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How to compare travel money to get the best deal


nigel woollsey

Nigel Woollsey

Online Writer

At a glance

  • Consider using a mix of cash and cards when travelling.
  • Look at the fees when choosing a prepaid travel money card.
  • Try to find a travel credit card that has low or no foreign transaction fees.

Travel, they say, broadens the mind. Whether you are soaking up some sunshine on a Mediterranean beach, hoping to bag a bargain in the local bazaar or sightseeing on the Champs-Elysees, it pays to be smart about how you are paying for goods and services. Otherwise, travel might also be broadening your bank statement with a host of unwelcome extra charges. To help you compare travel money options, we’ve put together a handy guide on how best to conserve your holiday cash.

What’s the best way to take money abroad?

When going on holiday, you should consider the following travel money options:

  1. Cash – local currency is a useful backstop.
  2. Prepaid money card – simple to load but check any usage, load and ongoing fees.
  3. Direct Debit Card - payment card linked to your own bank account.
  4. Travel credit card – pay in local currency to ensure you get your card’s exchange rate.
  5. Debit card for travel – check your account’s fees for international payments.

Where to get travel money

You can buy travel money online, at a travel agent on the high street, from your bank or from the post office.

Which is the best travel money card?

You can get a travel money card from foreign currency experts online, at a travel agent on the high street or from the post office. 

Should I take cash on holiday?

For many destinations, taking some local currency with you on holiday is very useful to make sure you are covered on the occasion where card payment is not accepted. Cash, unlike debit and credit cards, will not fluctuate in value due to changes in exchange rates.

While cash remains the most tangible and one of the simplest ways to manage your holiday spending, it does have some drawbacks. If you’re unlucky and your cash is lost or stolen, it cannot be retrieved or cancelled unlike with a credit, debit or prepaid card. While your travel insurance might cover this, it’s likely you won’t receive your money back until after your holiday has finished. 

Not only this, but carrying around large sums of cash anywhere (even here in the UK) is not a smart thing to do with pickpockets and other criminals actively targeting tourists in busy urban locations and at popular tourist attractions.

What is a travel money card?

Travel money cards are also called prepaid travel cards or currency cards. They are a way of paying for goods and services while abroad. They can be used in the same places as debit or credit cards, but they are not a form of credit, and most are not attached to your personal bank account. The Currensea Card does link to your bank account and is set up as a direct debit to take payments from your bank when you use your card abroad so saving the overseas transaction fees. 

Travel money cards are a safe and convenient payment method and accepted worldwide (subject to acceptance of MasterCard, VISA or American Express.)

How does a travel money card work?

Prepaid travel money cards are easy to understand and use. They allow you to load the card with funds and exchange this from your local currency to that of the country you are visiting.

Customers can then use these prepaid cards in the same way as they would a debit or credit card, paying for goods and services by presenting your card. The cost of purchases is deducted from the balance you have left on the card and as the card is loaded in local currency, there is no exchange rate to calculate. When this amount reaches zero then you will need to top up the card to continue using it. Additional funds can be added via an ATM, using PayPal or direct from a bank account or debit/credit card, although some prepaid travel money cards do have the ability to be ‘reloaded’.

Why should I use a travel money card?

Prepaid travel money cards are an excellent alternative to using your personal debit card or credit card while on holiday. Because they are separate from both your bank account and normal credit card, there is absolutely no way that criminals can use them to access funds held in either of these locations. Prepaid cards are also unable to be used as proof of identity – hence, even if a criminal was to get hold of your stolen or lost travel money card, they would not be able to use it to steal your identity or apply for any financial services in your name, such as opening a bank account or obtaining a credit card.

Who are travel money cards good for?

Travel money cards can help you to budget for your holiday and stop overspending. They only allow you to spend the funds on the card, which means they can help you to avoid getting into debt as they do not offer any form of overdraft or credit facility. Therefore, once your balance is zero, your choice is either to reload the card or forego buying that straw donkey you have your eye on!

They also do not require an affordability or credit check, making these a good option for those with a poor credit history who want the convenience and security of using a card, but cannot utilise a debit or credit card.

Can travel money cards be used online?

Absolutely – even though they are not debit cards they can be used anywhere the card network provider (Visa, Mastercard, Amex, etc) are welcomed, including online. Payments will be immediately deducted from your total fund.

Are travel money cards worth it?

Travel money cards provide an additional way to pay for goods and services when on holiday. They are safe, widely accepted and easy to use. However, they all come with different charging structures. The fees you should look out for include card fees, purchase transaction fees, ATM withdrawal fees and non-usage fees. You should also make sure you only use the card to buy goods in the currency it is loaded with; otherwise there will be an exchange rate applied to the card. Usually, prepaid cards are not the best card to use when you need to make a pre-authorised payment. These include hotels to cover room expenses during your stay or when hiring a car in case of damage. A pre-authorisation will effectively lock these funds out of use on your card.

Pros and cons of travel money cards

  • Easy to apply for with no credit checks required.
  • A great way to stick to a budget – once the money on the card runs out there is no credit facility to run up a debt.
  • Protects your identity – there are no ties to a holder’s bank account or credit card.
  • Safer, more secure and a move convenient alternative to carrying large sums of the local currency.
  • Can be used in the vast majority of stores and places where debit and credit cards are welcome.
  • Fees! Check these carefully – prepaid cards may charge you a monthly fee (even if you don’t use it) and they’ll almost certainly charge you for making cash withdrawals at an ATM. Other fees can include an application fee or a charge every time you use the card.
  • Be aware of pre-authorisations – such as for car hire firms and some hotel reservations – as these lock away your funds.
  • They have no credit facility for unseen expenses or emergencies.

Moneyfacts tip

Moneyfacts tip nigel woollsey

Prepaid travel cards are a convenient way to help manage your holiday spending and not get into debt. Make sure you check for the fees associated with having this type of card.

Should I use my credit card abroad?

Yes, but only if your credit card has a low or even no charge for transactions abroad. Travel credit cards give you greater security than cash as they can be cancelled if your card is lost or stolen. They also give you protection on faulty purchases between £100 and £30,000, as per the Consumer Credit Act. If you decide to use your credit card for your holiday, try to pay off your balance in full every month.

Find out more about travel credit cards.

Should I pay by debit card when I go on holiday?

You can also find that some debit cards offer no or low fees to use these when outside of the UK. You should check with your debit card provider if there are specific areas such as Europe where these low or no fees apply. Some providers will have a tiered rate of charges based on your destination or currency.

Paying for your holiday with a credit card is of course another option. For an in-depth look at why this might be a better way to pay then see our booking a holiday using a credit card guide.

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