance.

Posted by
37 posts

Heed the advice about contacting your credit union or bank in advance to ask for a higher withdrawal limit. Its a real bother having to go back daily to an atm to pay for your accomodation charges including the real possibility that the atm may not be working the second time and then you have to find another one or not having enough cash for food, souvenirs, transportation or who knows what else because you have already spent your daily withdrawal limit on your accomodation. Enjoy your trip.

Posted by
184 posts

Hi John,

Can you tell me more about the terrible thing that you got invalid 20 pound notes from your bank.

Hard to believe that your bank would have them.

Many thanks, Virginia

Posted by
5366 posts

Virginia,

I may be able to answer for John. I suspect he was provided notes that have been withdrawn.

The Bank of England has the odd habit (at least to us) of withdrawing currency from circulation, which then many businesses will refuse the notes after a period of time. The notes do still have value, but exchanging them for current notes can be limited to banks and Post Offices, and eventually only the Bank of England.

That said, the last 20 Pound note withdrawn was the Sir Elgar note in 2010, so I am surprised that he got those. There was just a 50 Pound note withdrawn this year, the Sir John Houblon, but the replacement has been out now for almost 4 years. People do report issues from time to time, but I do not recall ever having an issue.