How much cash do you carry in your wallet overseas?

We'll be in England & Wales for the month of May. It will be my husband, our 14 year old child and myself. Our local bank will change US dollars to English pounds for us, so we'll have our cash before we leave the states and be able to hit the ground and be ready-to-go. How much cash would you recommend we have to start? We'll be in London for a week before heading off elsewhere. My husband was thinking around 300 pounds, does this sound like a reasonable amount?? We've already paid for our hotel, so the cash will be for incidentals, meals, admission charges and the tube while in London. (( Of course, we can always withdraw more in needed! )) We also have our USAA chip-&-pin credit card and a USAA debit account/card set-up. Has anyone had any problems with using their debit/ATM card while out of the country (any non-authorized charges)? We have never used our debit card for anything except as an ATM card (never for any purchases). We always pay cash or just use the credit card, for convenience. Are there ATMs pretty much everywhere, as in the USA? With USAA, it's nice that they reimburse all ATM charges! Thanks, in advance!!!

Posted by John
Pantego, NC, USA
704 posts

Chip and Pin will work fine, as does regular debit cards. However, you must have a 4 digit pin. You might want to consider setting up a higher amount for withdrawl if you limit is say 400 dollars. That is only 275ish pounds. Credit/Debit cards charge a fee per withdrawl, so fewer withdrawls, mean fewer fees. For 3 people, I would recommend 100 to 150 per day. Are you cooking some of your food in a studio apt, or are you staying in a hotel and eating all of your meals out. Makes a big difference. Breakfast -25-30 Pounds, Lunch 30-45 and Dinner in a pub or other cheaper place would be 40-55 pounds. In a sit down waiter served restaurant, add 1/2 again as much to the above totals. Alcohol drives up the bill fast. I would try to not use a Debit card for purchases. Use a Credit card. If compromized, you do not loose all of your cash. On the tube trips, look at an oyster card and see if it is worth it to you. In other European countries that use the Euro, use same numbers just change Pounds to Euros.

Posted by David
Seattle, WA, USA
1414 posts

I'd recommend you bring exactly zero. Unless you have some Pounds sitting around from your last trip, don't worry about it - there's no point in bothering to get any in advance. Getting cash in European cities is about as hard as getting cash at your local mall. Really. Getting foreign currency at home before you leave is completely unnecessary and a waste of money. There are ATMs everywhere - you'll see dozens before you leave the airport, and they're at least as common in large European cities as they are in US cities - in fact, in my experience, outside large cities ATM availability is better in Europe than at home (up to a point). Just be sure your bank knows you're headed over there, know your PIN (make sure you know it by numbers, as some ATM keypads don't have letters as some US ATMs do), know what the fees will be (ask your bank) and then don't worry about it. When traveling as a couple, I think it's a good idea to each have their own card that accesses a separate account if you have them - that way, if one card fails at some point (unlikely, but possible) you have an alternative ready. Bottom line: getting cash in Europe is a non-issue. Worry about other things.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7978 posts

You're probably flying in to Heathrow. There are no bank atms in the aiport, just Travelex which might stiff you ten bucks on a hundred dollar withdrawel. That's enough to get you into town. Once in London, it's hard to not be in sight of at least three or four atms. In Wales, if it's a village with a store and a gas station, it will have an atm.

Posted by Toni
Charlotte, NC, USA
2847 posts

We do like to have at least some of the local currency with us upon arrival. 300 GBP and similar amount in Eruos (if heading to a country that uses them) or whatever other currency you'll be facing is fine. Just be sure to ask for smaller bills (5s, 10s, and 20s). And put only enough for one days's use in your wallet, the rest in your money belt or other seccure place. That way you can not worry about using the machines in the airport (some are NOT bank related and can charge huge 'transaction' fees).

Posted by Laura
Virginia, USA
2902 posts

I have a USAA debit card and have never had any problem with it. Like you, I only use it to get cash out of ATMs. Just make sure to call USAA and put a travel note on your account before you leave.

