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Travel Credit Cards

The best cards to use abroad

Going abroad, or spending on foreign websites? You can save £100s by using specialist travel spending cards for the best possible exchange rates.

This step-by-step guide includes best buy credit, debit and prepaid cards, plus how to compare currencies with our free TravelMoneyMax tool.

The six golden rules

  • Use a top credit card for the cheapest spending abroad

    Most cards add a 3% cost to the exchange rates banks themselves get. You can avoid this by packing a specialist card that doesn't add this 'load', meaning you'll get perfect exchange rates which beat even the best bureaux de change.

    Pocket one just for spending overseas, though always repay IN FULL to avoid interest. See the travel credit card best buys section. If you don't have a decent credit score, you can also see the cheapest prepaid cards.

  • Never change money at the airport - rates are hideous

    You're a captive customer at an airport or ferry terminal, so you'll probably be lumbered with the worst rates. If you must get it from the airport, order ahead for pick-up to get a better rate (usually possible until four hours beforehand).

    Better still, use our TravelMoneyMax.com travel money comparison site to find the best possible deal, including all fees and any commission.

  • Debit cards can be the worst way to spend

    Specialist credit cards give good rates, but most don't. While any card which charges you interest is a bad deal, some debit cards (bank account cards) actually have the very worst fees – as they add up to £1.50 every time you spend.

    These include Halifax, Intelligent Finance, Santander, Lloyds, TSB, and to a lesser extent, NatWest and RBS. Don’t spend on these abroad (see the cards from hell section).

  • If they ask 'want to pay in pounds or euros?', say 'euros'

    Many overseas banks or shops ask this, especially in Spanish tourist resorts. If you choose pounds then the retailer does the currency conversion – rates can often be poor compared to letting your card do it (choosing euros). For a great comparison of rates, see Martin's blog.

    If you've a top overseas card, always say the local currency as your card does the exchange and it's unbeatable. If not, it's touch and go. Sometimes it'll show you the 'load'. If this is under 2.5%, go with pounds. If it’s over, go local.

  • Beware how you pay for foreign cash

    While the Holiday Money Comparison will find you the cheapest rates, there’s another possible hidden charge at bureaux de change. All credit cards charge a cash withdrawal fee (which means you can also pay interest, even if repaid in full).

    Therefore, if you're buying currency, use a debit card, which isn't allowed to charge this fee. Alternatively, withdraw cash and pay with that instead.

  • Don't let bureaux de change hold your cash - they're not protected

    If you use a bureau de change to exchange cash, and it goes bust while it has your money, you have no protection. Beware of using these firms to buy money a long time in advance.

    You even face a slight risk in using delivery options. The safest route is handing over your pile of cash in return for theirs.

    There are a couple of different levels of regulation for bureaux, but the golden rule is:

    If ANY bureau goes bust when it has your money, you're NOT protected. Don't let it hold your cash for any longer than needed.

    Usually this isn’t a problem, but on rare occasions it can be and there’s little recourse. For sending large amounts abroad (eg, for buying a house) ‐ see Sending Money Overseas.


Rather watch than read? Martin Lewis travel cards video briefing

Some people find it easier to watch than read - if that's you, here's a full video run-down on how travel money credit cards work.

Martin Lewis on how to get the best deal on your holiday cash

Want to know how to get the most bang for your buck when changing holiday cash? For a five-min lowdown, click on this video, which was filmed in partnership with the Daily Telegraph in June 2014.

How good is your current plastic?

Use your plastic overseas and you could be hit by a thwack of hidden charges (for full details, read the hidden holiday spending charges note). These charges include:

  • Adding a 'load' on the exchange rate - spending £100 of foreign currency costs £103
  • Cash withdrawal fees on both credit and debit cards
  • Interest charges even if you pay off in full
  • Some even charge a penalty each time you spend

Previously, banks and credit card providers didn't have to show a breakdown of these charges on your statements. This all changed at the beginning of 2014, causing some confusion with consumers thinking they are only now beginning to pay. So we've done a report to show the true cost of overseas spending. For more information read the Overseas Credit & Debit Card Charges report.

The overall best cards are detailed below. First, find out how much the cards you already have charge abroad - as you may not have the time to switch before your hols. To help, we've built a checker to find out what you'll pay when using any cards in your wallet abroad.

