Planning how you intend to pay, before arriving in the UK, can save you money and time.
The spread (the difference between a foreign currency buying and selling rate) offered by most exchange booths and banks in the UK can be 20% or more on some currencies. We’ve even seen the spread on euros and US dollars in London as high as 10%!
If your local bid/offer spread for British Pounds is less than 7% then you are likely to better off exchanging cash before travelling to the UK. Bring as much cash as you feel comfortable carrying.
Obviously, there are risks associated with carrying cash. Check to see if your hotel offers an in-room safe.
You only have to declare cash to UK customs if you are arriving in the UK from a country outside the European Union and carrying 10,000 euros or more (or the equivalent value in other currencies). There is no limit on cash if you are arriving from an EU country.
If you use your foreign debit or credit card to withdraw cash from a UK cash machine, you may be offered the option of allowing the UK bank to handle the currency conversion. You may see a message saying the conversion is “commission free”. Check the exchange rate offered very carefully. In many cases, you will be better off letting your home bank handle the conversion.
Credit and debit cards issued by Mastercard and Visa are accepted almost everywhere.
American Express is widely accepted other than some smaller shops and some restaurants. Diners Club card is less widely accepted.
If your card has been issued with a 4 digit PIN then you will be expected to use it. If you cannot remember your PIN the retailer may decline your card.
If you card has not be issued with a PIN then you will be asked to sign and some retailers may ask for additional photo ID.
It is worth checking the fees that your card issuer will charge for handling foreign transactions. The combination of fees and exchange rates can easily add 2%-4% to the payment.
Some larger shops have terminals that, like cash dispensers, offer the opportunity to convert the charge into your local currency. Check the rate very carefully!
Most advance ticket sales outlets will only accept cash from customers buying advance gay club night tickets.
Most gay bars accept credit and debit cards, so long as you know your PIN.
Generally speaking, most people pay cash, but if you do run out of money, this can be a useful fall back option.