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Question about money in UK

I'm off to London and then a Scotland tour in May. It's been quite a while since I've been in the UK. Back then I used cash for most day-to-day transactions and a credit card for big items. Now I understand that cash is less desired, and payment is by tap credit card or some app on a phone. What should I plan to get before I leave so I can buy food and entry fees and such during the day? Thanks.

Posted by
5262 posts

Cash still works, though tapping a credit card will work also. Bring a debit card and get pounds from an ATM at a bank when you arrive in London. Get enough to last awhile so you don't have to make too many withdrawals and incur too many fees. I try to have some left at the end for my next trip.

Posted by
6349 posts

Spent the entire month of November 2021 in London. Due to Covid restrictions cash wasn’t accepted. Turns out my debit card wasn’t a tap card. Very inconvenient.

Bring a tap CC or debit card. Seriously doubt you’ll find anywhere to spend cash. Also noticed banks were closing as were ATM’s.

https://amp.theguardian.com/money/2022/mar/12/cashs-reign-fades-as-covid-accelerates-high-street-switch-to-card-only

So yes Apple Pay or a bank issued debit card with a chip is the way to go. Capitol One Credit Card is a plus. No foreign transaction fees.

Posted by
843 posts

Do not get pounds before you leave the States, fees are absurd. You will hit an ATM upon arrival. It was my experience in Scotland that currency exchange is not readily available. There are many credit and debit cards that do not have any fees or charges associated with foreign travel at all. Some have additional benefits. I have a debit card from Schwab but there are dozens. I found it convenient to always have 50-100 pounds in bills and coins for incidentals. Several restaurants I enjoyed in Edinburgh were cash only, no cards. Try to spend or exchange your pounds before getting on the plane for home. I arrived home with 50 pounds.

You should get plenty of helpful advice so stay tuned.

Posted by
5262 posts

Claudia's post, right after mine, is surely more accurate. My last UK visit was several years ago, hers was recent and the article she provided is even more so. Apologies for my outdated info.

With so many merchants refusing cash, I can see your problem. I suggest obtaining a tap-able credit card ASAP. I hope the Brits come to their senses, though -- many people don't have CCs or even bank accounts, and there must be security issues for people who never use anything but cards, and for the people who sell to them. I remember how fearful we were about touching things two years ago, but we've learned a lot about Covid and handling cash is about as low-risk as I could imagine.

Posted by
2125 posts

Cash is still widely accepted. Very few places decline cash.

What has changed is the option to pay by contactless card or phone app, which is so convenient that many people, myself included, rarely use cash.

Posted by
4663 posts

With so many merchants refusing cash, I can see your problem. I suggest obtaining a tap-able credit card ASAP. I hope the Brits come to their senses, though

Very, very few merchants are now refusing cash, it's pretty much returned to pre-pandemic days. What has changed is the number of people who have become so used to paying by contactless and how easy it is not to mention the payment limit being raised to £100. It's a faster, more convenient method of payment but if you still want to pay in cash you'll be able to.

Posted by
5547 posts

During the height of the pandemic, few places took cash. That has now relaxed as people are happy touching money.

I went to a cafe yesterday that didn’t take cards - cash only. In another cafe recently, their card reader wasn’t working so I had to pay cash. These are the only times in the past 2 years that I can recall paying by cash in cafes in England. Last summer in Scotland, more places were cash only.

Many places still prefer that you book online in advance and that’s obviously a card payment.

Posted by
11246 posts

I was in the UK from the middle of November to the beginning of January. England and Scotland. The only time I used cash was in taxis. Otherwise....restaurants, supermarkets, tourist sites, other stores, etc.....I used either Google Pay or my contactess credit card.

I probably could have used my card in most of the taxis but I prefer to pay cash.

How much cash you get is up to you. It depends on how much you want to use it over charging. Since I get points or miles every time I use Google Pay or credit card, I prefer to use that over cash.