 
Tool last updated: January 2015

To view our 'What does your card charge tool' click here

If you think any extra cards should be added to the tool, please email us.

Debit cards from hell

Eight debit cards have nightmarish charges every time you use them overseas. With most debit cards, you pay a load fee for spending, and a charge if you withdraw cash abroad. These cards have another sneaky charge - a spending fee of between £1 and £1.50 every time.

Imagine you buy something for £5 in a shop. With the worst of these cards, it can end up costing you £6.65 after the load and charges are added on - an entire third more than you'd spend if you used a top card from this guide.

Which are the cards from hell?

While the right card is absolutely the best way to spend abroad, the wrong one is absolutely the worst way.

Let's make this plain – do not use the following cards for spending overseas. Any of the methods below beat them.

The cards from hell

Halifax Debit Card

Spending penalty: £1.50 | Load fee: 2.75% | Cash withdrawal fee: £1.50

IF Debit Card

Spending penalty: £1.50 Load fee: 2.25% | Cash withdrawal fee: £1.50

Santander Debit Card

Spending penalty: £1.25 | Load fee: 2.75% | Cash withdrawal: 1.5% min £1.99

Bank of Scotland Debit Card

Spending penalty: £1 | Load fee: 2.99% | Cash withdrawal: 1.5% min £2 max £4.50

Lloyds Debit Card

Spending penalty: £1 | Load fee: 2.99% | Cash withdrawal: 1.5% min £2 max £4.50

TSB Debit Card

Spending penalty: £1 | Load fee: 2.99% | Cash withdrawal: 1.5% min £2 max £4.50


The cards below don't have a spending fee, but do charge at least £1 every time you spend making them hellish for small transactions - spend £5 and it'll cost you £6.

RBS Debit Card

Spending penalty: none | Load fee: 2.75% (min £1) | Cash withdrawal: 2% min £2 max £5

NatWest Debit Card

Spending penalty: none | Load fee: 2.75% (min £1) | Cash withdrawal: 2% min £2 max £5

Full list of charges for major UK credit and debit cards.

If you're using a credit card, that can also become a payment method from hell...

Any credit card which you’re not paying off in full is a nightmare and will cost you serious cash.

If you can’t pay it off in full, choose based on the lowest interest rate for spending, not the cheapest overseas card.


Cheapest overseas spending

If you're looking for cards offering more than overseas spending, see our credit cards page.

The credit cards below avoid most hidden charges and push themselves as specialist overseas plastic, hoping you’ll also use them in the UK where they’re not so competitive. Simply get one for overseas spending only and you'll beat the system (do you have an overseas wallet?).

However, even on these cards, there's a trap. So always follow the golden rule:

Set up a direct debit to repay in full every month, or the interest charges dwarf the cheap currency gains.

On these cards, it's far cheaper to spend on them than withdraw cash and spend it.

Check my eligibility for the cards before I apply

You can find out your odds of getting these best buy travel credit cards by using our eligibility calculator. It works with all the cards below (except Nationwide).

  • We'll check your details against what credit card firms are looking for in customers.
  • It's a 'soft' search. YOU can see it, but lenders CAN'T, so there's no impact on your credit file.
  • We'll show you your chances of being accepted for the card.

It's not a guarantee you'll be accepted - but you'll get a good idea of your odds.

Best Buys: The top overseas credit cards

Getting the right plastic is crucial to cutting your overseas spending bill. We've picked out the top credit cards that allow you to spend for free overseas.

Halifax Clarity* - Worldwide 0% load & no cash withdrawal fee

The lowest fees for overseas spending

Halifax Clarity*

The Halifax Clarity* credit card has no foreign exchange load charge anywhere in the world, plus it has lowest charges for taking out cash, meaning you get the best rate possible.

