Travel money & best ways to spend abroad

If you’re going abroad, you’ll need to decide whether to use travel cash or your cards. Here’s how to pick the best way to spend on holiday and get a better deal on foreign currency.

Ways to spend abroad

There are various ways you can spend abroad and each has advantages and disadvantages. We compare the different ways to spend when you’re travelling.

Here are three main ways to pay whilst on holiday abroad:

  1. Travel cash: This will need to match the currency of the country you’re visiting. Work out how much you need for your trip so you’re not left short, or carrying around too much.
  2. Prepaid travel cards: You can load the currency you need onto one of these cards before you go and use it like a debit card. You won’t be able to spend more than the amount you load.
  3. Credit or debit cards: You can usually take your existing cards, but they may have expensive fees and charges.

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Spending with foreign currency

Using the local foreign currency is often the easiest travel money option but it’s not always the best choice.

Foreign currency pros and cons

  • It’s accepted almost everywhere
  • There are no charges for paying in cash
  • It can help you to budget
  • You may lose some or have it stolen
  • Carrying a large amount is a security risk
  • You can only spend what you have

Where can I get travel money?

If you opt for foreign currency, here are some of the places you can order, collect and get it delivered from:

  • Your bank
  • A travel agent
  • An exchange bureau (airport or high street)
  • An Post
  • An online travel currency specialist

Ordering foreign currency

Each travel money provider will offer a different exchange rate, so always check rates and additional charges before you order.

If you order travel money online the rate may be better, but there could be additional costs like commission fees and home delivery charges.

Make sure you work out the overall price of the transaction before you order currency online.

Tips for getting the best exchange rate

Getting a good exchange rate gives you more travel money for your euro. Here are a few tips:

  • Shop around and compare rates from different providers. Some offer an online tool that lets you see how much currency you’ll get in return for your euro.
  • Order online and collect your order in person, as you’ll usually get a better rate.
  • Be aware of tiered rates and check which rate you’d get for the amount you need. The more currency you order, the better the rate.
  • Check the delivery charges if you order online or over the phone. These can vary depending on how much you buy so look at the total cost.
  • Watch out for commission charges but be aware that commission-free isn’t necessarily the best deal as the exchange rate may be lower.
  • Don’t buy your currency at the airport as you’ll usually get a bad exchange rate. If time is running out, order online in advance and collect it from the airport.

Free delivery on orders over €750

Buy your currency online with No1 Currency Ireland and get free delivery on orders over €750, plus 0% commission.

If you have currency left over at the end of your trip, you can get larger notes converted back to euro, but you may be charged.

Spending with a prepaid currency card

If you don’t want to carry your travel money as cash, but want to control your spending, a prepaid card could work for you.

Prepaid card pros and cons

  • Transaction fees tend to be lower than a credit card
  • Load the card with the amount you need
  • Reload the card while you’re away
  • Some cards let you load multiple currencies
  • You may be charged each time you make a transaction
  • Can be expensive to reload the card
  • You’ll need to apply for the card and wait for delivery
  • Can be expensive to withdraw cash

Here’s how to find the right prepaid card for your trip:

  • Opt for a travel prepaid card which is cheaper to use abroad than a standard one.
  • Check which currencies you can top up and choose a card that covers the countries you’re visiting.
  • Shop around: and compare transaction fees because some have zero foreign transaction fees.
  • Check the cost of ATM withdrawals and maximum daily withdrawal amounts, but avoid withdrawing cash while you’re away as this can be expensive.
  • Check the reload charges and minimum and maximum loading amounts, but avoid topping up if you can as this can be expensive.
  • Choose a recognised card scheme that’s accepted where you’re travelling, for example, Visa and Mastercard.

An Post Money Currency Card

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Spending with a debit or credit card

Taking your debit or credit card away with you seems like a simple solution, but there are lots of hidden costs you may not be aware of.

Charges depend on things like:

  • Whether your purchase is in euro or another currency
  • Who you bank with
  • Whether you’re withdrawing cash or purchasing goods or services on your card

Debit card pros and con

  • It’s more convenient and safer than carrying cash
  • You can put a stop on your card if it’s lost or stolen
  • You have access to more funds if you need them
  • You may be charged for every transaction you make
  • Some retailers and restaurants may not take cards, or apply a minimum spend
  • You could go overdrawn and be charged

Each time you use your debit card outside the EU, you’re likely to be charged a percentage of the transaction’s value (up to 3%) or a minimum transaction fee (up to €3).

If you travel abroad often, you could save by getting a debit card with zero fees on foreign transactions. Be aware of charges for ATM withdrawals though.

