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Get cash at Edinburgh airport ATM or through AAA or local bank before I leave the US?

Is it better to get local currency here rather than wait until I get to Edinburgh and use an airport ATM? I went to Ireland with no local currency and the airport ATM worked fine. When I went to London, though, I didn't have time to find an ATM before I had to meet my group, so I had to scramble later to find an ATM. I will not have my own transportation in Scotland (bus trip) and am unfamiliar with the Edinburgh airport. Advice from those that are familiar with arriving in Edinburgh?

Thanks,
Jessica

Posted by
21204 posts

This gets an endless discussion and it is primarily personal preference. I prefer to have hundred euro in my pocket either having saved it from the last trip or hit a currency exchange at the US departure airport. And then rely on bank owned ATMS once in country. Sure it costs 10 buck to get a hundred euro but a very minor expense compared to what I will be spending. Others absolutely swear by getting euro at the airport. That is fine also. But as you found out one time, your didn't have time to find the ATM in the airport.

Posted by
940 posts

Hi, Jessica,

When you use your ATM card, are you withdrawing from your checking account or credit card account? You'll end up paying considerably more if it's your credit card account, as you pay interest from day one. And it's usually the highest interest they can charge you.

Check with your home bank to find out how much they charge for an ATM transaction. If it's a lot, then take out more per transaction once you get to Scotland. If they don't charge too much, then you don't need to take out as much each time. Look for cashpoints (ATMs), or as the Scots call them, "hole in the wall," from Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), Bank of Scotland, Clydesdale Bank, Lloyd's, or Santander. They will dispense cash based on the exact exchange rate for that day. There should be at least one of those ATMs at the airport. Do not use any non-branded ATMs.

Bureaux de Change, either here or abroad, are the absolute worst places in the world to exchange money. The rates are usurious.

Make sure that you have enough money in your checking account to cover your withdrawals in Scotland. Your group should certainly be willing to wait for you if you need to go to a high street "hole in the wall." They're everywhere.

Best wishes!

Mike (auchterless)

Posted by
22 posts

It would be debit/checking account, not a cash advance from a CC. And I have never used the exchange bureau and plan to never have to use one. AAA or my home bank would be a lot more reasonable than one of those, and would cover me if the ATM isn't easy to find in the airport, is not working, or my card won't work at it for some reason.

Posted by
3413 posts

Edinburgh airport is extremely user friendly. I think you will find that it is not hard to find an ATM machine. However, if this is a source of anxiety for you, I would just go buy some pounds to have in your pocket to eliminate that fear. The value of not worrying is greater than any cost you will experience. If you are taking the tram from the airport into town it is extremely easy. The ticket machines do take debit/credit cards and there is a conductor on the tram if you need help. The tram is a convenient way to go right into the heart of Edinburgh and has luggage racks in the cars.

Posted by
2515 posts

plenty of ATM's at Edinburgh airport, jusy avoid the Travelex ones in the baggage reclaim as they are a terrible exchange rate,but this goes for their ATMs anywhere.

Posted by
22 posts

Thanks everyone! I'll be meeting my group at the airport so won't be using the tram. The info about the abundance of non-Travelex ATM's in the airport is very useful!

Posted by
122 posts

Just a quick note on our experience of a few weeks ago. We withdrew £100 (just two of us) when we first got to Edinburgh airport using our bank ATM card (checking account.) Very easy to find a machine and to use it. We checked with our bank ahead of time, and it was much cheaper to withdraw cash like this, at the current exchange rate for that day, plus a small fee, than it was to pay to get pounds before we left.

Over the next ten days, we only ever NEEDED cash once, to use exact change for a bus ride from our hotel to our car rental in Sighthill. (probably not something you will need to worry about with a tour group.) Every place else, we could use our credit cards, including everywhere we stopped on Skye. (not sure where you will be going).

We used up our cash gradually, for smaller purchases we didn't think were big enough for the credit card (a snack here, a soda there), but reserved that last £20 just in case, and had it when we headed back to Edinburgh airport our last day. Since we didn't want to cart it home, we just used it up buying a few small souvenirs at the airport. The little bit of change we ended with, we donated on the plane ride home to a British Airways' charity. (envelope provided for your convenience.)

Hope this helps!

Posted by
3465 posts

I always wait until arriving at my destination to get cash these days. If I have some of the local currency left from a previous trip, it is nice to have but I don't buy any additional currency before leaving on my trip. In 15 years of traveling to Europe, I have never not been able to get cash from an ATM at the airport. You may feel differently, but now with the nearly universal acceptance of credit cards I don't worry about paying for anything until I get cash. I do make sure to notify my banks about my travel plans (even if they say they don't want to know any more) using their online account management tools.

Several people here have said that AAA has a great rate on foreign currency, but they will never actually state how much it costs them. My AAA does not ever publish their rate and requires you to go into a local office to find out what it is. The couple times I did that their rate was absolutely the worst of any option on that day. Maybe it varies depending on which state your AAA is located in. My closest office actually does more cell phone sales than AAA business.

With the Travelex ATMs, you just have to be careful of which one you use in order to not get a bad rate. There are two type. One is a regular ATM and as long as you refuse the offer to be charged in your home currency and only accept the local currency, the rate is fairly close to what the network charges. The other is physically located or connected to the Travelex currency exchange booth and is simply an automated exchange booth charging the same inflated rate as the person sitting in the booth does. Avoid this second type except in dire emergencies.

