Travel money guide for UK | finder.com

Travel money guide: UK

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If you’re traveling to the UK, learn the best way to carry and spend your money overseas.

The United Kingdom — England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — is a popular destinations for Americans. US citizens get an automatic visa for six months to drive over London Bridge, explore Stonehenge and sip tea by the Thames. But how do you pay for your adventures? Can you use US dollars, or should you exchange your money for the British pound? We’ll help you get the most out of your US dollar without spending too much on international transaction fees using credit cards, debit cards and cash.

Our pick for use in the UK

U.S. Bank FlexPerks® Travel Rewards® Visa Signature® Card

  • Earn 25,000 enrollment FlexPoints worth $375 on airfare, hotel stays, car rentals and more. Just spend $2,000 in eligible net purchases on your card within the first four months of account opening.
  • 2x FlexPoints at gas stations, grocery stores or airlines – whichever you spend the most on each monthly billing cycle, and at most cell phone service providers.
  • 2x FlexPoints for your charitable donations
  • No foreign transaction fees*
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Compare travel cards for the UK

Preparing a combination of travel money options will allow you to benefit from various perks. You’ll want to find a card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. Thankfully, most strong travel credit cards waive these fees while rewarding you for travel purchases with points or miles.

Updated June 25th, 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 British pounds do I need for a trip to the UK?

    The UK is one of the most expensive places in Europe to travel. From transportation to hotels and food, you’ll find you’ll spend a lot more on the basics than in many other countries. If you’re looking to travel on a backpacker’s budget, plan for $60 or so per day, about $150 for midrange budget and $400 for you’re looking to live it up.

    London Budget Midrange Expensive
    sleep

    Dorm bed

    $30 per night

    Double room

    $80 per night

    Boutique hotel room

    $200 per night

    food Market-stall lunch
    $3
    Supermarket sandwich
    $3.50 – $4.50
    Two-course dinner
    w/ glass of wine
    $60
    Three-course dinner
    in top restaurant w/ wine
    $150
    theatre Many museums
    Free
    Theatre ticket
    $30
    Top theatre ticket
    $80

    *Prices are approximate and are subject to change.

    How the USD compares to the GBP

    Since the housing crisis of 2007, the USD lost value against the GBP. But ever since the Brexit vote for the UK to leave the European Union in June 2016, the sterling pound has lost purchasing power. The rates are better than ever for US travelers, so lock in your rates with a travel money card or traveler’s checks.

    What’s the best way to take your travel money to the UK?

    Like the US, you can pay for most your your travel with a credit card. You’ll find that most major credit cards are accepted everywhere. Make the most of your money on your travels and find a card that offers travel rewards or a card that’ll waive foreign transaction fees.

    It’s good to carry some cash for smaller purchases or to use for tips. You’ll easily find ATMs at banks, stores and gas stations — but try to only use your debit card. You’ll pay steep fees getting a cash advance from your credit cards.

    Travel money options for UK at a glance

    Travel money option Pros Cons
    Debit cards
    • Use at stores and hotels, online and ATMs
    • Protected by PIN & chip
    • Spending your own money means avoiding interest charges
    • International ATM and currency conversion fees
    • No access to cash advances
    Prepaid travel money cards
    • Lock in exchange rate when you convert USD to GBP
    • Can hold multiple currencies.
    • Protected by PIN & chip
    • Emergency card replacement and backup cards
    • Reloadable online
    • Come with lots of fees for loading and reloading, inactivity and ATM withdrawals.
    • Your name isn’t printed on the front
    • Businesses won’t accept prepaid cards
    Credit cards
    • Major credit cards widely accepted
    • Protected by PIN & chip
    • Accepted worldwide
    • Interest-free days when you pay your account in full
    • Some cards offer travel benefits
    • Emergency card replacement
    • Fees and interest for cash withdrawal
    • Many cards charge 3% currency conversion fees
    Traveler’s checks
    • Security
    • Cash at any bank
    • Fees for purchasing and cashing checks
    • Not accepted by many merchants
    • Currency exchange rate varies over time
    Cash
    • Greater payment flexibility
    • Convenience
    • More 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.

    How to send money to UK

    How travel money works in the UK

    Using prepaid travel cards

    The biggest benefit of travel cards is that you can load up to three currencies at once and lock in a favorable exchange rate. If you need more than one currency on your travels, you can save money on the 3% currency conversion fee you’ll pay with other credit and debit cards.

    Where you save in the conversion rates you may pay in fees. You’ll pay fees each time you load the card, ATM withdrawals and sometimes even an inactivity fee.

    • Tip: Banks that provide travel cards make money by applying a higher margin to the exchange rate. You can get a better rate using a debit card or credit card.

