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Holiday money - using your cards abroad

14th May 2024

Practical tips to give you the confidence to choose card or cash on holiday 

Whether it’s buying drinks or dinner, settling a hotel bill or picking up a few souvenirs, there are plenty of things to spend money on when you’re on holiday. But is it best to tap your card or hand over cash? Cards may be more convenient, but many of us are worried about exchange rates and hidden charges if we use them overseas.

This simple guide explains everything you need to know to help you make the right decisions when you’re away, and avoid any nasty surprises when you get home.

Can I use my card abroad?

The simple answer is yes, you can usually use a debit or credit card overseas, just as you do at home.

But be aware that contactless payments may not be as widespread in some countries, so make sure you memorise your PIN before you go away.

Make sure your bank or card provider has up-to-date contact details for you, and make a note of their contact details for customers overseas - it is a good idea to save it into your phone.

Benefits of spending on your card abroad

Just like at home, using a card is quick and convenient, and you don’t have to carry large amounts of cash, which could be lost or stolen.

Most shops, bars and restaurants will accept debit and credit card payments, and you can also take out local currency from an ATM if you need it.

You benefit from competitive exchange rates, and have the same protection against fraudulent spending as you do at home.

Are there downsides to using a card outside the UK

Most card issuers will charge a transaction fee for overseas spending, which can add up over the course of a holiday.

If you use a credit card, it can be harder to stick to a budget too.

You may be given the choice to pay in sterling rather than the  local currency. If you take this option, the seller will set the exchange rate. If you pay in the local currency, your card provider sets the exchange rate.

What if I lose my card on holiday?

If your card is lost or stolen overseas, you have the same cover and protection as if you were in the UK.

Make sure you call your bank as soon as possible to report it.

What about cash?

Taking cash rather than relying on your cards makes it easier to budget, and once you have exchanged money into local currency, or withdrawn notes from an ATM, there are no extra transaction fees when you pay for anything.

Cash is also a convenient way to give holiday spending money to children, as well as making small purchases such as a coffee or ice cream, or leaving a tip in a restaurant.

If you do have cash, you should always use the safe in your accommodation if it has one.

Combining cards and cash

Many people opt for the convenience of cash and cards when they are on holiday.

It is useful to have a card for larger purchases and bills, such as hotel stays or car hire, and cash for smaller everyday buys such as an ice cream or bottle of water.

Just be aware of fees for using your card to pay for something or withdraw cash from an ATM.

How can TSB help?

TSB Money Confidence experts can help you with all aspects of your personal finances, including holiday money and how to save up for that break in the first place.

You can book a video call or an appointment in-branch, and you don’t have to be a TSB customer. Click here to find out more.

And click here for more information and advice about your holiday money.