Getting the best out of your holiday money


General Finance

It’s nearly time for that well-deserved trip abroad that you’ve been waiting for, so let’s run through your checklist.

Got your nicest sunglasses ready to protect you from the sun and the world’s worst hangover? Check! Loaded up with enough suncream to cover a small village? Check! Got your travel money? Oh, not quite ready yet!

A survey by consumer intelligence showed that most people prefer to go to a bureau that’s convenient rather than to shop around for currency. 54% of those asked would accept the first deal they were offered, but there are some really simple ways to save even at your local branch.

We’ve put together a quick and easy guide to help you make sense of foreign exchange, and show you how to get as much for your money as possible.

I’m going away and need some foreign currency, but I have no idea what the rates on the board mean!

A travel money rate board that you might see in a bureau de change

Don’t let a rate board like this overwhelm you! It might look baffling, but it’s easy to break down what each part means:

0% commission

When you buy currency, some foreign exchange bureaux charge commission for their services. There are plenty of places that don’t, so shop around to avoid extra charges.


This is a list of popular currencies that the bureau sells. Don’t panic if you can’t see the currency you need. Ask an advisor if they have any in and if they don’t, see if they can order it for you.

We Sell

This is the rate you use when you’re going on holiday and want to exchange pounds to something else. The number on the board is the amount that you get for every £1 you spend.

When it says ‘we sell’, it means ‘we sell to you’, not that you’re selling money back. You want the sell rate to be as high as possible, so you get more currency to take away with you.

We Buy

This is the rate you’ll get when you bring money back after your holiday and exchange it for pounds. The number on the board is the amount that you have to give in that currency to get £1 back.

When it says ‘we buy’, it means ‘we buy back from you’, not that you’re buying something. When you’re looking at a buyback rate, you want it to be as low as possible to get the most money back that you can.

Unless you have a buyback guarantee, you won’t get back what you spent in the first place. This is how foreign exchange bureaux make their money!

Still confused?

If you’re not 100% sure what your currency is worth in pounds, ask an advisor for a converter or to write it down for you so it’s clear. That way, it’s easier to keep track of how much you’re spending and what you have left.

How can I get a better rate?

The rate on the board might be the standard in store rate, but there are often ways to get a bit extra for your money:

• Order online

Online rates are usually higher and as it’s reserved for you, there’s no need to worry about it being in stock. It can be a gamble as the rate is locked in, so you won’t benefit if it goes up, but if it drops you’ll be better off.

• Don’t leave it last minute

Airport rates are always rubbish because they know you might need some currency when you first land, so make sure you’re prepared and get your money before you go.

• Price matching

If you see a better rate than the one advertised, ask if the bureau can match it. Price matches don’t usually apply to online rates, so phone up for an accurate rate rather than googling them.

• Rate brackets

You can sometimes get an improved rate on larger spends, for example £1000 and over. Check if this is the case and if it isn’t, ask if they could offer you a better rate because you’re spending more. You’ve got nothing to lose as they can only say no!

• Keep your eyes peeled

Look out for online rate sales, buyback guarantees and in store deals. Can you get points or any benefits? If you work in a supermarket with a bureau, is there a staff rate? There’s often something that’ll sweeten your deal.

• Go on the charm offensive

Exchange rates aren’t set in stone, so try a bit of buttering up before you negotiate your rate. Anyone who’s ever worked in retail will tell you that they’d rather help out a friendly customer than a grumpy one!

Always bring ID

If you’re asked to provide ID when you get your currency, don’t take it personally. As foreign exchange bureaux deal with money, they have to make sure they abide by anti money laundering regulations. It’s for your protection as well as theirs.

Even if you’re not buying a lot, always bring either a passport or UK photo driving licence with you. It’s better to have it and not need it, than to find you need it and haven’t brought it.

Don’t assume the currency is euros

“I’m going to Poland, so that’s euros right?” Wrong! You’ll actually need Polish zloty. If you’re going to somewhere in Europe, double check what the currency is before you buy.

“I’ll get euros anyway, because I must be able to spend them in a European country.” Incorrect answer! You only have to look at the UK as an example – we’re in Europe, but we don’t take euros.

Some Eurozone countries with their own currency will accept euros, but if they don’t, you stand to lose money when you exchange them back at home.

Always pay in local currency when you’re using your debit card

A lot of people make this mistake thinking that it’ll be cheaper, but if you choose to pay in sterling you might be hit by extra conversion fees and lousy exchange rates. Some cards will offer fee free withdrawals up to a certain point, but will charge for any withdrawals after that.

With a thinkmoney debit card, you will always be charged the same fee of 2% of the transaction amount when you use it abroad. No need to worry about surprise charges ruining your trip, and you can easily keep track of your spending with our app.

Let us know you’re going on your jollies!

Don’t forget to tell us you’re going away so we know it’s you using your card. To keep us in the loop, you can either:

  • Text 'CHANGE' followed by where you're going and when to 07786 200 077 or 81122, for example: CHANGE Spain 21st October to 26th October
  • Or call 0161 779 5000

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