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Foreign Currency Exchange for the UK-Ireland, suggestions please

Foreign Currency Exchange for the UK-Ireland, suggestions please

Old Aug 2, 18, 12:25 pm
  #1  
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Foreign Currency Exchange for the UK-Ireland, suggestions please

Thank you in advance for your help. I will be traveling to the British Isles (cruise and land vacation from the US). My question is what is the least expensive way to get local currency for London/Scotland for Pound Sterling and Euro's for Ireland. I plan on using my credit card for most transactions but want local currency for small expenditures.
1. Can a Visa card be used to get local cash from a bank or is a Debit card required?
2. Is is better to exchange US dollars for expected need for currency before leaving the US?
3. Considering we will be using a credit card whenever possible what is the amount of pounds you would suggest for excursion tips and small purchases for 6 days in London and how much in Euro's for 2 days in Ireland?
This is our first trip to the UK, what are your best tips for using/exchanging dollars for local currency?
Thank you again, I find that Flyer Talkers have the best information and generally a kind response for those needing advice.
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Old Aug 2, 18, 12:44 pm
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99% of the time the best bang for your buck and easiest approach is to use your ATM/debit card just like you do in the US. Be sure you have a four digit PIN on the card, since other lengths might not be accepted. Check with your bank before you leave to make sure they know where you're going, so they don't block the card. Using your ATM card gives you something close to the wholesale conversion rate that the foreign bank and your bank give each other. Using your Visa credit card will generally result in hefty fees since interest and financing charges kick in immediately and they are usually a higher rate than the interest rate charged for purchases. Check your card agreement, and while you're at it make sure your card doesn't have a foreign transaction fee. If you do insist on using a credit card for cash, then be sure you know your PIN.

Just remember that when you enter the amount of money you want, it's in the local currency. It'll be automatically converted to dollars and debited from your account.

If you're uncertain about it you can always get a token amount of pounds or euros from your hometown bank before you leave, but it'll be a little more expensive.

Nobody on here can tell you how much money to take out. You can decide based on how much your bank charges for ATMs that aren't its ATMs, and what you think you'll need cash for. I usually get around $75 worth of local currency to start in western Europe, since just about everyone takes credit cards (Visa/MC, not Discover or Amex).

If your credit cards support PIN entry for purchases (not cash advances) be sure you know the PIN. Not many US cards do support this, however. Also be sure you tell your card issuer you're going to the UK/Ireland so they don't block the account.

Bon voyage!
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Last edited by gfunkdave; Aug 2, 18 at 12:51 pm
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Old Aug 2, 18, 12:51 pm
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Thanks GfunkDave....I went to our Credit Union and didn't get very clear answers about using our debit card in the UK. Their answer was "It is up to the BANKS in the UK to decide if they will take our debit card". Uh, Thanks.
Our Debit card doesn't have a Master Card/Visa Logo. I have a plain Jane Debit card that I use a 4 digit pin # on it. Do you need a MasterCard/Visa Logo on a debit card or a Debit card from a Major Bank or will the plain Credit Union plain debit card work in the UK?
Do you think I should get a Debit card with a Master Card Visa Logo on it?
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Old Aug 2, 18, 12:54 pm
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Having a debit card with a Visa/MC logo will make life much easier, since they are near-universally accepted. Look at your card and see what networks it's a part of. Cirrus is one...I forget the others. If it has one of those network logos, then you can use it at any ATM with that logo. I think Cirrus is nearly the same as MasterCard and fairly universal. Not sure about others. What's the credit union?

If you're going to rely on a debit card for cash, it would make sense to open a checking account with a different bank that issues a Visa/MC branded debit card for this trip. I use Ally Bank, an online-only bank that issues a MasterCard debit card. They don't charge fees for most things and you can do everything online. They do need you to tell them if you are going overseas, however. I didn't do it when I went to Peru. My card worked once and then the next ATM I used swallowed it and I had to wait until I got home for a replacement.

