How to avoid getting ripped off abroad

Whilst the threat of torrential rain might put you off holidaying in the UK, going abroad has plenty of irritations too - especially in the form of extortionate bank charges.

Last year it suddenly became fashionable for the well-off to take their summer holidays in the UK. Instead of heading to Heathrow and beyond for the months of July and August, the City and all the professionals who leach their livings off it hit the A303. Status is now shown not by having enough money to fly the family to Nice in a private jet, but by having the wherewithal to afford the rent on a house in Rock in Cornwall for more than two weeks. Holidaying at home is just as popular this year only last week I was forced to listen to a hedge-fund manager's wife complaining about how even £5,000 a week wasn't getting her a nice seaside villa for August. But I wonder if fashion will change next year? Given the weather here (rain, rain and more rain), I imagine a large part of even the most status-conscious of the population will think that abroad doesn't look so bad after all.

That said, going abroad does come with its irritations: the sun might be shining, but the second you step off the plane you have effectively issued an invitation to your bank to rip you off. Use your debit card abroad and they'll first use a lousy exchange rate to work out how much your foreign currency will cost you. Then they'll charge you around 2.75% as an exchange-rate adjustment charge', and finally they'll add on a purchase fee' of a minimum of between £1 and £2 every time you use the card to make a purchase. And don't think you can avoid the charges by withdrawing cash, because you can't do that either you'll still get hit with the conversion charge and with another fee of between 1.5% and 2.5%, with an average minimum of £2, says Take out £100 and it will cost you £4.75. Take out small amounts often and that will add up fast.

So what can you do to cut the level of charges you pay? You could simply switch your business to Nationwide Building Society they charge no fees. But you might prefer to look at a prepaid currency card. The Sunday Times points to the Travelex Cash Passport Card as a possibility. This "can be loaded up with sterling, dollars, or euros" and once abroad used like any bank card with a Pin. But while this avoids bank charges, it comes with its own: $4.50 a go to use ATMs in the US and $3.50 if you don't use the card for 12 months, for example.

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Much better for those travelling in the eurozone, I think, is the new Caxton FX Card. You will still be charged a fee if you use this to get money out at an ATM (€2), but on the plus side there are no other charges and you will get one of the best exchange rates on the market. If I were going abroad this year, I'd be taking a Caxton Card. Sadly, I'm not: bang on trend, as ever, I'm spending August in Shetland.

Merryn Somerset Webb

Merryn Somerset Webb started her career in Tokyo at public broadcaster NHK before becoming a Japanese equity broker at what was then Warburgs. She went on to work at SBC and UBS without moving from her desk in Kamiyacho (it was the age of mergers).

After five years in Japan she returned to work in the UK at Paribas. This soon became BNP Paribas. Again, no desk move was required. On leaving the City, Merryn helped The Week magazine with its City pages before becoming the launch editor of MoneyWeek in 2000 and taking on columns first in the Sunday Times and then in 2009 in the Financial Times

Twenty years on, MoneyWeek is the best-selling financial magazine in the UK. Merryn was its Editor in Chief until 2022. She is now a senior columnist at Bloomberg and host of the Merryn Talks Money podcast -  but still writes for Moneyweek monthly. 

Merryn is also is a non executive director of two investment trusts – BlackRock Throgmorton, and the Murray Income Investment Trust.