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Here are a few ways you can save some cash when travelling abroad, including how to avoid transaction fees on your holiday purchases, and how to get the best bang for your buck when it comes to swapping currencies.
Always pay in local currency
Sometimes, shops, hotels or restaurants might offer you a choice between paying a card bill in sterling or the local currency. Always opt for the local currency – paying in pounds might seem more intuitive, but the exchange rate is managed by the card-terminal operator, and these rates are almost always much higher than the exchange rate set by your bank.
Use a bank that doesn’t charge any fees abroad
Some banks whack on a charge every time you use your credit or debit card overseas, which can be as much as 3% of the cost of the purchase every time. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be this way. There are credit cards and bank accounts that won’t charge a fee for foreign transactions or ATM withdrawals, like the Starling Bank personal account.
Avoid buying currency at airports
Almost without exception, the currency exchanges at airports will give you some of the worst exchange rates around, and they might even charge commission on top. The exchange rates offered by banks are generally much better. For instance, the Starling Bank personal account uses the Mastercard wholesale rate, which Money Saving Expert found was a consistently better rate than those offered by competitors. There’s also the option of ordering your holiday cash to be delivered by mail from various online operators using more favourable rates than airport booths – but beware of commission, and make sure you order well in advance of your trip to ensure it arrives in time.
Hold on to your cash
It might be tempting to convert back your leftover holiday money as soon as you get back home, but you’ll be losing out, as the exchange rate for converting back into sterling is always worse than the rate for converting your pounds into a foreign currency. Instead, it’s a good idea to keep your currency for your next trip abroad, or if you need the cash sooner, try to wait for a favourable exchange rate before converting it back into sterling.
Tell your bank you’re going overseas
You’ve just landed, and after fighting your way through baggage claim, you’re finally on holiday! But wait, after trying to get some cash out to pay for a taxi, your card has been swallowed by the machine. Your paranoid bank thinks someone has stolen your card because you forgot to tell them you’re going on holiday. Whoops! Thankfully, at least this isn’t an issue with Starling Bank – there’s no need to let them know you’re going away. And if someone else really is using your Starling card abroad, you can lock it with a swipe and a tap.
Watch out for ATM fees
Foreign ATMs can be amongst the worst culprits for unexpected fees. Starling Bank won’t charge you a fee for drawing out money at ATMs when abroad – but there’s a chance that the ATM operator will charge you. If the machine says it’s going to charge a fee for withdrawals, try finding another ATM that’s free to use – the local tourist office might be able to point you in the right direction.
Get a roaming plan for your mobile phone
If you’re travelling to a country in the European Union, then there’s no need to worry about extra call charges – the EU’s ‘Roam Like At Home’ policy means that you’ll be able to use your phone plan’s inclusive minutes and texts and pay the same rate for calls as in the UK, with no effort required on your part. But if you’re travelling outside the EU, for example to Turkey, it’s worth checking with your provider to see whether they offer a roaming plan that will provide cheaper calls, texts and data while abroad.
Plan your spending in advance
It’s a good idea to plan out a budget for your holiday in advance, including things like the cost of taxis, trains, food, nightlife and entry for attractions. Once you’re worked out a rough daily allowance, you’ll have an indication of how much money you need to put aside – but always allow for a little extra on top for emergencies. The Starling Bank personal account is handy for this: it allows you shift your money into separate pots for things like holidays. And every time you spend, it will send you a mobile notification so you can keep track of your budget.
Don’t forget to haggle!
Sure, you might get a few confused looks if you try to drive down the price of a dress in Zara, but there are plenty of markets where haggling is fine, if not the done thing. And you don’t want to be that ignorant foreigner who strolls up and blithely hands over a wad of cash when given an obviously inflated price. Haggling might be intimidating for some, but it gets easier with practice. Just remember, start with a price in mind that you’d be willing to pay, and then go in lower with your first offer. If the vendor refuses to meet the price you’re happy with (or go lower), then be prepared to walk away – and sometimes this can even result in the shopkeeper calling you back and agreeing on the deal you want.