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Hungary is a popular holiday destination for Brits with over 700,000 travelling each year. Budapest in particular is a big draw for those seeking culture, history, relaxation in its spa baths, or for stag and hen dos.
To enjoy all that Hungary offers, you will need a combination of cash and credit cards while travelling. Plastic is accepted throughout Budapest, the Lake Balaton region and other popular tourist hotspots.
Although credit and debit cards are widely accepted, some smaller towns and establishments accept cash only. You might even entice a discount from market vendors or in low to mid-range accommodation if you pay in Hungarian forint (HUF) cash.
Mastercard and Visa are the most commonly accepted card network in Hungary under Maestro and Cirrus for both paying in-store and withdrawing cash. American Express is accepted in some places, but this is less common.
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Cash machines are readily accessible in most parts of Hungary, especially in tourist centres. They can be found in supermarkets, airports, post offices, train stations and banks. You will need a four-digit pin to operate an ATM in Hungary.
When withdrawing cash, it’s better to use the Hungarian banks’ cash machines, rather than the smaller independent machines, which could charge extra fees. Euronet ATMs are particularly renowned for giving poor exchange rates.
It’s worth knowing that some cash machines at branches of one of the main banks, Országos Takarékpenztár (OTP), often give out large 20,000 forint notes, which can be tricky to get change from.
Cash is still popular in Hungary and you’re advised to have some on you at all times. Make sure your bills aren’t torn or damaged as they are unlikely to be accepted.
Some tourist businesses, such as hotels and guesthouses, accept euros, but their exchange rate isn’t very favourable so you’re recommended to pay in forint or a credit card instead.
Exchange bureaus throughout the country, including those in banks, all charge a mandatory 0.3% commission, but usually won’t charge any more fees. However, exchange bureaus in Hungarian airports are renowned for giving poor rates, so an ATM may be a better option when you first arrive. Never exchange money with street money changers as this is illegal.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 23.9% (variable) p.a. with a fee of £3 per month, your representative rate is 29.8% APR (variable).
Chip and PIN debit and credit cards are widely accepted in Hungary and are issued by Hungarian banks so are the norm throughout the country.
If you use a chip-and-signature card, you can use it in Hungary just about everywhere you find a staffed credit card machine. If you don’t have a PIN, an attendant will collect a signature from you. However, you may run into situations where your chip-and-signature card won’t work. For example, you might be in a pickle at an unstaffed train station kiosk.
Credit card fees can leave a noticeable dent in your pocket when you’re travelling abroad, so know what you’re up against well in advance and choose a card with no or low fees.
British credit card issuers typically charge a fee equivalent to 1% to 3% of your transaction, so carefully review your card’s small print to avoid statement surprises. Some cards designed for travel come with no foreign transaction fees, so this could be a good time to switch.
If a retailer offers to bill your credit card in sterling, dynamic currency conversion comes into play. While this might sound like a good deal, you will actually end up getting a worse exchange rate, and you might also end up paying currency conversion fees. Whenever you’re presented with an option, choose to pay in local currency.
Using your credit card to withdraw money from an ATM may not make sense unless it’s a bona fide emergency. Each time you withdraw funds from an ATM, you’re likely to pay a cash advance fee. Your APR for cash advances is normally higher than your purchase APR, and you’ll typically get no grace period on interest – instead, you start paying interest immediately. Again, some cards designed for overseas spending will waive the cash advance fee.
The table below serves as an example of how much extra you may pay to use your credit card in Hungary.
By exercising some caution when using your credit card in Hungary, you will have a relatively trouble-free experience.
Remain alert to street crime, as bag-snatching and pick-pocketing are common, particularly in Budapest’s tourist areas. You’re advised not to carry large amounts of cash so consider how much you need on a daily basis and consider leaving the rest in a safe at your hotel.
Always make sure to check the prices of food and drink before ordering as some less reputable businesses have been known to charge tourists extortionate rates. Check your bill carefully before paying.
Ask yourself these simple questions before you leave so your spending in Hungary does not hit any roadblocks.
When you’re in Hungary, you don’t have to worry about where and when you can use your credit card. Just keep some cash handy to pay for small purchases.
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