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money in Great Britain

What is the best way to cover expenses on vacation in Great Britain? Travelers checks? Credit card? Cash?

Posted by
2393 posts

We find a combination of cash & credit cards works best for us. We take cash from an ATM upon arrival and replenish as needed.

Posted by
2615 posts

credit/debit cards are fine as it cash.whatever you do ,do not bring Travellers Checks, they are obsolete in great Britain and Europe these days.

Posted by
8889 posts

Travellers' Cheques went out years ago. Nobody takes them, not even banks.
You will need a mixture of cash for small purchases (under ~£10), and credit card for larger ones.
Get your cash from a cash machine (ATM) using the same card as you use to get cash at home. This is a lot cheaper than changing cash (banknotes), either at your home bank or in the UK.
Some people like to have enough money for the first 24 hours before they arrive just in case they can't find an ATM at the airport, and change that at a bank before they leave, even though this cost more than using an ATM. Others just land with empty pockets and use the first ATM they see at the airport.

Make sure you tell your bank which countries you are going to, otherwise they are liable to block your cards (credit and cash cards) for "suspicious foreign transactions". If you are buying anything online before you go (like rail tickets), also warn your bank you are going to be making "foreign transaction".

Coins in the UK are 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1 and £2
Notes are £5, £10, £20 and £50. £50 notes are "tourist money" as the highest denomination given out by cash machines is £20, so you only get £50 if you go to a bank counter or change money.

Posted by
4086 posts

Go to the Travel Tips -- Money part of this RS website for excellent advice on money in Europe, including the UK. By the way, travelers checks haven't been the way to go for many, many years. There really is nowhere to use or cash them.

Posted by
15313 posts

As the others have said, cash (from ATMs) and credit cards are the best combo. Travelers Checks are obsolete now; haven't used those in years.

Posted by
4375 posts

Travelers checks -- no! Not sure you can even purchases them anymore. Credit cards / cash is the way to go. Even though it may cost a little more than getting pounds from an ATM in Great Britain, leave home with a couple of hundred pounds in your money belt. That way if the ATMs are out of cash, malfunction, or hard to find, you're covered until you get to a working ATM. Murphy's Law still happens from time to time. And the additional cost is really not that much compared to the total cost of the trip.

Posted by
11294 posts

Just seconding - and emphasizing - Lo's response. Read all the articles on the page she linked, and you'll be an expert.

Posted by
5166 posts

I will echo everyone here. Do not take Traveler checks!
You'll receive the best exchange rate by obtaining your cash from an ATM in Europe.

A few more things to keep in mind...

  • Make sure you increase your daily limit for ATM withdrawals if

  • You may consider taking 2 debit cards & 2 credit cards (separate
    accounts) --just in case. Yes, do notify your banks regarding your travel plans.

  • Avoid dynamic currency conversion (DCC), offered by ATMs & merchants. Always choose the local currency not dollars.

  • Keep all your valuables safely stored in a money belt worn under your clothes, to avoid from becoming a pickpocket victim!

Enjoy your trip!

*Back in 2001, I needed to pay cash for my accomodation, and I had forgotten to increase my daily cash withdrawal, thus I could only get around €200 per ATM transaction ($300 limit); fortunately I has a second debit card, so I could get double the amount. My dcwl is now $750, so I can get € 500/transaction.

Posted by
5819 posts

We always have 2 different credit cards each in case one gets blocked. M/C and Visa are widely accepted and some places take AmEx, but not as many. Many B&B's only accept cash as do some restaurants. Also, try to use credit cards with no foreign transaction fees to avoid the normal 3% fee.

Posted by
14152 posts

The last time I saw Travelers Cheques, I think, was an exhibit in the Smithsonian History museum. :)

Posted by
25613 posts

In addition to watching for nefarious ATMs that offer to calculate the US-dollar value of your withdrawal (just say "No"), you may encounter some ATMs that charge a fee for their use. That is showing up now in Italy and Spain; I don't know about the situation in England. ATM-withdrawal fees are normally disclosed up-front, so you'll know the situation early in the transaction and can cancel if you see a withdrawal fee being announced.

Posted by
5257 posts

Over half the ATMs in the UK are operated by independents rather than banks so in themselves these are not a concern.

DCC can happen at any ATMs - indeed some banks are the worst offenders. Ignore all dire warnings that if you don't accept the machine's rate that your teeth will all fall out and say no.

The UK is at the upper end of card usage; not as high as some Nordic countries but then again you don't have to worry that only some weird local card will be accepted.

Posted by
337 posts

What others have said.
But to add , I use Bank only ATM's, rather than the many
Commercial ATMs scattered everywhere. Rates are lower.
It's also your own card thate determines the fees, and importantly how it's structured.
Find out your own banks, and their affiliates where you are travelling, but visa and MasterCard debtcard symbols are everywhere.

I keep credit cards for transportation bookings online.

I have no problems carrying cash, it is accepted everywhere, ...... some of you may also remember
A time when we didn't have plastic, and even got paid with "money". Yes I am old.

My experience is also to avoid any airport or train station conversion, I even avoid their ATMs.

