British Travel: Where to Buy British Pounds in the USA before Your Trip

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We’re just about 3 weeks away from our upcoming trip to the UK (read all about that here) and as we got closer, we realized that we were going to need some British currency before we left.

For several reasons:

  1. With juggling two young children at the airport we may not have a chance to hit the ATM first thing
  2. We always have problems using our bank cards in the UK (even when we tell them in advance) and usually when we land, banks are closed because it’s the middle of the night back home.
  3. I like British Money and holding it makes my trip feel closer. Lame I know.

As we will need cash right away, we thought it would be a good idea to buy sound pounds in advance. The problem is that this is a spectacular surefire way to overpay for British currency.

The cheapest way to get British pounds is in the UK, at an ATM where you get the current market interbank rate (and most ATM’s are free).

By far the most expensive way to get British currency in the USA is to try and buy it over the counter from a currency exchange which will charge onerous fees and give you a terrible exchange rate.

Knowing this still, we wanted to have some cash anyway, so we sought out to get the best deal possible.

If you live near an international airport, you can pop over to the international terminal and buy Pounds, but the exchange rate will probably be the worst, we’re talking like $1.90 to the £ plus fees.

In the past, we’ve bought currency from TravelEx.com, by far the biggest name in buying foreign currency. So, I checked there first and their rate was $1.79. When you add in their shipping cost it comes to almost $190 for just £100. This is pretty bad.

I did some further research and found the website for International Currency Express out of California and they offered the best exchange rate – which was $1.69. I searched around some more and this was by far the best rate I could find. Coupled with their shipping cost I paid $179 for £100.

I ordered it and it arrived within a week. The bills were crisp and in good condition. It’s so weird to hold that kind of cash before I get to the UK. It’s amazing to think that here it has no tangible value now, but after a 7 hour flight from Chicago, it’s suddenly worth quite a bit!

My only complaint with International Currency Express was that they charged $10 for shipping, which would have been fine had they not shipped our currency via First Class Mail, which would not have cost more than $1 or $2. So, I think their great exchange rate is being offset by shipping and handling.

I would order from them again though.

There are other places you can get British Currency as well, we asked people where they get theirs on our Facebook page and people suggested the following:

  • American Express Travel Office – Your local American Express Travel office will often have foreign currency on hand that you can buy.
  • AAA Travel Office – Your Local AAA office will also sell foreign currency packs but you need to be a member.
  • Local Bank – If your local bank is a bigger chain, they will often sell you currency but most won’t have it on hand, but they’ll mail it to you or you can pick it up at the bank later.

Where do you get your British Pounds before your travel?

We also try to keep some leftover from our trips but more often than not – we spend every last penny since Pounds are worth so much these days.

Comments

  1. avatarMary says

    I don’t understand why they can’t make the bank cards work. My husband I tell every card we’re leaving and inevitably when we’re there have to attempt every one to find one that works, only to have it shut off after a few days there.

      • avatarBrian Flaherty says

        My American Airlines CitiCard NOW offers a FREE chip-card. . .It replaces your “old” CitiCard. . .I have ZERO love for CitiBank and the other “too big to fail” financial “cheats”. . However, they control the ONLY GAME IN TOWN these days!

        You might also try CapitalOne VISA cards. . .I have always had good luck with them; and, they charge ZERO for foreign transactions. . .

        Another suggestion: I always “pre-load” my cards by creating a credit balance BEFORE I leave the States. . .Makes for an almost zero “financial shock” when I return home. . .Sorta like a “free trip”. . .(smile)

      • avatarTerry Mindham says

        I was in the UK this past spring, and had absolutely no trouble using the ATMs, mostly via Tesco’s, where I often would pick up lunch. They do not charge for their ATMs, and they are a good source for gasoline, picnic groceries, newspapers, wine, etc. I highly recommend them, and there are even a few in Northern Ireland. I usually keep some Brit pounds for return trips, but there are ATMs in the airports also (even obtained cash that way in Beijing last month!). ATMs are all over Europe at large. I count on them for cash, though your bank will have daily limits on withdrawals from you account.

  2. avatarMarie Moffitt says

    I always keep some euros and/or some pounds at the end of a trip so that I will have them to use on my next trip. I also keep a loaded Oyster Card for use on arrival in London. In addition, I have 20 euros, twenty dollars, and twenty pounds immediately available in my wallet at all times.

    Family members usually meet me at the airport when I arrive in London, but I like to be able to pay my own way.

  3. avatarJoel Nylander says

    I have checked with various suppliers of foreign currency and he last time I checked (a couple of weeks ago), Bank of America had the best deal. You can either pick up your currency at a local branch or they will mail it to you. I picked mine up at a branch and it got there two days after my order. Standard shipping is $7.50.

  4. avatarYouLiveYouLearn says

    Travelex is my archenemy. On top of having the worst exchange rate, they use shady tactics like turning their rate board off (at their retail locations), or convincing people to convert more currency than they need by offering free conversion of unused foreign currency back to US$ when you get back from your trip (at their higher rate of course, which they don’t tell you, so they basically get you coming and going).

  5. avatarAndy Humm says

    Your story simply points up the fact that there is no good way to acquire pounds before the trip and it is not necessary. There are several ATMs at the airport if you MUST have cash before going into town. You can use your credit card to charge your train fare into town–best done at the TFL window rather than the machines which do indeed have more trouble with most American cards. And I agree with those that say it if you are going to need pounds right off the plane, best to have saved them from your last trip.

    • avatarAndy Humm says

      And YES it is almost essential to notify your bank and credit card companies that you will be using their cards overseas. Even then they tend to cut them off at the slightest hint of a use that they question. It is very vexing.

      • avatar says

        It is very frustrating, thus why we felt it important to get sound Sterling before we left in case our cards don’t work, which they most likely won’t.

  6. avatarBrook says

    Chase has a British Airways card that comes with a chip and pin. You can also use it in the UK with no foreign transaction fees. I’ve never had a problem with that card. Also if you have a Bank of America card you can withdraw cash from a Barclays ATM with no foreign transaction charge. You can buy tickets for the Heathrow Express online and get a discount with the code DUO12 when you buy 2 or more tickets.

  7. avatarNancy R says

    You might find this weird; I did, but a friend of mine in Liverpool buys his American money through Ebay. I only imagine it could work both ways.

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