If you want to have cash before you leave, get about 100 GBP to get you started--the fees are really not that bad for that amount--and get more from ATM's when you get there. Just make sure your bank is aware that you might be using the card overseas or they may block the transactions.

Posted by
5857 posts

Get enough to last awhile so you don't have to make too many withdrawals and incur too many fees. I try to have some left at the end for my next trip.

Just realize "enough to last awhile" may be 50 to 100 Pounds. Check your credit cards, I notice all my major ones either upgraded my card to contactless "Tap to Pay", or at least offered...so should be no problem to get one, unless you only work with small banks/credit unions.

If you will have a phone with service over there, then either Google Pay or Apple Pay (depending on whether you have an Android or Apple phone) is worth setting up.

I also do not try to wind up with too many Pounds Sterling at the end of the trip, though I was traveling there every couple years at one time, been burned by notes taken out of circulation too many times.

Posted by
3681 posts

It's worth noting that even some London bank offices won't handle cash. A functioning bank debit/ATM card is almost essential.

Posted by
2086 posts

Carol, I think you have this reversed- always asked to be charged in the local currency. Hopefully others can chime in here.

Posted by
2 posts

I believe you should always choose to be charged in whatever the local currency is -- in the case of the UK it is pounds.

Posted by
5157 posts

Thanks to all, I did reverse it on the Dynamic currency conversion so have deleted that post.

Posted by
2466 posts

If taking money out of an ATM in Scotland, do not take out Scottish Pounds. Check the machine before saying yes. They can only be used in Scotland. We, of course, found this out the hard way. Had to spend all the Scottish £ before we left.

Posted by
304 posts

Sorry to piggyback in this, but what if our credit card is the apparently archaic kind with a chip that still has to be inserted into a machine? No tappable available. This old-fashioned way (from last year) is still an acceptable way of doing things, right?

Posted by
843 posts

but what if our credit card is the apparently archaic kind with a chip that still has to be inserted into a machine? No tappable available. This old-fashioned way (from last year) is still an acceptable way of doing things, right?

Call your card company and see if they can send you a new card tha supports current tech.

strongly urge you to research and acquire an international, no-fee card designed for travel. Dozens on the market and your first stop could be your current credit card issuing institution. Applying for one will, of course, hit your credit score but the benefits can be terrific including some minor insurance perks, currency exchange at lowest possible rates, free ATM in any country, and no fees for any transactions. Some travel cards have high startup costs (and include cool perks like access to airport lounges) but most do not charge anything (or much) to join their networks. Some are credit cards, some are debits and work from a pre-funded cash account. I happen to use a Schwab debit but I do not endorse the product. There are so many from which to select.

Posted by
27720 posts

Scottish Pound notes are legal south of the border. Some businesses will make using them difficult but many won't. I have taken hundreds of Scottish notes - they just get listed separately on the paying in slip for deposit. Because the notes are issued by the individual banks many people will not have seen the various notes so are worried about counterfeits.

Posted by
6349 posts

KC in November 2021 thats the type of debit card I had. Wasn’t a tap and go so if I used it I’d have to insert it into a card reader and sign the receipt.

A few vendors ( under the age of 30 ) were a bit impatient about it but I didn’t care.

Posted by
911 posts

I only know one hideously trendy bar that's cash free entirely.
I almost exclusively pay cash in pubs and food places.

Posted by
4663 posts

If taking money out of an ATM in Scotland, do not take out Scottish Pounds. Check the machine before saying yes. They can only be used in Scotland.

As Nigel has already stated, Scottish notes are legal tender in the rest of the UK but they are not commonly seen so tend to throw a lot of staff who have probably never seen one. I've had a few over the years and it's a pain having to explain to staff that they're legal tender so if you do have the option in a choice in currency I would opt for Bank of England notes simply for convenience.

Posted by
11246 posts

What I do when leaving Scotland is exchange any Scottish notes I have at my hotel for British notes. Never a problem.

But I use so little cash these days, I haven't had that problem for awhile.