How to beat banks if you’re heading abroad
SUN, sea, sand... and a serious impact on your pocket. Holidaying abroad is expensive enough, but too many people make it worse by leaving it until the last minute to get their spending money – or doing it completely the wrong way.
So if you’re planning to venture beyond our beautiful isle, here are my ten tips for getting more bang from your bucks, euro or even your dong (Vietnam).
1 Never get cash at the airport
They know you’re a captive customer, so there’s little competition and they hike rates. If you have no choice, at the very least try to preorder the day before to pick up at the airport, as it will give you a boosted rate.
Even better, try to do a comparison in advance. My www.travelmoneymax.
com comparison tool shows the best online rates.
2 The cheapest way to spend is with the right plastic – but apply ASAP
The cheapest way to spend abroad is with a cheap overseas credit card. Most plastic adds a 3 per cent load, so spend £100 of euros and it costs £103.
Yet specialist overseas spending cards give near-perfect rates, as they’re load-free worldwide: Halifax Clarity, Post Office, Saga (over-50s) and for Nationwide FlexAccount holders only, its Select card.
Once you’ve got one, it means you’re getting the best possible rates in every country, every time you spend. Always set up a monthly direct debit to fully repay, or the APRs are up to 16.9 per cent and the interest you’re charged defeats any currency gain.
It’s worth noting if you withdraw cash, most of these cards will charge you interest, even if you repay in full. But the amount is small compared to foreign currency costs.
To get one of these cards, you’ll need a decent credit score, and it’s likely to take about a fortnight.
3 Beware debit cards from hell
Of course any credit card not fully repaid is hellish. But the real bad boys here are the debit cards from Halifax , Lloyds TSB, Santander, NatWest, RBS, and Intelligent Finance.
Never use these to pay abroad. As well as exchange rate loads, and ATM fees, they fine you (they call it a charge, I call it a fine) up to £1.50 each time you spend on them overseas.
That means with the load and the fine, you can pay £6.65 for something priced at £5 worth of euros.
4 Beware paying by card at bureaux de change
All credit and some debit cards charge extra if you buy foreign currency in the UK.
As they count it as an overseas cash withdrawal, it can mean with credit cards you also pay interest, even if repaid in full. This will put a dent in the dinar saved.
If you’re planning to use a debit card, one trick is to just withdraw cash from a nearby ATM instead – then pay with the cash from that to avoid charges.
5 Will I get a better rate changing cash once abroad?
It can be cheaper, but there’s no surety or way to know. So I’d err on the side of caution and ensure you get the best possible rate here (see tip one) for certainty.
6 Stop your card getting blocked while away
Pay overseas and some banks block cards in case it’s fraud.
While not every bank welcomes it, as belt and braces, it’s often worth telling your bank in advance that you’re travelling, and ensure it’s got your up-to-date mobile number in case of problems.
7 Should I get euros/dollars before I go, or just use my card abroad?
This depends on the card you’ve got. A specialist overseas card (see tip two) used correctly always beats cash from here, while a debit card from hell or credit card not fully repaid always loses.
In other cases, the best cash bureau (I mean the best, not airport rates) usually wins, except against Barclaycard as it’s relatively cheap for ATM withdrawals (repaid in full, of course).
8 Is it cheaper to spend on a card, or withdraw cash abroad?
Again it depends on the card. With the specialist overseas credit cards, spending’s cheaper than withdrawals.
With debit cards from hell, withdrawals in as big a sum as is safe are cheaper; and avoid spending on them like the plague. With other cards, spending’s generally cheapest.
Although with any credit card, you’re probably fed up of my nagging, but ensure you always fully repay to avoid interest.
9 Pre-paid cards are a good bet for safety
The best credit card, used right, kicks butt. Yet if you can’t get one, a pre-paid card, where you just load them up with cash before you go, are a good option. They’re a bit like modern travellers’ cheques.
For a list of best buys, go to moneysavingexpert.
10 If asked whether to pay in pounds or euros, which is best?
Many overseas banks or shops now ask this, especially in Spanish tourist resorts. If you choose pounds, the retailer does the currency conversion.
Rates used to be poor compared to letting your card do it (such as choosing euros), though things are closer than they used to be.
If you’ve a top overseas card, always say the local currency because your card does the exchange and it’s unbeatable. If not, it’s touch and go. Sometimes it’ll show you the ‘load’. If this is under 2.5 per cent, go with pounds.
If it’s over, go local.