Does anyone know if we should buy our pounds in the United States before traveling to London, or where can we buy them in London? We will be flying into Heathrow airport.
I personally would get some pounds before leaving the States so that you have some ready to use once you're here. You could get £100 to start you off then use your debit card to get cash out of ATMs when you need to.
Unless your bank has a special arrangement with a UK Bank (eg Bank of America has an arrangement with Barclays) then you will pay charges each time you use a ATM but you usually get the a better exchange rate than a bureau de change. Also, make sure you tell your bank you are going to the UK so they don't freeze your debit or credit cards whilst you're here.
I wouldn't suggest buying pounds from your bank or anywhere else in the US.
Before you go, tell your bank the dates you'll be out of country, put the money you'll be using for cash withdrawals into your checking account, and then, if you haven't already, set up a debit card for that account.
My bank has told me that's the most cost-effective way to access cash in the UK.
Heathrow has several ATMs in the Arrivals hall, you'll have no trouble finding them.
Don't know how much cash you'll need, but we've been limited to £300 withdrawals, and one time it was only £200.
We've never found a huge need for cash, though, as almost every place takes credit cards.
One warning, make PURCHASES only with your credit card, as it will probably come with security and purchase protection plans.
However, cash withdrawals from the cc are hugely expensive and usually have a much higher interest rate than purchase interest rates.
And cash advances are paid last when you make a payment to your credit card company.
It's fairly easy really.
Credit card: Purchases
Debit card: Cash withdrawals
Thank you. I'll find out what the service fee would be at my bank to use the ATM's.
Although both advices are excellent, I wouldn't leave for London without having at least the 100 quid that Mick suggested in my pocket.
You never know what can happen and having at least the money to get to your hotel is always a good idea.
Our bank charges no fees if ATMs with Interlink, Plus and Star logos are used.
Your bank will probably have their own, or the same, partners.
We've used this system, ie. purchases with credit card, cash withdrawals with debit card, several times now and it has worked out well.
It most probably will for you too.
This is just my personal opinion but I have never converted money before I've left home, there are loads of ATMs at Heathrow and if that should for some reason fail, you can use your credit card for whatever transportation you need be it the tube or car service or I imagine even a taxi. Or convert a small sum of money at one of the exchange places at Heathrow for your transport and find an ATM in central London.
What you should do though, assuming this is your 1st European trip, is check and make sure your ATM card will work (if you have a 4 digit PIN it should and the Cirrus or Maestro logo on the back) AND notify your credit card company that you are leaving the US. Also verify that you have a PIN for your credit card should your ATM card fail and you needed to get a cash advance.
I will share two horror stories with you:
Story #1: A friend and her mum are travelling to London. They have no cash with them, apart for a few drachmas (Greek currency, before the euro) for their cab when they return to Athens. My friend has no CC cause she's just 8 or 9 years old. The mother is using a new "travel" purse and has all her CCs together. All the CCs get de-magnetised (hope I am using the correct word). Even the few drachmas were small bills and the bureaus did not exchange them. They spent 3 hours trying to get some help and phone Greece and another 5 waiting for the father to send money via Western Union.
Story #2: A friend (not the above mentioned) and her sister arrive to I-don't-remember-where in the middle of a black out. No ATMs, no Bureaus, no nothing! They could not even use their CC to pay for train tickets to get into town! If they had money, they would have walked out of the airport, take a taxi and start their vacation. Instead, they waited for 12 (TWELVE!!!!!!) hours at the airport.
I know things like this don't happen every day, but no one could guarantee they won't ever happen to you!
TH13 definitely pointed out a worse case scenario. I, personally, don't go anywhere, even in the U.S., without some cash on me, because you never know what might happen. So I think it's a good idea to bring some pounds with you. Yes, the exchange rate you'll get will be horrid, but you'll at least have some peace of mind.
Yep, Thalia convinced me too.
Get some pounds from the bank before you go, it's probably worth it and better safe than sorry.
Wow, those are some horror stories Thalia. Story #1 would have easily been solved had they brought their own currency with them, they could have taken that to an exchange office at the airport. I always travel with a couple hundred dollars ever since I got stuck in Portugal with an ATM card that didn't work and no PIN on my credit card to get cash advances, we ended up only doing things we could charge.
Story #2 on the other hand is a bit more difficult but I suppose I would have tried going outside of the airport to the taxi stand to see if the cabbies would take $$$ to get me somewhere that I could get a bus or tube or in the worst case scenario to my hotel. It probably would have cost me but better than spending 12 hours in the airport....
But for first time travelers, maybe it is better that they land with some local currency in their pockets. But I'm still taking my chances and going without :-)