Travel money guide for Europe | finder.com

Travel money guide: Europe

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

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.

Our pick for travel

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

  • Earn 50K bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named "Best Premium Travel Credit Card" for 2018 by MONEY® Magazine
  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • 3x points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit
  • 3x points on dining at restaurants and 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • $0 foreign transaction fees
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
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Promoted

Compare travel cards for Europe

Prep for your trip to Europe by taking a look inside your wallet. Do your cards charge foreign transaction fees? If so, consider getting a travel card that waives these fees while also rewarding you for your vacation spending.

Updated December 16th, 2018
Name Product Currency Conversion Fee Annual Fee APR (Annual Percentage Rate) for Purchases
None
$0 annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
17.99% to 24.99% variable
Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
None
$450
17.99% to 24.99% variable
Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
None
$0 annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
17.74% to 26.74% variable
30,000 bonus miles after you use your new card to make $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months. Rates & Fees
None
$250
See Rates & Fees
50,000 bonus Membership Rewards® Points when you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months Rates & Fees
None
$0
17.74% to 26.74% variable
Earn 75,000 Hilton Honors™ Bonus Points after you spend $1,000 in purchases on the card within your first 3 months of card membership. Rates & Fees

Compare up to 4 providers

Promoted
Travelex Money Card

Why we like: Travelex Money Card

Load GBP, EUR, CAD, AUD, JPY or MXN onto this prepaid travel money card and use it at millions of locations worldwide.

  • Not linked to your bank account for safety.
  • Convert currency with a 5.50% Foreign Exchange Fee
  • Contactless payments
  • Reload, withdraw, or replace your card for free.

    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)
    sleep Hostel
    $15 per night
    Hostel
    $15–$25
    Hostel
    $35 per night
    Camping
    $15 per night
    Hostel
    $25 per night
    eat Gyros (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
    see Walk 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 option Pros Cons
    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.

    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.

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    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.

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    Interview with Marc about spending money in Europe

    marc-terrano

    Where did you visit in Europe?

    Marc visited: London, Paris, Rome, Prague, Split, Amsterdam, Munich, Barcelona and Switzerland. He stayed on the continent for a month.

    What cards did you take with you?

    Why did you take these cards with you?

    Marc took his Bank of America Debit Card to use for ATM withdrawals and in-store purchases. Marc had no problems using his card and he used European bank ATMs so he could avoid the local ATM operator fee too. His Bank of America debit card didn’t have a CHIP, so he was conscious of not withdrawing cash at sketchy looking ATMs.

    His backup card was the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard. He used it to purchase his flight so he could cash in on the complimentary travel insurance and the 40,000 point sign up bonus.

    What about ATM withdrawals?

    Marc withdrew $300 to $500 in euros each time. Barclaycard didn’t charge Marc an international ATM fee and Marc doesn’t remember having to pay too many local ATM operator fees.

    Could you use your card everywhere?

    Marc could use his Bank of America card everywhere. He was given the option of paying in USD in a few places, but he chose to pay in euros instead because the exchange rate is more favorable when you pay in the local currency.

    What do you think is the best way to travel with money in Europe?

    Marc recommends the Barclaycard because he could use it for purchases, and for hotel and car reservations. Whether it’s a travel card, another debit card or a credit card. Marc says it’s important to have options.

    What are your travel money tips for Europe?

