Spend the wrong way abroad, and you could be wasting s every time you shop. Specialist cards allow you to get perfect rates every time you spend overseas.
But it's not just having the right card. There are a host of other tools, tips and tricks that we've designed to help you get the most bang for your buck. Here are our top tips...
Credit cards are bad if...
- Your credit score's poor
- You won't repay in full every month
Need cash? Compare the best currency rates
Our TravelMoneyMax.com travel money comparison tool compares rates at about 40 online bureaux and orders them by how much currency you'll actually get after all fees and charges.
Though beware, pay a UK bureau by credit (not debit) card and it counts as a cash withdrawal, so there's a fee and interest even if you fully repay best to always use a debit card or cash to buy.
Getting cash is good if...
- You want to lock in a rate
- You want to stick to a budget
- You have a secure place to keep it
Getting cash is bad if...
- You want the absolute best rates
- You need to pay by credit card
- You want Section 75 protection
- It's stolen
If you want to lock in a rate or stick to a set budget, try a specialist overseas prepaid card
Here, you load with cash before you travel, then use it like a debit card. If you lose it, your cash is protected. You get the rate on the day you load/buy, not when you spend, so currency fluctuations may mean you get a worse deal (or better one).
However, there are a few places that don't accept them car hire firms and pay-at-pump petrol stations are the major ones, but there are a few others to watch out for.
Our top picks are Revolut and WeSwap as they both have decent exchange rates and low, or no, fees.
Prepaid cards are good if...
- You lose it/it's stolen
Prepaid cards are bad if...
- You need to hire a car
- You want Section 75 protection as there's none
The CHEAPEST debit card abroad
We prefer cheap credit cards, as it's a big schlep to change your entire bank just so you can get one that's cheaper to use abroad. Plus, if you're fed up with your own bank and want to switch, there are better incentives you can get 100 just for switching or up to 5% interest (see Top Bank Accounts).
Yet if free overseas spending is what you want, the Norwich & Peterborough Gold Classic current account is the only one that's open to all and has a load-free worldwide debit card. The card also has no ATM fees. You'll need a min 5, 000 kept in it, or pay in 500 per month or there's a 5 monthly fee.
If you really want this card but only want to use it for spending abroad, you can open the account, then put 500 in by standing order each month, and then have a standing order returning it to your main current account.
Or, if you'll travel only in Europe, the Metro Bank current account charges no foreign exchange loading or cash withdrawal fees on its debit card. In the rest of the world, it charges a 1.9% load fee and 1 for ATM withdrawals. You have to open this account in a branch; they're located around London and southeast England.
Specialist debit cards are good if...
- You're happy to change bank account to get one
- You want to make cash withdrawals as there's no charge
Specialist debit cards are bad if...
- You switched from a better account to get one
- Or if you want to switch but pick a travel debit card instead of one of the more profitable debit cards available
Debit cards can be the worst way to spend abroad
Eight debit cards (everyday bank cards) are our cards FROM HELL. Not only do they add a load and an ATM fee, they also charge up to 1.50 EVERY time you spend on them.
So, say you spend 5 on the card. After loading and spending fees, it can cost 6.65, which soon adds up over a holiday.
DO YOU HAVE A DEBIT CARD FROM HELL
Bank of Scotland | Halifax | IF | Lloyds | Santander
TSB | NatWest/RBS (hell for small spends)
ANY other card, including credit cards (if repaid IN FULL), is cheaper to spend on than these. See full Debit Cards From Hell info or check your card's fees abroad.
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If they ask 'Do you want to pay in pounds or euros?' say EUROS
When paying on a card abroad, you're often asked if you want the transaction to be in pounds or the local currency.
As a general rule, never pay in pounds that means the overseas store/bank is doing the conversion, and rates are awful. For a full explanation of how this 'dynamic' currency conversion works, see Martin's 'Using plastic overseas? Always pay in euros?' blog.
Find out what your existing cards are charging
A couple of years ago, banks and credit card providers didn't have to show a statement breakdown of what they were charging you when you used your card abroad. This all changed at the start of 2014, causing some confusion, with some people thinking they were only now starting to pay, though it's actually always been the case on all but a few cards.
So find out how much the cards you already have charge for use abroad as you may not have the time to switch before your holiday and make sure you use the cheapest (the best cards are listed in point 10). To help, we've built a How good is your current plastic? checker.
Don't change your cash at the airport (or at least order ahead if you're last-minute)
It's the easy option, but it's such a waste. Airport and ferry port rates are usually dismal, as they know they're the last port of call and you're a captive customer.
Is it better to change my cash once I get to my destination?
In general you dont get a better rate changing your pounds to euros, dollars, lira or dong once youre in that country than you do here. Yet that doesnt mean there arent a few local bureaux overseas that may give tip-top rates.
The problem is there's no way of knowing until youre there, and as rates vary every day, once you're there, comparing to what was available back home is tough.
Therefore we suggest for safety you sort it before you go (if you can - some currencies, like the Lao kip, aren't available outside the country). The big advantage of that is you can use the TravelMoneyMax travel cash comparison to find the best rate from 40 bureaux.
And getting the best of British should usually beat relying on an unknown rate from a one-off local bureau once youre there.
Don't buy travel cash with a credit card
Buying currency is counted as a cash withdrawal, so you could face a myriad fees, including cash withdrawal fees, interest, or even a fee for using a credit card charged by the money changer.
Therefore, if you're buying currency, ALWAYS use a debit card, which isn't allowed to charge this fee, or withdraw cash and pay with that instead.
If you're getting cash while you're overseas at an ATM, you're best off using a specialist credit/ card as this way you minimise fees though you'll pay interest on the latter.
Withdrawing cash on a credit card could hurt your credit score
Withdrawing cash on some of the top specialist overseas credit cards is a MoneySaving thing to do. But, it can have unintended consequences.
If you withdraw cash on a credit card, it's recorded on your credit file. This isn't necessarily bad, in itself, but if you applied for a loan or other credit card soon after, the new lender might see it as a sign that you've no cash in your current account and you're so desperate for cash, you're willing to pay high interest to get it.
In isolation, the negative effect of withdrawing cash is minor and shouldn't be the root cause of a rejection. But if it's combined with other negatives on your credit record, it doesn't look good.