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Credit card pros and cons

  • Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted worldwide
  • You can buy now and pay later
  • You can put a stop on your card if it’s lost or stolen
  • You get chargeback protection in the EU
  • Some credit cards offer zero foreign transaction fees or travel perks
  • It can be expensive to withdraw cash
  • You’ll be charged interest on cash withdrawals
  • Transaction charges are usually the highest
  • There’s no cap on charges for non EU purchases
  • You may be tempted to overspend

Some credit cards in Ireland promise no foreign transaction fees on euro transactions and add nothing on top of the Mastercard exchange rate.

Outside the EU, you’ll be charged a currency conversion fee (around 1% of the purchase) each time you use your credit card or withdraw money. Typically you’ll pay a percentage of the transaction value (up to 3%) or minimum transaction charge (up to €3) too.

Avoid withdrawing cash with your credit card as you’ll also be charged a cash advance fee. Plus, you’ll be charged interest even if you pay your balance in full at the end of the month.

So, what is the best travel money option?

The best way to spend abroad will depend on lots of things like:

  • Where you’re going: If it’s within the EU, cash withdrawals won’t cost any more than normal so using your card is an option.
  • How long you’ll be away for: Using cash on a short trip may be more feasible than a much longer trip as working out your spending will be easier and you’re likely to need less.
  • Your budget: If you want to control your spending, cash or a prepaid card is a good option.
  • Your spending needs If you want easy access to more funds, a debit or credit card will give you this, but look for one with low foreign transaction fees.
  • The type of trip you’re going on: An all-inclusive holiday will keep spending to a minimum and foreign currency may be all you need, while a shopping trip to New York may require the flexibility and protection of a credit card.

Tips for spending while you’re abroad

Now you’ve sorted out travel money for your foreign trip, here are some other ways to save money and keep costs down whilst travelling abroad.

  • Tell your bank you’re going away to avoid your bank cards being blocked.
  • Pay in the local currency rather than in euro, as it’s usually cheaper in local currency.
  • Have more than one way to pay: Use cash for small purchases and a credit or prepaid card for larger purchases.
  • Limit the number of card transactions to save on transaction charges, unless you have a card with zero foreign transaction fees.
  • Say ‘no’ to ATM currency conversions: Don’t let the ATM charge your Irish account in euro, as the exchange rate is usually worse than your bank and you could pay as much as 5% more.
  • Work out your budget and stick to it: Avoid reloading charges on a prepaid card or ATM withdrawal fees.
  • Spend loose change and small currency notes before you go home as these can’t be converted back to euro.

Not sure how much you’ll need? Think about how much money you’ll use for food and drink each day, plus travel and excursions, then add a bit extra for emergencies.

What else do you need to sort?

Before you think about your travel money, make sure you buy travel insurance as it could save you thousands if something were to go wrong.

We can help you decide whether you need single trip or annual cover or cover for your family. Here’s how to choose the best travel insurance, whether you’re an older traveller or planning a winter sports holiday.

Don’t forget to take your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) if you’re travelling in the EU.

Travel money FAQs

Can I use chargeback on foreign transactions?

A chargeback is where you dispute a transaction on your debit or credit card, usually because:

  • You didn’t authorise the transaction (may be fraudulent)
  • The transaction went through twice
  • You didn’t get the goods or services you paid for

If you have disputed transaction occur while on a foreign holiday or business trip, you can still initiate a chargeback process, but contact your bank or card issuer as soon as possible.

If you want to know more about how chargeback works, see our helpful guide about refund rights.

Can I use travellers cheques?

It’s best not to as they’re no longer widely available or accepted. Even if you manage to get some, you could find yourself unable to cash them in at your destination, which would leave you without money to spend.

How will my travel money be delivered?

Your travel money will be sent via An Post registered mail if you order within the Republic of Ireland. This means it will be fully insured and a signature will be required upon delivery.

Should I pay in euros or local currency when using my card abroad?

It is recommended that you pay in local currency when on holiday or a business trip. This is to stop extra fees or poor exchange rates being applied at ATMs, shops or restaurants.

If you plan on using a debit or credit card, it’s a good idea to choose one that has zero foreign transaction fees on purchases.

What is the maximum I can load on a prepaid currency card?

The maximum you can buy is €6,000 in a single transaction with An Post. Other prepaid travel cards typically have maximum load limits between €5,000 and €10,000 euros and minimum loads of €25-€50.

You will need ID like your EU driving licence or passport if you are buying sterling or dollars over €250.

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