Need to knows
  • There's no fee for cash withdrawals, though you'll be charged interest at a fairly low 12.9% representative APR until you pay it off in full. So it works out at about £1/month for each £100 withdrawn (if you get this APR).
  • But there’s a trick you can use to minimise this cost. You’re only charged interest until you’ve fully repaid the balance, so if you pay off the withdrawal amount as soon as you can (via internet banking while abroad, or as soon as you return home) to minimise interest costs.
  • You don’t get charged interest on spending abroad, provided you pay this off in full by the date shown on your statement.
  • The rate you'll get is set by Mastercard, which you can check here, although the most recent rate you'll be able to see is that from the previous day.
  • This rate is only for the Clarity credit card, not Halifax's own travel money bureau, which generally offers lower rates.
  • Some poorer credit scorers will get higher APRs, of up to 21.9%, which'll make cash withdrawal interest more expensive.
Eligibility Calculator
(MSE's free tool)
APPLY*
(at lender site)

Protect your credit score and check chances of getting card

Stats box
  • Loading (exchange rate fee). Europe: 0% | Worldwide: 0%
  • Cash withdrawals. Fee: None | Interest on cash withdrawals? Yes, until it's repaid in full
  • Representative APR on spending: 12.9% | Interest rate on ATM withdrawals: 12.9% (see Official APR examples)
  • Card issuer: Mastercard
Key questions

Are there any limits on cash withdrawals? If you're making a lot of ATM withdrawals, be aware that you can only withdraw a total of 50% of your credit limit as cash. So, if your credit limit is £1,000 on the card, you'll only be able to withdraw the equivalent of £500 as cash. Therefore, it's best to prioritise spending where you can.

I'm a Halifax customer. Are there any extra perks? As a bonus, if you have a Halifax current account and pay in at least £1,000/mth you can apply for the Reward Clarity, in branch or by phone, and you'll get £5 each month you spend over £300 in the UK or abroad on the credit card (make sure you repay in full every month). Read the Best Bank Accounts guide for how Halifax measures up.

However, if you already have a Halifax credit card, you can't just switch to this one. You would need to close your existing card, and wait six months before applying for this.

Aqua Reward* - Great for spending,  but high fees for cash withdrawals

No fees for spending, but high fees for cash withdrawals

Aqua Reward*

The Aqua Reward* card also has no load fee worldwide, so you get the best possible rate. However, unlike the Halifax Clarity, it's only a top pick for spending abroad, as cash withdrawals cost a lot. You'll also earn 0.5% cashback on all your spending, including abroad.

Need to knows
  • This card's designed for those with poor credit history and will accept those with past CCJs or defaults providing they're a year old, or bankruptcies over 18 months.
  • Credit limits are low, from £250 to £1,200.
  • This card charges 34.9% rep APR on cash withdrawals from the date they're made, plus a 3% fee, so avoid if you can.
  • Some poorer credit scorers will get higher APRs, of up to 59.9%, which'll make cash withdrawal interest much more expensive.
  • If you do withdraw cash, pay it off as soon as you can (via internet banking while abroad, or as soon as you return home) so you minimise interest costs.
  • You also get 0.5% cashback on spending in the UK & abroad on this card.
Eligibility Calculator
(MSE's free tool)
APPLY*
(at lender site)

Protect your credit score and check chances of getting card

Stats box
  • Loading (exchange rate fee). Europe: 0% | Worldwide: 0%
  • Cash withdrawals. Fee: 3% (min £3) | Interest: Yes, until it's repaid in full
  • Representative APR on spending: 34.9% | Interest rate on ATM withdrawals: 39.9%-59.9% (see Official APR Examples)
  • Cashback: 0.5% on all spending in UK & abroad
  • Card issuer: Mastercard
Key questions

Are there any other perks? As the card is aimed at poorer credit scorers, it also comes with free Noddle credit reports and alerts to help you rebuild your credit rating.

Other top overseas cards

Worldwide load fee ATM fee Cash w/d interest (fully repaid) Rep APR (if not repaid) UK cashback Check your chances of getting it
Halifax Clarity* None None 12.9% 12.9% - Eligibility calculator
Post Office Platinum* None £3 or 2.5% 27.9% 17.8% - Eligibility calculator
Aqua Reward* None £3 or 3% 39.9%-59.9% 34.9% 0.5% Eligibility calculator
Aqua Advance* None £3 or 3% 39.9%-59.9% 34.9% £20 Amazon voucher Eligibility calculator
Saga* (1) None £2 or 2% None 11.9% (Cash 19.6%) - Eligibility calculator
Lloyds Avios* (£24 annual fee) (2) None £3 or 3% 17.9% 23.7% incl fee (Cash 17.9%) - Eligibility calculator
Nationwide* (current account custs only) None £3 or 2.5% 27.9% 15.9% 0.5% Not available
Santander Zero None None 27.9% 18.9% - Not available
1. Over 50s, may not be accepted if you've four or more credit/store cards. † Not accepting new applications. £10 dormancy fee, never been charged (2) New card holders from November 2013.

