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Plain English Travel Money Guide

If you're an occasional or frequent traveller who has bought currency in the past you may well have been asked to register for money laundering compliance or been offered a buy back service on return from holiday. Compare Holiday Money have produced a free plain English guide to help explain some of these processes and bust of the jargon you may encounter.

You can download the latest version of the Plain English Travel Money Guide (PDF) here to print or save for later.


As the UK's leading specialist comparison website for travel money, we know that changing money can be confusing.

Ordering or buying travel money is a necessary process for anyone heading outside of the UK, but a great majority of British travellers leave this important task until the last minute and often find themselves short-changed and limited for choice when they finally part with their hard-earned cash.

Many currency suppliers take advantage of our tendency to buy at the last minute (for example the Post Office offer worse exchange rates if you walk in 'off the street' than if you order online through their website) and to add to the confusion you'll see marketing jargon like "0% commission" and "admin fees" thrown into the mix when you buy.

Fortunately there are a few simple steps you can take to save time and maximise the amount of currency you'll receive. I this guide we'll show you how to get the best deals, explain the jargon and tell you what to watch out for.

Exchange rate basics

Exchange rates are a source of great confusion to many people but they are simple to understand and are the single most important factor in how much currency you'll receive. Take a minute to familiarise yourself with how they work.

Put simply, the exchange rate can be thought of as the cost of converting one currency into another. We'll use Euros as our example, but the same theory applies to all currencies.

When you buy Euros you'll be presented with an exchange rate, for example 1.2345. This means that £1 is worth €1.2345 and this figure is used to calculate the total amount of currency you'll receive. So for example if you wanted to spend £500, the amount of Euros you will receive would be calculated by:

£500 x 1.2345 = €617.25

But what if you wanted to buy an exact amount of Euros? That's easy too: just divide the amount of Euros you'd like by the exchange rate. For example if you wanted exactly 700 Euros, you could calculate the cost in pounds by:

€700 / 1.2345 = £567.03

So the exchange rate is crucial to how much currency you'll receive. A higher exchange rate means you'll receive more currency than a lower exchange rate and every currency supplier sets and updates their own rates frequently throughout the day.

Commission, fees and other charges

In a simple world the exchange rate would be used to calculate how much currency you'll receive that would be the end of the story. Unfortunately some currency suppliers add on charges which affect the final amount of currency you'll receive. Here's the most common you'll come across.

Before we start, it's worth noting that not all currency suppliers add on additional charges or commission. Some of the most competitive places to buy currency (we'll come to that later) don't charge any additional fees at all which means the exchange rate you are quoted is exactly what you'll get. But first let's go over some of the common charges you might see.


Commission is a fee paid to the currency supplier and is typically a percentage of the total transaction value. So for example if you are exchanging £500 into Euros at the commission is 3%, you'll pay 3% of £500:

£500 / 100 x 3% = £15

Not such a good deal after all. Commission is sometimes paid directly to a broker or dealer who negotiates a deal for you (i.e. finds you someone offering a good exchange rate), although this is typically for large transactions involving hundreds of thousands of pounds or more, but some well-known high street currency providers charge commission as standard so watch out for this especially if buying from a shop or branch in your local town.

0% or Zero Commission

You might see this term thrown around sometimes. This means there is no commission payable – some clever marketing guys carefully crafted this message to make it seem like you are getting a better deal when in fact it just means you won't be paying commission on any transactions.

Admin or Processing Fees

Admin fees are typically charged by some online currency suppliers, supposedly to cover the cost of them processing your order. Admin fees aren't very common, but you should be wary of any supplier charging you to order with them in the first place since the majority of suppliers don't.

Card Processing Fees

If you pay by credit card you will usually have to pay a card processing fee. This fee is charged by your bank and is payable to the currency supplier when you make the payment. It doesn't usually apply to debit cards.

Delivery Charges

If you order currency online there will usually be a minimum amount of currency you need to order to qualify for free delivery. This amount varies between suppliers but is typically around £500. If your order falls below this value, you'll be asked to pay the cost of insured delivery which is normally around £5. At Compare Holiday Money we automatically factor these delivery charges into your comparison amount so we show you which deals are the best even if you don't qualify for free delivery.

Buy Back Charge

Some suppliers may ask you if you would like to pay a small fee which will guarantee they buy back your unused currency at the rate you bought it at if you return home with any unspent currency. This is optional and depends on your personal circumstances but generally we would recommend you avoid this as there are better buyback deals to be had elsewhere (see our Buy Back section later in the guide).

How to get the best exchange rates

Now we've looked briefly at exchange rates and charges, let's take a look at where you can actually buy currency including our tips on how to get the best exchange rates and which places to avoid.

