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Travel money guide: Europe

Planning a trip to Europe? Discover how you can get the most out of your travel money here.

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If you’re heading to the Europe, either for business or for pleasure, it’s worth taking the time to figure out what different travel money options are available to you.

In 1999 the euro was introduced and old currencies like the French franc and the Deutsche mark were phased out. While there are European countries which still use their own currency — for example the Czech Republic and Hungary — the euro is the national currency of the majority of nations in Western and Central Europe.

How much should I budget to travel in Europe?

Countries like France and Germany are a touch more expensive than places like Greece, but no matter where you are in the Europe, your trip is going to be as cheap or expensive as you let it be.

Some basic prices across Europe

Accommodation is likely to be your biggest expense when you’re visiting Europe. When it comes to food, if you’re eating in a restaurant, prices will be higher than grabbing a bite on the street (gyros in Greece), trapizzino in Rome, or a jambon et fromage baguette (ham and cheese sandwich — far better than it sounds) in France are all less than five euros.

We’ve included a snapshot of some prices for budget, mid-range and top end hostels and hotels in different European countries below.

Greece (Athens)Germany (Berlin)France (Paris)Italy (Rome)
sleepHostel
$15 per night
Hostel
$15–$25
Hostel
$35 per night
Camping
$15 per night
Hostel
$25 per night
foodGyros (street)
$3.50
Small beer (supermarket)
$1–$2.50
Currywurst (street)
$3.50
Beer (supermarket)
$2.50
Baguette (supermarket)
$1.75
Cheese (supermarket)
$3.50
Average wine (supermarket bottle)
$2.25–$8
Pizza (restaurant)
$6–$12
Wine (restaurant)
$6–$12 per glass
cameraWalk around the Acropolis and Parthenon (pay $35 to go inside or enjoy the spectacular view from the outside for free)Walking tour of Berlin
Free (although it’s polite to tip the guide a couple of euros at least)
Get the food items mentioned above and camp at the Champ-des-Mars for a view of la Tour Eiffel.Walking tours of Rome
Free (plus a tip for the guide)

*Prices are approximate and based on summer seasonality and are subject to change.

In most European countries you can expect to pay anywhere from 10 to 30 euros for a meal in a mid-tier restaurant. Once you hit 5-star restaurants, prices will be comparable to high-end restaurants in the US.

  • Tip: If you’re at a restaurant, the plat de jour (plate of the day) will be one of the cheapest and best tasting dishes on the menu.

Exchange rate history

It’s very difficult picking the future movement of currency pairs, especially the top two traded currencies in the world. The euro was adopted in 1999, and in 2002 it was introduced as the legal tender — circulating and being used in 12 countries. The value of the dollar next to the euro dropped significantly in 2008 when an economic crisis made its way around the world. For the last three years, 1 euro has been worth about $1.10 to $1.30.

Travel card, debit card or credit card?

A prepaid travel card can be a good idea if you’re staying within the European financial zone and the United Kingdom. If you’re traveling to another destination like Croatia, the Czech Republic, Sweden or Hungary, you’re better off using a credit card which waives the fee for foreign transactions (no ATM fees are a bonus too).

While there are travel cards that don’t charge you for currency conversion – the back end fees, exchange rate margin and juggling another account make a travel friendly debit card a better option.
How to use a credit card in Europe

Travel money options for Europe at a glance

Travel money optionProsCons
Travel prepaid cards
  • Multiple international currencies load euros and GBP on most travel cards
  • Currency conversion may apply
  • Conversion fee is almost double the charge than on debit and credit cards
Debit cards
  • May have no international ATM fees
  • No ATM operator fees on European bank ATMs for cash withdrawals
  • International ATM fee and currency conversion fee apply when withdrawing cash
Credit cards
  • May have no international ATM fees
  • Operator fees may apply
  • Cash advance fees
Traveler’s checks
  • Acceptance
  • Security
  • Can be costly with initial purchase charges
  • Not all merchants accept travelers checks
Cash
  • Payment flexibility
  • Convenience
  • Difficult to manage expenses
  • Higher risk of theft

This table is a general summary of the travel money products in the market. Features and benefits can vary between cards.

