We’re about to take our first trip across the Atlantic – a 32 day family vacation in Scotland and Ireland. Many readers have asked how we’re handling our money situation overseas. Gone are the days of traveler’s cheques, replaced by more convenient methods of payment such as credit cards, debit cards, pre-paid currency cards, and widely accessible ATMs.
We’ll be using a mix of these methods while travelling in Scotland and Ireland, with the notion to save money on foreign exchange, have easy access to cash when needed, and decrease the risk of one form of payment not being accepted.
Here’s what we’ll be using to spend money overseas:
- Cash: Small amount of GBP and EUR currency
- KOHO Prepaid Visa —> Sign up using referral code RCCANADA and get up to 1.5% cashback on all purchases
- STACK Prepaid MasterCard —> Get $25 free when you download and activate your STACK card through my referral link (click via your mobile device since it’s an app)
- Scotia Passport Visa Infinite Card —>
No foreign currency conversion fees
- CIBC Air Canada AC Conversion Prepaid Visa —> A single card loaded with up to 10 currencies
Bringing cash overseas
The last thing I want is to take thousands of dollars worth of Pound Sterling and Euros overseas. I also want to avoid dealing with currency exchange counters while travelling abroad as they tend to have the highest exchange rates.
I funnel 95 percent of my spending onto a rewards credit credit card in Canada and I’d like to be able to do the same in Scotland and Ireland.
But I realize not every merchant will accept credit cards, and that certain forms of transportation lend themselves better to using cash. That’s why I plan on taking out a small amount of foreign currency from my Canadian bank before we travel. I’m talking about ~$100 worth of GBP and ~$100 worth of EUR.
Starting our journey with a small amount of cash gives us the flexibility to use it as needed to cover any airport incidentals, tipping, and transportation to our hotel from the airport in Edinburgh.
Using the KOHO Prepaid Visa Card
I signed up for the KOHO card shortly after it launched in Canada and use it for miscellaneous spending. KOHO is a prepaid Visa card, not a credit card, so you pre-load it with funds and then spend down the balance. It comes with a mobile app to track your balance and spending. It’s also compatible with Apple Pay.
I’ll be honest, there were two reasons I signed up for KOHO. One was to get up to $60 in free cash (use referral code RCCANADA), plus another $20 when I referred my wife to the card. But second, and more importantly, was for this upcoming trip overseas.
I wanted to save money on foreign exchange and KOHO only charges 1.5 percent on foreign transactions versus 3.5 percent that banks and credit card issuers charge.
I’ve simply loaded up the card with money (via e-Transfer) and now I can use it abroad at any ATM with a Visa Plus sign, or at any merchant that accepts Visa. You’ll get real time notifications in Canadian Dollars, so you’ll always be on top of your spending.
The biggest advantage as a prepaid Visa card is that I can preload it with a set amount and know that I can’t overspend or get into debt if we get carried away on our trip. I also like the fact that I can use it like a Visa, or withdraw cash from an ATM as needed.
Read my full KOHO review over on Boomer & Echo.
Using the STACK Prepaid MasterCard
Along the same lines as KOHO, STACK is a prepaid MasterCard that will help you save on foreign exchange fees while travelling abroad. Use STACK world-wide wherever MasterCard is accepted. Access your cash anywhere without paying ATM withdrawal fees – although you may incur a fee from the machine itself – and pay zero transaction fees when making purchases outside of Canada.
Get $25 free when you download and activate your STACK card through my referral link.
Note that STACK ran into some problems with its card provider and so those who signed up earlier in the year may not have received their cards yet. I’m told card printing resumed in mid-May so those delays should be caught up soon.
I’ll use STACK overseas in the same way as KOHO – preloading a set amount ahead of time and then use it like a MasterCard or withdraw cash at an ATM if needed.
Why carry two prepaid cards? Well, for one I’d like to try them both out firsthand so I can report back on the pros and cons of using them in a real-life situation overseas. And, two, it’s frankly a hedge in case one of them does not work as advertised.
Scotia Passport Visa Infinite Card
I signed up for the Scotia Passport Visa Infinite Card last summer. The main draw is that it’s one of the few credit cards in Canada that comes with no foreign transaction fees. I also couldn’t pass up the amazing welcome offer of up to 40,000 Scotia Rewards points and six free airport lounge passes!
I plan on using this card for the majority of our spending on groceries, dining, transportation, and at major attractions that accept credit cards. I’ll try and save the prepaid cards for miscellaneous spending and for withdrawing cash as necessary.
With the Scotia Passport Visa Infinite card I’ll not only save on foreign currency mark-up (other credit cards charge 2.5 percent), I’ll also earn 2 Scotia Rewards points for every dollar spent at eligible grocery stores and on dining, entertainment, and daily transit purchases (including buses, subways, taxis, etc.).
CIBC Air Canada AC Conversion Prepaid Visa
File this one under, why the heck not? I signed up for the AC Conversion Card specifically to try it out for this trip. I like that it can hold a variety of foreign currencies so I can spend in the local currency like a debit card. Again, it’s a prepaid Visa card so you preload it with a set amount and then spend down the balance.
The ten currencies you can load onto the card are: U.S. Dollars, Euros, British Pounds, Australian Dollars, Japanese Yen, Hong Kong Dollars, Turkish Lira, Swiss Franc, Mexican Pesos and Canadian Dollars.
You can load the card through their website or mobile app and the funds show up instantly, ready for immediate use. I used the Scotia Passport Visa Infinite card to load $100 worth of GBP and $100 of EUR onto my AC Conversion Card so I’m ready to try it out on the trip.
For those wondering, loading the card from my Scotia Visa did not count as a cash advance – it posted as a regular purchase.
I’ll be sure to report back on how it worked when I get back from my trip. You can sign up here for the CIBC Air Canada AC Conversion Prepaid Visa card.
Final thoughts on spending money overseas
It takes some creativity to figure out how to best handle spending money in a foreign currency abroad. Carrying too much cash puts you at risk for theft and loss. Not carrying any cash is risky because your credit card might not be accepted at certain merchants or your credit card issuer may lock your account if they suspect suspicious activity (like trying to make purchases in a foreign country).
Finally, while ATMs likely give the best exchange rate compared to foreign currency counters, you need to make sure to check the debit card network to make sure your card is compatible. You also might have a daily cash withdrawal limit that could cause problems when trying to access cash overseas.
For all of these reasons I’m taking precautions and using five different methods of payment during our month-long trip to Scotland and Ireland. I want to make sure we can spend money without any hassle, save money when possible on foreign exchange, and limit the amount of cash I carry to protect us from theft or loss.
How do you handle spending money abroad in the U.K. and Europe?