    Using debit cards

    A travel debit card could be a good travel money choice to take to the UK. You’ll have access to cash each time you come across an ATM, without carrying lots of cash on you all at once. Because you’re spending your own money, you avoid interest charges. The Citibank Plus waives the fee for international ATM withdrawals and doesn’t charge a monthly account keeping fee.

    • Tip: A debit card can be used for in-store purchases, online and for ATM withdrawals in the UK.

    Using credit cards

    You won’t have any problems using a travel credit card in the UK. Most major credit cards are accepted, but you’ll find it hard to use your Diners Club, American Express or Discover cards at small businesses. Find yourself a credit card that waives foreign transaction fees and offers travel rewards. Carrying a credit card gives you the added benefit of travel insurance and discounts, depending on your provider. For added savings, take advantage of the interest-free period by paying your balance in full each month.

    Cards that offer travel perks and waive fees often charge an annual fee, so make sure the fee is worth it before you bring it along on your travels. If you’re ever in a jam, credit cards also offer the ease of cash advances, though we don’t recommend it. You’ll pay high fees and interest rates apply the moment you get your money.

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    Interview with William Eve about UK travel money options

    We interviewed Will, a finder.com user, about his latest trip to the UK. He told us about his experience using credit and travel money cards.

    What credit cards, debit cards or travel money cards did you take with you?

    Why did you take these cards?

    Will traveled to France, Spain and the UK while on his trip, so he needed both euros and pounds. He brought his Cash Passport Mastercard so he could carry both currencies and lock in a strong exchange rate. For most of his other purchases he used hisBritish Airways Visa Signature® Card. He earns rewards for every dollar he spends — and there’s no foreign exchange fees.

    Were there any places where your cards weren’t accepted?

    Will found a few places where the Cash Passport travel card wasn’t accepted. Instead he used his British Airways card or he easily found an ATM to take out cash. There were a few small businesses that were cash only, but for the most part, he didn’t run into many problems using his credit card.

    How much cash would you take on a three-week holiday?

    Will says he was shocked at how expensive things were in the UK compared to other European countries. Will budgeted for $150 per day for a total of $3,000 over three weeks in the UK (including accommodation). Though he says he could have easily spent double this amount.

    What money tips do you have to anyone traveling to this country?

    Pay attention to how much you spend on food and alcohol. Will says eating out and drinking in London and other parts of the UK is extremely expensive. He gives this advice for keeping costs low: “Hunt out good pub meal bargains and shop at Tesco and Sainsbury’s for your other meals. Try to avoid drinking coffee out.”

    Will also recommends AirBnB, especially if you’re traveling as a group. Hostel dorm beds were upward of £35 a night.

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    A guide to deciphering pound sterling banknotes

    The pound sterling is the official currency of the UK and is the fourth most traded currency in the world. One pound is subdivided into 100 pence and comes in denominations of £5, £10, £20 and £50 banknotes, issued by the Bank of England for over 300 years. All banknotes feature Queen Elizabeth II on the front.

    Banknote Features

    £5

    £5-note

    The current £5 banknote features Elizabeth Fry, who made her name fighting for improved living conditions for women in European jails.
    Issued on May 21, 2002.

    £10

    10-pound-note

    The back of the £10 banknote is Charles Darwin, the Victorian naturalist who developed the theory of evolution.
    Issued on November 7, 2000.

    £20

    20-pound-note

    The £20 banknote features the Scottish economist, Adam Smith with an illustration of ‘The division of labour in pin manufacturing’.
    Issued on March 13, 2007.

    £50

    50-pound-note

    The new-style £50 banknote entered circulation on November 2, 2011.
    The note features two Britons on the back — Matthew Boulton and James Watt with steam engine and Boulton’s Soho factory.

    Finding travel insurance for your trip to the UK

    • Lost luggage
    • Travel interruption
    • Lost or stolen travel documents
    • Cancellation
    • Personal liability
    • Repatriation
    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

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    Case study: Roslyn’s experience

    profile pic

    Roslyn McKenna
    Publisher

    I visited the UK with friends in October 2018. I used my Quicksilver Capital One Visa just about everywhere because it has no foreign transaction fees and gives a flat cashback rate on everything. I also brought a few hundred dollars for small transaction amounts and exchanged it in the London Heathrow airport at a fair rate.

    The only issue I encountered was the new scanning credit card machines. I’d made sure I had the newer chip-and-PIN card when I traveled to Japan, but I didn’t know the UK had already switched over to newer scanning chips. My card was declined at several places, like at Tesco supermarkets because it was a foreign card that could only be inserted or swiped.

    If you’re going abroad, it’s helpful to get a solid cashback card with free foreign transactions that uses the most up-to-date payment style.

    Disclaimer

    Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.

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