IF YOU’VE not been on holiday for a year or two, steel yourself for a nasty surprise when you go to get your travel cash.
Exchange rates are pretty rubbish these days so don’t expect loads of euros or dollars for your hard-earned dough.
Exchange rates are one of those things in life that people tend to put up with but not question too much. But did you know that rip-off rates can vary considerably, not just at the exchange booth but when you shop, withdraw cash or send money abroad?
Here are a few tips to help you avoid getting caught out by a rubbish rate.
* Lots of us assume there’s one single exchange rate that fluctuates throughout the day. Actually, there’s a huge variation in the rates you’ll be offered for travel money, with the high street and the banks among the worst. Check out a free currency rate comparison online – Money Saving Expert have one on their website.
* Don’t buy currency at the airport. You’re a captive audience and the rates are often terrible. My jaw dropped recently when I saw an airport exchange where the pound was slightly less than the Euro. It’s an urban myth that you ‘get better rates when you buy abroad’ – I hear this one all the time, but it’s simply not true and you’re stuck with little choice once in a foreign country.
* Don’t use your card abroad if you can help it. Most banks and card providers will hit you with a 3% charge for each overseas transaction you make. But the big con is they set the exchange rate you are charged, which means it’s almost impossible to know how much that $100 you took out has cost you until much later.
* The same goes for transfers abroad. Banks often have high fees for transferring money – and some people have lost huge amounts by not paying to fix an agreed rate of money on a big transfer. Always fix the rate if you’re sending a large sum of money; for example, if you’re buying a property abroad.
* There are some specialist cards for spending abroad, you can find them online. Look for fees and exchange rate information before signing up. You may also want to consider a prepaid currency card, available from most exchange service providers. This saves you carrying around lots of money – but check how widely they’re accepted before signing up.
* People use services like Western Union or MoneyGram to send funds abroad. Useful, but they’re also the favourite tools of fraudsters, so never pay for goods or services to strangers by making this kind of transfer. Once you’ve sent it, you won’t see it again.
* And one old ‘trusty but true’ tip for holidaymakers. If you’re going away, don’t just have one source of money. If your cash gets pinched, then don’t be stranded because your cards were in the same wallet. Keep your money separate, have an emergency credit card in case there’s a serious problem and set a daily budget so you’re not carrying around a wad of notes to tempt pickpockets with.
James Walker is the founder of online complaint-resolution service resolver.co.uk He often appears on shows like BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours and Money Box – educating and campaigning on consumer rights. If you want help making a complaint go to resolver.co.uk or follow James @resolvercouk