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Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Travel money and foreign currency

You can use local currency, travellers’ cheques or pre-paid cards, and debit or credit cards while you are abroad. Find out how to get your travel money, what charges are involved and how to keep it safe.  

Foreign currency

You can buy foreign currency at:

  • banks
  • some travel agents
  • some Post Offices
  • bureaux de change in airports, ferry terminals and on some ships

Commission charges can vary, so check before you buy.

Not all currency exchanges supply coins, so ask about this. For example, you may need coins for luggage trolleys at the airport. 

If you want large amounts or an unusual currency, you may have to order in advance.

Check the exchange rate

The amount of currency that your British pound (or 'pound sterling') will buy depends on the exchange rate, which can vary from day to day.

Exchange rates are displayed where you change money. You can also check rates online by putting 'currency converter' or 'exchange rate' into a search engine. It is best to look on several websites and you should always check the rates are up to date.

The euro

Since 2002 the euro has replaced the old national currencies in the 16 countries of the 'euro area'. All euro notes and coins can be used in all countries in the euro area.

The euro area is:

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Cyprus
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Italy
  • Ireland
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • The Netherlands
  • Portugal
  • Spain
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia

The UK, Denmark and Sweden are not part of the euro area.

Exchanging old euro area currencies for the euro

In most cases, banknotes that were legal tender until 31 December 2001, like the French Franc, can still be exchanged for the euro. To exchange them, you will need to send your banknotes by registered post to the relevant national central bank. You can find their addresses by searching online. 

In some cases, coins can also be exchanged for the euro. However, in a number of countries, you are no longer able to do this. You will have to travel to the country in question and exchange your coins at that country’s national central bank. Again, you can find the address by searching online.

Time limits for exchanging banknotes and coins

 Country  Banknotes  Coins
Austria  No time limit  No time limit
Belgium  No time limit  Exchange now finished
Germany  No time limit  No time limit
Greece  Until 1 March 2012  Exchange now finished
Spain  No time limit  No time limit
France  Until 17 February 2012  Exchange now finished
Ireland  No time limit  No time limit
Italy  Until 29 February 2012  Until 29 February 2012
Luxembourg  No time limit  Exchange now finished
The Netherlands  Until 1 January 2032  Exchange now finished
Portugal  Until February 2022  Exchange now finished
Finland  Until 29 February 2012  Until 29 February 2012
Slovenia  No time limit  Until December 2016
Cyprus  Until 31 December 2017  Exchange now finished
Malta  Until 31 January 2018  Exchange now finished
Slovakia  No time limit  31 December 2013

Travellers' cheques

Travellers' cheques are pre-printed cheques for a fixed amount in a single currency. They are more secure than cash, because you can cancel and replace them if they are lost or stolen.

You can buy travellers' cheques from banks and travel agents. They are usually available in:

  • Canadian dollars
  • US dollars
  • euros
  • pounds sterling
  • Japanese yen

You can cash travellers' cheques in banks and use them in many shops and restaurants.

When you buy travellers' cheques, you sign each one. When you want to spend one, you simply countersign it and hand it over. The payee may ask you for proof of identity.

Travellers' cheques come in fixed amounts, so a retailer may need to give you change just as if you had paid in cash.

Check commission and charges

When you buy travellers' cheques you may want to check how much commission your supplier charges. You may also want to check whether they will cash any unused travellers' cheques for free.

Tips for keeping your travellers' cheques secure

Keep your travellers' cheques secure by:

  • not countersigning the cheques until you want to use them
  • noting the serial numbers of each cheque and the local contact number of the company that issued them - keep this information separate from the cheques
  • keeping your receipt

Pre-paid cards for travellers

Some companies offer pre-paid cards in a choice of currencies as an alternative to travellers' cheques. You can pre-load them and use them abroad at cash machines or shops.

Pre-paid cards can be a good way of sticking to a budget, but check the charges and costs involved before you travel.

Using credit or debit cards abroad

Cards carrying an international card scheme brand (like Visa or Mastercard) can be used in shops and cash machines around the world.

Keep your cards safe

Before you go:

  • note your card company's 24-hour telephone number
  • make sure your card company has your up-to-date contact details, including your mobile number

While travelling:

  • don't let your card out of your sight
  • don't give your PIN to anyone, ever
  • shield your PIN when typing it into a keypad

After your trip:

  • check receipts against your card statement and call your card company immediately if you are worried about a transaction

Credit and debit card charges

Your card company will usually charge you for using your card overseas.

Before you go:

  • check what your card company charges for cash withdrawals and overseas purchases

While travelling:

  • compare the local currency exchange rate and charges to your card company's charges - using your card in a local cash machine is often cheaper than buying currency locally

For more advice, download the guide from the UK Card Association about using your card overseas.

Protection on credit card purchases

Using a UK-issued credit card to buy something costing between £100 and £30,000 means you're protected under the Consumer Credit Act if the goods are:

  • faulty
  • not delivered

This applies abroad as well as in the UK. Some debit cards offer similar protection. You should check the details with your card company.

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