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5 Apr 2019

8 tips to Brexit-proof your holiday money in 2019

Controversial credit card surcharge fees could return if the UK and EU fail to reach an agreement

Millions of UK holidaymakers are daydreaming about their break in the sun, but this year, many are understandably anxious about how a no-deal Brexit could affect the cost of their holiday abroad.

If the UK leaves the European Union without an agreement, it could send the value of sterling plunging and put into question rules around credit-card fees.

Which? looks at how you can Brexit-proof your finances on holiday - from whether you should buy your euros now to the best cards for using abroad.

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1. Consider buying your holiday money early

With the the prospect of a no-deal Brexit a real possibility, it could be wise to buy up your holiday cash now.

While it's impossible to say for sure how Brexit will impact on the pound, a no-deal scenario could drive down its value dramatically - so you'll get far fewer euros for your cash.

In a no-deal scenario, some analysts fear Sterling could drop by 10%. Indeed, senior government civil servant Sir Mark Sedwill recently warned a no-deal could have a worse impact on the pound than the 2008 financial crash, in a leaked letter widely reported on Tuesday.

On referendum day in June 2016, £1 could net you u20ac1.27. This week £1 is equal to u20ac1.16. That means a holidaymaker spending £800 during their trip would be losing out by u20ac88.

Sterling could, however, expected to strengthen if a deal is thrashed out between the government and the European Union, and the majority of MPs have indicated they would like to avoid a no-deal scenario.

By striking now, you may also end up losing out if the pound leaps in value in coming weeks.

If you're nervous, it could pay to hedge your bets - buy half of the money you expect to need now, and the other half a little closer to your trip.

2. Avoid buying your money at the airport

Airport bureaux de change will often offer you the worst rate, as they enjoy plenty of customer footfall.

You might be better off buying foreign currency on the high street in advance. Alternatively, you can increasingly buy your travel money online, though you should make sure you're dealing with a legitimate operator.

Wherever you go, make sure you shop around and fully understand how any fees will contribute to the overall cost.

3. Pay in advance where possible

Many hotels or car hire services give you the option to pay when you check in.

But the price will be set in local currency, meaning the hit to your wallet could be much higher if the pound plummets.

For peace of mind, you could choose to pay in advance so you know exactly what the trip will cost you. If you do this, you should put the cost on your credit card, so you can request a refund if the service isn't delivered or issues arise - a protection granted by section 75 of the Consumer Rights Act.

4. Choose to transact in the local currency

When you're overseas, ATMs and card machines will often give you the option to convert your transaction into pounds.

You'll almost always be worse off if you accept this option, as the exchange rate offered by the machines will generally be lower than the one offered by your credit or debit card provider. In some cases, you may end up paying £1 for u20ac1.

5. Watch out for hidden card fees

There are a series of hidden card fees when using your plastic abroad, which will vary depending on your card provider.

Some of these fees may include:

  • A 'foreign exchange commission' or 'foreign loading fee' of up to 2.99% of the sum spent, each time the card is used;
  • Interest charges from the moment cash is withdrawn on the card, often at rates of up to 30% APR;
  • A cash withdrawal fee of around 3% (or minimum £3) when you take money out of a ATM in addition to the foreign exchange and interest charges.

In addition, some debit card providers - such as Halifax, RBS, NatWest, Santander, Lloyds and TSB - also add an extra 'penalty fee' every time you use your card abroad for purchases. This potentially means making a number of transactions in shops or cashpoints even for small amounts could end costing a considerable amount of money.

Read more: Best debit and credit cards for spending abroad

6. Take out a fee-free debit card

For longer trips or frequent travellers, you're likely to benefit from taking out a debit card with no international fees.

The best deals are offered by Cumberland Building Society and mobile-only bank Starling, both of which offer fee-free transactions and cash withdrawals anywhere in the world. Popular challenger bank Monzo also offers fee-free spending, and you can withdraw up to £200 a month from an ATM at no charge.

Both Monzo and Cumberland Building Society are Which? Recommend Providers due to their high scores on customer satisfaction and our testing.

We round up the best cards below, or you can see our guide to best debit cards to use abroad.

ProviderNon-sterling transaction feeNon-sterling cash withdrawal fee
Cumberland Building Society0%0%
Monzo0%No fee for up to £200 a month then 3%

7. Or get a credit card for using abroad

The cost of using a credit card abroad is determined by your card's payment network exchange rate, which is set by Mastercard, Visa or American Express, and the fees your provider slaps on top.

For a purchase with a typical credit card on holiday, you'll pay a non-sterling transaction fee, a non-sterling cash fee and cash withdrawal interest.

There are, however, travel cards which will normally waive the non-sterling transaction fee and, in some cases, the cash charges as well. However, keep in mind that all credit cards will start to charge you interest on cash withdrawals at fairly hefty rates, so it's best to avoid using an ATM with your credit card where possible.

Below are the top three best credit cards for overseas spending based on representative APR, or you can use Which? Money Compare to find hundreds of deals.

ProviderNon-sterling transaction feeNon-sterling cash withdrawal feeCash withdrawal APRRepresentative APR
NatWest0%3% handling fee16.9%9.9%
Coutts Silk0%2% (subject to a minimum of £1.50)13.8%14.7%
Metro Bank0%0%14%14.9%

Find out more:Best credit cards to use abroad

8. Watch out for the return of credit card surcharges

When you're booking your holiday through a European provider, you may soon face previously banned credit card surcharges once again.

As of January this year, EU rules banned retailers from charging customers for using Visa and Mastercard debit and credit cards within the EU.

While the UK introduced its own legislation to enforce the surcharge ban, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, consumers buying from the EU or EU-based companies may not be protected. In August last year, the government warned the cost of card payments between the UK and EU will 'likely increase' and the ban on surcharges would stop applying.

As such, it's possible many European companies - including airlines and travel providers, which most frequently levied card surcharges in the past - could re-introduce them for the UK customers.

Before the ban was introduced, consumers were routinely hit by up to 2% surcharges for booking with credit cardson popular European airlines, such as Vueling and Eurowings,

So if you're thinking of booking a European holiday or with a European company, it may be worth acting now while the UK remains within the EU.

Please note that the information above is for information purposes only and does not constitute advice. Please refer to the particular terms and conditions of the savings account provider before committing to any financial products.

Which? Limited is an Introducer Appointed Representative of Which? Financial Services Limited, which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FRN 527029). Which? Mortgage Advisers and Which? Money Compare are trading names of Which? Financial Services Limited.