Spending abroad: What are your options?

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

Ways to spend while you’re abroad

There are different ways you can spend abroad and they each have advantages and disadvantages. Here are the three main ways to pay:

  1. Travel money: 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.

Think about how much money you’ll need for food and drink each day, plus travel and excursions, then add a bit extra for emergencies.

Spending travel money abroad

Using the local currency is often the easiest way to spend but it’s not always the best choice. Here are the main 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

If you decide to take currency, some of the places you can get it from include:

  • Your bank
  • A travel agent or exchange bureau
  • The Post Office
  • An online travel currency specialist

Each supplier will offer a different exchange rate, so always check before you order.

Getting the best exchange rate gives you more currency 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: even if you collect your order, 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 in advance and collect it from the airport.

Only carry the cash you need for the day, and leave the rest in your hotel room safe.

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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 card

If you don’t want to carry 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
  • 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 - 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

An Post Money Currency Card

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

Spending with a debit or credit card

Taking your credit or debit 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 it’s in euro or another currency
  • Who you bank with
  • Whether you’re withdrawing cash or doing a card transaction

Debit card pros and cons

  • 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 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 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.

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
  • It’s 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

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. You’ll pay a percentage of the transaction value (up to 3%) or minimum transaction charge (up to €3) too.

Avoid withdrawing cash from 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 way to spend?

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 could work. If you need open access to more funds, a debit or credit card will give you this, but one with low foreign transaction fees will save you money.
  • The type of trip you’re going on: An all inclusive holiday will keep spending to a minimum, while a shopping trip to New York will make budgeting more difficult.

Tips for spending while you’re abroad

  • Tell your bank you’re going away: if you’re taking your cards, to avoid them being blocked.
  • Pay in the local currency: rather than in euro, as it’s usually cheaper in their currency.
  • Have more than one way to pay: For example, use cash for small purchases and a card for larger purchases.
  • Limit the number of card transactions: you make, 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, to 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.

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 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.

What is chargeback?

This 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

You should request a refund from the retailer first, and if they refuse to issue one, you can start a chargeback. This is where a transaction is reversed by the card provider.

It can be a lengthy process and depending on the credit or debit card scheme, you’ll have a set number of days from when the transaction took place to request a chargeback.

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