Money in the UK: How to Pay for Things in London and the UK (2024)

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Before you make your trip to the UK, you’ll need to figure out how you’re actually using money in the UK while over here.

Not specifically about budgeting money for London, but using it!

First off, the UK (England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) use “pounds” and “pence.”

Pounds are the equivalent of dollars and pence the equivalent of cents.

There are 100 pence in 1 pound.

There are coins for 1 pence, 5 pence, 10 pence, 20 pence, 50 pence, 1 pound, and 2 pounds.

And there are “notes” or “bills” for 5 pounds, 10 pounds, 20 pounds and 50 pounds.

Ireland (The Republic of Ireland, not Northern Ireland) uses euros, as do many countries on continental Europe.

You will not be able to use money of another currency, including euros or dollars, in the UK, except to exchange them.


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The Best Way to Handle Money in the UK as a Visitor

The absolute best way that is recommended to get physical (cash) pounds in the UK is to alert your card company from your own country that you are going abroad, and then to get out money in chunks of cash from an ATM once you arrive in the UK.

ATMs in the UK do not charge you a fee, so you will be hit by your bank’s charge and the exchange rate provided, but this is often cheaper than bringing physical money and exchanging it.

This is the best option if you have a card from your home country that will charge you foreign transaction fees (ie, a fee everytime you use it in a foreign country, in addition to the given exchange rate).

If you want to really manage your money the best, get a card before you go that has no foreign transaction fees, so you can both get out cash from an ATM as cheap as possible and you can use it to pay for things without fearing a foreign transaction fee each time.

These differ by country, but the things to look for are either “travel cards” or search your bank’s options by “no foreign fees.”

Do a search or ask a question in the Facebook group re: the current bank cards that people are using to travel abroad.

I won’t list them here because of how offers and annual fees tend to change.

One thing to note is that the major cards taken in the UK are Visa and Mastercard.

These are widely accepted everywhere wherever they take card.

American Express is taken in some places, but not in all, and cards like Discover are not well known or accepted.

Exchanging Cash in the UK

Some people still prefer to bring their home currency to exchange into pounds on arrival in cash.

You will not get as good of exchange rates as you will by simply withdrawing money from an ATM, but if insist on doing this, you will get the best rates usually at post offices or Covent Garden FX.

You can also exchange money at a store called Marks and Spencer, as well as dedicated exchange places like eurochange.

You should know that the closer you are to a touristy area, airport, or train station, however, the more of a fee you will usually pay on your cash exchange.

Exchanging Cash Before You Leave for the UK

Some people like to be prepared by having some pounds and pence on them when stepping foot into the London airport.

They fear their debit card won’t work, or what if they can’t find an ATM, etc.

If this is you, you should order a small amount of currency in your home country before leaving for the UK.

Keep in mind that you will almost always get a better deal if you exchange money in the country of origin (ie if you want dollars, best to exchange when in the US, and similarly if you want pounds, best to exchange in the UK).

Many people order foreign currency from their banks before arriving if they go this route, and I would only recommend only bringing about 100 pounds and getting the rest in the UK.

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At the End of Your Trip

At the end of your trip, if you have money to change back into your home currency, the best place to do it is at home – as I said, you often get the best currency rate in the country you’re trying to get the currency for.

If there isn’t a currency exchange place near you at home, you can go to the Covent Garden FX or any post office to change some of the money back.

You often cannot exchange coins, so make sure to use those up first.

Visiting Northern Ireland or Scotland and Money

You should know that if you visit Northern Ireland or Scotland, you may receive Scottish Notes or Northern Irish notes as change.

There are lots of complicated rules around these and whether they are legal tender in different parts of the UK, but to keep it simple – if you receive either Scottish Notes or Northern Irish notes, try to use them in the country you received them in.

Image: afrc.ig.26.9.2016 (1). ScotGov Rural. [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr

If you don’t manage to, take them to a bank anywhere in the UK to exchange them for pounds sterling which is the default accepted currency everywhere.

UK Travel Planning Guide: the FAQs

🏥 Should I buy UK travel insurance?

Absolutely yes. Basic coverage is not expensive, and as a visitor you are NOT covered under the NHS. Compare policies and prices with Travel Insurance Master here, a big name in the travel insurance business, and cross that off your list.

🔌 Do I need travel adapters for the UK?

Yes, you do, otherwise you won’t be able to plug in your electronics/phone/lifelines. I recommend this one, which is all-in-one so you can use it in other countries.

🚗 What do I need to drive in the UK?

The first thing you need to check out if you’re planning on renting a car in the UK is this guide to driving in the UK for visitors – the roads, signs, and driving experience will likely not be what you’re used to and it’s essential to prepare yourself to stay safe and aware.

🛌 What’s the best way to book hotels in the UK?

For UK hotels, Booking is the best site as it offers free cancellation on many properties. If you want an apartment, I always recommend VRBO over AirBnb.

📳 Will my phone work in the UK?

Yes – if you set it up right. Check out my guide on making your foreign phone work in the UK to ensure that you get the type of service you need.

🚿 Can I drink the water in the UK?

Yes, UK water is great and perfectly safe. But drink out of taps in any kitchen or use water fountains. Double check before drinking out of the taps in hotel bathrooms, though, as they may be on a different system. London water is safe to drink.

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