Travel money and foreign currency

You can use local currency, travellers’ cheques or pre-paid cards, and debit or credit cards while you are abroad. Find out how to get your travel money, what charges are involved and how to keep it safe.

Foreign currency

It's better to sort out your money before you go – you’ll get a better exchange rate and more currency for your money than if you buy it at the airport.

You can buy foreign currency at:

  • banks
  • some travel agents
  • some Post Offices
  • bureaux de change
  • some shops and supermarkets
  • foreign exchange brokers
  • specialist online providers

Commission charges can vary, so check before you buy.

Not all currency exchanges provide coins, so ask about this. For example, you may need coins for luggage trolleys at the airport.

If you want large amounts or an unusual currency, you may have to order beforehand.

Rules on how much money you can take in and out of a country vary.

Check the exchange rate

The amount of currency that you buy depends on the exchange rate, which can vary from day to day.

Exchange rates are displayed where you change money. You can also check rates online by putting 'currency converter' or 'exchange rate' into a search engine.

It is best to look on several websites and you should always check the rates are up-to-date.

Pre-paid cards for travellers

Some companies offer pre-paid cards in a choice of currencies as an alternative to travellers' cheques. You can pre-load them and use them abroad at cash machines or shops.

Pre-paid cards can be a good way of sticking to a budget, but check the charges and costs involved before you travel.

Using credit or debit cards abroad

Cards carrying an international card scheme brand (like Visa or Mastercard) can be used in shops and cash machines around the world.

Keep your cards safe

Before you go:

  • note your card company's 24-hour telephone number
  • make sure your card company has your up-to-date contact details, including your mobile number

While travelling:

  • don't let your card out of your sight
  • don't give your PIN to anyone, ever
  • shield your PIN when typing it into a keypad

After your trip:

  • check receipts against your card statement and call your card company immediately if you are worried about a transaction

Credit and debit card charges

Your card company will usually charge you for using your card overseas.

Before you go, check what your card company charges for cash withdrawals and things bought overseas.

Protection on credit card purchases

Using a UK-issued credit card to buy something means you're protected if the goods are:

  • faulty
  • not delivered

This applies abroad as well as in the UK. Some debit cards offer similar protection. You should check the details with your card company.

Travellers' cheques

Travellers' cheques are pre-printed cheques for a fixed amount in a single currency. They are more secure than cash, because you can cancel and replace them if they are lost or stolen.

You can buy travellers' cheques from banks and travel agents. They are  available in:

  • US dollars
  • euros
  • pounds sterling

You can cash travellers' cheques in banks and use them in many shops and restaurants.

When you buy travellers' cheques, you sign each one. When you want to spend one, you simply countersign it and hand it over. The payee may ask you for proof of identity.

Travellers' cheques come in fixed amounts, so a retailer may need to give you change just as if you had paid in cash.

Check commission and charges

When you buy travellers' cheques you may want to check how much commission your supplier charges. You may also want to check whether they will cash any unused travellers' cheques for free.

Tips for keeping your travellers' cheques secure

Keep your travellers' cheques secure by:

  • not countersigning the cheques until you want to use them
  • noting the serial numbers of each cheque and the local contact number of the company that issued them - keep this information separate from the cheques
  • keeping your receipt

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