Cheap travel money tips

The cheapest ways to get foreign currency & spend overseas

Holidays can be worry-free if you sort out the practicalities early. Yet many treat how to pay when they're abroad as an afterthought – even though doing it wrong can cost them £100s. This guide compares the four main options to get the most bang for your buck when overseas.

Sorting your currency is just one way to cut travel costs. For more, see 60+ overseas travel tips.

Looking for a card that children can use abroad? Our top-pick cards for under-18s offer near perfect exchange rates, plus most let you set spending limits and monitor via apps.

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Travel money need-to-knows

Here are six points to help you maximise your holiday spending savings. Get this wrong and it can cost you large.

  • Get this wrong and you'll end up paying to pay. 

    Here's how much spending €1,000 can cost, in pounds, using each of the different methods (we've assumed five €100 cash withdrawals and 20 transactions of €25 each on the cards).

    • Top specialist credit/debit card repaid in full: £818
    • Cash, via cheapest bureau (must pick up in London): £821
    • Cash from M&S on the high street: £829
    • Using a debit card with a spending charge: £872
    • Changing cash at airport (without ordering it): £949

    The winners are clear – apply for a specialist overseas card, then use it every time you go.

    Below, we've got the full lowdown on travel credit cards, travel debit cards and prepaid cards – plus cash, if that's your preference.

  • Many overseas hotels, shops and ATMs ask this when you pay by card. If you choose pounds, the retailer does the currency conversion, but rates can often be pants compared with letting your card do it – see the euro analysis from MSE founder Martin Lewis for how this worked for him.

    If you've got a top overseas card, ALWAYS choose the local currency, as your card does the exchange and it's unbeatable.

    If you're using a bog-standard credit or debit card, it's touch and go. Sometimes the card machine will show you the 'non-sterling cash fee'. If this is under 2.5%, go with pounds. If it's over, pick the local currency.

  • Never just spend abroad with ANY card – use our tool below to find out what it'd cost you to pay with your existing plastic before slipping it into your suitcase. Then compare that with our top-pick travel cards which don't charge, so you're armed with the cheapest way to spend before you set off.

    Beware using any of these cards overseas

    Let's make this plain: don't use the cards in this section for spending overseas. Unless you're spending euros in the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Norway, the cards below charge 50p-£1.50 for transactions on top of their normal exchange-rate charge.

    Imagine you buy something for the equivalent of £5 in a shop in the USA. With the worst of these cards, it can end up costing £6.60 with the fee and charges.

    The cards with a spending charge

    Debit card Exchange load (mark-up) ATM charge (1) Spending charge (1)
    TSB (2) 2.99% 1.5% (min £2, max £4.50) £1
    Bank of Scotland 2.99% £1.50 50p
    Lloyds Bank 2.99% £1.50 50p (3)
    Halifax 2.99% £1.50 50p

    (1) Except on payments in euros within the European Economic Area (EEA). (2) Excludes TSB's Spend & Save Plus account which has no overseas fees. (3) Excludes Lloyds' Platinum, Premier and Mayfair accounts which all have no overseas purchase fees.

  • Use a credit card to buy currency at a bureau de change or online through our TravelMoneyMax comparison tool and you risk falling foul of a hidden charge.

    That's because buying currency is counted as a cash withdrawal, so you could face a myriad of fees. These include cash withdrawal fees, interest or even a charge from the currency exchange for using a credit card.

    Some card providers also treat loading a prepaid card using a credit card as a cash withdrawal. 

    So if you're buying currency or loading a prepaid card, ALWAYS use a debit card, which isn't allowed to charge this fee, or withdraw cash and pay with that instead.

  • Many car hire firms won't accept a debit or prepaid card when you come to pick up your car, and will instead need a credit card. As you'll usually be paying (or leaving the deposit) in the foreign currency, and this can be a substantial amount of money, a specialist overseas card is particularly good for this.

  • Are you part of the 'overseas wallet or purse' club? Martin's pioneered this, and it's a clever way to make sure you're prepared on holiday. His rationale is that there are some things you only need when abroad:

    • Specialist overseas plastic. These tend to be pretty poor for UK use, so leave it in your overseas wallet until you go away.

    • Free GHIC/EHIC for emergency medical issues in Europe. See our guide on how to get or renew your free GHIC/EHIC card.

    • Driving licence & international driving permit. Check out when and why you need to take these in our full Driving licence renewal guide.

    • ESTA number for US travel. Check out our ESTA application guide.

