How do I get the best exchange rate for travel money?


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Hello! The Financial Wilderness was named in part after our love of getting out into the real wilderness, and having fantastic travel adventures. Over the years I have honed a few tricks to get the best exchange rate for my travel money and so I’m going to pass on some of the great resources to me.

Should I get my travel money at the airport?

So one of the inspirations for this post was a conversation with some otherwise highly intelligent people who made a very deep, dark confession to me….that they get their travel money at the airport just beyond they fly.

PLEASE do not be that person! As the travel money exchange at the airport knows you are a captive audience with need, you get abysmally ripped off and it’s so wasteful it might make me cry. And you wouldn’t want that, would you?

How much travel money should I take?

Depending where you’re travelling, I’d usually recommend taking some cash for tipping and emergencies and putting the rest on card.

What the rest of this article covers is how to maximise that cash and that there are very specific cards you should use.

Getting the best Cash Travel Money

For the cash, one of my favorite resources is to use comparison website

On the website you fill out what travel money you’re looking to get a how much, plus add on a few criteria – how far in advance it is before your holiday, if you’re looking for delivery or collection (collection is always better if you can) and if you live in London.

The site then provides a comparison of potential sources, starting with the cheapest – it’s never led me wrong and I think it’s fantastic.

(For those in London, a note that every single time I use this, collecting directly from Thomas Exchange Global comes up number one every time – I suspect they set their rate to ensure they’re unbeatable. I have used them many times and would recommend. Just be aware you need to pre-order via their fast track service rather than just turn up to get the best rate).

Avoid being charged for getting travel cash

One final note on getting holiday money is always to pay for your holiday cash with a debit card not a credit card. Most credit providers can see spending of this nature as a “cash advance’ (a bit like if you tried to withdraw pounds at an ATM with your credit card) and charge you for it.

Counting the best travel money at airport

Getting the best Travel Money credit card

For your spending on card there are a few good options – the most important thing is that you when you look at the terms and conditions you likely don’t want to use your regular bank card.

Even if your bank says they don’t charge you for purchases in foreign currency that’s only in terms of additional charges – instead they make their money but using an exchange rate that is advantageous to them rather than you. This can be costly.

So it’s worth getting a specialist card for your holiday spending, and there are quite a few good options around the market.

The Revolut Travel Money Card

Personally I use Revolut, which provides currency at about the best rate you can get.

It works as a pre-loaded debit card which you manage through the Revolut app – you transfer cash into your account, and have the option to either create a dollar-denominated account and convert it at the time of you choosing or keep the cash in £ and it will convert at the rate as you spend, which is normally how I go.

The card generally uses the interbank rates or close to for all foreign exchange transactions – which in terms of exchange rate is the best possible.

One thing I really like about it is the fact that you also get a notification to your phone when spending telling you exactly how much you’ve spent both in home currency and locally, which I find comforting. It also shows your spend history.

You can also withdraw up to £200 a month in cash – enough to cover you for small emergencies. Premium options where you pay a monthly fee let you withdraw more if you wish.

There’s a minor negative, which is that if you’re spending at the weekends you get a slightly worse rate (this is a liquidity premium as there is less money in the FX markets at the weekend. This is not enough to detract from using the card).

Getting a card with Revolut usually costs £5, however if you sign up via the Financial Wilderness’s link you can get it for free.

The Currensea Travel Money Card

Another option is to use the Currensea card which I also like very much.

Currensea also provide you with a debit card. However Currensea works slightly differently to Revolut in that you don’t have to pre-load it which makes it a little bit easier to use operationally.

Instead, you’ll link your Currensea card to your bank account and it will charge you via direct debit instead.

The rates are great, but they are beaten out slightly by Revolut unless you’re spending enough to use one of the premium plan options (if you’re a frequent traveller, this may be worth it).

Other Travel Money Card Options

There are some other good options out there, but at time of writing I’m not aware of a better option available on the market, as rivals have scaled back their FX offering a little bit. If you hear of one, please let me know as this market changes all the time.

Looking to save money on the rest of your holiday?

We’ve written an extremely detailed guide to all the tips and tricks we use to getting the absolute best value from booking hotels and flights.

Any questions?

Have you managed to find a particularly good resource, or have some questions about getting the best travel money rates? Just drop us a note in the comments below!

And if you’re looking for cheap flights to go with your travel money, be sure to check out The Frugal Expat’s guide to finding them!

And that’s it!

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