You can buy currency from a number of places. First and foremost, ask friends and family if they have any left-over currency they would like to sell to you. Many people keep hold of currency when they return from their holiday and buying directly from someone you know can cut out all the middle men and get you both a good deal. If that fails, you have a few more options to buy your currency which we've ranked below in order of best to worst:

1st choice: Buy online

It's no coincidence that almost everything can be bought cheaper online. Buying online allows currency suppliers to save on expensive overheads that come with running a shop or branch and these savings are passed directly on to you in the form of better exchange rates. Buy online at the best rate and have your currency delivered for free to your door by Royal Mail Special Delivery (on orders over a certain value, otherwise a delivery charge will apply).

The Compare Holiday Money website compares the best places to order your currency online and ranks them in order of the best deals including any fees and delivery charges. All of the suppliers we compare are based in the UK and are fully licenced and registered to sell currency.

2nd choice: Your local supermarket

Surprisingly, supermarkets offer some of the best currency deals after the online providers. Not all supermarkets sell currency; you can check which ones do using the store locators on their respective websites but you'll be able to find branches of Tesco, ASDA, M&S, Sainsburys and Morrisons who sell currency over the counter.

Tip: you can buy online via their website first and opt to pick your currency up from your local store rather than have it delivered. This allows you to pay in advance and secure the exchange rate you see on the screen which may be better than the in-store rate. We compare these supermarkets on the Compare Holiday Money website.

3rd choice: The high street or your local Post Office

There are plenty of places on your local high street that will sell you currency, but it becomes more difficult to get a great deal. The Post Office is the obvious choice for many but most branches will offer you a much lower rate if you walk in off the street than if you ordered online first. You can place your order in advance on the Post Office website and opt to pick your currency up from your local branch free of charge. This guarantees you their better online rate and allows you to walk straight in and pick your currency up without hassle.

4th choice: Your bank

Banks don't have to be competitive with their exchange rates because they already have the customers. Most banks offer some of the lowest exchange rates on the high street and are notorious for adding commission and charges on top of orders so consider other options if possible.

5th choice: The airport

Airports have a captive market and if you haven't ordered your currency by the time you fly then be prepared for a shock. It's no secret that airports offer the worst exchange rates of all, and if you have found yourself without currency by the time you reach the departure lounge then consider waiting until you reach your destination as you're more likely to get a better deal when you arrive.

Currency Buy Back

What can you do with your left-over currency when you return from your holiday? Every year millions of pounds worth of unspent currency are brought back by Brits after they return from holiday, destined for the kitchen drawer or under the mattress. Don't sit on your old currency; there are plenty of ways for changing it back and putting it to good use. Here are some of our top suggestions:

Sell it back online

You can find a buyer on the Compare Holiday Money website who will offer you a handsome price for any unwanted or left-over currency. Most of our currency sellers also buy back unused currency so they can resell it again to other customers. This is where you'll find the best deals of all: just place your order online, pop your currency in the post and receive a payment directly into your bank account within 1-2 working days.

Exchange it at the bank or Post Office

If you don't fancy posting your currency, your local bank or Post Office might offer to buy it back at a reduced rate. You won't get as much money as if you had sold it back online but you will get the money instantly over the counter. This option may not be suitable for all currencies as most branches will only buy popular currencies such as the Euro and US Dollar.

Swap it with a friend

Sell or give your currency to a friend or family member who is due to go on holiday in the near future. Agree a price that you're both happy with and kill two birds with one stone!

Donate it to charity

Most charities are grateful for any donations regardless of the currency and value. If you're feeling generous, why not donate your unwanted currency to help those in need? We recommend Shelter Box as our charity of choice but there are many other deserving charities who would be delighted to receive your currency.

Other things to watch out for

HMRC Compliance / Know Your Customer (KYC) checks

Buying currency is a convenient way for criminals to launder money. To help combat this, HMRC requires all currency suppliers keep details about their customers when they buy currency so you may be asked to provide some documents as proof of identify when you place your order. This usually happens if you order more than £10,000 worth of currency but some suppliers insist on asking for identification (such as a scan of your passport or drivers licence) regardless of the value of your order so don't be alarmed if you are asked to provide either of these during checkout. If you are asked to provide this information, the supplier will send you instructions on the easiest way to do this and it won't cost you anything or affect the amount of currency you receive.

Dynamic Currency Conversion

When you purchase something overseas you may be asked by the merchant if you would like to pay in British pounds or the local currency. Always choose the local currency as if you choose to pay in British pounds the merchant is allowed to set their own exchange rate which will never be in your favour. This perfectly legal practice is called Dynamic Currency Conversion and it occurs in most countries so remember: always pay in the local currency.

Further information

For further information and to buy or sell currency online the best rates, visit the Compare Holiday Money website:

If you have any questions or comments about this guide, please email and one of our currency experts will reply to you as soon as possible.

Thank you for reading this free guide by Compare Holiday Money.

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