edit: it's worth noting that Ally charges 1% fee for foreign ATM transactions
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Last edited by gfunkdave; Aug 2, 18 at 1:00 pm
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Old Aug 2, 18, 3:23 pm
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Please continue to follow this discussion in the UK Forum
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Old Aug 3, 18, 12:12 am
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Originally Posted by Oxnardjan View Post
Thank you in advance for your help. I will be traveling to the British Isles (cruise and land vacation from the US). My question is what is the least expensive way to get local currency for London/Scotland for Pound Sterling and Euro's for Ireland. I plan on using my credit card for most transactions but want local currency for small expenditures.
1. Can a Visa card be used to get local cash from a bank or is a Debit card required?
2. Is is better to exchange US dollars for expected need for currency before leaving the US?
3. Considering we will be using a credit card whenever possible what is the amount of pounds you would suggest for excursion tips and small purchases for 6 days in London and how much in Euro's for 2 days in Ireland?
This is our first trip to the UK, what are your best tips for using/exchanging dollars for local currency?
Thank you again, I find that Flyer Talkers have the best information and generally a kind response for those needing advice.
I travel solo so some of my recommendations might need revision depending on the number of additional travelers (significant other/children). I've done approximately a dozen trips to the UK/Ireland since 2010, including a six-week journey around Scotland in 2014. I have not needed more than 50 pounds in currency on a trip to the UK or 50 euros in currency on my trips to Ireland, and I always have currency to spare at the end of my trip. I hang on to any leftover cash since I know I'm returning to these countries fairly regularly but if you want to convert your money, don't use Travelex or some similar service at the airport where you'll probably pay a conversion fee. You'll almost certainly find a Starbucks nearby just before you leave, and many have cards unique to their country. Get one last souvenir, put your remaining money on your new Starbucks card (it'll convert itself to US currency), and wait for the question from your barista back in the US asking about where you got your cool card. Your local bank or credit union or AAA branch will provide pounds or euros before you leave if you want the security of having the currency in your hands before you leave, but if you do that, I really wouldn't take any more than 50 pounds or euros, and I suspect that 25 would tide you over until you get to a city ATM.

Credit card acceptance is much more universal now than when I began traveling sporadically to those countries 20 years ago. Bank ATMs are generally available, even in small towns of 1000 or so. If your travels will focus on the bigger cities, which appears likely given two days in Ireland--suggesting Dublin--and six in the UK--suggesting London for at least part of the trip--you should have no more problems finding an ATM than you would in the US. If you travel to a small town or are part of a tour group doing an excursion where you leave the driving to someone else, it may help if you get money before you go there, just in case a town's sole ATM is not working or the bus driver doesn't take you anywhere near an ATM.

My biggest caveat in regards to credit card use in European countries is to keep all spending in the local currency. You'll find that stores, restaurants, etc. will ask if you want the bill totaled up in dollars or the local currency. Accepting your bill in dollars will include a 3-5% fee tacked on for the convenience--which they will not mention. Since we now can monitor our credit card spending online fairly easily, including seeing the dollar amount spent on a particular purchase, I see no need to tack on an extra fee so that you know immediately how much you just spent in dollars. I actually create a fairly liberal daily budget in my head for expenditures in the local currency (current exchange rate for one pound is 1.3, for one euro, 1.16) and just carry over the unused amount to the next day. That keeps me from accepting the dynamic currency conversion offered because I'm already thinking in terms of the local currency. By the way, although I haven't seen this in my travels, I recently read an article talking about some bank ATMs starting to offer a similar currency conversion when you withdraw cash--with exactly the same additional fee for the conversion. Obviously, you don't want to pay that either. Of course, you should be sure the credit card or cards you use over there do not charge foreign transaction fees, which may range from 1-3%.

As gfunkdave mentioned, Visa and MC are more generally accepted than Amex and Discover although I am finding Amex more accepted than 20 years ago. Credit cards are also accepted pretty generally in small towns, but there can be instances where cash is the only form of currency accepted. I found this as recently as 2014 when the lone service station in a small town about 30 miles north of Aberdeen took cash only for gasoline.

I've found that tips of 5-10 pounds per person for a tour guide are gratefully accepted, but I'm no expert on this. Remember that in most restaurants, tips are not required as the servers and bartenders are paid a much more generous wage than in the US. In fact, in 2012, I tried to leave a bartender at a pub in Dublin a tip, and he looked at the money on the bar and said, "what is this?", pushing the money back towards me. Even if a restaurant includes a tip line on a bill (and many more of them do nowadays, probably in anticipation of American tourists), I've read through several sources that 10% is fine.

Hope this proves helpful. Have a great trip!
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Old Aug 3, 18, 4:22 am
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Living in London, I barely use cash anymore - probably once a week only. With the advent of contactless processing, cash is really declining. However, the OP should be aware that cash is still used much more outside London and also, in small stores, they don't like it if you use a card for purchase, often stipulating a 5 or 10 minimum. In stores where they don't get American tourists they will struggle if the card isn't Chip and PIN, but I shouldn't imagine the OP will be going that far off the beaten track.

