4 Best Ways to Take Travel Money to the UK in 2023
The UK is a popular destination for Australians looking to explore, or even moving to work or study. There’s plenty to do in the UK, no matter whether you’re heading there for a holiday or for the longer term - but it’s not cheap. Working out how you can manage your money most effectively between dollars and pounds will mean you can do more once you arrive.
This guide looks in detail at 4 possible ways to take money to the UK, including their benefits and drawbacks, to help you pick the right way for you.
Best ways to take money to the UK
In this guide we’ll walk through 4 of the most practical and popular ways to take money to the UK, including our top picks for providers to look at, pros and cons. Here are the common ways to pay overseas that we’ll investigate:
Prepaid travel cards to use in the UK
Ideal for: adding funds in AUD and then switching over to GBP anytime in an app, to make secure and convenient payments and withdrawals, usually with low fees and good exchange rates
You can order a prepaid travel card online, or call into a branch of a provider like Travelex or even the Post Office, to get one instantly and in person. Once you have your card you can top up the linked multi-currency digital account, usually with a card or bank transfer in AUD, before converting your balance over to GBP for spending once you arrive in the UK.
Pretty much all prepaid travel cards offered in Australia will support GBP, but it’s worth checking if you need to convert your dollars to pounds in advance, or if you can just let the card do the conversion for you at the point of payment. Some cards have extra foreign transaction fees to pay if you don’t switch your funds over in advance, which can push up costs unnecessarily.
Pick a card with no inactivity fee and no ongoing charges, which supports a decent selection of currencies aside from British pounds. That way you can hold on to your card once you're back from the UK, to top up and use on your next trip to a country which uses a supported currency.
Learn more about our picks for the 6 best prepaid cards - there’s more on our top choice, Wise, next.
Wise - our pick for prepaid travel card
With this card:
- Hold and exchange 40+ currencies in your linked Wise account
- No annual or monthly fees to pay, and no minimum balance requirement
- Currency exchange uses the mid-market rate with no markup
- Some free ATM withdrawals available every month
- Virtual and physical cards available
|Wise card pros||Wise card cons|
|✅ Currency exchange uses the mid-market rate
✅ No foreign transaction fees apply
✅ Free to hold and spend 40+ currencies
✅ Receive payments to your Wise account in a selection of global currencies
✅ No minimum balance or ongoing fees
|❌ 10 AUD fee to get a card in the first place
❌ Free ATM withdrawals are limits to 2 per month, to the value of 350 AUD. Fees of 2% + 1.5 AUD after that
❌ Express delivery fees if you want to get your card as soon as possible
Pros and cons of taking money to the UK with a prepaid travel card
- Almost all prepaid travel cards issued in Australia will support spending in the UK
- Some providers offer both physical and virtual cards
- Cards are available with no minimum balance or ongoing fees to pay
- Currency exchange may have better rates than a bank will offer
- Pick a card which supports a selection of major currencies, and you can use it every time you travel, not just on this trip
- Exchange rates may include a markup on the mid-market rate
- ATM fees may apply, depending on the card you pick
- Some cards charge a fee if you spend in an unsupported currency, or if you spend a currency you don’t hold in your account already
Travel debit cards to use in the UK
Ideal for: avoiding credit card interest or penalty fees, while spending abroad with low fees and fair exchange rates
Travel debit cards let you spend and withdraw in foreign currencies conveniently, and because they’re designed to suit travellers you’ll often get access to extra travel perks and benefits, like insurance or airport lounge access. You’ll need to order a card in advance in most cases, and you can then add funds to a digital account, to set your budget before you go away. This means you can’t accidentally overspend and there’s no credit check needed.
There are travel debit cards from banks, or you can get one from a specialist service like Revolut, which lets you hold money in 25+ currencies. One advantage of using a specific travel debit card rather than your bank card, is that you’re adding in extra security. If your travel card was lost or stolen there’s no connection to your everyday account, so you can simply freeze the card without worrying about anyone accessing your primary AUD funds.
