Currency Exchange: Travel money Travellers' cheques
What are travellers' cheques?
Travellers' cheques are pre-printed cheques for fixed amounts. They can be used when you’re on holiday in place of cash, or can be exchanged for cash while you’re away.
Travellers' cheques can be issued in sterling or in foreign currencies, and - depending on which country you are visiting – you may be able to spend them at your hotel, in shops and in restaurants. Alternatively, you’ll be able to swap your travellers' cheques for local money at banks and bureaux de change.
When you purchase travellers' cheques, you’ll need to sign each one (usually in the top left-hand corner) and take a note of the serial number of every cheque you are issued. This is in case your travellers' cheques need to be replaced at a later stage.
When you spend or cash in your travellers' cheques, you’ll be required to countersign each one a second time in the presence of the person accepting it. This is so the two signatures on the travellers' cheque can be compared and your identity verified.
Why do people choose travellers' cheques?
The key advantage of travellers' cheques is that they are safer to carry around than cash. Provided you have noted down the serial number of each travellers' cheque you were originally issued, you will be able to get your cheques replaced should they be stolen or lost.
Remember to keep your note of the travellers' cheques' serial numbers separate from the cheques themselves. If you lose this along with your wallet, for example, you are likely to have difficulty claiming your replacement travellers' cheques.
Another thing some holidaymakers like about travellers' cheques is that they do not carry expiry dates. In other words, should you fail to spend all your travellers' cheques on one holiday to a particular destination, there is no reason why you can’t simply use them the next time you visit.
Are there any disadvantages to using travellers' cheques?
Some people see travellers' cheques as an outdated way to spend money abroad, especially now prepaid cards – which work in a similar way to travellers' cheques – are so readily available.
The only notable disadvantage to using travellers' cheques, however, is the potential for them to be an inconvenient – and in some cases unexpectedly costly - payment method.
While in some countries, such as the United States, you may find it easy to spend your travellers' cheques, in others you may have to queue up at a local bank or bureau de change to have them exchanged.
It’s also important to be aware that if you are planning to exchange travellers' cheques in one currency for cash in a different local currency – for example by swapping a US dollars travellers' cheque for money in a South American destination – you may be charged a foreign exchange rate and commission on these transactions.
Getting a good deal on travellers cheques
Travellers' cheques are offered at slightly different exchange rates to cash, and it’s worth shopping around to compare a variety of deals before you buy.
When you buy travellers' cheques in a foreign currency such as euros or US dollars, you’re unlikely to be charged commission.
However, if you buy sterling travellers' cheques for use abroad it’s likely you’ll have to pay commission of around 1%. You should take this into consideration if you’re flying to a destination that might accept travellers' cheques in a currency other than sterling.
Finally, if you know you’ll need to exchange your travellers' cheques for local cash upon arrival at your holiday destination, think about the impact that paying the necessary money exchange rates and commission might have on your budget overall.
If it looks as though this could be significant, you may want to consider other options such as using a debit or credit card for spending overseas.
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