    • Leftover currency. Left over from previous trips – good if you can't get to a cash machine right away.

The best travel money options

Which type of travel money you should use mainly depends on your preferences as each has advantages and disadvantages. There are five main forms of payment to choose from:

Option 1: Travel credit cards

Spend on a credit card abroad and normally your card provider gets near-perfect rates, but then adds a 3%-ish 'non-sterling exchange fee'. This means that every £100 worth of euros or dollars costs you £103, and some add even more fees on top.

Specialist credit cards don't add this, so you get the same rate the bank does. Yet ONLY use one if you set up a direct debit to repay IN FULL each month or the interest dwarfs the exchange rate gain. As with any credit card, you'll need to pass a credit check to get a travel credit card.

Travel credit cards are good if... Travel credit cards may not be right if...

✔️ You want near-perfect exchange rates

⚠️ You've a poor credit score
✔️ You want Section 75 protection

⚠️You won't repay IN FULL every month

See our Top cards for travelling abroad guide for more options, though our two top picks are...

Top travel credit cards for new cardholders 

Bear in mind that a travel debit card could be cheaper. If you're happy opening a new app-only current account and loading funds before you go, you can get near-perfect exchange rates and up to 1% cashback on most spending worldwide with a top travel debit card.

MoneySavingExpert's Credit Card Eligibility Calculator, with the Halifax Clarity card selected

Halifax Clarity Mastercard

The Halifax Clarity card has no fees on overseas spending and low ATM interest – plus £20 cashback on your first spend. Spend just 1p within 90 days of getting the card to get the cashback.


You don't get charged interest on spending abroad as long as you repay IN FULL, but you will if you make cash withdrawals (about 5p per £100 per day) – so try to minimise these.

- No fees on spending or ATM withdrawals overseas
- 23.94% to 28.94% interest on cash withdrawals, charged daily until it's paid off

- 22.9% rep APR interest



Check eligibility (1)

MoneySavingExpert's Credit Card Eligibility Calculator, with the Barclaycard Rewards card selected

Barclaycard Rewards Visa
A solid alternative as it charges no fees or interest on spending AND overseas cash withdrawals, provided you repay in full. Plus you get an ongoing 0.25% cashback on almost all spending.

- No fees on spending or ATM withdrawals overseas
- No interest on cash withdrawals if repaid IN FULL
- 0.25% cashback on most spending

- 28.9% rep APR interest

Check eligibility

(1) Halifax has asked us to link only to our eligibility calculator – as it doesn't have this card available to apply for directly. | See all official APR examples.

Warning. Withdraw cash on a credit card and it's marked on your credit file

Withdrawing cash on some of the top specialist overseas credit cards is usually a cheap option. However, it can have unintended consequences as it's recorded on your credit report. This isn't necessarily bad, but if you apply for a loan or other credit soon after, the new lender might see it as a sign that you've no cash and you're so desperate for it, you're willing to pay high interest to get it.

In isolation, the negative effect of withdrawing cash is minor and shouldn't be the root cause of a lender rejecting you. But if it's combined with other negatives on your credit report, it doesn't look good. To be safe, if you've an important credit application to make, such as a mortgage, it's probably worth avoiding withdrawing cash on your credit card for the few months before the application.

See Withdrawing cash on a credit card for full information.

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Option 2: Travel debit cards

You can also get debit cards that don't charge 'non-sterling transaction fees'. Here, you usually need to apply for a new bank account. But, unlike with the credit cards above, our top picks only do a 'soft' credit check, which means the application for the card itself won't affect your ability to get credit in the future.

If accepted, you can just use these as a secondary bank account without switching bank, but unlike with a credit card, you will need to pay cash into the account before using it, which some may find a pain.

Travel debit cards are good if... Travel debit cards may not be right if...

✔️ You're happy to open a (new) bank account to get one

⚠️ You switch from a better account to get one

✔️ You frequently withdraw cash, as there are no charges

⚠️You want Section 75 protection (though they do allow chargebacks)

For more debit card options, see Top cards for travelling abroad. Our top picks are...

Top travel debit cards 

Chase's own webpage where you can open its current account



Fee-free spending and cash withdrawals worldwide, plus 1% cashback for at least a year. Unlike the credit cards above, Chase only runs a 'soft' credit check when you apply – so there's no permanent mark on your credit report. To use Chase, you'll need a device with at least iOS 14.1 or Android 8.1.