For this sort of travel, I always use my Revolut card, an international stored value card (Revolut is one of several Fintechs doing this sort of thing). It's pre-loaded but gives wholesale exchange rates in all the supported currencies (which obviously include $, and €) and has no charges whatsoever. The exchange rates are far better than those in regular debit card transactions in ATMs, and because of this, and the ability to swap the money back into $, it's perfect for using for small but unpredictable cash amounts.

Also note that no bank ATMs charge fees in the UK (can't speak for Ireland) but some non-bank ATMs (usually those in convenience stores and other such locations) do charge fees: however they legally are required to disclose such fees before the transaction occurs. If you are using your own bank's debit card, your bank will probably charge a fee for each use.
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Old Aug 3, 18, 7:56 am
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I find when I'm traveling outside the US, in general, it's easiest to carry a small amount of cash for small purchases and for tipping (although not as common in Ireland and the UK). It also comes in handy for the different kiosks in Europe that don't take US chip & signature credit cards.

All the above advice about using ATM's, especially bank ATM's, is solid. I'd suggest carrying 50 euros in Ireland for 2 days, and probably around 100 pounds in London. Also make sure your credit card doesn't have a foreign transaction fee.
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Old Aug 4, 18, 8:59 am
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It's always tempting to show just how knowledgeable we are about how to handle money when travelling in another country. But before showing off my own vast knowledge of the subject, I would first want to know a bit more about this trip of yours Oxnardjan.

You mention it will be your first trip to the UK and Ireland. Will it be your first trip to Europe overall as well? Do you plan to visit other parts of Europe on other trips after this? The reason I am asking is that if this is a one time, not likely to be repeated (to anywhere else in Europe) trip to Europe, then there really isn't any need for you to be looking at opening different bank accounts, getting different cards or finding out if your credit card charges currency exchange, etc.

For a one time trip, you just need the simplest solution to how to handle your money. If you are likely to visit Europe several times in the near/middle time span, then it starts to make sense to learn much more about the topic.

If it is a one time trip, I would suggest the following. Buy 100 GBP at home, who cares if it costs you an extra $10 to do so over other methods. The same with Euros, but only buy 50E. That should cover minor cash purchases for your 6 and 2 days respectively. Use your credit card for all major purchases/payments as you plan. Again, even if you are charged say 3% in exchange fees, who cares, over 8 days it will still add up to peanuts.

Getting the right cards and understanding how currency exchange works etc.only makes complete sense if you plan to visit Europe (or any other places in the world) on a more regular basis. A trip to a foreign country once every 3-5 years isn't worth the effort.

Iwildernova has given one piece of advice I would also stress. Make sure when using your credit card that you are paying in local currency, not US Dollars. Merchants etc. will often hand you the machine to enter your PIN number and you will see that before you do, there is a choice of paying in US Dollars or the local currency. Always choose the local currency. This is something called, 'dynamic currency conversion'. You don't need to really understand it other than to know that if you choose US Dollars it will cost you more.

Sometimes those who travel a lot tend to assume everyone does. I don't know why, other than you mention a cruise, (presumably from the US to the UK) and that tends to make me think this may well be a a one time thing for you.
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Old Aug 4, 18, 9:21 am
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Originally Posted by dulciusexasperis View Post
You mention it will be your first trip to the UK and Ireland. Will it be your first trip to Europe overall as well? Do you plan to visit other parts of Europe on other trips after this? The reason I am asking is that if this is a one time, not likely to be repeated (to anywhere else in Europe) trip to Europe, then there really isn't any need for you to be looking at opening different bank accounts, getting different cards or finding out if your credit card charges currency exchange, etc.
Your point about not opening accounts for a one-off trip is valid, but not even bothering to find out if your cc charges a fee? Seriously, that takes all of 2 minutes to find on the cc company website. Given OP has bothered to post on FT asking specifically for tips on this very point, it seems rather silly to discourage them from even finding that out.
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Old Aug 4, 18, 2:39 pm
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Originally Posted by lwildernorva View Post
[...] I recently read an article talking about some bank ATMs starting to offer a similar currency conversion when you withdraw cash--with exactly the same additional fee for the conversion. [...]
I saw that at a bank ATM in Toronto last year. The screen had a warning about not accepting the option to be charged in the card's native currency, something like "Decline knowing how much the transaction will debit your account."
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Old Aug 4, 18, 10:46 pm
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Originally Posted by serpens View Post
I saw that at a bank ATM in Toronto last year. The screen had a warning about not accepting the option to be charged in the card's native currency, something like "Decline knowing how much the transaction will debit your account."
I've seen that, in an ATM in France, if I'm not mistaken. A bit fishy. In addition to being asked twice, a huge YES and a small no buttons, there was this convoluted phrasing, something like: 'Do you really confirm that you wish to not be charged in a possibly more expensive and frightening european currency?' and then 'Are you sure you do not wish to not be charged in your own more convenient and familiar currency?'
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Old Aug 4, 18, 10:53 pm
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There can be over 15% to be gained/lost by chosing the "wrong" way to change money so worth spending some time researching as you are doing, not just for the cash but also for card spending. If you have a card (credit or debit) for an account that has no foreign currency charges, using it at a fee free ATM will usually get you the best deal as long as you opt out of DCC as already mentioned.
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Old Aug 5, 18, 9:26 am
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Originally Posted by Ldnn1 View Post


