You’ll not have a problem finding things to do and places to explore in London. With many experiences to spend your money on, you’ll be needing some pounds to get by.
Unfortunately, foreign exchange is big business. While lots of companies claim to offer the ‘best’ and ‘most competitive’ rates around, this isn’t always the case. If you’re not careful, you could be losing a lot of money without even realising it.
Check out this guide on how to get the best deal possible exchanging your money when travelling to London.
Before you part with your hard-earned cash, first take just a moment to learn a bit more about the process. Here a few tips to consider when exchanging your currency in London.
The Great Britain Pound is also referred to as pound sterling, or GBP for short. It’s a floating exchange rate, meaning that its value is determined by current supply and demand and will fluctuate over time. Factors affecting the rate include economic, political and other changes.
Try timing your exchange for when your home currency is stronger comparatively to the pound. To help stay aware of the changing exchange rate, you can sign up for exchange rate alerts and receive notifications according to your preferences.
Pounds are freely traded on the open market, and the exchange rate is the value at which traders are prepared to buy or sell at a given point in time.
The mid-market rate, also known as the interbank rate or spot rate, is the midpoint between the buy and sell rates from global markets. More importantly, it’s the fairest exchange rate you could possibly get. If the exchange rate you’re offered differs from the mid-market rate, chances are there’s extra commission being hidden there.
Finding out the true current value of the pound is easy. You can monitor the live mid-market rate by checking our online currency converter.
It’s never advisable to exchange your money at airports or hotels but if it’s an absolute necessity there are places in London where you can do this. There are foreign exchange bureaus, run by Travelex, in all Heathrow's terminals. These sell cash as well as pre-paid currency cards.
Gatwick Airport similarly has various foreign exchange bureaus, run by Moneycorp, which are open all through the flight schedule.
You may also be able to exchange currency at your hotel. However, you’ll rarely get a good deal at the airport or at a hotel. Because they’re often a last resort, airport and hotel kiosks tend to set unfavourable exchange rates and higher commission. It’s the price you pay for convenience.
You could also ask your home bank if they have arrangements with banks in London, or if they’re part of the Global ATM Alliance; a network of banks that allow customers to use foreign ATMs free or at reduced cost.
Some ATMs will offer to perform the transaction in your home currency. While it sounds nice on the surface, it's a trap. These ATMs make up their own exchange rate, and it’ll be weaker than what you’d receive if you proceed without conversion. Always choose to be charged in the local currency. So, GBP in this case.
To avoid doubling up on exchange fees, try to spend all of your foreign currency before leaving the UK. You’re likely to lose money when exchanging the currency back. Alternatively, just keep the money for your next trip. That’s another good excuse to head back to London.
London is a large city, and there are numerous places where you can exchange money. Three popular foreign exchange companies in London are: Travelex, Moneycorp and Fourex. The details for these services are listed in the table below.
Beware though, that fee-free and commission-free foreign exchange transactions don't exist; and foreign exchange bureaus that make these claims are lying to you. While they may not be charging you an outright fee, they build a profit into their exchange rate.
You can quickly confirm this by checking the current mid-market rate and comparing it to the rate you’re being offered.
|Currency Bureau||Locations||Contact Information|
|Travelex||Travelex have several branches around London, as well as at hotels and major airports. You can find the branch nearest to you here.||0845 8727 627|
|Fourex||Fourex currently have branches in King’s Cross Station, Blackfriars station and at the Westfield in Stratford. You can find the branch nearest to you here.||0163 4302 525|
|Moneycorp||Moneycorp have ten branches in central London and branches at Gatwick and Stansted Airports. You can find the branch nearest to you here.||020 7589 3000|
Unless you know what to look out for, you could be paying a lot more than you should on your foreign exchange. Always check how far the rate you’re receiving deviates from the mid-market rate, and shop around for the best deal possible.
Even better, if you or someone you know has a UK bank account, use TransferWise to convert your funds at the fairest possible exchange rate. Not only does TransferWise use the real mid-market exchange rate to convert your money (which almost always beat the banks), your money will also be sent and received using local banks, thus bypassing those nasty international banking fees..