Posted by Agnes
Alexandria, VA, USA
616 posts

No need to get cash beforehand, you'll just pay an exorbitant exchange fee vs. a much lower ATM fee locally. I have a credit union debit card which charges a 1% fee for each ATM withdrawal. As far as credit cards go, Capital One is the only credit card I'm aware of (there may be others) that does not charge a foreign exchange fee when you use it overseas - I take it everytime I go out of the US.

Posted by Laura
Virginia, USA
2902 posts

No need to get cash beforehand, you'll just pay an exorbitant exchange fee vs. a much lower ATM fee locally. Normally that it true ... but here is a caution if you get cash at a Heathrow ATM. The only option there are the ATMs provided by Travelex. Be very careful that you do not choose currency conversion. They default to Dynamic Currency Conversion at an atrocious exchange rate. They have big signs saying they don't charge a fee, but the way their machine is laid out is pretty deceptive and I'm sure lots of unsuspecting tourists choose to proceed with the travelex rate. The normal ATMs from bank and building societies that you will find in the UK don't do this. I like to bring about 100 GBP with me purely for convenience. Sure you will pay more than at a local ATM but sometimes it is worth it for the convenience of being able to go straight to local transportation and skipping the queue at the ATM machines.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7978 posts

FTF Impact Example: Assume you lose two percent with a FTF. You lose one percent on an ATM, that's a one percent differential for charging. Assume you travel for two weeks and spend three hundred dollars per day - - and charge half of it. That's $21 whole american dollars extra due to the ftf, not exactly a reason to restructure your financial empire.

Posted by Bob
Port Coquitlam, BC, Canada
623 posts

WE always arrive in any country with about $300 of the local currency. You'll need money at some point so why start looking for an ATM as soon as you land? I have NO problem carrying this amount of cash at home so don't worry about being 'mugged' on the plane. Charges at home or abroad are minimal compared to the cost of your trip. We draw currency from ATMs - pay in cash and use CCs for rentals, hotels, B&Bs, train fares or other big ticket items. Enjoy your trip, Bob

Posted by Leslie
Helena
46 posts

Thank you, everyone, so very much! We'll plan on carrying around 300 pounds to start and then using the ATMs after. USAA will reimburse any and all ATM usage fees and their foreign transaction fee is just 1%. We will not be using the credit card for any ATM use, just the debit card. USAA has already noted our out-of-country plans and will watch our accounts accordingly for in-US charges (other than monthly automatic charges which we have already ok'd). Our new cc cards will be here within the next 10 days and will be our new "permanent" credit card. We set-up a new checking account for the debit card use, so no link to our regular, local bank accounts. We even get discounts for our foreign car rental through USAA! Again, we really appreciate your replies, experiences and suggestions!

Posted by Joel
Tempe, AZ, USA
843 posts

Leslie - In my wallet overseas I carry my daily cash, about 60 gbp/euros. Like others, I normally start my trip with 200-300 of the local currency. I also take along 2 ATM cards and a Visa & MC. As a side note make sure you let your bank(s) anc CC companies know that you will be traveling out of the country and the dates of your travel.

Posted by Dan
Denver, CO
29 posts

Word of caution. I've only traveled overseas a few times, and everytime I had to call my cc people while over there because they didn't keep the note on file. This includes Capital One and Chase Visa. It can be an expensive call, so make sure your company knows you're going over seas and for how long.

Posted by Leslie
Helena
46 posts

Dan, thanks for your concerns! USAA has already sent me confirmation of the file notes (that we will be gone) and we plan on contacting them just before we leave, just as a reminder, of our overseas whereabouts. They also gave us an international, toll-free number for us to call them, should we encounter any problems (no charges to us, period, for the call(s)). Looking forward to the trip!!

Posted by Judy
Adelaide, SA, Australia
802 posts

Good advice given about getting currency you require in smaller bills. Last year we had to pay for our 3 nights in a B & B in Amsterdam in cash 'up front'. I organised for the money in 100 euro notes. The land lady advised businesses can be a bit wary about accepting 100 euro notes, because there had been a spate of counterfeit scams involving 100 euro notes. thankfully, she accepted our money.

