Spending abroad: last minute options

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It is never too late to find an affordable way to spend abroad, here are your options based on when you plan to travel.
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The earlier you sort your travel money, the more options you have. But if you’re going on a last-minute trip or sorting out funds has slipped your mind – don’t worry, there are still things you can do.

Exchanging currency at the airport is one of the most expensive ways to buy foreign currency, so it should be avoided if possible. Here’s our breakdown of all emergency options available, when you can use them and which will give you the best deal.

What are your options when spending abroad?

There are several ways you can spend abroad, but some take longer to sort out than others.

This table shows each option and whether you can get them before your trip:

ProductTravel tomorrowTravel next weekTravel next month
CashYesYesYes
Traveller's chequesPossiblyYesYes
Prepaid cardNo*YesYes
Debit card/credit cardNo*PossiblyYes

*Some everyday prepaid cards, debit cards and credit cards also offer cheap foreign spending, so there is a chance you already have a great option in your wallet!

If you need to wait for any of the above to be delivered, postal delays could slow things down, so pick a backup option in case your card doesn’t arrive on time.

Use cash

You can buy foreign currency in lots of ways, and its wide availability makes it the fastest way to get your hands on travel money for your trip. You can:

  • Go to a travel money provider on the high street and pick up currency straight away

  • Order online and get it delivered* to your home or nearest branch the next day

* There’s also an option for telephone orders.

While popular currencies like the euro and US Dollar are easily found in stock, less common currencies may need to be ordered in.

You should do the following to make sure you get your currency in time:

  • Research the currency you need to see if it is easy to get on the high street or online and if you have time before you travel, buy in advance to avoid disappointment.

  • If a travel money provider does not advertise a particular currency, contact them and ask if they can order it for you, it might not be possible but could end up saving you time.

  • If time is running out, you can still order currency from some online providers, such as Travelex, for pick-up at the airport which will be much cheaper than buying it there.

Most providers let you pick up your currency from 1 pm the next day, but to be sure, double-check the terms and conditions before you make your purchase.

Find out how to get the best travel money deals here

Use traveller’s cheques

You cannot walk in and buy travellers’ cheques in a store anymore as they are being phased out. But you can still get them online and have them delivered to your address or for collection in a nearby store.

Many travel money providers let you pick up traveller’s cheques from 1pm the next day, but double-check before buying. This can take longer if you order traveller’s cheques over the weekend.

It usually costs more if you choose to have travellers’ cheques delivered over the weekend. The Post Office charges £1.50, for example, and John Lewis charges £3.60.

Read our guide for more on the costs of using travellers’ cheques abroad.

Use a prepaid card

If you apply for a new prepaid card it will take three to five days to arrive, following the completion of your application.

Before you apply, compare prepaid cards and the cost of using them abroad because picking a card with low overseas charges could save you money.

Specialist travel prepaid cards can be one of the cheapest ways to spend money on holiday, so even if you’re too late this time it might be worth getting one before your next trip.

If you already have a prepaid card, you can top it up ready to spend abroad. Check the terms carefully, some brands have expensive foreign usage fees whilst others are a bargain for overseas payments.

For more information on the cost of using a prepaid card, read our guide on the best ways to spend abroad.

Use a debit or credit card

Debit and credit cards operate in very different ways overseas and can end up costing you a fortune if you are not careful, so make sure you pick the right one for foreign usage.

If you need to apply for a new debit or credit card the delivery time is usually between three to seven days, although this can be longer if applying over the weekend.

You can gamble on your new card and PIN arriving in the post within 1 week, but make sure you have a backup plan in case they don’t.

Using an existing debit or credit card

This will be a quick and easy option, but it might not be the best choice depending on your provider and their terms and conditions on foreign spending. 

If your existing debit or credit card charges for spending abroad then read our guide to find out how much you could be paying to make a cash withdrawal or card transaction.

If it doesn’t charge you, then you can go away and start spending tomorrow.

Spending abroad can be costly, so make sure you compare the market for the best exchange rates available on your travel money before jetting off.

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