British travellers will make tens of millions of trips abroad in the coming months – in the process receiving poor currency deals, being caught out by car hire cons and travelling without insurance. Here, The Mail on Sunday highlights the financial concerns you should tick off your list before you head off on holiday.
Buying foreign currency from bureaux de change which offer poor exchange rates is akin to throwing money down the drain. This trap is easily avoided.
A quick comparison between online rates from two high street banks and the most competitive online companies shows a difference of 30 euros when changing £750 in euros.
Adventure: Paul and Louisa Trivett with William and Isabel on their world tour
OUR FAMILY ‘GAP YEAR’ HAS BEEN AMAZING…BUT HAVING A BUDGET IS VITAL
Cashback, prepaid cards, camping and strict budgeting have all helped the Trivetts fund their ‘family gap year’.
They quit the humdrum of normal life in the UK to embark on a world tour – travelling across North America, South America, Australasia, Asia and currently Europe.
Louisa, 46, and Paul, 51, set off in July last year with children William, 11, and nine-year-old Isabel. The children are being educated ‘on the go’ by their parents until they start at a new school in September.
The family is currently in Austria where they recently visited the world’s largest ice cave.
Pre-travel planning involved selling their home in Putney, South-West London, and buying a cheaper property in Cambridge – which they are currently renting out.
While away they have stayed in a mix of Airbnb accommodation, campsites, hostels and hotels. To keep costs low, they booked through online travel company Expedia via the TopCashback website. This earned them cash of £650.
Louisa says: ‘We had a strict budget but underestimated how much we would spend on food. Nearly everywhere is more expensive than the UK except South East Asia.’
They have been using Revolut prepaid cards which offer competitive currency exchange rates and no additional fee for spending on the cards.
Louisa also upgraded her mobile phone contract to allow usage overseas at no extra cost. She adds: ‘We have had an amazing time as a family and will never regret our decision to take this gap year.
‘If other families fancy the idea, they should do everything possible to make it happen.’
This difference will be even larger if buying in person from foreign exchange branches – or worse from the airport. But there is a new breed of foreign exchange companies offering competitive exchange rates and charging a small purchase fee.
This is instead of the less transparent tactic of advertising ‘zero fees’ but offering a poor exchange rate which high street banks and traditional bureaux de change are notorious for.
WHAT TO DO: ORDER A PREPAID CURRENCY CARD
This allows you to fix your exchange rate whenever you load foreign currency on to it. Consider WeSwap, FairFx, Caxton FX and ICE.
Or for new-style accounts with cards that cut the cost of overseas spending look at Revolut, Monzo, Starling, TransferWise and for Europe, Metro Bank.
Compare rates for holiday cash using websites such as Compare Holiday Money and TravelMoneyMax. The latter can show best options for last-minute orders too – including getting a better rate online a few hours in advance of travelling, then picking up the money at the airport. The walk-up rate at the airport will cost you far more.
A select group of credit cards are good for spending abroad. These include Halifax Clarity, Barclaycard Platinum Travel, Tandem, Aqua, Post Office Platinum and Saga Platinum.
Gavin Pryde uses the ‘borderless account’ from TransferWise to save money on currency exchange. The 54-year-old business owner splits his time between Spain and the UK – so is constantly in need of both sterling and euros. Moving money between his UK and Spain-based bank accounts always meant losing out financially.
Gavin, whose British home is in Hertfordshire, says: ‘I am constantly travelling, I love it. But every time I was buying currency, I was getting charged a transaction fee and given a poor exchange rate – sometimes costing up to 20 euros. It all adds up.’
His TransferWise account uses fair mid-market rates and charges a low conversion fee which varies depending on the currency. From pounds to euros the fee is 0.35 per cent of the sum transferred – so 35 pence per £100.
Since opening it four years ago, Gavin estimates he has saved around £2,000.
Gavin trains people how to use motorboats and though the company is based in the UK he has international clients.
He adds: ‘I use TransferWise for receiving payment from my clients in euros and in sterling and moving money between the two currencies when it is convenient to take advantage of good exchange rates.’
A TransferWise account can be opened at: transferwise.com.
A European Health Insurance Card allows travellers to receive State-provided healthcare at the same cost as local residents – which in many cases will be free. This rule applies to countries in the European Economic Area and Switzerland.
But to cover holiday cancellation expenses, theft or loss of belongings, expensive medical treatment and repatriation to the UK, additional travel insurance needs to be purchased.
Charlie Campbell, a senior policy adviser at the Association of British Insurers, says: ‘Travel insurance should be top of everybody’s holiday shopping list – it acts as a guardian angel against the unexpected happening abroad. Expensive medical bills can sometimes reach tens of thousands of pounds – even in countries covered by the European Health Insurance Card.’