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How do travel cards, credit cards, debit cards and everything else work in Europe?

Using a travel prepaid card

A travel card can hold multiple international currencies and you save on the fee for currency conversion. You can load euros and GBP on most travel cards, but few other European currencies will be supported.

Must read: Countries in Europe that have not adopted the euro

If you’re traveling to one of these European countries, consider using a debit card or credit card rather than a prepaid travel card. A currency conversion fee applies if you’re spending in a currency not loaded on the card. In most cases, the conversion fee is almost double the charge than on debit and credit cards.

  • Latvia
  • Lithuania

“Although the United Kingdom is not a part of the Euro Zone, all travel cards let you load pounds sterling. Preload both euros and pounds and you can use the one card to spend on both sides of the English Channel.”

Using a debit card

Visa and Mastercard branded debit cards will work throughout Europe without problem. There are fees that come with international debit card use — mainly currency conversion fees and ATM fees. You’ll find most European banks don’t charge a local ATM operator fee.

  • Tip: Debit card providers like Bank of America and Barclays are members of a Global ATM Alliance that waives international ATM fees.

Using a credit card

Look for a travel friendly credit cards that you can swipe without being charged a foreign transaction free (typically 2 – 3%) or international ATM fee.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card will waive foreign transaction fees and offers travel insurance. While Barclaycard and Bank of America waive international ATM fees (operator fees may still apply); however, using your credit card to withdraw cash will be subject to cash advance fees and interest, as well as ATM operator fees – not worth it.

Did you know?

You may be able to avoid the cash advance fee and interest charges if you preload your own money onto your credit card. The rules are different for each provider. The catch: you’re waiving certain anti-fraud guarantees when you preload your own funds onto your credit card.

Using a traveler’s checks

It is not necessary to take travelers checks with you on your trip to Europe. Financial institutions offer money back guarantees if you’re the victim of fraud and there’s a limited number of places where you can cash your checks.

Paying with cash in Europe

There are places where you’ll need cash; however, card payments are pretty standard throughout Europe. Contactless card payments are common in places like France and Germany, but cash is necessary if you’re heading off the beaten track — places like smaller Greek islands predominantly use cash.
european-banknotes

Although the euro was officially introduced in 1999, European citizens didn’t start to see the new notes and coins till sometime in 2003. The notes are all different colors and feature different architectural designs from different eras.

Compare travel credit cards

Name Product Welcome offer Rewards Annual fee Filter values
Luxury Card Mastercard® Titanium Card™
N/A
1x points on all purchases with 2% point value when you redeem for airfare and 1% for cash back
$195
Enjoy unique excursions, privileged access to exclusive events and insider opportunities.
The World of Hyatt Credit Card
25,000 points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. 25,000 points after spending another $6,000 in the first 6 months
9x points at Hyatt hotels as a World of Hyatt member, 2x on gyms, commuting, dining and airlines and 1x on all other purchases
$95
Earn 25,000 points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. 25,000 points after spending another $6,000 in the first 6 months.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
5x points on Lyft, 2x points on travel and dining and 1x points on all other purchases
$95
This popular travel card's signup bonus is worth up to $750. Get even more value out of your travel, dining, and Lyft rewards by transferring them to miles.
Luxury Card Mastercard® Black Card™
N/A
1x points on all purchases with 2% point value when you redeem for airfare and 1.5% for cash back
$495
Receive an annual $100 air travel credit toward flight-related purchases including airline tickets, baggage fees, upgrades and more.
United℠ Explorer Card
40,000 miles after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months
2x miles at restaurants, hotels and United and 1x miles on all other purchases
$0 intro annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
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Our pick for a prepaid travel card
Travelex Money Card

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Case study: Kyle's experience

Kyle profile photo
Kyle
Producer

During my Eurotrip, I dropped pins on the map in Amsterdam, Bruges, Paris, Arles and Provence. I brought along my Wells Fargo Propel American Express, Wells Fargo Platinum Visa, Wells Fargo debit card and $500 USD.

When I landed in Amsterdam and was waiting at baggage claim, I spotted a local ATM and withdrew 100 euros using my debit card. The withdrawal cost me $113.49, plus a $5 non-Wells Fargo ATM transaction fee. I didn’t mind the fee because this was enough to buy a SIM card and catch a train downtown — and it left me with about 70 euros.

