Ruth Emery
By Ruth Emery
Finance Journalist
Updated 02 May 2024
|Read time: 5 mins

Plan ahead and be prepared when you spend abroad

You’ve booked your holiday, checked the weather forecast, and are busy working out what to pack for your trip abroad.

But what about your spending money? This may sound like an odd question, but there are a variety of ways to pay for your holiday expenses like restaurant bills, souvenirs, taxi fare and tips.

By planning ahead, you can reduce the charges and get a great deal on your holiday money, leaving you extra cash to spend on another cocktail or maybe a spot of retail therapy.

We explain some of the best way to spend money abroad.

Using foreign exchange services before you fly

It’s a good idea to think about the best way to take money abroad as soon as possible – rather than suddenly thinking about it at the airport or once you’re in your destination – as this means you can get a competitive deal, and arrive on holiday with some foreign currency already in your pocket.

This is handy for paying for any essentials when you land, like a cold drink or much-needed snack, or for a taxi to your hotel. In many countries, tipping is part of the culture, so it’s worth having some euros, dollars or pesos on hand for things like tipping the taxi driver or hotel staff.

Exchanging cash in advance before your trip is often one of the best ways to spend money abroad. It will avoid you having to pay  poor exchange rates at certain airports, especially if you don’t know what their rates will be before you leave for your trip. Airport bureaux de change have a captive market, and sometimes offer some high exchange rates. It’s best to plan ahead of time and buy currency at the best possible rates.

For commission-free foreign currency at a great rate, you can order in advance from John Lewis, and pick it up from a John Lewis or Waitrose near you, or have it delivered to your home the next working day. Order more than £500 worth of currency and you’ll get free home delivery. Not going to be in? You can also collect your travel money at your local John Lewis or Watirose, also free for orders worth £500 or more.

Partnership Card holders also won’t have to pay any cash advances fees when you buy currency with John Lewis, online or in store.

Using a debit or credit card

As well as having some holiday money in your purse or wallet, it’s wise to pack a debit or credit card too. It means you can avoid carrying large amounts of cash around, and if using a credit card for an expensive transaction, you’ll get certain legal protections if anything goes wrong. If your wallet is lost or stolen, it should be fairly straightforward to cancel your card(s) too. 

Bear in mind that some card providers charge an exchange fee when you use the card abroad, and may charge an additional fee for withdrawing money at an ATM. Before travelling abroad, always make sure you check ahead with your provider on exchange rates or fees.

Our Partnership Card can be used abroad wherever you see the Mastercard logo. However, if you plan to use your Partnership Card abroad, please be aware that a foreign exchange fee is charged on top of your purchase. 

One tip if you’re paying with a card whilst on holiday: if you’re asked whether you want the transaction to be in pounds or the local currency, never pay in pounds! Otherwise, it’ll likely be processed at a worse exchange rate, and may cost you more.

Using a prepaid card

If you want to stick to a budget and don’t want to only carry cash with you, a prepaid card may be an alternative way to spend abroad that could work for you.

They work in a similar way to debit cards: you can withdraw cash at an ATM, and pay for shopping and restaurant bills. Prepaid cards can usually hold multiple currencies, useful if you’re globe-trotting and visiting lots of countries.

There can be fees involved with prepaid cards, such as an application fee, transaction charge and inactivity fee, so check these closely if you’re thinking about taking one out.

How to keep your cash safe

For many people, a combination of exchanging some money before their trip, and paying for certain things on a card, is one of the best ways to take money abroad. 

Having physical notes can make budgeting easier, and you know that wherever you're going in the world, places are bound to accept cash (whereas not everywhere accepts plastic).

However, taking cash on holiday does raise the question of safety. Thankfully, there are some simple measures you can take to reduce the risk of having your money stolen and your holiday ruined.

Keep your money out of sight, and perhaps split it up so you keep some in your bag and some hidden away in a pocket.

Don’t walk around carrying large amounts of cash. Put some of it in your hotel room safe. Consider using a money belt as this can be safer than carrying a wallet. Stay alert, and watch out for anything suspicious or someone trying to distract you.

Finally, check your travel insurance policy regarding lost or stolen money, so you can be prepared if anything were to happen.

We make travel money easy

It’s handy to have some local cash when you go on holiday. For foreign currency at great rates, pop to a Bureau de Change in our John Lewis & Partners shops around the UK or order online using our currency converter.

Exchange rates in our shops may vary from those offered online.

Here we explain the answer to “how much money can I take abroad?” as well as rules around bringing cash into the UK.

If you’re thinking of using a bank card abroad, make sure you check what fees you could be charged.

One of the most popular times to go on a European city break is over the Christmas period.

John Lewis Finance and John Lewis & Partners Bureau de Change are both trading names of John Lewis plc. Registered office: 171 Victoria Street, London SW1E 5NN. Registered in England (Registered Company Number 233462). John Lewis plc introduce the panel of carefully chosen providers in Bureau de Change products and services, whom each hold the appropriate licences with the Financial Conduct Authority and HMRC.

Foreign Currency online from both John Lewis Finance and John Lewis & Partners is provided by First Rate Exchange Services Limited registration number 04287490 (Money Service Business licence number MLR-64068), whose registered office is at Great West House, Great West Road, Brentford, West London, TW8 9DF England.

Copyright © John Lewis Partnership
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