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Understanding travel money: what you need to know

If you’re planning a trip outside the UK, it's worth getting your head around how travel money works

Taking travel money can mean you’re covered for almost any situation. But before you exchange money, read these tips. They include avoiding airport exchange counters and how to sell any unused travel money.

What is an exchange rate?

An exchange rate tells you how much foreign currency you’ll get in return for your pounds sterling. For instance, a euro exchange rate of 1.12 would give you 1 euro and 12 cents for each pound you exchange. So if you spent £100, you’d get €112 in return.

Exchange rates can fluctuate. Checking the daily exchange rate can help you get the best deal when you want to buy currency. It can also help you decide which countries and regions are good value for money. But, keep in mind that past performance of a currency is not a guarantee of how it will fare in future.

What are buy and sell rates?

Sell rate

This is the exchange rate for selling foreign currencies to you. For example, if you're planning a trip to the US, you would exchange your pounds sterling for US dollars at the sell rate.

Buy rate

If you return home with unspent foreign cash, foreign currency providers in the UK will buy it back from you at this rate. For example, if you've just returned from Japan and have an account with us, you can exchange your yen back into pounds sterling at the buy rate at any Full Service Branch or Cash Service Branch.

Where should you get your travel money from?

You can buy foreign currency from:

  • banks
  • post offices
  • bureaux de change
  • currency websites
  • some travel agents and large supermarkets

Spend some time looking at the options available and the varying rates, as well as any associated fees, so you can be sure you’re getting the best deal.

HSBC Travel Money has the same exchange rates online and in branches. There are no delivery fees for home or branch orders and the minimum order value is £100.

Why shouldn't you exchange your money at the airport?

It might seem more convenient to buy currency at the airport, but it can often be very expensive.

Airport currency exchange counters typically have no incentive to offer competitive rates. That's because travellers who are about to jet off have limited options. They might also pass higher operating costs on to travellers.

Some airport counters charge a service fee that can add up to as much as 10% of the total money exchange.

How should you pay for your travel money?

If you use a debit card to exchange your money in the UK, it’s likely that your bank will treat it like any other cash withdrawal, or purchase, so you won’t pay any fees.

If you buy currency using a credit card, you may have to pay a cash advance fee of around 3%. You’ll probably also be charged interest on your payment straight away. That’s because foreign currency transactions are handled in a similar way to withdrawing cash on your credit card.

What if you run out of cash outside the UK?

You can withdraw extra cash from a cash machine with your debit card. You can also use your cards to pay for goods and services at shops, restaurants and anywhere else that accepts Visa or Mastercard (depending on your card type).

Fees and charges may apply when you use cards outside the UK.

With an HSBC Global Money Account debit card, there are no HSBC fees for making payments or withdrawing cash outside the UK. Other non-HSBC fees may apply. 

Global Money is only available in the latest version of the HSBC UK Mobile Banking app. You’ll need to have an eligible HSBC current account. This excludes our Basic Bank Account, Amanah, Appointee and MyAccount.