If you’re travelling abroad at half term, escaping to your timeshare resort for the Christmas holidays, taking a new year’s break or off skiing in January, it’s worth knowing the ins and outs of how to make your pounds go further abroad.
In fact, the recent Consumer Focus’ super complaint to the OFT over foreign currency dealers’ unscrupulous charges specifically highlights the often confusing system that holidaymakers to negotiate when they need to get foreign cash for a trip.
Here are ten ground rules to make your foreign money last longer:
Learn the lingo
First of all, knowing the financial lingo is important – as in “sell rate”, “buy rate” and “interbank” or “bank to bank rate”.
Know your currency
Secondly, don’t assume the currency you need is even available in the UK. Moroccan Dirhams for example cannot be exchanged internationally, brought home, or purchased – even at airports in the UK – before travelling to Morocco (but euros are widely accepted there and you can change money when you arrive at the Moroccan airport).
Cuba on the other hand has two currencies, one for tourists and one for locals so it’s worth reading up on the currency you’ll need before you go. Some places in Spain and other EU countries have signs up saying they will not accept €200 or €500 notes, including petrol stations.
Track exchange rates
If you know ahead of time when you’ll be going away, it’s worth watching the exchange rate as the daily “interbank” rates change because of currency fluctuations, so buy when the rate is climbing.
Rates vary so shops around
Shop around among providers. The Post Office is one of the most popular places to buy foreign currency and shops like Marks & Spencers have convenient bureaux de change but the rates vary – again it’s worth Googling to compare rates. Visit MoneySavingExpert.com and Travel Money Max comparision websites to get the latest rates and best places to exchange.
Discount for large sums of cash
Need a lot of spending money? You can often get an extra 0.5% on a large sum, so if you plan to exchange a lot of cash it can make a difference.
Web or high street?
Generally you’ll be better off using the internet where rates tend to be lower, and you can order cash online to pick up instore or get delivered to you by post.
You’ll save by buying foreign currency with cash and converting the actual notes rather than using your credit or debit card as there’s usually a fee, starting at around £1.50 for an exchange transaction.
Travellers’ cheques are a safe way to carry “cash” abroad, they can be replaced if they’re lost or stolen and the most widely accepted are American Express. There are limitations, though. They’re not accepted everywhere and only six currencies are available.
If carrying cash makes you feel uneasy, another option is a pre-paid card. You load the card with funds before leaving the UK and use it like a direct debit card but check the Ts & Cs first and like travellers’ cheques the card may not be accepted absolutely everywhere, particularly smaller shops or restaurants or less touristy areas where cash is often still king.
Don’t be caught short
Last but not least, make sure you have a bit extra for unforeseen emergencies, e.g. on a Sunday when shops or banks may be closed…you can always keep any left over notes or coins for your next trip.