We’ve all experienced that sinking feeling we get when we have to visit the cash machine whilst on our holidays and withdraw money.
Before we can gain access to our freshly minted Euros, Dollars, or Egyptian Lira, we are forced to agree first to an exchange rate that looks distinctly unhealthy, then to an agreed charge, and finally choose which currency to complete the transaction in , when neither option seems to offer us anything but a desperate deal.
Why do we put ourselves through this every time we go abroad? Usually it is down to poor planning; we weren’t expecting to have to use our card but something came up. Or we left our money safely locked away in the hotel safe and forgot to take it out with us. Or we were too busy keeping the kids entertained to figure out how much we needed to get through the day.
Fair enough, it can happen to anybody – although it is often surprising how, once we get into “holiday mode”, we seem to throw caution to the wind and resign ourselves to the fact that “things are going to be expensive”. Indeed, our banks are very much counting on the fact that we adopt just such an attitude and stop showing the financial vigilance we do when we are at home.
It should not really be the case today, because thanks to technology we are becoming less and less reliant on cash in hand, and more reliant on our debit and credit cards, and even our smartphones – Samsung Pay, Apple Pay, WeChat pay, even Facebook and WhatsApp are providing perfectly good, internationally recognised payments solutions that take less than a minute to get set up with. Not all are ready to be used in your local French Hypermarket yet, but there’s a very good chance that soon, they will be.
All it takes for us to be able to avoid punitive fees every time we make a transaction or cash withdrawal when abroad today, is to find a suitable credit or debit card to use. There are a range of cards on the market that are “fee-free” when making overseas withdrawals. A good place to start your search for one of these could be amongst the new generation of “Challenger Banks”; Monzo, Starling, or Tandem; who have made fee-free cash withdrawals abroad a key part of their sales pitches to new customers; but almost every bank has a card designed for spending whilst overseas.
Banks offer such cards for two reasons. One, to help the customer spend less on fees when abroad, and two; a slightly sneakier reason; to financially punish those people who forget to make arrangements to switch to a better card when abroad!
The important thing to know is that before you travel abroad, you must let your bank know that you know there is a cheaper option available. Once your bank knows you are serious about saving money abroad my hunch is they will be only too happy to help you.
But you must still beware. All things considered, you are generally much better off using a credit card as opposed to a debit card when spending abroad; they offer better protection, and they will be cheaper overall when it comes to making purchases, provided you do 2 things – and they are:
Always pay your credit card off IN FULL at the end of the month. There are many hidden fees and charges that may rear their ugly heads if you do not. And DON’T WITHDRAW CASH! using a credit card. The fees for doing so are high and it is very expensive to pay off cash balances on a credit card.
Finally, it’s always irritating when a card you have planned to make purchases with is not accepted by a merchant, and therefore you might want to look at VISA or Mastercard solutions so you don’t end up with egg on your face when your super-duper traveller card is not accepted most places you go. Remember, a card or payment service is only as good as the merchants that accept it!
We have come a long way from the days of traveller’s cheques and queueing at an overseas bank while waiting for staff to return from their siesta. Wherever you travel today, people will be aware of the options available and and most of the time, payments can be completed seamlessly and with the minimum of fuss. That is all well and good, but if you want to be really smart, you need to know which transactions comes with extra fees or use unfair exchange rates – or seem cheap at the time but don’t deliver over the longer term.
It’s a cliche but it’s true. Look after those cents and euro-cents, and the pounds will take care of themselves.
This content is sourced and brought to you by The Money Cloud – comparing the best rates for sending money overseas offered by hand-picked, regulated brokers and money transfer agencies.