Posted by Dan
Northville, MI, USA
15 posts

a Heathrow ATM. The only option there are the ATMs provided by Travelex. Be very careful that you do not choose currency conversion. They default to Dynamic Currency Conversion at an atrocious exchange rate. They have big signs saying they don't charge a fee, but the way their machine is laid out is pretty deceptive and I'm sure lots of unsuspecting tourists choose to proceed with the travelex rate. We'll be arriving at Heathrow in June with no GBP but will have a Lloyds bank ATM card. Will need to pay for Tube ride to Chelsea. If "currency conversion" is not the best option, what option should I in order to get say L300 ? Thanks!

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7978 posts

Dan, You're trying to out-clever yourself. What's the ride into town for the mob cost? Less than a hundred bucks. Grab a hundred sterling from Travlex and lose ten bucks. Get more when you get into town. Move right along, deal with what's at hand.

Posted by Michael Schneider
New Paltz, NY
6841 posts

....or you could use your credit card to purchase your Oyster pass, and when you reach the city center get your cash at the nearest real bank ATM.

Posted by Swan
Napa, CA
2858 posts

I always want to have enough cash to get to my hotel. I don't try to use ATMs at the airport. Once in town, I check into my hotel then look for a bank compatible with my US bank (BofA). In England Barclays are numerous, and in France BNP Paribas banks abound. There is one in almost every neighborhood in Paris. 300 pounds should certainly be enough to get you started. When I have a hotel bill coming up, I withdraw 200-300Eu per day until I have enough. I do not keep this money in my billfold but in my moneybelt. I use the larger bills at the hotel, and spend coins whenever possible. I pay cash for almost everything in Europe. My credit card info has been stolen twice while in England, so I feel more secure using cash. So far, I've had no trouble using ATMs.

Posted by david
washington
837 posts

Thanks, Michael, for finally a word of sanity. Leslie, you need NO cash upon arrival. I have no idea why anyone would carry $300 at any time, unless you have hotels/B&Bs who demand cash. In this case, get it from ATMs just prior to payment. These places are normally small, inexpensive, and located in isolated areas such as Scotland. Take two ATM cards so that if needed, you can get two daily maximums. You should know in advance if any lodgings require cash. You can travel into London on trains or tube with your credit card. Yes, purchase of Oyster cards at the airport is the best option. You can keep the card for future trips. You can add cash to the card when it runs low. Get what cash you need when you arrive in London from an ATM. I almost never use cash in London. Almost everyone, except street vendors, takes plastic. Also remember that with GBP and euros, coins are the most useful. You will want to break bills from the ATM into coins. For anyone looking for a no foreign transaction fee credit card, who want airline miles, and who is willing to pay an annual fee, look into the British Airways VISA card.

Posted by Michael Schneider
New Paltz, NY
6841 posts

"...I almost never use cash in London...." I don't use cash in London either. Acceptance of Paypass has grown exponentially over the years, even merchants at the markets like Spitafields, Bourogh Market, and Bricklane have paypass terminals these days. When I want to but a sandwich at Marks & Spenser, or Pret a Manger, all I got do is hold my wallet up to the reader, and I'm on my way. I was also in Budapest last week and Paypass had near 100% acceptance at all merchants that accept plastic, I barely used any hard cash. For me the convenience outweighs the risk.

Posted by Laura
Virginia, USA
2902 posts

Dan, If you use the travelex machine as Ed suggests, you should be able to avoid getting travelex rates as long as you decline their conversion ... just read the options very carefully. You can also do what Michael suggests and pay with credit card.

Posted by Michael Schneider
New Paltz, NY
6841 posts

The travelex ATMs at Heathrow may work differently, but the ones I was forced to use in the Toronto and Mexico City airports didn't give me a choice:(

Posted by Laura
Virginia, USA
2902 posts

I must admit, I'm not 100% sure about the travelex machine at Heathrow because when I got to the screen with all the currency conversion stuff, I just cancelled out because I didn't trust it. Anyway, this post seems to have a picture of the travelex machine and it looks like it is possible to decline conversion. Travelex machine at Heathrow

Posted by Adrienne
Vienna, VA
30 posts

It's definitely possible to decline conversion at the Travelex machines at Heathrow. Last year I got a slightly better rate there than at the next ATM I used in York.