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Going to the Olympics? Tips for Banking in London

July 19, 2012
Banking, Banking News
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‘Ello poppet! Excited to go to the Olympics in London this year? I’m going, too, in that I’m watching it from my couch and calling my apartment “my flat.” You’re probably not excited for overseas banking, however, which can be a pain in the arse.

Travellers have three choices when it comes to overseas banking: withdrawing money from an ATM, using a credit card, or using a debit card. Here is an overview of the fees associated with each option.

Purchase Option Associated Fee Cost Best For
ATM withdrawal Foreign ATM fee $2-$5 per withdrawal Large cash withdrawals
Credit card Credit card foreign transaction fee 1%-3% of purchase Smaller purchases
Debit card Foreign transaction fee 1%-3% of purchase Smaller purchases


  • Withdraw Cash from an ATM – Banks will usually charge a flat fee per withdrawal from a foreign ATM, and the ATM may charge an additional fee.   Luckily, British ATMs are required by law to be clearly labeled if they charge for withdrawals, so you will likely only have your own bank’s fee to worry about. If you use Bank of America, you’re in luck. They participate in the Global ATM Alliance, partnering with Barclays to give you free withdrawals from any Barclay’s ATM. Some credit unions reimburse ATM fees from international banks as well.
  • Credit Card – Credit cards charge a transaction fee of 1% to 3% of the total purchase. Great no-foreign-transaction-fee credit cards include Capital One Venture Rewards, Chase Sapphire Preferred, and British Airways Visa. For more no-fee credit cards, check out our post, Find the Best No Foreign Transaction Fee Credit Cards.
  • Debit Card – Debit cards charge a foreign transaction fee of 1%-3% of the total purchase. British machines rarely let customers enter more than 4 digits for a PIN, so change yours before you go. Additionally, US ATM withdrawal limits still apply, so a $500 daily withdrawal limits means you can only take out £320. For a thorough review of foreign transaction fees, check out our post, Debit Card Fees: Foreign transaction fees when traveling abroad.

In summary, sticking with your credit card is the safest, cheapest, and easiest way to watch the Olympics with ease. If you do take out cash, it’s best to take it out in large amounts to minimize fees.

International Banking No-No’s
Here are some things you should never, ever do if you can avoid it:

  • Never use an airport money exchange booth. These generally have the worst rates, with airports charging up to 10% more than banks and post offices.
  • Never use traveler’s checks. Credit cards are much more universally accepted than traveler’s checks.
  • Never use Dynamic Currency Conversion – Never pay in dollars for something that is priced in pounds. Exchange rates are usually terrible, adding an extra 4% to your bill.

And here’s our most important tip: let your financial institution know you’re going to be out of the country. All of your preparations will not matter if you end up stuck in London with a declined card, trying to call your bank from one of those red phone booths while tourists are posing around you for pictures.