How to get the best exchange rates


It seems like it’s getting easier and easier to pay for stuff.

Most of us have debit or credit cards that are accepted just about anywhere in the country, and with contactless payments all you need to do is wave your plastic about like an all-powerful money wizard and – abracadabra – transaction complete.

It’s getting so easy, in fact, that when we go abroad many of us forget that our usual money saving habits could cost us dearly. In fact, there’s an awful lot to consider if you want to ensure you’re getting the best performance from your pound.

Lending Stream to the rescue – here’s our guide for getting the best exchange rates.

Do your research

A lot of things will affect how you get the best rate for your pound. Firstly, you need to look at what the current exchange rate is in the country you’re going to, otherwise how can you be sure you’re getting a good deal?

If you’re going on a trip and plan to spend money throughout your travels, don’t just look once and forget about it. The foreign exchange market is very unstable and rates can change hour to hour, let alone week to week.

Find out how easy it is to use cash in the country you’re going to. If there aren’t many ATMs, and cards aren’t readily accepted, then this might influence how you choose to take your money.
Finally, some countries might have funny currency quirks you need to know about. For example, some currencies are only available in the country itself, and in Cuba there’s one currency for tourists and another for locals.

Don’t exchange currency at the airport

Airports are the last call for those people who haven’t read this blog and forgot to get their cash in advance. The exchanges know this, so their prices are often higher – it’s simple supply and demand.

Do yourself a favour and be prepared. If you want some currency on you before you reach the country, do some research on the best rates.

Use cash or debit if possible, as an exchange counts as a cash withdrawal, which could cause credit card charges and may harm your credit rating.

Avoid these debit cards

Some of the most popular UK banks charge an unbelievable amount for you to use your debit card abroad. Not only can they charge you a percent transaction fee for “non-Sterling transactions”, they could also charge set fees whenever you use the card.

Be sure to check with your bank what fees and charges are associated with your debit card while travelling abroad. And if they seem unreasonable, you could always open an account that gives you a specialist traveller’s debit card, but this may be more effort than it’s worth for just a cheeky holiday.

You could also consider one of the below options.

Specialist credit cards

Using a credit card abroad can be a good choice – but only in certain situations.

They’re super easy to get because you don’t need an account with the bank to get one. Therefore it’s easy to shop around for a card that has no hidden charges when spending abroad.
For credit cards, you may have Section 75 protection, which means that if you pay for any single item costing between £100 and £30,000 on credit, the credit provider and the retailer are jointly liable if something goes wrong. This may make it a lot easier to get refunds on goods purchased abroad.

Be warned that credit cards aren’t a good option if you plan to mainly spend cash abroad, because most credit cards charge either fees, interest, or both, when you use an ATM in another country. In this case a specialist travellers’ debit card may be the best choice. Make sure to read and understand the fees and charges associated with the option you choose.
One proviso to all this – make sure you pay your bills in full at the end of the month, otherwise interest charges will eat into all the money you saved.

Pre-paid cards

These are cards that a pre-loaded with a foreign currency before you go abroad. You can usually get a really good rate on these and they offer you almost as much flexibility as a credit card, with no interest to worry about.

They’re an especially good choice if you want to force yourself to stick to a budget, or if you want to take advantage of a good exchange rate for a long trip. Keep in mind, if you withdraw funds from an ATM with one of these cards, there is a fee of £1.50.

Be warned though that some places won’t accept these kinds of cards. You won’t be able to use one at car hires or petrol pumps, for example. There’s also no Section 75 protection like you have with a credit card.

Disclaimer: The information in this post is accurate as of 30/10/2015. There are conditions that must be met for claiming Section 75 protection. For more information visit Finally, withdrawing funds from an ATM with a pre-paid card usually, but may not always, cost £1.50.