Best Buys: The top overseas debit cards

It’s also possible to get load-free debit cards – but to do that, you’ll need to genuinely shift bank account. It’s questionable whether its worth it just for this (as you’re forgoing other bank account perks – see Best Bank Accounts) which is why we favour just getting a credit card and using it right.

There are a few current account providers offering load-free debit cards...

  • Norwich & Peterborough BS: The Norwich & Peterborough BS Gold Classic current account has 0% overseas spending fees and no cash withdrawal fee worldwide. You need to pay in £500 a month (equivalent to a £6,000 salary) or keep £5,000 in the account to avoid its £5 monthly fee.

  • Metro Bank (London & SE only): The Metro Bank current account charges no foreign exchange loading or cash withdrawal fees when you use its debit card in Europe. In the rest of the world it charges a load of 1.9%, and its ATM withdrawal fee is £1.

    This is a branch-based account, so you have to go to one of its branches, which are in London or south-east England, to get one. More branches are opening - but in the same area.

  • Cumberland Building Society (NW England & SW Scotland): If you have a standard, Reward, Plus, Offset or Cumberland Plus current account with Cumberland Building Society, it charges no foreign exchange loading or cash withdrawal fees on the debit card that comes with the account. However, you need to live in its operating area - it has branches in Cumbria, Lancashire and Dumfries & Galloway.

Getting the cheapest foreign cash

If you want to get the best deal for spending overseas, it involves a combination of the best exchange rate and the lowest commission (read more on commission versus rate).

To cut through this, we’ve built a special website at TravelMoneyMax.com, which updates every half an hour with travel rates. It whizzes to all the main online bureaux de change to compare who'll give you the most foreign cash, after all charges and exchange rates.

Though do remember if your money is held by a currency provider - if you're buying in advance, for example - it's not protected if it goes bust, so be careful.

TravelMoneyMax.com

TravelMoneyMax.com can only search companies with an online presence, though luckily these usually undercut their high-street competitors. It’s occasionally possible to get a better rate at some local specialist dealers.

However this is rare and they're only located in areas with large amounts of overseas visitors where competition on rates is very high.

Top prepaid cards

If you can’t get the top credit card or don’t trust yourself with one, next best is a prepaid card - effectively an electronic travellers cheque. You just load it up with cash in advance - so you would pay for your chosen currency in pounds and the prepaid card provider will then convert your money using its own exchange rate. You can then use it when away, like a debit card.

But, before you go ahead, there are five things you need to know:

  • You get the provider's own exchange rate

    Unlike the credit cards above, exchange rates on prepaid cards are set by providers - they don't have to move with Visa or Mastercard's rates. Our pick below all have decent exchange rates.

  • It's the rate when you load the card that counts

    Unlike credit cards, which calculate your exchange rate on the day you spend, with prepaid cards, it's the rate on the day you load that's important. So if the pound strengthens after you load the card, you will lose out. But if it weakens you'd gain.

  • Prepaid cards often have a raft of fees

    The following fees can apply when using prepaid cards - so check what your card charges. We've deliberately picked cards which have low - or no - fees:

    Application fees: Many cards cost £8 to £10 to open. However, many also charge a sneaky ‘replacement fee’, and set the expiry date to one year after opening. So after 12 months, you’ll have to pay around £5 to keep using the card (and any funds already on it).

    A few cards also charge a monthly fee simply for holding them - these cards very rarely work out as anything other than hideously expensive!

    Spending fees: Some cards levy a fee every time you spend, either as a percentage of the amount, or a flat fee per transaction. As a rule of thumb, if you make a high number of small purchases, go for a percentage fee while if you make fewer, higher value purchases go for a set fee.

    Cash withdrawal fees: Some prepaid cards charge for using ATMs abroad (and even more in the UK) so check this before you make any cash withdrawals.

    Inactivity charges: Prepaid providers want you to regularly use the card, racking up charges and boosting their profit. Therefore, you’re often penalised if the card goes unused. A typical charge for this would be £2 per month if you haven't used the card in 12 months. So use it frequently enough to avoid this charge, even just to buy a bag of crisps (or one of your five daily fruit and veg!).