It didn’t take long to realize that I made a mistake with the credit cards I’d brought. While the Wells Fargo Propel American Express had no foreign transaction fee, I neglected to research what the American Express acceptance rate was in Europe — not good. And I didn’t want to use my Wells Fargo Platinum Visa because that came with a 3% fee for overseas purchases.

If I was traveling alone, I would have come home to a credit card bill riddled with fees. Luckily, my partner brought along her United Explorer Card, which is a Visa (high acceptance rate) and has no foreign transaction fees. Since then, I’ve gotten my own United Explorer Card.

As for withdrawing money from ATMs, I only took out another 100 euros for tipping and small purchases. And the $500 USD I brought along? That, and then some, went right to my partner to repay the money we spent on her credit card.

One piece of advice: Don’t be like me and rely on your partner’s credit card.

Buying currency in the US

If you really want to buy euros before you leave, consider nonbank foreign exchange providers such as Travelex. Travelex lets you order cash online and pick it up at the airport before you leave.

You won’t need euros to pay for your visa when you arrive in Europe, Americans get an automatic 90 day visa on arrival.

Why you’ll need a combination of travel money options

A credit card and debit card combination makes for a good mix to access cash and make purchases. A credit card is a must: interest-free cards give you time to pay back your purchases, some cards offer free travel insurance and credit cards give you peace of mind through access to emergency cash.

Don’t use a credit card for cash withdrawals, it’s almost too expensive to justify. Use a debit card or a prepaid travel card to withdraw cash.

Cash pickup services in Europe

Min. Transfer Amount Transfer Speed Online Transfer Fee Rate Amount Received Description CTA Details
USD 0 2 days USD 9.99 0.882 EUR 874 No fee for transfers of $5,000 or more to 177 countries, backed by an International Payments Price Promise. Go to site Show details
USD 1 Within an hour USD 3.99 0.878 EUR 874 Use promo code 3FREE to send your first 3 transfers with no fee. Send to 110+ countries for bank-to-bank deposit, cash pickup or mobile top-up. Go to site Show details
USD 0 1 - 2 days USD 1.99 0.865 EUR 863 Special offers like free transfers and better exchange rates available for new customers.
Quick, affordable transfers around the world with both express and economy options.
Go to site Show details
USD 1 Same day USD 8.00 0.863 EUR 856 Easily transfer cash to more than 350,000 locations around the world. Show details
USD 1 3 - 5 days USD 20.00 0.86 EUR 843 The biggest name in money transfers can get your funds to friends, family, or businesses in almost every corner of the globe. Show details

Compare up to 4 providers

Disclaimer: Exchange rates change often. Confirm the total cost with the provider before transferring money.

Travel insurance for Europe

Eurotrips are almost a compulsory rite of passage for young Americans who want to cross the pond, but don’t let your sense of adventure get you in trouble. Protecting your European vacation with travel insurance is a smart way to ensure that you are financially protected against unexpected travel expenses. Travel insurance may cover:

  • Cancellation
  • Lost or stolen luggage
  • Emergency medical and dental
  • Evacuation
  • Personal liability
Name Product Trip Cancellation Emergency Medical Expenses Baggage Coverage Trip delay
Allianz Travel OneTrip Emergency Medical Plan
$50,000
$2,000
$1,000
Budget-friendly policy designed for international and domestic travelers who want medical protection. Trip cancellation and trip interruption not included.
Allianz Travel AllTrips Basic Plan
$20,000
$1,000
$600
Annual policy that offers affordable protection, but doesn't include trip cancellation or trip interruption.
Travelex Travel Basic
100%
$15,000
$500
$500
Essential travel coverage — with the option to customize — that can protect the cost of your trip.
Travelex Flight Insure
$10,000
$1,000
$100
Protect the cost of your flight and choose the coverage amount that meets your needs — trip delay protection included.
RoamRight Essential Travel Insurance Plan
100%
$15,000
$750
$500
Basic policy with coverage that includes trip cancellation insurance, tourist health insurance and baggage insurance.
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Compare up to 4 providers

Compare travel insurance policies

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