Posted by
970 posts

Also... banks and card issuers often have a number you can call toll-free from overseas to report a lost card or other emergency. The number may be on the back of a card.

Put those numbers somewhere else so you have access to them if Something Bad happens.

Ditto for the number to call for other issues, like a charge being refused.

Posted by
8206 posts

You need to ask for a non-toll free number to call as 800 numbers don't work overseas.

Posted by
4375 posts

For our most recent trips to Europe we were able to ascertain a European toll free numbers for both Visa and MasterCard. Took a bit of searching, but we did find them and confirmed with Visa and MasterCard that the numbers would work when dialed from our cell phones.

Posted by
88 posts

Plan to use a credit cards or cash from an ATM. That will probably be the best way to go.

I think some of this depends on your home bank and what credit cards you have.

Before our trip I applied for a travel credit card through my bank that does not charge conversion fees for purchases made in foreign currencies. Purchases on the card also gives you points to apply to travel related expenses. There are a few similar cards out there. Check your own credit cards to see if/what they charged in the way of conversion fees. If you don't have one that doesn't charged fees, if you plan to travel a bit and/or make online purchases from overseas (I have an addiction to good English tea), and it fits into your financial life, it might be worth applying for one of these cards before your trip (you will need to do this a couple of weeks ahead of time). Using a card will make your trip easier. The bills are obvious but I found counting change I wasn't familiar with a bit stressful. Always be sure to keep some change on you though in case you need to use a public toilet.

My bank has an international partner in the UK, so getting money out of that bank's ATMs doesn't cost me the same fees that using other ATMs does. So I would have taken cash out there if I needed to. Check with your bank to see if they have a partner bank in the UK where it might cost you less to withdraw money.

I didn't end up needing to use an ATM though because I have a friend who works for a bank that could get an employee exchange rate. So I had him exchange 100 pounds worth and I took that with me. With that I didn't need to go to an ATM and used my credit card for anything I could use it for. This system worked pretty well and with the sign up bonus and the other charges I was able to pay $300 of my trip off with the credit card points.

Posted by
993 posts

You're all so much smarter than I am so you probably knew this already..but just in case. Here, the Greater Seattle area, when I take money out of the ATM it asks me if I want to take from Checking or Savings. In England it didn't ask. Checking was the only option. Having said that, I only tried twice and cant remember where so I cant be sure if the transaction was specific to that machine or locations. Luckily I have friends with money and I always have a few quid leftover from a previous trip.

Posted by
8889 posts

I have read that it is cheaper to get money from an ATM when I arrive, but I am not sure why. Ideas?

xmaspurple, if you exchange money at your local bank, or at a change office at your destination, somebody has to pay the wages of the person doing the transaction, plus the rent on the premises. And, the foreign money has to be counted, bagged up, transported securely and possibly shipped to/from its own country. Why pay to have Euros or pounds shipped across the Atlantic just to have you carry them back again (or vice-versa for US dollars)?
With an ATM or a credit card, all that crosses the Atlantic is Internet messages.

and they said it would be at the day's rate with no fees

There are different rates for cash transactions than the rate for credit card/ATM transactions.

Posted by
7638 posts

Take Cash from ATM when you get there. and use Credit Cards with no foreign transaction fees.

Posted by
970 posts

@xmaspurple: The decision to buy some currency at your departure airport vs getting some from an ATM at your arrival airport is a matter of trade offs.

You won't get any bargains buying currency at your departure airport. But, you won't need to chase down an ATM after a long, probably overnight, flight.

I buy 100 pounds at my departure airport. The convenience is worth the few dollars.

Posted by
14152 posts

I usually keep some GBP with me when I leave the UK for my next trip. But the first time I did order about 100 GBP before I left. Yes, there were fees but it was just to get me started. The ATM's at Heathrow are mostly Travelex which is not a bank for a foreign exchange company and their rates are not as good as a bank.

Once in town, find any large bank for ATM withdrawals.

I use a Charles Schwab ATM card connected to a Charles Schwab checking account. No exchange fees and if the ATM or bank I used charges one, Schwab reimburses me.

The only bank I ever had a problem with was Barclay for some reason but all others I used throughout Europe were fine.

Posted by
56 posts

Note that 'ATM' is not used very much in the UK, where the term 'cash machine' is more common. It is useful to remember this if yoy ask a local where the nearest such machine is located.

Posted by
337 posts

Something further, having just arrived in the UK, our Australian PIN debit and credit cards (visa and master card)
have to be signed for purchases instead of entering our PINs. Getting cash out was standard procedure with PIN.


Posted by
3501 posts

The Capital One 360 DEBIT card is attached to a checking account. You can open the account online and never set foot in a physical office. There are no fees. No fees for anything. Not a single fee. And they pay interest at about 10X the rate the big banks do on the money you have in your account. They even have a free funds transfer process to allow you to put money into your account from another account you may have elsewhere. They do not refund fees that ATM operators may charge you. Just make sure you choose the 360 account if you do get one of these, other Capital One accounts do charge for foreign transactions.

Capital One also offers CREDIT cards that have no international fees as well. You can also apply for these online.

My personal opinion is that if your bank charges you any fee to have a debit card, you need to find another bank.