  • Your money's safe if the provider goes bust

    All prepaid cards listed below are backed by a bank or building society. This means that when you load cash onto a prepaid card, your cash goes into a ringfenced account, separate to the prepaid card provider's account. So, if the prepaid card company goes bust, the bank or building society where your money's resting will still retain your cash.

    The only problem is if the bank or building society backing the prepaid card goes bust, as then your cash's NOT protected. This is because cash held on a prepaid card is counted as 'electronic money', and not as a deposit, meaning it's not covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, as normal savings are. Therefore, think of your prepaid card as one that you'll only keep cash on for immediate spending requirements, rather than as a place to store it away.

  • If you lose the card, you get the money back

    Because you have an account with the card provider, your money's safe. But you may have to pay for a replacement card - this can often cost up to £10.

These are our top picks. We've deliberately picked cards with good exchange rates and low fees. We regularly compare cards to ensure the cards below are still top deals.

Best if you're loading less than £500 worth of currency

This is the best prepaid card for you if you want to put less than £500 worth of currency on it. However, that's not to say that if you want to load over £500 it's not a good card. But there is a card below that gives you a slight boost if you load more with them, making it overall a better deal.

Top card on rates alone: Ukash

Top exchange rates for euros and dollars

Ukash*

The euro and dollar prepaid travel money cards from Ukash* are both free to get. In addition, Ukash gives strong exchange rates on both currencies, and neither cards charge any fees for spending or cash withdrawals. However, if you're loading more than £500, there are other cards which are better (see below). It's a simple card to use; there's only one catch - if you close the card, you're charged a fairly hefty fee.

Need to knows
  • As with all prepaid card providers, Ukash sets its own exchange rates, though it always tends to be competitive.
  • Ukash have two prepaid cards - the 'Travel money prepaid card' is the card with less fees so make sure you get this one and not the 'prepaid Mastercard'.
  • The card takes up to 10 working days to arrive.
  • You must load the card with at least £50 worth of currency.
  • There's a €12/$17 fee to close the card, but you don't get charged for not using it, so don’t close it.
  • As it's FCA regulated, the money you deposit is ringfenced so in the event there were problems with Ukash, the money is safe.
Stats box
  • Application fee: None | Monthly fee: None
  • ATM withdrawal fee: Free outside UK (€1.80/$2.50 in UK)
  • Top up: Free via debit card online
  • Currencies available: Euros/dollars
  • Card replacement charge: €9.50/$13
  • Fee for spending in different currency (eg, in dollars on a card loaded with euros): 2.75%
Key questions

How good is Ukash's exchange rate? It comes up trumps when its exchange rate is compared with other specialist prepaid travel cards. Compare its rates with what you can get with TravelMoneyMax.com's best.

What am I charged for cash withdrawals? While Ukash doesn't charge to withdraw cash from an ATM abroad, the provider of the machine you withdraw from may charge, so check first. Withdrawing cash in the UK costs €1.50/$2, so make sure you only keep this card in your overseas wallet for use abroad.

Best if you're loading £500+

This is the best prepaid card if you want to put more than £500 worth on it.

Good card for spending, no transaction or 'load' fees

Cheapest for larger amounts, but watch out for ATM fees

FairFX*

If you're loading more than £500 worth of currency, the FairFX's euro*, dollar* and sterling* prepaid cards are the best ones. Although their rates tend to be very slightly lower than Ukash's, if you apply via these links, FairFX will knock £8 off the bill when you load £500+ on a euro or dollar card, and £5 off when you load £500+ on to its sterling card. If you use the links above you'll aso get them for free (as long as you load £50 worth of currency or more) - if not, you'll pay £9.95 to get the cards.

