How can you spend abroad?

  • 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  • Prepaid card: These cards can be loaded with cash and spent in shops or withdrawn from ATMs.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 cheque: 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.

  • Can be used anywhere

  • Easy to manage

  • No foreign usage fees

  • Expensive to exchange abroad

  • You can lose or have it stolen

  • High value notes can be refused

Although keeping all of your cash on you is not the most secure way to spend abroad, do not be afraid to bring a little more in case you overspend, just be vigilant.

Remember - The main cost of travel money is when you buy your foreign currency, read this guide to for tips on finding the best deal before your trip.

Use a credit card or debit card

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

Debit card

  • Chip and pin protection

  • Easy to cancel if stolen

  • Can be free to use abroad

  • Can be charged for using abroad

  • Can accidentally go overdrawn

  • Can get blocked by your provider

Credit card

  • Expensive for cash withdrawals

  • Can go over your credit limit

  • Can get blocked by your provider

* Card transactions only

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 card Conversion (€250) ChargeOverall cost
Card transaction fee (2.99%) 182.505.46187.96
Cash withdrawal fee (2.75%) 182.505.02187.52
Total 365.0010.48 375.48
These figures assume you are in credit and not using your overdraft.

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%) 182.505.46187.96
Cash withdrawal fee (5%)182.509.13191.63

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 withdrawal)10 days20 days30 days
Interest charge*2.785.578.35
* Based on 69.9% per annum.

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.

  • Can be used worldwide

  • Can be cheap to use abroad

  • Top up what you want to spend

  • Charges for loading card

  • Only spend what is on the card

  • Possible application fees, e.g. 15

How much do prepaid cards cost to use abroad?

Prepaid cards can come with several fees:

CostsStandard prepaid cardTravel prepaid card
Card fee 0 - 15 0 - 50
Load fees 0% - 5% 0% - 2.85%
Card transaction fee 0% - 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.

Use travellers cheques

Did you know?

Travellers cheques were invented in 1772 and remained a popular way to spend abroad until the introduction of credit, debit and prepaid cards.

A traveller's 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.

  • Secure way to take money abroad

  • Easy to cancel if lost or stolen

  • Replacement sent within 24 hours

  • 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.