The travel debit card features and fees offered do vary widely, so you’ll want to weigh up your options to see which fits you best. That said, as with prepaid cards, if you’re ordering a specialist travel debit card, then picking a card which supports a broad range of currencies will also mean you can use it for the next time you go away.
We’ll go into more detail about our top pick for a travel debit card - Revolut - next, and you can also read more about the best travel debit cards in Australia here.
Revolut - our pick for travel debit card for the UK
With this card:
- Hold and exchange 25+ currencies, free to spend currencies you hold
- Choose the account plan that suits your needs and spending, including some with no monthly fees
- Some fee free ATM withdrawals and currency exchange with the mid-market rate, based on the account tier you choose
- Extra perks like accounts for under 18s, plus cash back on card spending for top tier account holders
- Travel benefits offered for some account plans
|Revolut card pros||Revolut card cons|
|✅ Hold and exchange 25+ currencies, spend currencies you hold for free
✅ Choose from different account tiers to suit different customer needs
✅ Get some free ATM withdrawals every month, depending on the plan you pick
✅ Get some currency exchange every month which uses the mid-market rate - limits vary by account plan
✅ No card order fee
|❌ Ongoing fees apply for some account tiers
❌ Out of hours fees push up currency exchange costs on the weekend
❌ ATM fees of 2% apply once you exhaust your free withdrawals
Pros and cons of taking money to the UK with a travel debit card
- Great for spending conveniently, and for making ATM withdrawals as and when needed
- Many cards from specialist services are linked to multi-currency accounts you can use on future trips too
- No interest or penalty fees - just top up the amount you want to spend and you’re done
- Not connected to your main AUD account, adding a layer of security when you’re overseas
- Some transaction fees usually apply
- You may pay a fee when converting from one currency to another, which may be split out transparently, but which is often just rolled up in the exchange rate you get
- Some cards have monthly fees to pay to get full feature access
Taking cash in the UK
Ideal for: small purchases and tipping, and as a back up plan in case your card is out of action
Cash use in the UK is actually pretty uncommon. In fact, during the Covid pandemic, as people preferred contactless payment methods for hygiene reasons, cash use fell to only 15% of all transactions. You can’t pay by cash when you hop on one of London’s iconic buses, for example - you’ll need to use a credit, debit or Oyster travel card to tap in and out. That said, there are always going to be occasions when cash is king - for example if you’re buying something at a market or leaving a tip. While carrying a lot of cash at any one time isn’t safe, having some with you is definitely a bonus.
You can exchange dollars for British pounds before you travel if you like, although this may not net you the best available exchange rate. You can also carry AUD cash with you, and exchange it with money changers once you arrive. This is only an option worth considering if you’re sticking to major cities though, as smaller towns and villages won’t have exchange services usually.
Generally the most convenient way to get cash for your trip to the UK will be to make ATM withdrawals as and when you need to. This will mean you don’t need to carry too much all at once, and if you use a dedicated travel card to make your withdrawal you may cut your overall costs, too.
|Cash pros||Cash cons|
|✅ Sometimes cash is the only option - for tipping and some very small purchases for example
✅ Convert in advance if you want to lock in a rate and set your budget for the UK
✅ Set your budget in advance so you know exactly what you have to spend
|❌ Cash use is actually very low in the UK - and carrying a lot of cash isn't particularly safe
❌ You’ll usually waste time during your break if you’re having to compare costs to get a good deal
❌ Exchange rates vary widely and usually include a markup - an extra fee
Do I need cash in the UK?
As we’ve seen, cash usage in the UK is actually pretty limited - but there will still be times when you’ll really need a few pounds in your pocket. Plus it’s always a good plan to have several payment options with you at any given time, just incase one is rejected.
One of the most convenient options is to use a prepaid card or travel debit card to make ATM withdrawals in pounds once you arrive in the UK, often with low or no fees, depending on the card you pick.
