Archive for the ‘Travel Money’ Category

Financing those holidays

I was leafing through the categories and funnily enough though I write a fair bit about both holidays and finance I don’t think I’ve ever written something that covers both!

So, with the Christmas holiday season coming up, how were you planning on financing the holiday? Christmas is perhaps the worst holiday to finance as you can have a “worst-case” scenario in terms of finance with the potential for both Christmas presents and a foreign holiday which makes for quite a big bill for some people.

In an ideal world, you’d have saved up for it all months in advance, but then this isn’t an ideal world, is it? Therefore many people are looking to borrow money to finance it all.

Fortunately, many people are in the same boat and therefore there are lots of offers of credit around at this time of year. As a rule, avoid store credit for the presents as this is often the most expensive form of credit and instead look towards the banks. If you’ve not used up all the 0% card offers, this is the time to get filling in the appropriate application forms which can get you up to 9 months interest free credit on purchases and, if you’re lucky enough, you might be able to finance both the Christmas presents and the holiday with one of these cards.

One thing to avoid though is the head in the sand approach that many people take. That attitude will almost certainly cost you dear and you’ll end up paying way over the odds for your borrowing. Even if you can’t get 0%, at least check what interest you’re paying on your credit cards and use the one with the lowest rate to buy whatever needs bought.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

A drift from Visa to Mastercard: holiday implications

There seems to be something of a drift from issuing Visa cards to issuing Mastercards in the UK at the moment thereby reversing the previous trend which was to only issue Visa cards.

Although it doesn’t really matter which you have in the UK, it can matter a lot when you go on holiday and generally it’s best to be carrying both Visa and Mastercard abroad. In that respect the switch of my Halifax Visa card to a Mastercard suits me as that gives me a Mastercard credit card from them and a Visa debit card but others could easily find themselves with a Maestro card and a Mastercard which isn’t a good combination as Maestro isn’t nearly as useful as Visa debit and you’re left with two cards on the same system which isn’t good either.

Not a catastrophe for sure but do make sure that you have both varieties of card handy well in advance of your next holiday.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

Reducing the costs of using your credit/debit cards abroad

Of the hundreds of people who have stayed with us over the course of this year, only two or three have paid using the Nationwide credit card which is crazy as they’re the only place that doesn’t charge to use your cards overseas.

Perhaps more crazy though is that of the dozen or so couples who live in Spain and have used us as a pitstop on their way to/from the UK, only one used a Nationwide card as they’re spending quite a considerable chunk of their income on bank charges. Quite how much is staggering. For example, a friend who lives in Brussels let drop once that he just used his Halifax card in the same way that he had done when living in the UK ie he would lift £20 or £30 each time he needed some money and likewise when he was paying for the groceries or whatever.

Most people read the bit in the credit/debit card charging information that says “currency exchange 2.75%” and figure that he wouldn’t have run up much of a bill. However, there is a transaction charge on all overseas use of the card of, at that time, £2 (and I gather it’s now £3) PLUS the 2.75% foreign exchange charge. So, that £20 cost him £2.55 ie 12.75% and, yes, he was paying around 12% of his entire income each month on bank charges!!

Clearly it’s quite different if you’re living abroad vs going on holiday but that minimum charge soon mounts up if you lift small amounts of cash. Whilst it’s much better to use the Nationwide card and pay nothing, if you are using a fee charging card you should lift a minimum of £100 or so each time and thereby reduce your costs to 4.25% to 4.75% depending on your bank and, whenever possible, use your credit card for purchases rather than making cash withdrawals.

See our guide at holiday money for more information.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

Taking your holiday money: what do you do when your cards are stolen?

Most of the time it’s fine to take a few cards and maybe a travellers cheque with you on holiday, but what do you do if you run out of money when you’re abroad or if your cards/cheques are stolen?

It’s safest to work on the assumption that your cards and/or cheques will be stolen and prepare for that. The way to do this is to keep a note of the card numbers, expiry dates and cancellation phone numbers for each card that you are taking with you. For the travellers cheques you need to note down the cheque numbers and the date & place that you bought them. Take one copy of the note of these details with you (separate from the cards, of course) and leave one behind with a friend or family member. It’s best to cut down on the number of cards too and go with the minimum which is three: one Visa, one Mastercard and one more for when the other two are stolen (keep the third one separate from the other two).

When they are stolen, you just go through the details and call to cancel the cards and cheques. The cancellation numbers are usually reverse charge numbers ie you won’t have to pay to call the banks. It’s useful to look up the number of the international operator and/or AT&T direct number for the countries in which you’ll be on vacation in advance.

In theory, cards can be replaced abroad within 24 hours but this depends on your card, your card company and the banking system in the country in which you’re on holiday. The best cards for replacement are gold/platinum ones but unfortunately they’re also the most attractive to thieves.

However, some countries just aren’t up to replacing cards quite so easily though a combination of language problems and primitive banking systems. Nobody who has stayed with us and had a card stolen in Prague has ever managed to get it replaced whilst they were there.

So what do you do if the card company can’t manage to replace the card? That’s when you need to look into how to get money to yourself from home and there are several ways of doing that which I’ll be covering next.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

Taking your holiday money: using cash cards

Cash cards are much more limited in function than credit and debit cards but they have one really big advantage abroad: without the PIN, they’re useless and therefore they’re of much less interest to thieves.

Cash cards for international use come in only two versions which are Cirrus and Plus. Both are linked to your bank account although you can also get prepaid versions of both.

These cards can’t be used in shops to make purchases and are limited to withdrawing cash from ATMs. Some banks put these symbols on their cards without considering that it means the cards can be used overseas so the charging for overseas transactions is sometimes less than clear. Once or twice I’ve found banks who were so sure that their card couldn’t be used abroad that they had no provision for making additional charges in their terms and conditions (and didn’t in my case, but don’t rely on that).

Although it’s not always clear, you can use Cirrus cards in all Mastercard branded ATMs and Plus cards in all Visa branded ones. You need to check that the country you’re going to has ATMs (not all do!) as these cards can’t be used over the counter in banks. Also, check that it will be practical to use them eg in India I found that ATMs were not widely available and Rarotonga didn’t have any ATMs until quite recently.

Charges on these are made up of a transaction charge of around 2% with a minimum of £2/$2 plus a foreign currency conversion fee of around 3%. It’s therefore best to make withdrawals of £100/$100 at a time to minimise these charges.

Downsides are basically those charges and the fact that you can only use these cards in an ATM. For those living in the UK, a Nationwide cash card eliminates all charges and if you’re in the American military a USAA card works in much the same way. If your bank is a member of the Global Alliance (Bank of America, Bank of Nova Scotia, Barclays, BNP, Deutschebank and Westpac) then you can withdraw cash from one of the other member banks ATMs without the transaction charge (you still get charged the foreign exchange fee).

I’m going to work my way through the various ways you can take money abroad over the next week or two in the travel money series. I’ve already covered cash, travellers cheques, credit cards/charge cards and debit cards and will be covering prepaid cards in the next episode.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.