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United Kingdom currency travel guide

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

When you’re visiting the United Kingdom’s England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, US citizens get an automatic visa for six months to drive over London Bridge, explore Stonehenge and sip tea by the Thames. To do so, you’ll pay either with your card or the pound sterling, the national currency.

Overall, the UK is becoming increasingly cashless, so you shouldn’t have a problem paying with Visa or Mastercard and, in many places, American Express. Go with a travel credit card to avoid those pesky foreign transaction fees that most credit cards charge.

Our picks for traveling to the UK

40+ currencies supported

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  • 4.85% APY on USD balances
  • $0 monthly fees
  • Up to $100 free ATMs withdrawals worldwide
  • Hold and convert 40+ currencies

Up to $300 cash bonus

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  • 0.50% APY on checking balance
  • Up to 4.60% APY on savings
  • $0 account or overdraft fees
  • Get a $300 bonus with direct deposits of $5,000 or more

Free ATM transactions

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  • $50 waivable monthly fee
  • 0% foreign transaction fee
  • Securely move money domestically and globally
  • 5 monthly out-of-network ATM reimbursements
  • Free international HSBC ATM transactions

Travel card, debit card or credit card?

Like the US, you can pay for most of 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 without 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.

These are your options for spending money in the UK

Using a credit card

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 like the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card (Terms apply, see rates & fees), helping you keep more money in your wallet for the nation’s ubiquitous tea and biscuits. 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.

Pros
  • 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
Cons
  • Fees and interest for cash withdrawal
  • Many cards charge 3% currency conversion fees

Which credit card issuers are accepted in the United Kingdom?

You’ll find American Express is accepted throughout the UK, but mostly in large cities. Mastercard and Visa are more widely accepted and popular as they’re also accepted in villages and smaller vendors.

If you have an Amex card and want to make a cash withdrawal, you’ll find most ATMs accept Amex cards. For Discover cards, look for Cardtronics, Moneycorp, Travelex and Yourcash ATMs.

Discover is also accepted through the Diners Club Network, which isn’t widely supported in the UK. Discover cards were once more widely accepted in large cities around England, but their popularity has greatly declined in more recent years.

Merchant acceptanceATM acceptance
Visacheck mark iconHighcheck mark iconHigh
Mastercardcheck mark iconHighcheck mark iconHigh
American Expressexclamation point iconMediumcheck mark iconHigh
Discoverexclamation point iconLowexclamation point iconLow

Compare travel credit cards

Explore top debit cards with no foreign transaction fees and travel credit cards by using the tabs to narrow down your options. Select Compare for up to four products to see their benefits side by side.

1 - 5 of 9
Name Product Fee Minimum deposit to open Annual Percentage Yield (APY) Offer
SoFi Checking and Savings
Finder Score: 4.5 / 5: ★★★★★
Bonus
SoFi Checking and Savings
$0 per month
$0
4.60% on balances of $0+
0.50% on balances of $0+
1.20% on balances of $0+
Get up to $300 cash bonus with qualifying direct deposit. Terms apply. This offer is available until December 31, 2024.
Upgrade Rewards Checking Plus
Finder Score: 4.3 / 5: ★★★★★
Upgrade Rewards Checking Plus
$0 per month
$0
N/A
Chime® Checking Account
Finder Score: 4.8 / 5: ★★★★★
Bonus
Chime® Checking Account
$0 per month
$0
N/A
Refer a friend to Chime using your referral link, and if they complete a $200 direct deposit within 45 days of opening their new account, you both get $100.
HSBC Premier Checking
Finder Score: 3.5 / 5: ★★★★★
HSBC Premier Checking
$50 per month
(can be waived)
$0
0.01% on balances of $5+
Acorns Checking
Finder Score: 3.6 / 5: ★★★★★
Acorns Checking
From $3 per month
$0
N/A
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1 - 5 of 21
Name Product Welcome Offer Rewards Annual fee Filter values
Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card
20,000 miles once you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $200 in travel
Up to 5x miles
$0
Earn 20,000 bonus miles once you spend $500 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening. See rates & fees
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
Up to 5x miles
$95
Earn 75,000 bonus miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months ​from account opening. See rates & fees
Bilt World Elite Mastercard® Credit Card
Bilt World Elite Mastercard® Credit Card
Bilt does not have a welcome offer. However, they have a unique bonus offer of double points on the first of each month – that’s 6x points on dining, 4x points on travel, and 2x points on other purchases (except rent). Use the card 5 times each statement period to earn points.
Up to 3x points
$0
Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card
$200 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
Up to 1.5% cash back
$0
More than an unlimited 1.5% cash back card: you'll also earn 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel (terms apply). See rates & fees
Capital One VentureOne Rewards for Good Credit
Capital One VentureOne Rewards for Good Credit
N/A
Up to 5x miles
$0
The same rewards and $0 annual fee as the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card, but for those with good credit. See rates & fees
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Using a debit card

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. Because you’re spending your own money, you avoid interest charges.

Betterment Checking is another account to consider as it offers no international transaction fee and a free daily ATM withdrawal limit of $500.
  • Tip: A debit card can be used for in-store purchases, online and for ATM withdrawals in the UK.
Pros
  • Use at stores and hotels, online and ATMs
  • Protected by PIN & chip
  • Spending your own money means avoiding interest charges
Cons
  • International ATM and currency conversion fees
  • No access to cash advances

Using a prepaid travel card

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.
Pros
  • 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
Cons
  • 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

Paying with cash in UK

Pros
  • Greater payment flexibility
  • Convenience
Cons
  • More difficult to manage expenses
  • Higher risk of theft

Using traveler’s checks

Pros
  • Security
  • Cash at any bank
Cons
  • Fees for purchasing and cashing checks
  • Not accepted by many merchants
  • Currency exchange rate varies over time
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UK currency

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.

BanknoteFeatures

£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 a steam engine and Boulton’s Soho factory.

The main banks in UK are:

  • HSBC Holdings
  • Barclay’s PLC
  • Royal Bank of Scotland
  • Lloyds Banking Group
  • Standard Chartered PLC
  • Santander UK
  • Nationwide Building Society
  • Schroders
  • Close Brothers
  • Coventry Building Society

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.

Live Rate

= £ 0.7886

Refreshing in: 60s | Mon, Jun 17, 01:45AM GMT

Find ATMs in UK

You can find ATMs all over the UK, including in banks, post offices, grocery stores, restaurants and hotels. Independently owned ATMs may charge a fee for your transaction, though you can find ATMs without fees. If you go with a Betterment Checking debit card in hand, you can get reimbursed for ATM fees within 24 hours of submitting the reimbursement.

How much should I budget to travel in 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 a mid-range budget and $400 if you’re looking to live it up. All prices are in US dollars.

BudgetMidrangeExpensive
AccommodationDorm bed
$30 per night
Double room
$80 per night
Boutique hotel room
$200 per night
MealsMarket-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
ActivitiesMany museums
Free
Theatre ticket
$30
Top theatre ticket
$80

*Prices are approximate and are subject to change.

Case study: William's experience

William Eve profile photo
William Eve

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 money tips do you have for 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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