Saturday, December 21, 2013

An Expat's Guide to Visiting London: Money

How to Gain a Few Pounds (£).
The worst way to exchange money is the change places in the airport.  They offer the worst exchange rate and the highest fees.  If you have to exchange cash, the various change places around the city vary somewhat as to the rates, but all will be better than the airport.
For those arriving via the Chunnel, the 2nd worst place to exchange cash would probably be St. Pancras Station.

The best way to exchange money is to wait until you get to the UK and then withdraw pounds from your home bank account using an ATM.  There will probably be a transaction fee, so it is better to withdraw £300 all at once than to withdraw £100 on 3 separate occasions.  Bank fees will vary, so if you have multiple accounts, it may be worth checking the fees ahead of time.

Credit cards can vary substantially in terms of exchange rate and foreign transaction fee.  Capital One is known for having no international fees and usually offers the best $ to £ rate of any credit card.

If you want to make sure you are getting the best deal, the "Wallet Dilemma" app can tell you the exact cost in dollars for various credit card international purchases.  It can pay for itself in a single purchase.

The difference between credit cards cards can easily be $5 dollars per £100 pounds spent. Worse if the £100 is a bunch of small purchases. This can add up quickly.

Once you've converted your local money to pounds, you'll notice that everything in London has one of only two prices.
  1. Free.
  2. Expensive.
Some of the very best things London has to offer are available for free.  Such as The British Museum, The National Gallery, V&A Museum, Natural History Museum, Science Museum, The Wallace Collection, and The Museum of London.
Everything else will cost you!
If you are visiting friends who live in the UK, don't bring a big pile of dollars (your local currency) and expect your friends to trade you for it--unless your friends have a trip to your country planned for the immediate future and they've said they're cool doing that. 
Similarly if those friends have pre-purchased things for you--such as theatre or sports tickets--pay them back in pounds, not dollars.
There are two exceptions to this free/expensive rule.
The first is Mobile Phone Service.  If you have an unlocked GSM mobile phone that you can bring on your trip, you can stop in any phone shop and pick up a Pay as you Go SIM card for £10 that will have enough minutes and data to get you through your visit.  The mobile phone companies here are Vodafone, O2, 3, and EE (formerly Orange & TMobile).  For tourist purposes, they're all the same and all will have a £10 sim card.

The second exception is Gaby's Deli. Great price for a great lunch. There are lots of choices for vegetarians, or salt beef for the carnivores. But you really should get the falafel sandwich every time. 

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nhadatxinh said...
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