Travel Cash – Why a Travel Credit Card is #1

Emma - 22 October 2016

Managing travel cash when going abroad can be difficult. There’s usually three concerns:

  1. How much travel cash to take with you
  2. How to keep your travel cash safe
  3. How to get the best exchange rate

M and I separately came to the conclusion that the best answer for all of these was to use a credit card to access travel cash. Let me explain…

How much travel cash to take on holiday

How much money do you think you’ll need for your travels? Odds are, you’re wrong. If you underestimate, you’ll be stuck short changed. If you overestimate you’ll be paying the exchange rate twice: once when you take the money out in the foreign currency, and again when you convert your travel cash back into the original currency. With a travel credit card, you never have this problem, and take out money as and when you need it.

How to keep your travel cash safe

I wouldn’t carry a bundle of bank notes around in my home country, so why would I do it abroad?! Using a credit card means that you never have to have large quantities of travel cash in your wallet. What’s more, credit card companies cover you if your card is copied, so if something goes wrong, you can claim the money back.

Cash in the bank is much safer than travel cash in your bag or hotel room!Cash in the bank is much safer than travel cash in your bag or hotel room!

Best Travel Cash Exchange Rates

Getting the best exchange rate for your travel cash matters, especially when you’re talking about large sums. If you use a travel credit card You’ll be getting the exchange rate direct from MasterCard or VISA, which is the best you’re going to get anywhere. If an ATM asks if you want to use their exchange rate or the normal one, always always opt to use the normal one. The ATM screen will warn you that this rate may fluctuate whereas the one they’re offering is fixed, but ignore it. If you’re paying for something by card, ask to do so in the local currency, as otherwise they’ll be applying their own exchange rate (which is not going to be in your favour…).

Bureau de change are common places to get travel cash, but beware the exchange rate!Bureau de change are common places to get travel cash, but beware the exchange rate!

Travel Cash Options

So we’ve gone through why travel credit cards are the best option, but what about the other options?

Bureau de Change – I used to use Bureau de Change all the time to get my travel cash. But it’s an absolute nuisance to try to work out how much you’ll need for the trip, and you always get a lame exchange rate

Travellers Cheques – these aren’t really an option any more, and you’ll be hard pressed to find people who still use them

Debit Cards – You get all the convenience of a credit card, but the fees for using these abroad are astronomical!

Credit Cards – Over years of travel, we’ve worked out the best way to get money out when travelling is through credit cards! See below for our pros and cons

Problems with using a credit card for your travel cash

Accessing ATMs

People do get worried about not having access to an ATM, which would leave them without funds. While this is a worry, we’ve never struggled for long. In some countries you’ll be able to use your card everywhere and won’t even need to get travel cash out of an ATM (e.g. Iceland). In others (e.g. Egypt, Bulgaria) you’ll want to get cash out every time you see a working ATM, as they frequently run out of cash.

Nonetheless, unless you’re flying by private plane to the middle of a jungle, it is extremely unlikely that you won’t find an ATM in the city you’re flying to. We do recommend that you don’t get lots of travel cash out at the airport, as the ATMs there often charge a fee. If you need money to get from the airport to the main city you could either take a small amount from the ATM, or change a small amount at home via the bureau de change.

ATMs are now incredibly widespreadATMs are now incredibly widespread

Getting Your Card Blocked

I’ve used my travel credit card in more countries than I can count, and it has never been blocked. Not once. When I used my debit card it would get blocked every single time (even when I warned the bank I was going abroad).

Foreign Usage Fees

This is the biggie. The main reason everyone doesn’t use their bank card abroad is the fees. Most credit cards charge fees for transactions made abroad, with additional fees for ARM withdrawals, racking up an enormous and unnecessary bill when travelling. Debit cards tend to be even worse, charging 3% on every transaction, plus £1.50 per withdrawal. This is why we keep banging on about a ‘travel credit card’ rather than just a credit card. If you choose the right card, you won’t get hit with penalties for trying to withdraw travel cash.

Best Credit Card for Travel Cash: Halifax Clarity Credit Card

For us the Halifax Clarity credit card was the hands-down winner, and both M and I got one. We think it’s the best travel credit card because:

  • It’s widely accepted around the world. This can’t be said for some cards, such as American Express.
  • There’s no ATM fee, no foreign transactions fee, and no annual fee. The only fee you will have to pay for the Halifax Clarity credit card is the interest from when an ATM withdrawal is made, which is negligible and easily sidestepped by paying off the credit more frequently.
  • It doesn’t get blocked abroad. In years of using ours, neither M nor I have ever had our Halifax Clarity credit cards blocked. Presumably this is because it is a card designed to be used abroad

It should go without saying, but we highly recommend that you do not use a credit card of any sort if you think you will not be able to pay it off within a month. This is a recommended way to take money out while travelling, not free money to use when travelling! Citizens Advice might be able to give some helpful tips if you’re not used to using credit cards.

The only thing I ever get caught out with when using my Halifax Clarity Credit Card is the ATM withdrawal interest rate. For me this has never exceeded a couple of pounds, and it can be avoided by transferring money rather than waiting until the end of the month to pay it all off.


What do you think is the best method for getting travel cash while abroad? Let us know if you have any helpful tips of your own by using the comments below!