Travel money: dealing with leftover currency

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Being stuck with foreign cash after a trip overseas can leave you feeling short-changed. Here is how to get the most out of your unspent currency.
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Even the best budgeters find it hard to predict exactly how much cash they’ll spend on holiday or during a trip abroad. Most people would rather take extra currency than run out, but this leaves the dilemma of what to do with your leftover coins.

Read our guide to find out the most cost-effective way to deal with any unspent currency.

What can you do with leftover travel money?

Broadly, travellers have three options when it comes to dealing with leftover currency:

  • Keep it for your next trip: If you think you will visit a country that accepts your leftover currency, store it somewhere safe and ready to use next time.

  • Exchange it: Visit a high street travel money provider and exchange your excess foreign currency into pounds sterling. If you have another trip planned later in the year, you might want to transfer it to another useful currency instead.

  • Sell it or give it away: Sell (or gift) your leftover currency to friends and family (who are travelling to a country that accepts it). Alternatively, donate to a suitable charity.

Keep it for next time

If you plan to revisit a country that accepts your leftover currency, you can avoid any further exchange fees and charges by keeping hold of it for your next trip abroad.

Make sure it goes in a safe place and you remember it when you next travel. If the currency is sitting there for some time, you might want to check the rules. Many countries regularly upgrade their notes, so you will need to find out if what you have is still legal tender or if you will need to swap it.

Convert your money back

If you do not plan to go to a country that accepts your leftover currency soon, you should think about exchanging your currency back into pounds.

This is less than ideal as you’ll be paying exchange fees and charges twice, further eroding your currency value. 

Worse, if exchange rates have fallen, you could also get less money back than you spent buying the currency. If this is the case, you could try holding off and converting your travel money back later.

Remember, if you do wait to exchange your money:

  • The rates can go down as well as up

  • Most providers will only convert foreign notes *, not coins.

* Providers may not buy back some low-value notes.

If you have no choice but to exchange your currency back to pounds, make sure you compare rates to find the best deal.

What is buy back?

Buy back is the process that lets you swap your unused foreign currency back into pound sterling after your trip.

You will be offered an exchange rate, just like when you bought the foreign currency before your trip, meaning you could end up with less or more depending on the rate.

What is guaranteed buy back?

It lets you sell your foreign currency back at the rate available when you first exchanged. This is not a free service and could cost you up to £4.

If rates have increased when you want to exchange your travel money back, you can go elsewhere to find a deal that will earn you more money than you would have got with your guaranteed buy back.

Sell to a friend or family member

If you give your unused foreign currency away to friends or family, you may not get any money in return. But selling it to them could mean that you get some of your money back and both of you avoid the fees you’d have to pay with a currency provider.

Consider:

  • Agreeing to exchange any leftover cash from each other's trips abroad as an ongoing deal and you could both end up saving on costs

  • Selling your money to them at a price that cuts out the cost of using a company.

You can donate your leftover travel money to charity, but you will have to find one that accepts the foreign currency.

Alternatively, airlines sometimes take foreign coin donations on return flights to the UK. There are also charity collection points in airports.

Prepare for next time

If you can avoid having leftover currency, it will save you the hassle of sorting out what to do with it.

  • If you must use cash, make sure you budget to cover the amount you think you will spend. Remember to take a little bit more, just in case you overspend.

  • If you can use your card, make sure your bank or building society know you are going to use it abroad to avoid any transaction restrictions.

Read our guide on what is the best way to spend abroad before your next trip to save yourself the hassle of dealing with leftover currency.

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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