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accessing money in London

We are traveling to London in April, and sadly, our ATM card is not going to work there. What should we do to access our money? I was thinking travelers checks at an exchange? Is that a good idea? Thank you!

Posted by
8997 posts

Why wouldn't your ATM card work?? Travelers Checks are dinosaurs these days, very few places accept them. Those that do impose stiff fees.

Posted by
28131 posts

With that much time to rearrange things I would strongly advise you to adjust things so that your ATM card works. ATMs are all over London, I bet that from almost any point within the inner zone you could do a 360 and see at least one, probably more. There are many places where you can see a half dozen or more. If you need to change the PIN on your ATM card so it works in London (4 digits all numbers, doesn't matter if it starts with a zero) I advise you to do that. If your bank/credit union/mattress don't allow you to use foreign ATMs I strongly advise you to open an account at one that does. There are hundreds, probably thousands of postings on this Helpline about which account to open. They are very repetitive so I no longer read them. I'm sure if you scroll up or down you will find a recent thread about it, if not put some words like "ATM fee" in the search box in the upper right corner above. As my illustrious colleague so eloquently said don't even try travelers cheques. They went out about 20 or more years ago. They will cost you, you will get bad exchange rates and they are accepted virtually nowhere, even some banks won't look at them.

Posted by
21861 posts

A debit card at an ATM is the cheapest and most convenient way to obtain local currency - absolutely. Is the card issuer telling you the ATM card will not work or a friend? In either case - change - you don't need either of them.

Posted by
1127 posts

Megan, join a credit union that will let its ATM/debit cards work overseas (you'll have to ask them to set it up that way before you go). Credit unions usually don't charge the same fees that banks do so opening an account won't set you back any. Call around until you find one that will do this. Some smaller ones may not be prepared to deal with foreign transactions. I also recommend setting up a Schwab Bank checking account because their debit card will work overseas and they rebate all the ATM fees you have to pay. You may have to open a retirement or investment account, but, hey, that's probably a good idea anyway. You don't have to put in much, I think. But don't go with travelers checks. You will find them to be a pain in the neck given how difficult it will be to get them converted into currency.

Posted by
1127 posts

One other thing: Be sure your financial institution really won't let its ATM cards work overseas. Not all employees know the correct information. Check with someone in the accounting department or with a manager before you accept that it won't work.

Posted by
120 posts

If you have a MasterCard or Visa debit card, with a four-digit PIN, it should work in any ATM anywhere. You will need to tell your bank when and where you will be traveling (same with your credit cards) and have them set the withdrawal limit high enough to meet your needs. On a recent trip to Ireland (not Northern Ireland) and Wales, the banks did not charge a fee for using the ATM and in fact, made that quite clear right on the machine and on the screen as well. Make sure your bank does not charge for using the card, though.

Posted by
8 posts

Thank you all for the great advice! I called my bank back and got another person who seemed to know more and told me that yes, our card will work, with a 3% fee. That seems a little steep so I'm going to shop around. Thank you again for the invaluable input!

Posted by
359 posts

go through a credit union or small local bank and definitely plan on using ATM for cash access

Posted by
30 posts

3% is the typical fee added to credit cards for foreign currency transactions. Avoid that by getting a credit card without one. If that's the fee for using an ATM card, that's outrageous. Paul had great advice to open a Schwab checking account so you'd get ATM fees rebated... a smart move.

Posted by
310 posts

Megan, I have to echo what Nigel said - don't use travelers checks. You'll have a harder time finding some place to actually take them than you will fixing your ATM card before you leave. As long as you have a card with a 4 digit, no letter pin, you should be fine. ATMs are everywhere in London.

Posted by
8 posts

Your advice has been spot-on. I called a credit union today and the first one I called offered a ATM card with only a 1% fee when used overseas. Thank you all for the terrific advice!