Your point about not opening accounts for a one-off trip is valid, but not even bothering to find out if your cc charges a fee? Seriously, that takes all of 2 minutes to find on the cc company website. Given OP has bothered to post on FT asking specifically for tips on this very point, it seems rather silly to discourage them from even finding that out.
It would be nice to hear back from the OP in regards to is this a one-off or will it be an ongoing thing Ldnn1. The reason I brought it up was after a similar post on another travel forum in which after a dozen or so people had spent their time giving extensive explanations about the ins and outs of international banking practices, etc., the OP came back and added that it was going to be their 'retirement trip of a lifetime'; unlikely to be repeated; and most importantly of all, everything during their 21 day 'tour of Europe' was included in their package price being paid at home, including meals. That meant, the only other expenditures they were likely to have would be small incidentals unless they decided to buy some big ticket item like a high priced Swiss watch or something. Everyone had in effect, wasted their time offering an education to someone who really had no need for it.

In regards to answering the OP's specific question, that depends on how you interpret just what the question they really wanted to ask was. The OP wrote, "My question is what is the least expensive way to get local currency for London/Scotland for Pound Sterling and Euro's for Ireland. I plan on using my credit card for most transactions but want local currency for small expenditures." You can take that literally or you can take it to mean, 'what is the best way under my given set of circumstances/situation, to deal with money on my trip?'

If you choose to take it literally and answer something like, 'first find out if your bank charges for currency conversion and if they do, go and get another card from a provider who does not charge one,' is that then going to be part of the 'best' way to handle it for a one-time trip? So I chose to ask the OP to clarify one-time/recurring first and gave an abbreviated explanation of why that answer should be provided first before getting into all the ins/outs beyond that.

So no, I did not discourage the OP from doing anything, I asked the OP to clarify before you or I or anyone else spends time writing a book on 'how to handle your money when travelling'. Writing the book first and then asking, 'do you need this book' is what I would say would be silly.

People asking questions in travel forums ask them based on their perception of the question they should ask and they can quite often be asking the wrong question or leaving out relative information in their OP, that would entirely change the answers they would be given, as in this case. It is up to those attempting to answer the questions, to first make sure they have all the relevant information on which to formulate the best answer to suit the circumstances.

If the OP is likely to spend say $1000 during their 8 days on land. what difference would it make if they knew their bank was going to charge them 3% extra? That's $30. If their transportation and hotels are all paid from home, that would leave only meals and incidentals and they could quite easily only spend an additional $1000 or less, in 8 days.

Originally Posted by ft101 View Post
There can be over 15% to be gained/lost by chosing the "wrong" way to change money so worth spending some time researching as you are doing, not just for the cash but also for card spending. If you have a card (credit or debit) for an account that has no foreign currency charges, using it at a fee free ATM will usually get you the best deal as long as you opt out of DCC as already mentioned.
Well yes, it makes sense to understand the ins and outs. However, I would again add the caveat of it not being best use of time for a 'one-off' situation as per above. The only exception to that is the Dynamic Currency Conversion issue which I agree every traveller should be aware of and decline.
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Old Aug 5, 18, 9:48 am
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As others have said, it depends on how much more you will travel. I have a Schwab Bank debit card which charges no foreign transaction fees and reimburses any ATM fees. The latter is not important for the UK and Ireland but is useful for travel within the US! As to the currency used, I had a couple of charges in Ireland which accidentally went through in USD and the premium was about 3%, which can mount up if you are paying for hotels, etc.
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