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What is the best way to spend abroad?

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Written by Dom James, Financial Content Writer

6 September 2018

Spending money overseas can end up costing you a fortune in fees and charges, so find out what options you have and which is the cheapest for your trip.

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How can you spend abroad?

  • CashTake foreign currency but make sure to budget correctly or you will be left with no money by the end of your trip. Make sure you find the best deal before you leave.

  • Credit card or debit card: Take your credit or debit card abroad, but watch out for foreign usage charges and your cards getting blocked by your provider.

  • Prepaid card: These cards can be loaded with cash and spent in shops or withdrawn from ATMs. They only let you spend the money you have put on the card.

  • Travellers cheques: They can be converted into foreign currency in specific locations abroad. To do this, you will need to use your signature and provide I.D.

Take cash abroad

This is the easiest way to start spending when you get to your destination.

Pros

  • Can be used anywhere

  • Easy to manage

  • No foreign usage fees

Cons

  • Expensive to exchange abroad

  • It can be lost or stolen

  • High value notes can be refused

Find out how to get the best deal on travel money here

Use a credit card or debit card

Most providers will charge you for every transaction you make overseas, but you can find credit or debit cards which will cut the cost of your spending abroad.

Debit card

Pros

  • Chip and pin protection

  • Easy to cancel if stolen

  • Can be free to use abroad

Cons

  • Can be charged for using abroad

  • Can accidentally get overdrawn

  • Can get blocked by your provider

Compare debit cards here

Credit card

Pros

Cons

  • Expensive for cash withdrawals

  • Can go over your credit limit

  • Can get blocked by your provider

* Card transactions only

Find travel credit cards here

How much do they cost to use abroad?

It differs significantly depending on the card you have.

This table shows some of the typical fees you could face when using a debit card or credit card overseas:

CostsDebit CardCredit Card
Card transaction fee0% - 2.99%0% - 2.99%
Cash withdrawal fee0% - 2.75%0% - 5%
Cash withdrawal interestn/a6.5% - 69.9%

Debit card costs

This example shows an exchange rate of 0.73, a card transaction fee of 2.99% and a cash withdrawal fee of 2.75%.

Debit cardConversion (€250)ChargeOverall cost
Card transaction fee (2.99%)£182.50£5.46£187.96
Cash withdrawal fee (2.75%)£182.50£5.02£187.52
Total£365.00£10.48£375.48

These 2 transactions abroad can cost you as much as £10.48 extra unless you shop around and find a debit card which offers lower or non-existent charges for usage abroad.

Credit card costs

This example shows an exchange rate of 0.73, a card transaction fee of 2.99% and a cash withdrawal fee of 5%.

Credit cardConversion (€250)ChargeOverall cost
Card transaction fee (2.99%)£182.50£5.46£187.96
Cash withdrawal fee(5%)£182.50£9.13£191.63
Total£365.00£14.59£379.59

These 2 transactions can cost you £14.59, but you can find a credit card which does not charge for card transactions abroad, saving you the £5.46 seen above.

Daily interest on a credit card

On top of the cash withdrawal fee, you will also need to pay interest on the cash you withdraw using your credit card.

This table shows how much you will be charged over 10, 20 and 30 days if you withdraw €250 (£182.50) abroad:

Cost (€250)10 days20 days30 days
Interest charge£2.78£5.57£8.35

Avoid using a credit card abroad if you plan on making cash withdrawals due to the excessive charges that come with them.

Use a prepaid card

You can use a prepaid card in a similar way to a credit card, except you need to top up the account with funds before you can use them, rather than spending money and paying it off later.

There are two types of prepaid card:

  • Standard prepaid cards are designed to be used in the UK but you can still use them abroad for both cash withdrawals and card transactions. You are charged on the rate of exchange each time you use these cards abroad.

  • Travel prepaid cards, or currency cards, are loaded with a foreign currency instead of sterling, which means you are charged a single exchange rate at the point of topping up the card, rather than every time you use the card.

Pros

  • Can be used worldwide

  • Can be cheap to use abroad

  • Top up what you want to spend

Cons

  • Sometimes charges for loading card

  • Can only spend what is on the card

  • Possible application fees

Compare prepaid cards to use abroad here

How much do prepaid cards cost to use abroad?

Some prepaid cards can come with several potential fees:

CostsStandard prepaid cardTravel prepaid card
Card fee£0 - £15£0 - £50
Load fees0% - 5%0% - 2.85%
Card transaction fee0% - 5.75%0% - 5.75%
Cash withdrawal fee0% - 5.75%0% - 5.75%

When you use a cash machine with a prepaid card, it may charge you further fees and limit the amount you are able to withdraw.

For example, a €250 cash withdrawal and a €250 card transaction on a prepaid card that charges 5.75% for both transactions, will charge you £10.49 for each*.

* Based on an exchange rate of 0.73

How much does it cost to load a prepaid card?

Use travellers cheques

A travellers cheque works by converting sterling into foreign currency as a cheque, which can be cashed when abroad.

When you buy travellers cheques, be careful to avoid any unnecessary charges. For example, if you buy your travellers cheques using a credit card, you will be charged both by your credit card provider for a cash withdrawal and by the travellers cheque provider too.

There is usually no charge for using your debit card to pay for a travellers cheque, but double check with the provider before you complete your order.

Pros

  • Secure way to take money abroad

  • Easy to cancel if lost or stolen

  • Replacement usually sent within 24 hours

Cons

  • Cannot be exchanged everywhere

  • No emergency cash if lost or stolen

  • If not signed can be used if stolen

You must sign your travellers cheques when you get them or risk someone fraudulently signing and using them.

Travellers cheques are provided by many travel money companies in association with American Express. This means that you will need to find an American Express kiosk abroad to cash in your travellers cheques, though many hotels will also cash them in for you.

Use the American Express Travellers Cheques website to search for a location.

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.

Compare travel money

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