Posted by
940 posts

Definitely best to wait until you get there. The pound and euro have been dropping ever so slightly against the dollar over the past couple of weeks, and the trend doesn't seem to be reversing. As the ATMs (major bank ATMs, that is) in Scotland dispense cash based on the current exchange rate, it's worth the wait.

BTW, once you're outside the airport, ATMs from a Scottish bank (RBS, Bank of Scotland, Clydesdale) will dispense Scottish currency from that particular bank. So for example, if you go to a Clydesdale bank, you'll get Clydesdale currency.

Mike (auchterless)

Posted by
638 posts

And notify your bank that you will be traveling to Scotland and any other countries you may be going to.

Posted by
22 posts

Thanks everyone! The info on the Edinburgh airport ATM's has been really helpful! And glad to know the exchange rate appears to be going in my favor. I arrive 4 weeks from yesterday so hopefully I'll get a good rate with the bank ATM's.

Posted by
1292 posts

Just to clarrify the Scottish banks do not issue their own currency, they issue their own notes of the currency Sterling, the same pound as the rest of the UK.

The best are now RBS £10 notes by the way, a nice pair of otters on the back.

Posted by
22 posts

I love otters. I will be on the look out for that one. Thank you!

Posted by
623 posts

I've used AAA to get a small amount of "seed money" foreign currency but I agree, their exchange rates can be awful. A couple of years ago before traveling to the UK, I stopped into a local AAA store to ask about buying one of their "TipPaks" or whatever they call them. It's $100 worth of foreign currency, or maybe it was £100, I forget which. Anyway, the guy at the counter was helpful, honest, and discouraging.

He said that the paks of GBP they had on hand, had been purchased at an exchange rate that was higher than the current rate, so the paks wouldn't be a good thing at all since they were priced to cover the exchange rate at which they'd been purchased. That was an interesting insight into how AAA (at least here in Colorado) operates, and why their currency paks can be such a bad deal especially when exchange rates are volatile.

I thanked him and left without buying any £££. At my departure airport before I joined the security line, I got about £150 at the currency exchange counter. It wasn't a flaming bargain, but IMO it wasn't a ripoff either. It was worth it to me to have some cash in hand when I landed. I do use ATMs while traveling; great exchange rate and my credit union doesn't tack on foreign transaction fees.

I use plastic more than cash on foreign trips these days, just as I do at home. Times change and my habits change too. Then I read the news from yesterday that the Visa system crashed in Britain. That kind of thing makes me decide to continue to have some cash on hand when traveling.

Posted by
2729 posts

I find I'm needing very little local cash in Europe the past few years. I am one of those who would rather pay a little more at AAA than wait in line an ATM at the airport when I'm just off the plane, especially when traveling solo. At Schipol this spring, I purposely looked and there was a line at each ATM. Also, I like to pick and chose my ATMs. In Massachusetts, we don't get "packets" at AAA, but rather you order the money and pick it up another day. As a result they can't tell me the rate because it depends what the rate is when the request is processed. Of course, AAA is right down the street from me so it is easy. Plus, they will give you many small bills if you request it. I'll pay $10.00 for convenience on my trips any day. That's just me. There is no correct way. Do what makes you feel comfortable.

Posted by
4 posts

Find out if your US bank has "free" withdrawals from a UK bank.

I discovered that the small "credit union" type ATMS in Edinburgh that purport to be have no fees, cost MORE than regular bank ATMs. A withdrawal for a small amount cost me a lot in fees - I was charged over $9 .

Posted by
940 posts

If you don't already have one, try to obtain a Visa or MasterCard that doesn't charge the extra 3% for foreign transactions. There are several out there that don't have an annual membership fee. That 3% really adds up over a holiday, especially if you're using the card for hotels and car hire.

Mike (auchterless)

Posted by
12 posts

I use a local credit union here in the US and I am only charged the exchange. They use the best rate of the day. I only use the credit card part of the card for larger items because of the mandatory 1%-4% that credit card issuers (Visa/Mastercard/AMEX) charges for foreign transactions. I try to pay for everything up front. I typically only use the cash I have withdrawn and only have to buy food or maybe the rare souvenir.

Make sure you tell your bank and ALL credit card companies of you intent to use the card internationally. If not, they will shut your card down. No cash withdraws and no credit card purchases. Lesson learned the hard way on my first trip 15 yrs ago...

Also, because I rely on my bank debit card for withdraws so heavily, I opened a 2nd bank account. I use one as a primary and if anything happens to that card, I log in and move all the money to the other bank account. Then I have credit cards if things go really wrong. US banks limit the amount you can withdraw at any given time, so if my 1st card gets stolen and they somehow have my pin, my losses are limited. I also check my account through secured websites to ensure that nothing funky is happening.

I am really OCD when it comes to my travel preparations but so far, so good... Enjoy your trip...

Posted by
3465 posts

the mandatory 1%-4% that credit card issuers (Visa/Mastercard/AMEX) charges for foreign transactions.

That is not mandatory and it is not charged by the networks. These fees are charged by the bank that you got the card from. The networks (Visa MasterCard etc) charge the bank not more than 1% for the currency exchange. Any more than that is just profit to the card issuing bank.

It is easy to get Visa/MasterCard cards that charge zero fees. Several will even not pass on the 1% that the networks do charge them.