- Make fee-free cash withdrawals
- Spend abroad with no fees
- Split costs with friends in seconds
Best ways to spend travel money in the USA: Debit & prepaid cards
Learn more about the best card to use, if you should use a UK debit card and other ways to take spending money to the USA.
The United States of America is a society of credit. If you’re travelling to the States, you can use your Visa, Mastercard and American Express cards everywhere. Banks are common and ATMs are inside most corner stores as well.
What is the best way to take and spend money in the USA?
You’ll find most Americans rely on their credit card or debit card to make purchases as much as cash. There are times when you’ll need to pay cash. For example paying for a drink at a small bar or buying a hotdog from a food truck might require cash. However, you will see that most merchants in American cities are set up with the infrastructure for card, contactless and mobile payments. Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Diners Club cards are widely accepted.
Travel money options for the United States
- No foreign cash withdrawal fees
- Great exchange rates
- 24/7 customer support
- No monthly fees
- Up to 3.5% cashback
- 20 currencies on one card
Can I use a UK debit card in the USA?
You can use any Mastercard or Visa branded debit card in the United States, though you should be weary of using it abroad as there may be fees attached. Barclays will charge a 2.75% non-sterling transaction fee, Lloyd’s will charge a 2.99% non-sterling fee on cash withdrawals and purchases, and NatWest/RBS will charge a fee of 3% (minimum £3). In the case that you find yourself needing to use a debit card abroad, it’s worth checking if your bank is part of the Global Alliance, a group of banks with an agreement to give customers a cheaper way to withdraw money abroad.
It may be a better idea to open an account with a separate bank or e-money provider that provides either low or no overseas fees and when travelling abroad, use this card instead of your main bank account.
Using prepaid travel cards
All UK travel money card issuers allow you to load and spend in United States Dollars. The main advantage of these cards is you can lock in an exchange rate when you convert GBP to USD and spend without paying the extra 3% for currency conversion. Although Visa, Mastercard and American Express are accepted everywhere (if the merchant can accept a credit card they can also accept a travel card), not all of them have your name printed on the front, which may cause the merchant to reject them. These instances may be limited to smaller shops. Compare these cards by the fees. For example, some travel cards waive the international ATM withdrawal fee. The local ATM fee is unavoidable unless your travel money provider has a pre-arranged deal with a US bank. There’s also the initial load fee, the reload fee and inactivity fees to think about too.
Using credit cards
The US is a society of credit, and credit cards, there are no issues with Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Diners Club card acceptance. Contactless payment terminals are common at places like Walmart, Target, Kmart and other major retailers. The currency conversion fee is the main charge to avoid when you’re looking at travel friendly credit cards. The international ATM fee is the other main fee; however, due to the extra charges which come with a cash advance, you should avoid using your credit card to make cash withdrawals. Depending on your card provider, you can avoid some cash advance fees by loading your credit card with your own money (keeping a positive balance), but you forego anti-fraud guarantees when you spend your own money on your credit card.
Using traveller’s cheques
Traveller’s cheques were once a staple for any overseas trip. In recent times, card acceptance and security have made these travel money products a burden.
How much sterling do I need to bring to the US?
There’s an old saying first coined in the Reader’s Digest, once you’re finished packing your suitcase, take out half the clothes and take double the money. Ultimately, how you take your money is up to you. Someone couch-surfing in San Francisco will have a different budget to someone on a New York shopping holiday. The USA also has a pretty big tipping culture – so keep this in mind when planning your travel budget.
|New York service
|Hostel: £20 – £40 per night
|Hotel / Motel: £105 per night
|5 star hotel / Superior suite: £245+ per night
|Food truck: £4 – £7
|Restaurant: £15 – £30
|5-star restaurant: £35 a plate
|Free festivals year round in American cities
|Guggenheim Museum: £18
|Broadway Musical: £140 – £250
*Prices are approximate and subject to change
Buying currency in the UK
If you’d like to have American dollars when you arrive, you have a number of choices for getting cash changed in the UK. Look at your bank and look at foreign exchange providers such as Travelex or No1 Currency.
There’s no restriction on the amount of foreign currency or U.S dollars you can bring into the US. You must declare your cash at customs if you’re taking more than $10,000 USD or the foreign currency equivalent.
- Tip: Make sure you’ve applied for your United States ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) before you leave for the USA. This will cost you $14 and you can pay by a Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Diners or Discover credit card.
Why you’ll need a combination of travel money options
Use a combination of travel money products which don’t charge for currency conversion and have low or no international ATM withdrawal fees. A travel card or debit card used in conjunction with a travel-friendly credit card will give you a cost-effective way to make both over the counter purchases and ATM withdrawals in the USA.
It’s important to have more than one way to access your money when you’re abroad. Travel to the United States is exciting, don’t make it stressful by limiting your options. By doing a little research before you go, you can save on fees which can easily add up to the cost of a night out or souvenir for a loved one.
You’ll find card payments are the norm in the USA, the currency conversion fee may not seem like much, but giving almost £10 for every $300 you spend or withdraw to your bank isn’t just unnecessary, it’s criminal. Compare travel money options and apply for a card you can use to spend for less in America to avoid throwing money at your bank while you’re visiting the United States of America.
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