Saturday, 7 August 2010

Getting access to cash while travelling

It is the middle of the summer holiday travelling season in Europe. The freeways are close to capacity as everyone gets on to road to their holiday destination.

I have just returned from England on a summer holiday. It was a great trip, and the family really loved it. It all went smoothly except for one thing, I miscalculated our access to cash. There were a couple of causes for these, I forgot to bring or remember the PIN for our international ATM cards (very seldom used at home) and did not withdraw enough cash before departing. When we discovered this, the family was not very happy.

We tried to get cash from a Bureau de Change in London via my credit card, but I didn't have enough identification. I usually would provide my German driver's license as my identification as I don't possess an ID card. The Bureau de Change did not accept this as it does not have expiry date on it. My only other alternative form of identification is my passport, which I did not bring along (who would be stupid enough to take their passport with them on a visiting trip into London! It could easily be stolen or lost.) 

Furthermore, the Bureau de Change informed that they would a whopping 12% surcharge for using my credit card! At the time, I was getting a bit frustrated and would have taken the hit on the high surcharge. Not being able to do much, we only visited places in London or purchased items that would accept credit card. Luckily, shops and tourist attractions are more likely to accept credit card than in Germany.

The next day when we visited Southend, I visited a travel agent with a Bureau de Change. I also made sure that I had my passport with me. When I ask them if I could purchase some British pounds, they said no. They said that there was a law against directly purchasing cash with credit card in England. I wasn't an expert so I accepted their decision. However, we came across the idea that I purchase some traveller's cheques in British pounds and then immediately cash them in at the same spot. It was a sensational idea as it allowed access to cash. After the lovely lady at the Bureau de Change check my identification and the necessary transaction, I walked out of the travel agent with some British pounds in my hands. The family was happy and we went to the beach for some lovely fish and chips.

Furthermore, the overheads for the traveller's cheques were quite low. It was a lot lower than the 12% surcharge. The travellers cheque cost 3% per 100 pounds to issue and the same amount to cash them.

I have learned some lessons from this trip. Always make sure that I have enough cash in the domination of the country I am visiting, before I depart. At least, make sure that I understand the methods for access to cash.


tqe | Adam said...

I'm curious who you bank with. Before I moved to Berlin I banked with VR Bank Weimar and I was able to use the EC-Card I received from the bank in ATMs around the world: Netherlands, Britain, Canada, USA, and South Africa. About the only place I ever visited where I didn't try was Armenia.

I can't imagine a bank in Germany issuing an EC card that wouldn't work in ATMs around the world.

(And you should consider travelling to Hamburg in September for the expat bloggers meet-up!)

tehnyit said...

Adam, thanks for stopping by. My bank is PostBank. I believe that my EC card would work in England, it was the non-affiliated bank ATM fee I want to avoid. Even if I withdraw from a non-CashGroup bank in Germany, I am hit with a 6EUR fee.

I got the PostBank SparCard to use in England, but in the madness leading up to the trip, I forgot the memorise its PIN! This is definitely a lesson learned, the hard way.

tqe | Adam said...

You should check with PostBank--now that I'm with DeutscheBank and the CashGroup, I remember seeing a UK partner. I can't recall where I saw the list from the German/Deutsche Bank perspective, but as it happens I also have an account with Bank of America, which is the US partner of Deutsche Bank, and when I look at their list of Global Partners, they indicate that the UK partner is Barclay's Bank.

That sort of jives with what I remember reading in my Deustsche Bank paperwork...