Foreign currency & 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.

Wise Multi-Currency Account

Spend in any currency, receive money for free & send money worldwide. T&Cs apply.

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:

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:

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:

An Post Money Currency Card

Get a prepaid Mastercard that lets you top up 16 currencies, and get 0% commission on foreign currency transactions. T&Cs apply.

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:

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 the maximum capped amount if lower.

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, these can be much higher.

Virtual Debit Card with Online Bank Account

Open a free N26 online bank account & get a virtual Mastercard debit card to use in store & online, accepted worldwide. T&Cs apply.

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% 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:

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.

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 in our guide how to choose the best travel insurance. We also look at how find cover when you’re an older traveller.

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.

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?

Prepaid travel cards typically have maximum load limits between €5,000 and €10,000 euros and minimum loads of €50.

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

Get a SIM only deal with the calls, texts and data you need for less.

It only takes a few minutes to find a cheaper deal and start saving.