Need to knows
  • We've listed this as best for £500+, but it's also pretty good for smaller amounts as its exchange rates are usually only slightly less than Ukash's.
  • You get FairFX's own exchange rate, which changes daily but generally beats most other prepaid cards.
  • You're charged €1.50/$2/£1 to withdraw cash from overseas ATMs, so try to spend rather than withdraw cash.
  • The card takes seven to 10 working days to arrive.
  • You must load the card with at least €60/$75/£50.
  • If you have cash left over on the dollar or euro card you can spend it for free in the UK. But don't use it at cash machines here as the fee will still apply.
  • FairFX is FCA regulated, meaning money you deposit is ringfenced, so in the event there were problems with FairFX, the money is safe.
Stats box
  • Application fee: Free if you use the links above and top up £50+ currency. If not, £9.95
  • Monthly fee: None
  • ATM withdrawal fee: €1.50/$2/£1
  • Top up: Free via debit card online/bank transfer
  • Currencies: Euros/dollars/sterling
  • Replacement charge: €9/$12/£6
  • Fee for spending in different currency (eg, in dollars on a card loaded with euros): 1.4% (free if spending in the UK)
Key questions

What are the ATM withdrawal charges? The only cost is €1.50/$2/£1 to withdraw cash from an ATM overseas (€1.50/$2/£1.50 for UK ATM withdrawals), less than most credit or debit cards. But it's one of the few specialist overseas cards to charge an ATM fee. So try to minimise the number of withdrawals that you make, but strike a balance between that, and carrying around wads of cash - which could be a safety risk.

Other top specialist prepaid cards

These are other top cards that are worth a look - their exchange rates tend to be decent, but don't rival the two cards above. Both providers are long-established currency providers, and have a good track record of feedback. However, as with all prepaid cards, do check the charges and limits, and make sure to pick the right card for you.

The next cheapest: CaxtonFX

No fees for withdrawing cash or spending

Caxton FX*

Another raft of decent prepaid travel cards is from Caxton FX*, which offers euro, dollar and sterling cards. They charge no ATM or spending fees when you use them abroad. The cards are also free to get and there are no charges to hold the cards or top them up. OK exchange rate but not as good as the rates offered by the cards above.

Need to knows
  • You get Caxton FX's own exchange rate, which is decent, but doesn't beat the cards above.
  • You need to load at least £100/€150/$200 of currency.
  • The card takes 5-7 working days to arrive.
  • Caxton FX is FCA regulated, meaning the money you deposit is ringfenced, so in the event there were problems with Caxton FX, the money is safe.
Stats box
  • Application fee: None | Monthly fee: None
  • ATM withdrawal fee: Free outside UK (€2/$2.50/£1.50 in UK)
  • Currencies: Euros/dollars/sterling
  • Top up: Free via debit card online /phone
  • Replacement cost: €7.50/$10/£5
  • Fee for spending in different currency (eg, in dollars on a card loaded with euros): 2.45%
Key questions

There's no ATM withdrawal charge outside the UK although the provider of the machine you use may levy charges so check first. You get charged for ATM withdrawals within the UK.

Travelex Cash Passport*

Wider range of currencies, good if you need a card quickly

Travelex Cash Passport*

Exchange giant Travelex's prepaid travel card - Cash Passport - comes in euro*, dollar* and global* versions, like the cards above. However, you can also get the prepaid card denominated in Australian, New Zealand, and Canadian dollars as well as South African rand - just click 'apply' below and select your currency on Travelex's page. However, these cards will charge you if you don't use them for a year, so don't get caught out.

Need to knows
  • You’ll get Travelex'd exchange rate, which is decent, but isn't usually market-leading.
  • On the currency specific versions of this card there's no fee for spending or withdrawing cash abroad - but there's a 2.49% charge on the global card.
  • It charges £2/€3/$3.50 each month if the card goes unused for a year. If you’re heading towards that, simply cancel the card as it’s rarely worth the extra cost.
  • Your card should arrive within five working days.
  • Travelex is FCA regulated, meaning the money you deposit is ringfenced, so in the event there were problems with Travelex, the money is safe.
Stats box
  • Application fee: None | Monthly fee: None
  • ATM withdrawal fee: Free outside UK (2.49% for global card)
  • Top up: Free (2% (min £3) for sterling card)
  • Currencies: NZ $/AUS $/SA rand/euros/US dollars/CA dollars/sterling
  • Replacement cost: Free
  • Fee for spending in different currency (eg, in dollars on a card loaded with euros): 5.75% (2.49% on the global card)

Currency & credit cards Q&A

  • When’s the best time to buy currency?

  • Do the same rules apply when buying off overseas websites?

  • If I spend abroad and they let me pay in pounds, is it worth it?

  • Should I get my travel money out in the UK or overseas?

  • My card was blocked while I was abroad, can I prevent this?