You get 1% cashback on most debit card spending for at least a year (max £15/month), though there are some exclusions. There's no minimum pay-in required in the first year, but you'll have to pay in £1,500+/month after that to continue getting cashback.


If you're thinking of switching to Chase, or using it as your main bank account, read our Chase review.

- No fees on spending or at ATMs
- ATM limits: £500/day, max £1,500/month overseas

- 1% cashback on most spend for at least a year
- Soft credit check


First Direct

Fee-free spending and cash withdrawals worldwide, plus FREE £175 if you switch over your existing bank account. First Direct has been top or near top of every customer service poll we've ever done, and comes with a linked 7% regular saver which you can put up to £300/month in, and gives many an ongoing £250 0% overdraft. Unlike with Chase above, here there's a full credit check.


Full info, including crucial eligibility criteria, in our First Direct review.

- No fees on spending or at ATMs
- ATM limits: £500/day

- FREE £175 if you switch & TOP service
- Full credit check


Top alternative debit cards 

We've more choices below if neither of the above suit – all are decent picks in their own right and are fee-free to spend on abroad, though some charge interest or have ATM fees/limits.

  • Via our link, Currensea Mastercard debit card newbies get £10 cashback when spending £100+ in any foreign currency within the first six months. The Currensea card works a little differently to the other credit and debit cards featured here, as you link it to your existing bank account via Open Banking. Then, when you spend or withdraw on the Currensea card, it charges your linked current account in pounds (via direct debit), neatly avoiding the non-sterling transaction fees and ATM fees that most banks charge.

    Rates for popular currencies like euros and US dollars can be slightly worse than the above cards, though there's not much in it. And if you prefer the idea of something that's linked to an existing account, the cashback is a bonus. Full info in our Currensea review.

  • With Starling's Mastercard debit card, all overseas spending and ATM withdrawals are fee-free and interest-free (max six withdrawals/day, max £300/day), and like Chase above it only requires an ID check instead of a full credit-check. Full info in our Starling review.

  • New app-only bank Kroo's Visa debit card is entirely fee-free for overseas spending. However, overseas ATM withdrawals are only fee-free up £200/month (there's a 3% fee on anything withdrawn over this limit), and its website indicates that there will be ATM withdrawal fees from 31 October. It also pays 4.35% AER savings interest on up to £500,000, and only requires an ID check to open. Read our full Kroo review.

Option 3: Prepaid travel cards

Here, you load with cash before you travel, then use it like a debit card. If you lose it, you can call the provider to block the card and protect your cash.

Prepaid cards' big advantage is that you can choose to exchange cash in advance, locking in a rate, rather than getting the exchange rate when you spend as you would with a credit or debit card. This means you'll know exactly how much you have to spend in the foreign currency during your trip, but will also mean you're subject to currency fluctuations – for better or worse.

However, there are a few places that don't accept them – car hire firms and pay-at-pump petrol stations are the major ones, but there are a few others to watch out for.

Prepaid travel cards are good if... Prepaid travel cards may not be right if...

✔️  You want to lock in a rate

⚠️ You want the absolute best rates

✔️ You want to stick to a budget

⚠️You need to pay by credit card (for example, you need to hire a car)

✔️ You lose it/it's stolen (unlike cash, your balance is protected if you report it immediately) ⚠️ You want Section 75 protection (though they do allow chargebacks)

Our top pick is below, though see our full review and more options in Prepaid travel cards.

Top prepaid travel card

Revolut's own webpage where you can sign up for an account to access its standard plan


(standard plan)
Perfect interbank rates (marginally higher than Mastercard/Visa rates) during the week, though watch out at weekends. You can spend up to £1,000 per 30-day period with no charges on weekdays (UK time) – it charges 1% above this and at weekends. You can lock in a rate with 29 currencies by exchanging in advance, just make sure to do this on a weekday. The card usually costs £4.99, plus you pay ATM fees on more than £200/month.

- £4.99 card delivery fee
- Uses interbank exchange rate Mon to Fri (i)
- First five/£200 of overseas ATM withdrawals fee-free per rolling month, 2% after (min £1)
- Can exchange 29 currencies in advance

- App-only




Perfect interbank rates, though there's a small exchange fee. The fee depends on the currency – for example, exchanging pounds to euros has a 0.35% fee – but would beat Revolut at weekends if you'd prefer not to exchange a set amount in advance. It also has two fee-free cash withdrawals up to £200 each month, above that there's a charge of 1.75% + 50p.

