Your guide to withdrawing cash abroad

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Save money by using the best method to withdraw cash when travelling. This guide looks at the different options and explains how to get a good deal.

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Withdrawing cash abroad
Don’t just use any old card when withdrawing cash overseas – if you do, you could end up paying more than you need.

If you’re planning an overseas trip this year, you'll need travel money. You can pay for things using cards, but it’s also useful to have cash. According to the Office for National Statistics, 86.2 million visits abroad were made by UK residents in 2023, so travel money is big business. As a result, there’s a wide range of options for making cash withdrawals and payments overseas. 

What are the different methods for withdrawing cash abroad?

There are three ways to withdraw cash from an ATM or over the counter when you’re overseas:

  • Debit cards: These are linked to your bank account, so the cash comes directly out of the money you have in your account

  • Credit cards: These let you borrow money to withdraw as cash and then pay it back later

  • Prepaid cards: These allow you to load money onto them in advance. Some cards only allow you to load pounds, while others let you add one or more different currencies. You then use them like a debit card to make payments or withdraw cash. You can visit our guide to how prepaid travel cards work to find out more about these cards

There are products available in all three categories that are particularly good for travelling because they have low, or even no, overseas charges. Whichever method you use, don’t just use any old card, as you could end up paying more than you need.

Will you get charged for withdrawing money abroad?

If you choose the wrong debit or credit card for overseas withdrawals, you might have to pay the following:

  • A cash withdrawal fee – this is more common with credit cards

  • A foreign exchange fee – this covers the cost of converting pounds into your chosen foreign currency

  • A foreign currency purchase fee – this applies when making debit card withdrawals. Not many providers charge this, and you don’t have to pay it if you’re taking out euros in the EEA (European Economic Area – the EU plus Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein)

  • Interest – this is charged from day one with most credit cards

Prepaid cards often come with various fees, such as charges for loading funds or inactivity. They may also charge for using an ATM abroad, although some of the best prepaid travel cards offer free loading and no fees for overseas ATM withdrawals. 

The exchange rate applied when you withdraw cash abroad also affects the cost. The exchange rate on the day and which rate your card provider is using determine the price. 

Most debit and credit cards use either the Mastercard or Visa rate, which tend to be similar. However, some prepaid travel cards use the interbank rate. This is the rate banks use when they’re trading foreign currency with each other and can be slightly better than the Mastercard and Visa rates. There may be a percentage added on top though. Other prepaid cards use their own exchange rate.

Always choose to be charged in the local currency when withdrawing cash or making purchases abroad, as this typically offers a better exchange rate than opting to be charged in pounds.

What are the fees for withdrawing money abroad?

Not all cards impose the same fees, but here's a breakdown of the potential charges you may encounter.

Cash withdrawal fees

If you use a credit card, you could be charged a cash withdrawal fee of between 1.5% and 5% of the transaction value, with many providers charging 3% or a minimum of £3. For example, if you withdraw euros at an exchange rate of one euro to 0.876 pounds, the cash withdrawal fee adds:

  • £3 to the cost of withdrawing €100

  • £5.25 to the cost of withdrawing €200

  • £13.14 to the cost of withdrawing €500

Some debit cards also charge cash withdrawal fees at the same rate as credit cards.

By comparison, each cash withdrawal with a prepaid card can cost between £1 and £2. However, some prepaid cards allow you to make a certain number of withdrawals or take out cash up to a set limit before charging you.

The best cards for travel don’t charge any cash withdrawal fees.

Foreign exchange fees

Debit and credit cards usually charge a foreign exchange fee of 2.75% to 2.99% of the transaction amount, significantly increasing the cost of withdrawing cash.

For example, if you withdraw euros at an exchange rate of one euro to 0.876 pounds, a foreign exchange fee of 2.99% adds:

  • £2.62 to the cost of withdrawing €100

  • £5.24 to the cost of withdrawing €200

  • £13.10 to the cost of withdrawing €500

The best cards for travel don’t charge foreign exchange fees.

Can you withdraw cash on your credit card?

While you can withdraw cash on your credit card, it’s not usually a good idea. Most providers charge a cash withdrawal fee and interest from the moment you take the money out, even if you pay your credit card bill off in full. The transactions are also recorded on your credit report.

If you make multiple cash withdrawals on your credit card in a short time, lenders can see it as a red flag. This is because it suggests that you are relying on a credit card to get cash, which signals you’re having financial difficulties. However, it’s only a potential issue if you apply for credit within a few months of making the withdrawals.

Bear in mind that purchasing foreign currency with a credit card, or in some cases, loading it onto a prepaid card, is also considered a cash withdrawal.

That said, there are a couple of credit cards that don’t charge withdrawal or foreign exchange fees and charge you little or no interest on cash withdrawals, so in exceptional cases, a credit card can be a good option for getting cash abroad.

What is the best way to withdraw cash abroad?

Generally speaking, a debit card or prepaid travel card is the best way to withdraw cash abroad, as long as you choose one that doesn’t charge fees for doing so. However, you should also watch out for other fees on prepaid cards, such as loading fees.

One advantage of using prepaid travel cards compared to making cash withdrawals once you’re abroad is that you can exchange money ahead of your trip by loading a foreign currency onto the card. In this way, you know exactly how much money you have to spend while you’re away, as you’re not affected by exchange rate fluctuations. 

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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