Between credit cards, debit cards, travellers’ cheques, prepaid currency cards and cash, there are plenty of options to choose from when spending abroad. An important factor to consider is getting a good deal on the exchange rate. But you should also bear in mind how convenient your chosen option will be – for example, traveller’s cheques are not accepted in all countries – and how safe it is from theft and fraud.
Comparing exchange rates
To judge whether you’re getting a good deal on an exchange rate, compare it with the current interbank rate. This is the rate the banks themselves pay for currency and is easily checkable online. Consumer travel rates are always different to bank rates, but a smaller gap between the two means a better deal.
American Express Travel Money Now is an online exchange service offering competitive rates, commission free. Your currency is ready to pick up at the airport on your way abroad.
Fees on currency exchange
Some currency exchanges have a ‘no-fee’ service but might recover these costs through their exchange rate. Compare the rate and fees charged on your debit card before exchanging – you might find it’s cheaper overall to withdraw cash from an ATM.
Debit card versus credit card
Use your debit card abroad to withdraw cash, but leave big purchases for your credit card. Mistakes on debit card purchases might take several days to be credited back, leaving you out of pocket. Cash withdrawn on a credit card can attract less favourable exchange rates and higher charges, such as cash advance fees.
It’s also a good idea to know what to do if you lose your card abroad. For more information, you can visit our page on lost and stolen cards.
Prepaid currency cards
The convenience of prepaid travel money cards means their popularity is growing fast. They work much like gift cards in that travellers can load currency onto them and use them while abroad until the balance is reduced to zero. Should someone steal your prepaid card, you only stand to lose the remaining balance because they don’t come with a credit facility.
Using traveller’s cheques
Traveller’s cheques are less widely used than a decade or two ago, but they can still be a good fall-back option. They’re safer than cash for carrying large amounts because they can be replaced if lost or stolen. However, because fewer banks, bureaux de change and shops accept them, it’s best to rely on them only in emergencies.
If you’re travelling to a country where the majority of your spending will need to be in cash – for example for hotels or car hire – it’s wise to contact your bank before you go to ask if they can temporarily raise your daily withdrawal limits.
If you need help locating your nearest ATM abroad, you can use The American Express ATM Locator.