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Cash or Card? – How to spend money abroad wisely

Cash or Card? – How to spend money abroad wisely

Contributed by @YemiAwop

Raise your hand if you’ve been a victim of some of the ruthless exchange rates and charges when travelling. Sometimes it’s due to emergency, laziness or pure bad luck that we end up paying over the odds. There are different ways to minimise these violations, including using a card or cash when abroad. The method you choose comes down to your personal preference but can go a long to making your money stretch a little further.

Cash or Card? – How to spend money abroad wisely


A friend of mine recently exchanged £50 for €50! Brexit or no, Brexit; this was day light robbery. It ultimately depends on where you go to exchange your money, so make sure you have enough time to do some research and find the best places where you can get more bang for your buck. Be careful not to be fooled by “zero commission” adverts as sometimes it is embedded in the rate or there’s a minimum amount you will need to exchange.

Advantages of using cash

  • Cash is King! With cash, you don’t need to spend time looking for ATMs or worrying about acceptance

  •  No fees when you spend your money

Disadvantages of using cash

  • Security. Once it’s gone, nine times out of ten you aren’t getting it back. You can lose it by accident or sheer carelessness, but it does and can happen

  • If travelling for a long time and to multiple countries then you’ll be carrying a lot of money on you

  • Coming home with currency that its unlikely you’ll ever use again

Cash or Card? – How to spend money abroad wisely


Using a card abroad can be much more convenient and safer. But depending on the country, you visit the opportunity to use your card can be quite low if ATMs or card accepting shops aren’t widely available.

When faced with the option to pay in the local currency or your home currency ALWAYS PAYS IN THE LOCAL CURRENCY. This is because the “Home” currency rate they offer has the shops own exchange rate plus some conversion charges, therefore, making it much worse than the rate your card provider would offer you if you paid in the local currency.
Cash or Card? – How to spend money abroad wisely

If you decide to go cashless here are different ways to do it:


  • Money comes directly from your account, which allows you to effectively manage your spending
  • Safe and convenient use like when at home
  • Your money is protected if fraud has occurred on your account


  • Charged with 2 types of fees
  1.  Non sterling transaction fee, approx. 2%+
  2. Cash withdrawal fee ranges from around £4

If taking cash out then you’d be hit with both of these charges AND potentially an ATM fee from the machine itself

  • Not accepted everywhere and trouble finding ATMs
  • If you don’t notify your bank you’re going abroad your card may be suspended
Cash or Card? – How to spend money abroad wisely

Credit Card


  • Safe and convenient like Debit cards

  • Plenty of specialist cards which do not charge fees when you spend abroad

  • Shopping protection for any faulty goods and fraud protection


You will have to pay interest if:

  1. You don’t pay your balance off in full by the due date (check out my previous posts on managing debt here)
  2. You withdraw cash – some providers’ T&Cs require you to pay interest from the first day you make an ATM withdrawal
  •  Faced with charges if you aren’t using a specialist credit card
  • Not accepted everywhere and trouble to find ATMs
Cash or Card? – How to spend money abroad wisely



  •  Flexibility to load the exact budget you want

  •  Depending on the card you can load different currencies and lock in exchange rates

  •  If you don’t use all the foreign currency you can send it back to your account or just use it when back at home


  • Depending on the card, you could be subject to fees for loading, withdrawing cash and for inactivity
  • If you run out of money and WIFI is unavailable then you will be unable to top up
  • Funds on the card aren’t protected like debit and credit cards
These days there are many ‘FinTechs’, businesses that provide financial services through the use of modern technology, who are changing the game in many areas of banking. One such area is spending abroad. You have FinTechs such as WeSwap, Revolut & Monzo who enable you to spend abroad without incurring transaction/ATM fees at next to perfect exchange rates. 

Next Steps

Which ever you decide to choose here are some last-minute tips to bear in mind to make sure you have a great trip:

  1. If you and your friends pool money and exchange it together, not only would you save time but you may get a better rate and avoid commission
  2. Shop around for the best rates; (Best Foreign Exchange, and Thomas Exchange). The difference between exchanging here and not at the better-known places such as the Post Office or local bank can be quite substantial
  3. Always carry a back up card just in case
  4. Some credit cards offer some great perks for travelling– lounge access, air miles, zero fees etc. Make sure you choose a card that gives you the best deal that suits your needs
  5. Take a look here to see the best products available for going cashless here

Holidays are all about you enjoying the memorable moments and counting the fun times rather than counting the pennies.

Have a great trip!



Twitter: @yemiawop


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