Money matters III

Cash or card?

Despite what people say, most places accept cash and most places accept card. They may prefer card as it’s easier for them. You also have a record of what you spend.

Using a card in a foreign country will incur a cost for you. Our bank once told us that they were associated with a well-known bank in the States and using a cash machine (ATM) at one of those branches would be an easier and cheaper experience. And it is. Check with your bank to see if they have a similar affiliation.

Contactless is very common. If you intend to use contactless, make sure it’s activated before you leave home.

Some places add a fee for a credit card transaction, while debit cards may be cheaper. The fee is usually several percent of the sale.

You should not need to give someone your card, and they should never take it out of your sight. If they do, you could be a victim of fraud.

Be careful with your card.

Foreign exchange

It’s always worth having some cash, for emergencies and smaller payments (and non-card places). Look around at home for the best rates. In London, there are exchange booths and shops all around. Generally, good rates means extra fees. Some of the larger stores (eg John Lewis) and post offices (if you can find one) do good rates. Banks (if you can find one) don’t tend to do walk in foreign exchange any more.

Some stores accept payment in cash in foreign currencies (USD and EUR). Exchange rates will not be favourable for you.


There are ATMs outside stores and in other random places, like railway stations. They are often not run by banks, but are private. You should not be charged a fee for using the machine, though, of course, exchange rates come in again.

Many of these machines look dodgy or vandalised. They may be fine, but we are cautious. Beware of people hanging around or looking over your shoulder.

Someone in the security department of our bank once gave good advice: don’t use machines outside shops (there’s a big risk of card being cloned or just taken), use a machine outside a bank, or inside a bank branch is even better.

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