How to buy pounds on arrival in the UK?
If you arrive in the UK with dollars in cash you can exchange them with currency exchange stores in big cities, transport hubs like airports, or very popular tourist areas. If you’re headed off the beaten path, change your money before you go - a small village won’t have an exchange service, and you won’t be able to use your dollars here either.
How to buy GBP in Australia?
If you’d prefer to exchange AUD to pounds in Australia you can try a service like Travelex. The most convenient option is to order the travel money cash you need online and collect it in a branch. Fees and exchange rate markups may apply, and you’ll get a better rate with a service like Travelex if you use their travel money card compared to ordering pounds in cash.
Best place to get GBP from
There’s no single best place to get your travel cash. Providers pick their own rates and fees, which can vary widely. Shopping around is essential - bear in mind that it’s usually worth avoiding currency exchange in the airport, and heading to a city centre where competition drives down the overall price.
Best way to withdraw money overseas?
Withdrawing money from a local ATM once you arrive in your destination is convenient, and can be safer than carrying a lot of cash all at once - but it can also be expensive.
The exact costs you incur will depend on the specific card you use, including whether it’s a credit or debit card. With either card type you’ll need to check what foreign transaction fee is levied - this is often about 3% every time you withdraw. If you’re using a credit card you’ll usually also pay a cash advance fee which is a further percentage charge, and you may start to accrue interest instantly, too.
Getting a travel debit card, like the Wise card, can be a good option for taking money out from ATMs in the local currency. With Wise you get some fee free withdrawals every month, with low costs after that - plus there’s no foreign transaction fee, and you’ll get the mid-market rate every time.
How much cash can I take overseas
There’s not actually a cash limit for overseas - but you’ll need to report to AUSTRAC or at the border if you’re exporting currency (AUD or any other currency) of 10,000 AUD or more in value.
In reality, the more cash you carry, the more you’re risking if you’re unfortunate enough to be the victim of crime. Carrying a small amount of cash, plus one or more cards to make withdrawals as and when you need to, is usually a more sensible option.
Travel credit cards to use in the UK
Ideal for: paying for your holiday over several months - and times when you need a credit card as a security guarantee, such as when renting a car
Travel credit cards have been optimised for overseas use, although the features available do vary a lot depending on the specific card. You might find you can get low or no foreign transaction fees, or you might earn extra rewards when you spend in foreign currencies. Other cards come with benefits like free global wifi, lounge access or complimentary insurance.
Spending with a credit card overseas can be a good option if you’d rather pay for your trip over a few months - although interest will apply in this case, pushing up the overall cost. There are also a few scenarios where a credit card is preferred, such as when you check into a hotel or rent a car, where a credit card may be accepted as a payment guarantee. Bear in mind though, that using a credit card at an ATM is a very expensive option, with cash advance fees and interest mounting up quickly.
Learn about the best travel credit cards in Australia here, and read on for more on our top pick.
28 Degrees - our pick for travel credit card
With this card:
- Order online and start spending with your virtual card instantly if approved
- No annual or monthly fees
- No foreign transaction or currency conversion fees
- Make ATM withdrawals overseas - fees apply for this service
- Unlock perks like discounts on travel bookings and internet roaming packages
|28 Degrees pros||28 Degrees cons|
|✅ No annual or monthly fees
✅ No foreign transaction fees - your payment is converted to AUD using the Mastercard exchange rate
✅ Repay your bill in full monthly to avoid interest or penalty fees
✅ Travel perks and partner discounts available
|❌ Cash advance fee of 3% or 4 AUD (whichever is greater), plus interest, when making an ATM withdrawal
❌ Interest charges apply if you don’t repay your bill in full monthly
❌ Subject to eligibility and credit checks
Pros and cons of travel credit cards to the UK
- Earn rewards and discounts, or get travel perks - depending on the card you pick
- Spread your costs out over a few months
- Some cards have low or no foreign transaction fees
- Credit cards are useful as a payment guarantee in some situations
- Interest and fees usually apply if you don’t pay back your bill immediately
- Cash advance and interest costs apply when using an ATM
- Eligibility rules apply
Travel requirements from Australia to the UK
Generally if you’re heading to the UK with an Australian passport you can enter for tourist reasons for anything up to 6 months. Longer stays - or people going to the UK to work or study - usually require a visa.
