Get the best exchange rates - shop around to avoid rip-off bank fees and terrible exchange rates
Having just returned from a couple of weeks in Italy, I thought Id see how badly I had been ripped off at the airport when buying Euros.
I used the Travelex kiosk at Heathrow, but the exchange rates were similar to other foreign exchange companies - £100 bought around 1.10, but when selling Euros the rate was about 1.30. This spread is basically their profit margin the publish exchange rate is currently 1.20 and this spread is much wider for less popular currencies such as Egyptian pounds, Thai Baht or South African Rands.
The guy at Travelex was kind enough to tell me give him cash rather than paying with my debit card otherwise Lloyds bank would have charged another 3 percent on top. I was changing £300 into Euros, so I saved £9 simply by using the cash machine next to the kiosk. The Travelex fee was effectively £30, and I would have saved this if I had been prepared and shopped around before getting to the airport.
Lesson 1: Never exchange money at the airport you are a captive customer at an airport or ferry terminal and pay for the convenience of exchanging cash there to get the best exchange rates you simply need to book your currency online and either get it delivered or pick it up from a kiosk at the airport or at your bank, post office or other provider. The Travelex rate for pre-booked money is currently 1.18.
I have now been through my bank statement to see what rate I got at the cash machines in Italy I have a Lloyds Mastercard, although I believe these rates are fairly typical. The exchange rate is not too bad 1.16, but the bank also charges a cash advance fee of £3.76 so on top of the 3-4% spread they made on the transaction they charged me the additional 3 percent fee. Apparently you can find these details in very small print on the bank charges paperwork.
Lesson 2: If you must use your card abroad, make sure you buy things directly with it; dont use cash machines.
Another little-known rip-off is this: when making big purchases in overseas shops, and sometimes when taking cash out of machines in the wall, you may be asked if youd like to pay in pounds or Euros. Usually the retailers exchange rate will be even worse than your own card.
Lesson 3: To get the best exchange rates, always reject offers to pay in the local currency with your debit or credit card.
Many companies are now offering travel currency cards these are one of the best ways to exchange money at the best rates or take money abroad. They offer some of the best exchange rates and they dont add a cash advance fee or similar load which you can get on your standard credit or debit card and can be safer than cash. These cards shouldnt be used in the UK as interest rates are higher than on normal cards, and they generally also charge an extra fee for using cash machines - so use them for direct purchases where possible. As with all credit cards, you should set up a direct debit to pay off the card every month, but note that some cards charge an extortionate interest rate on cash withdrawals even if paid off in full at the end of the month.
Final advice on getting the best exchange rates and avoiding rip-off bank charges: either pre-book your currency at least 4 hours before you arrive at the airport, or if you travel regularly get a currency card.
The following reputable companies offer pre-booked currency which can be delivered to your door in the United Kingdom: Crown Currency Exchange, Tesco, The Post Office, Marks and Spencer and Travelex.
The following providers offer currency cards: Halifax, Nationwide, Santander Zero, Post Office and Lloyds TSB.