- £7 card delivey fee

- Uses interbank exchange rate plus min 0.39% fee

- Two ATM withdrawals per month free up to £200/mth, 1.75% + 50p above

- Can exchange 40 currencies in advance

- App and online




(i) If you spend at weekends (UK time) it adds a 1% fee to its rates, unless you've locked in a rate on a weekday. There's an additional anytime 1% fee on amounts more than £1,000 in a single month, and on Thai baht.

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Option 4: Foreign currency

We asked founder Martin Lewis how he gets the best rate on foreign currencies using bureaux de change. He said: "While personally if I need cash, I use my specialist card and tend to withdraw it from an ATM at the airport as soon as I arrive. Yet if we focus only on bureau de change...

In general it's a better bet to get cash before you go, as you can research the cheapest rates (use TravelMoneyMax). Otherwise travel abroad and you're blind to what's out there and especially in tourist resorts you can find poor rates and limited competition." 

"I'm not saying overseas bureaus can't undercut UK ones, it's just they have to be very cheap to beat the UK's cheapest, and it's unlikely you'll stumble on that randomly. The exception is if you know of a specific bureau that may give very good rates, for example you go to the same place every year. Then absolutely if you know what you're doing, wait." 

Our TravelMoneyMax tool compares foreign exchange rates at about 16 online bureaux and orders them by how much currency you'll actually get after all fees and charges.

Though beware, pay a UK bureau by credit (not debit) card and it counts as a cash withdrawal, so there's a fee and interest even if you fully repay – best to always use a debit card or cash to buy.

Getting cash is good if... Getting cash is bad if...

✔️  You want to lock in a rate

⚠️ You want the absolute best rates

✔️ You want to stick to a budget

⚠️You need to pay by credit card and/or want Section 75 protection

✔️ You have a secure place to keep it ⚠️ It's stolen

What should I do if I have leftover currency after a trip?

You have a few options if you've a few leftover coins or notes after your trip...

  1. Save it for your next trip. If it's a common currency from a country you'll go back to, then just store it safely at home ready for your next trip. 

  2. Find a friend (or a friend of a friend) who needs that currency. If you won't go back, but your currency's for a common holiday destination, see if you've friends, or contacts on social media groups, planning a trip there. If so, look up the 'spot rate' (perfect rate, eg on and agree to sell at that price, then you both win.

  3. Sell it back to a bureau de change. Sometimes if you bought currency from a particular place, it'll give you a buyback promise at a preferential rate. Yet, if this is what you're doing, always check the Buyback tab on MSE's TravelMoneyMax currency tool, to make sure it's a good deal.

This won't be the case if you just returned from a trip, but if you have other currency from previous trips, and it's old, or even defunct (eg French francs), check out MSE Rhiannon's leftover currency blog, where she has tips of companies that may buy it from you - though don't expect to get paid what it's 'worth' at face value. 

Quick questions on buying currency

  • Should I buy holiday currency in advance?

    Martin recorded the video below in 2017, and while the info about Article 50 is no longer relevant, the rest still applies today.

    Martin weighs up whether you should buy holiday cash before going on your trip
    Embedded YouTube Video

    In summary...

    Without a crystal ball, no one knows if the pound will be stronger or weaker in the future. Anyone who tells you otherwise is merely speculating.

    If you're concerned about currency volatility before you head away, you could choose to buy half now and half later. Do this and you'll be less affected by currency swings. 

    Whether you buy now or later, the key is to get the best possible rate at the time. 

  • Can't I just change cash at the airport?

    Using an airport bureau is the easy option, but it's such a waste. Airport and ferry port rates are usually dismal, as they know they're the last port of call and you're a captive customer.

    Far better that you use TravelMoneyMax before you go or, if you've left it too late, at least order in advance online to pick up at the airport to get better rates.

  • Won't I get a better deal if I change cash at a local bureau de change on my trip?

    In general you don't get a better rate changing your pounds to euros, dollars, lire or dong once you're in that country than you do here. Yet that doesn't mean there aren't a few local bureaux overseas that may give tip-top rates.

    The problem is there's no way of knowing until you're there, and as rates vary every day, once you're there, comparing with what was available back home is tough.

    Therefore we suggest for safety you sort it before you go (if you can – some currencies, such as the Lao kip, aren't available outside the country). The big advantage of that is you can use TravelMoneyMax to find the best rate from about 16 bureaux.

    And getting a top rate here should usually beat relying on an unknown rate from a one-off local bureau once you're there.

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