Check the government’s Smart Traveller website to learn more.
Does the UK accept Australian dollars?
No. You won’t be able to spend AUD anywhere in the UK. If you’re carrying dollars with you you'll need to exchange them for pounds when you arrive.
Best currency to take to the UK
You’ll only be able to spend in pounds in the UK, so you can choose to either carry AUD in cash with you and convert on arrival, or to order your travel cash in pounds before you leave. Bear in mind that exchange rates when converting AUD to GBP vary widely - you’ll often get a better rate using a specialised travel card, and making cash withdrawals in the UK to get your pounds in cash.
Top travel money tips to the UK
Here are a few final tips to help your money go further while you’re away:
- Have several different payment methods in case one isn't accepted wherever you are
- Get a travel money card before you leave to make it easier and cheaper to spend and withdraw in the UK
- Avoid common travel money traps in the UK with this handy guide
How much money do I need per day in the UK?
Exactly what you’ll need to pay for your visit will depend a lot on what you like to do, and where in the UK you’ll stay. Generally London is a pretty costly choice, while visiting more rural areas may be cheaper. To put this in context, in London, you’ll find a 3 course lunch for 2 will set you back in the region of 150 AUD, and a single bus ride could be almost 6 dollars.
Do some detailed research to see how much things are likely to cost based on your plans and where you’re headed, so you can plan your budget. Get more detailed cost information by country and city, from Numbeo.com.
How much does it cost to fly from Australia to the UK?
Flight costs vary widely depending on where in Australia you’ll leave from and the time of year you’ll visit the UK. At the time of writing (August 2023), you can find flight deals from around 1,400 AUD return from Sydney to London, for example.
There’s no single best way to take money to the UK, and for most people, having a variety of ways to pay makes sense because then you have a back up plan if one payment method isn’t accepted.
Consider getting a travel card - such as a prepaid travel card from Wise or a travel debit card from Revolut - to use alongside your regular debit or credit card, and make an ATM withdrawal on arrival so you have a little cash for tipping and small payments. Using your specialist travel card can mean you get a good exchange rate, plus many have some free ATM withdrawals overseas. They’re also a safe option as they’re not linked to your home bank account, so even if you’re unlucky and have your card stolen the thieves can’t get to your everyday account.
Use this guide to decide which option to take money to the UK will work best for you, based on your own preferences and needs.
FAQ - Best ways to take money to the UK
Should I exchange money before I travel to the UK?
Spending using a card is more convenient and common in the UK, although having a little cash can also be smart. If you don’t plan to exchange money before you travel it’s very easy to make a cash withdrawal at an ATM on arrival. This can also be cheap, particularly if you have a travel card from a provider like Wise or Revolut.
Can I withdraw US dollars from a local ATM?
You can’t withdraw pounds at a normal ATM in Australia, although Travelex operates a small handful of ATMs in airports which dispense foreign currencies. Instead, for most people it’s easier to use a travel card to make an ATM withdrawal on arrival in the UK. Depending on the card you pick, your withdrawal may even be free.
Are prepaid travel cards a good way to take money to the UK?
Travel prepaid cards from services like Wise are a safe way to spend when abroad. With Wise you’ll also get mid-market exchange rates and low, transparent fees which can bring down the costs of your trip.
Can I use cash in the UK?
Yes. Bear in mind that many stores prefer card payments, and some scenarios - like hopping on a bus - need a card, too. That said, most shops and restaurants won’t turn you away if you want to pay in cash, so in general some cash in pounds, and a travel card, is a good way to make sure you’ll be able to pay no matter what happens.