    • Call your bank. Marc says it only takes five minutes to tell your bank about your travel plans. This stops your bank from blocking your account when you make a purchase or withdrawal.
    • Tipping. In some countries and in some restaurants, the tip is worked in as an automatic service fee, especially in Italy. Always read the bill to avoid overtipping!
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    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
    Details Features
    Atlas Premium
    Atlas Premium
    Comprehensive coverage with higher limits and a range of additional benefits.
    • Trip cancellation: Not available
    • Emergency medical expenses: Up to $2,000,000
    • Baggage coverage: $1,000
    • Trip delay: $200/day up to $400
    Go to site More info
    Travelex Travel Max
    Travelex Travel Max
    The most comprehensive protection plan offered by Travelex. Offers optional Cancel For Any Reason upgrade.
    • Trip cancellation: 100% cost of trip
    • Emergency medical expenses: $100,000
    • Baggage coverage: $2,500
    • Trip delay: $1,000
    Go to site More info
    RoamRight Travel Insurance Essential
    RoamRight Travel Insurance Essential
    Coverage includes trip cancellation insurance, tourist health insurance and baggage insurance.
    • Trip cancellation: 100% cost of trip
    • Emergency medical expenses: $15,000
    • Baggage coverage: $750
    • Trip delay: $100/day up to $500
    Go to site More info
    STA Travel Standard International
    STA Travel Standard International
    Affordable coverage for the essentials needed when traveling outside of your home country.
    • Trip cancellation: Not available
    • Emergency medical expenses: $25,000
    • Medical evacuation & repatriation: $250,000
    • Trip delay: $100/day up to $250
    Go to site More info
    RoamRight Travel Insurance Preferred
    RoamRight Travel Insurance Preferred
    Increased limits of coverage, plus trip interruption insurance worth 150% of the trip cost.
    • Trip cancellation: 100% cost of trip
    • Emergency medical expenses: $50,000
    • Baggage coverage: $1,000
    • Trip delay: $200/day up to $1,000
    Go to site More info
    Travelex Cancel for Any Reason
    Travelex Cancel for Any Reason
    Not 100% sure you're going to make your trip? Cancel For Any Reason upgrade is available with the Travel Select plan.
    • Reimburses up to 75% of the insured trip cost
    • Must cancel within 48 hours before scheduled departure
    • Offered on trips with a maximum value of $10,000
    Go to site More info
    Atlas Travel
    Atlas Travel
    Customizable policy that balances between the basic essentials and premium coverage.
    • Trip cancellation: Not available
    • Emergency medical expenses: Up to $2,000,000
    • Baggage coverage: Up to $500
    • Trip delay: $100/day up to 2 days
    Go to site More info
    Seven Corners Trip Protection Insurance
    Seven Corners Trip Protection Insurance
    Comprehensive coverage for the cost of your trip, your medical expenses and your belongings.
    • Trip cancellation: 100% cost of trip
    • Emergency medical expenses: Up to $250,000
    • Baggage coverage: Up to $2,500
    • Trip delay: Up to $1,500
    Go to site More info
    Travelex Flight Insure Plus
    Travelex Flight Insure Plus
    Choose the coverage amount that meets your needs. Baggage and trip delay protection included.
    • Flight accident AD&D: Up to $1,000,000
    • Emergency medical expenses: $10,000
    • Baggage coverage: $1,000
    • Medical evacuation & repatriation: $100,000
    Go to site More info
    STA Travel Explorer Plus
    STA Travel Explorer Plus
    Premiere coverage for a range of travel mishaps with additional riders for sports and other leisure activities.
    • Trip cancellation: $3,000
    • Emergency medical expenses: Up to $100,000
    • Baggage coverage: $500/item up to $2,500
    • Trip delay: $200/day up to $1,000
    Go to site More info
    Allianz Domestic Travel Insurance
    Allianz Domestic Travel Insurance
    Make sure you're covered in case your planned trip unexpectedly goes awry.
    • Trip cancellation: $1,000
    • Emergency medical expenses: Up to $25,000
    • Baggage coverage: Up to $1,000
    • Trip interruption: Up to $1,500
    Go to site More info
    Allianz International Travel Insurance
    Allianz International Travel Insurance
    Customizable coverage that can give you peace of mind when traveling to popular or remote destinations.
    • Trip cancellation: $1,000
    • Emergency medical expenses: Up to $50,000
    • Baggage coverage: Up to $2,000
    • Trip interruption: Up to $1,500
    Go to site More info

    Compare travel insurance policies

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    Other topics you may be interested in:

    Europe is a diverse continent rich in culture and natural beauty. Travel for an hour and the people speak a different language, the food is different and so is the architecture. If you’d like more information about taking travel money to specific European countries, have a look at our location guides.

    Kyle Morgan

    Kyle Morgan is a producer for finder.com who has worked for the USA Today network and Relix magazine, among other publications. He can be found writing about everything from the latest car loan stats to tips on saving money when traveling overseas. He lives in Asbury Park, where he loves exploring new places and sipping on hoppy beer. Oh, and he doesn't discriminate against buffalo wings — grilled or fried are just fine.

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