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Curious about the exchange rate or how much money to bring for shopping, dining and entertainment? Then familiarize yourself with the UK currency to ensure your vacation isn't shortchanged.
The national currency of London is the British Pound (£). One Pound is divided into 100 pence and there are four notes in circulation; they come in denominations of £5, £10, £20 and £50.
The eight coins in circulation are in denominations of £1 and £2, then one, two, five, 10, 20 and 50 pence.
To find the current exchange rate for the euro, visit www.xe.com
Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted at retail establishment and restaurants throughout London. However, some merchants impose a minimum purchase amount for card payments (e.g. £15) and cash payment is generally preferred at food stalls, markets and pop-up shops. American Express cards are accepted to a lesser extent, while Discover cards are usually not accepted. Call your bank ahead of your trip to let them know that you would like to use it abroad and make sure to get a breakdown of the fees they charge.
ATMs (called cash points or cash machines) are located all throughout London, and enable you to withdraw cash in in British Pounds 24 hours a day using a Visa or Mastercard. As a general rule, it is more cost effective to use a debit card as opposed to a credit card in a foreign ATM as fees tend to be lower.
Before you go:
Bank ATMs in London do not charge usage fees. They are located in popular areas of the city, as well as in and around bank locations and are usually branded with the bank’s name (e.g. Lloyds, Barclays, HSBC, Santander, etc.) However, independent ATMs that are not affiliated with a bank will charge additional usage fees and should be avoided.
Exchanging Money at a Bank
Most banks in London and throughout the UK do not offer currency exchange services to non-account holders.
Using Money Exchange Bureaus
You can find money exchange bureaus at major rail stations, popular tourist areas and at London airports. They base their rates on the daily currency exchange market and typically offer around a 5% spread between the buy and sell rates for popular currencies.
Some money exchange bureaus also charge additional commission fees based on your form of payment and your exchange amount. These fees tend to decrease if you exchange larger sums of money, which is why money exchange bureaus are generally not recommended if you want to exchange small amounts throughout your trip. When visiting an exchange bureau, remember to bring a form of ID with you, as this is required to complete the transaction.
Cashing Traveler’s Checks in London
Once popular with international travelers, modern ATM machines, debit and credit cards have made traveler’s checks all but obsolete. If you do decide to bring traveler’s checks, you can cash them at a handful of Post Office locations and select NatWest branches in Central London. Remember to bring your passport with you as proof of ID.
Non-EU residents can get sales tax (VAT) refunds for eligible purchases made in London. Refund-eligible merchants will display a ‘Tax Free Shopping’ sign on their window or near the cash register. When you make your purchase, ask for a tax refund form and keep it with your receipt.
Both Heathrow and Gatwick Airport have VAT refund counters, and Stansted Airport has a customs post box where VAT refund forms can be mailed. Before submitting your VAT refund, fill out the refund form. At Gatwick and Heathrow Airport, you will need to present high value items (e.g. watches, jewelry, electronics) to a customs official as a security precaution. If you have purchased large or bulky items, make your refund claim before checking in your luggage.
The average wait time at the customs desk at Heathrow is 30 minutes and you can expect a slightly shorter wait at Gatwick. As a general rule, try to arrive at the airport at least an hour early so that you have ample time to claim your refund before your flight.