Campbell says it is important to provide as much information to an insurer as possible when buying cover – including any health issues and details of any sports activities to be enjoyed while away. Check whether you already have travel insurance via a financial product you hold – such as a bank account – to avoid paying twice over. Be mindful of policy exclusions and age limits applied by some insurers.
WHAT TO DO: COMPARE DEALS ONLINE
Check travel insurance premiums by visiting comparison websites such as GoCompare and comparethemarket. Those with medical conditions – particularly complex ones – should use a specialist provider such as Free Spirit, AllClear, Saga and Insurancewith.
Anyone struggling to buy affordable travel insurance that covers their medical condition can use the ‘find a broker’ service offered by the British Insurance Brokers’ Association. Visit Biba.org.uk or call 0370 950 1790. Avoid official-looking fake websites that charge a fee for your European Health Insurance Card application. Visit gov.uk/european-health-insurance-card to get one for free.
European ‘roam like at home’ rules allow you to use your mobile phone on holiday in the same way as you do at home. The rules apply if you are temporarily – rather than permanently – abroad and are subject to fair use limits.
This means if you use excessive amounts of internet data then capped charges may apply.
The sting comes when customers use their phones in countries outside of the European Union – and in particular run up huge bills while browsing the internet on a phone or tablet. Some mobile networks allow customers to use their normal domestic bundle of calls, texts and data in specific countries outside of Europe – with no further charge if they stay within their monthly allowance. Otherwise expect to pay high prices.
Rates: Gavin Pryde has saved £2,000 using TransferWise for currency exchange
Ernest Doku is mobile expert at comparison website uSwitch. He says: ‘There is good reason to be wary of roaming charges as they can vary wildly outside Europe.’ He adds: ‘If you buy a roaming add-on from a network you might automatically be opted out of the data-roaming cap that networks apply to protect you from high bills.
‘Ask your network if this is the case. Keep an eye on your usage even when buying an add-on because, once spent, any subsequent activity could cause your bill to rocket.’
WHAT TO DO: CHECK WITH YOUR PROVIDER WHAT CHARGES APPLY FOR OVERSEAS USAGE
Before you travel, find out what additional charges apply for mobile phone use abroad. If ‘roam like at home’ does not apply, ask what bundles they offer to keep costs down.
Alternatively you can buy a low-cost Sim card to insert into your phone when you land at your destination.
It means you will have a different mobile number while away, but you can enjoy lower local rates for calls, texts and internet data. You switch back to your old Sim when you return home.
Companies such as WorldSim and Lebara Mobile sell Sim cards with cheap worldwide rates.
Log in to any free local wi-fi where possible, but for security reasons avoid activities such as online banking unless you know the connection to be secure.
Doku says: ‘A useful travel tip is to download Google Maps for your destination before you travel which can be used offline without an internet connection.
‘If you get lost abroad, it can be tempting to use your phone’s GPS, but this will eat up huge amounts of data.’
PASSPORTS AND VISAS
Leave plenty of time for passport renewals and visa applications. It costs £75.50 to apply for, renew or replace a standard UK passport online.
The fee rises to £85 if you complete a paper application. It takes three weeks for a passport application to be processed.
An ‘urgent’ service is available for travellers with no time to spare, costing £177 – or £142 if you can wait one week.
Anyone born on, or before, September 2, 1929 – currently aged 88 or older – can get a free passport.
When renewing a passport, any time remaining on the old one will be added to the new – up to a maximum of nine months.
For travel to the United States you will need to complete a registration form via the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation website before you leave home. This is instead of having to apply for a visa to visit the country. It costs $14 (£10).
WHAT TO DO: BE WARY OF COPYCATS
Copycat websites will lure you into believing they are official channels for passport or visa applications. They are not.
To find details about renewing or replacing a passport visit gov.uk/apply-renew-passport.
If you want more support and are applying by post, use the Post Office’s ‘check and send service’ for an additional £9.75.
For the US ESTA website visit https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta.
Driving force: Hiring a car overseas can cause a financial headache
Hiring a car overseas can cause a financial headache as a result of costly insurance, upselling at the check-in desk and surprise fees for damage to a vehicle which you did not cause.
Car rental company Zest is warning drivers to be aware of a current con where customers are being billed for repairs to damaged door locks. Since most cars have remote locking systems, few people are likely to try the key in its lock before driving away. This makes it challenging to dispute responsibility for a repair bill once the vehicle is returned.
Excess insurance eliminates the cost you would have to pay in the event of an accident or theft. Such a charge could be as much as £1,000. Car hire firms sell excess insurance that removes the possibility of such a high fee, but such policies are likely to be more expensive than standalone deals.
WHAT TO DO: ARRANGE PRE-HOLIDAY
Book online in advance of travel – and take items that will help you swerve steep add-on costs at your destination such as a satnav and a child car seat. Visit the TravelSupermarket website to help find cheaper prices. Take photos of the hire car before you drive away and make a note of any damage already visible.