One of the common travel questions that arrive in my inbox is: should I exchange currency before I travel? Firstly, let me highlight an important task that you need to complete before departing the country: notify your bank or credit card company that you’re going to be abroad. Tell them the countries and dates of your travel. The last issue you need is for your cards to be frozen.
Use the ATM in your destination for best rates
Using your debit card at an ATM in the destination will provide you with a better exchange rate, but this will depend on if your bank charges for using your card abroad. The Nationwide FlexPlus account offers free ATM withdrawals abroad, and with the Halifax Clarity credit card, you can use your card to purchase with no fee. Check the rates with your bank before you travel.
Never use airports for currency exchange
To play it safe, it is a good idea to exchange a small amount of currency, so that if the ATM’s are not functioning on arrival, and the taxi / public transport companies do not allow payment by card then you have some funds. Take the time to research how much it is going to cost you to get to your accommodation so you know how much to exchange.
Never, ever, exchange currency at the airport because you will receive a very low rate – instead, go to the high-street and visit the Post Office (in the UK), your own bank, or, a travel agency. Make sure you take the time to compare the rates. Money Saving Expert has a really good tool to help you find the best companies for exchanging currency.
Research your arrival point
You need to think about how accessible your money is going to be when you arrive at your destination? Are there ATM’s at your destination where you can withdraw money on your debit or credit card. Bear in mind that some ferry ports and train stations do not have ATM’s, never assume.
Situations that can cause you problems
Personally, I’ve never purchased currency prior to my travels because it’s easier to go to an ATM machine on arrival and withdraw enough cash to get me to my accommodation.
There have been a few occasions though where the ATM hasn’t worked and not every taxi or public transport company will offer payment via bank card, so you could find yourself in a difficult situation. Thankfully, when this has happened, my Airbnb host has come to the rescue.
Another situation has occurred where the ATM hasn’t accepted my MasterCard but it accepted my Visa debit card, so, having at least two bank cards will save you a lot of aggravation.
Have a back-up bank card
My advice would be to take a debit, credit and pre-paid travel cash card for emergencies. That way you have three ways to gain access to funds while abroad. It’s a good idea to speak to your bank and find out how they would send a replacement card if it was lost while you’re travelling.
When you’re travelling long term it’s important to research and keep your options open with how you can access your money while abroad. Take the time to read my guide on travelling with bank cards, as this will provide you with more advice about this very important topic.