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 use in Europe

The Platinum Card® from American Express

  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
  • Enjoy Uber VIP status and free rides in the U.S. up to $15 each month, plus a bonus $20 in December. That can be up to $200 in annual Uber savings.
  • 5x Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.
  • 5x Membership Rewards points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com.
  • Enjoy access to the Global Lounge Collection, the only credit card airport lounge access program that includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
  • Receive complimentary benefits with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts. Learn more.
  • $200 airline fee credit, up to $200 per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
  • Get up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue on your Platinum Card®. Enrollment required.
  • $550 annual fee.
  • Terms apply.
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See Rates & Fees
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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 June 16th, 2019
Name Product Foreign Transaction Fee Welcome Offer Rewards Filter values
None
75,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months
7x points on Hilton Honors purchases, 5x at US restaurants, US supermarkets and US gas stations, 3x on all other purchases
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
None
N/A
1% cash back right away, 1.25% after six on-time payments and 1.5% after 12 on-time payments
Build your credit with no fees: Apply if you're new to credit or have a fair to good score.
None
3% cash back bonus on up to $10,000 in the first 12 months, then 1.5%
3% cash back on up to $10,000 in the first 12 months, then 1.5% on all purchases
Earn 3% cash back on up to $10,000 in the first 12 months, then 1.5% on all purchases. See Rates and Fees.
None
60,000 points after spending $5,000 in your first 3 months
5x points on directly-booked flights or on flights and hotels on Amex Travel. 1x points on all other purchases
Get 5x Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel and 5x points on eligible hotels booked on amextravel.com. Rates & fees
None
35,000 points after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months
3x points on directly-booked flights; 4x at restaurants; 4x at US supermarkets on up to $25,000 annually (then 1x points)
35,000 bonus Membership Rewards® Points when you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months. 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
    Name Product Trip Cancellation Emergency Medical Expenses Baggage Coverage Trip delay
    100%
    $15,000
    $500
    $500
    Essential travel coverage — with the option to customize — that can protect the cost of your trip.
    $10,000
    $1,000
    $100
    Protect the cost of your flight and choose the coverage amount that meets your needs — trip delay protection included.
    $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.
    $20,000
    $1,000
    $600
    Annual policy that offers affordable protection, but doesn't include trip cancellation or trip interruption.
    100%
    $15,000
    $750
    $500
    Basic policy with coverage that includes trip cancellation insurance, tourist health insurance and baggage insurance.

    Compare up to 4 providers

    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.

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