How to pick up foreign cash on the cheap

Man paying with a contactless credit card © iStockphotos
You can lock in a holiday rate with prepaid cards

Ruth Jackson-Kirby outlines several hassle-free options for getting foreign cash that will keep your holiday costs down.

The days of exchanging your travellers’ cheques for local currency are long gone. Now you have a wealth of options for how you get your hands on your euros, dollars or ringgits when you go on holiday.

“Holidaymakers should first check whether their credit card and debit cards can be used abroad for spending and withdrawing money from ATMs without extra charges,” says Laura Shannon in The Mail on Sunday. Nationwide, Cumberland Building Society, Monese, Monzo, Revolut, Starling and Transferwise all allow customers to use their debit cards for spending and withdrawing cash fee-free while abroad. All of them have “better than average” currency-conversion rates too.

That’s the easiest way to spend abroad. However, a bit of forward-planning could get you a better exchange rate as well as fee-free spending. “If rate certainty or tight control of your budget is what you want, then prepaid cards work well as once loaded, you know how much you have to spend and can’t go over that unless you reload,” says Helen Saxon on Moneysavingexpert.com. You can “lock in a rate days, months or even years” before you go abroad.

Several companies now offer currency cards, including FairFX, Travelex and Revolut. But MoneySavingExpert recommends WeSwap. WeSwap allows you to exchange your pounds for 17 currencies, so you can buy money whenever you like the look of the exchange rate in the run-up to your holiday. Plus, you can get the interbank exchange rate – the best possible exchange rate – for the first six months as long as you are willing to wait seven days from loading your card to being able to spend the foreign currency. After that, WeSwap adds a 1% fee on top of the interbank rate. But avoid small cash withdrawals with your WeSwap card while you are abroad. You’ll be charged a €1.75/$2.25 fee every time you withdraw less than €200/$200.

Avoid airport currency exchanges

If you’ve left it too late to use a prepaid card, don’t buy your currency at the airport. They know you have left it to the last minute and have no choice, so their rates are extortionate. Instead, if you have more than 24 hours before you leave, order your cash online. MoneySavingExpert’s TravelMoneyMax.com tool will show you where you can get the best rate.

“Plenty of providers offer a next-day currency delivery service, which is free depending on how much you order,” Andrew Hagger from MoneyComms told The Mail on Sunday.

And planning ahead and buying your currency before you get to the airport could mean you get as much as 100 extra euros, says Shannon. This is assuming you buy £1,000 of euros with the best rate offered by No1 Currency.