Traveling: UK – Payment Tips – Tap that!

Traveling: UK – Payment Tips – Tap that!
Use a Contactless Payment Credit Card with no Transaction fees an you will be much better off!
Setup your phone as backup payment method.
Get VAT receipts and get a refund.
And more

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I have had the pleasure of traveling a lot over the years.  After a while the tips and tricks you pickup become like second nature.  At the same time others who are just starting out haven’t yet had the same experience.   I will attempt to give some good tips for those traveling to London below.


The UK (Brexit transitional Period 2020) uses Pounds as their primary currency.  They do accept the Euro a lot of places.  This may change post Brexit transitional period.  Nothing has been announced but you know it cannot persist as it has for the past 21 years (Euro was introduced Jan 1st 1999)


Do I need Cash while traveling in UK? 

In big cities I would give a resounding NO.  Nearly everything is paid with credit cards.  You can use Cash.  Might be nice to have some but the withdrawal (from ATMs) fee or Exchange centers are not really worth it.

Debit Cards

My advice.  Do not EVER use a debit card.  Not just traveling.  Ever.  Why?  Debit cards are not protected.  There is no way to dispute transactions and if someone drains your cash account… to bad.  Just don’t use debit cards.

Exchange Rate

What is the easiest way to find todays?

Google FTW.  # Source Currency Destination

For example:

  •  1 USD GBP

 = .77 (at time of writing)

Many calculator apps exist… not worth it just google it.

Is it better to pay in Dollars or Pounds?

Pay in the local currency.  Sure they will do currency conversion for you… for a FEE. (this will be a theme). If you pay in the local currency your payment method will be converted on the fly.  Just pay local currency you’ll get a much better rate via your Credit Card then you ever would from say a hotel or restaurant.

Numbers – Decimal v Comma

In many countries, a comma is used instead of a decimal point. A price of 59.95 Euros will be denoted as €59,95.

Credit Cards

Before traveling with a credit card you want to know 3 things about it.

  1. Does it have a foreign transaction fee (3%)?
  2. Does it have tap (contactless payment | EMV)?
  3. Does it have chip?

The ideal cards are No, Yes, Yes.

Payments outside the US are a bit different when working with credit cards.  In the US we are used to using Debit Cards in ATM machines with a PIN.  Outside the US you pay with a Chip and PIN.  What changes does this cause for the average traveler?

  1. They bring credit card machines to you.  Your card is NEVER out of your sight.  Why?  FRAUD!
  2. PIN means you have a 2 factor authentication.  More secure!

Warning! US credit cards do NOT have a PIN

This means every time you pay with your credit card you will have to get a paper receipt to sign.  This really sucks.

When asked my American credit card companies don’t offer Chip and PIN.  They said it was to hard for people to remember.  Whatever.  Just get used to unhappy look from every vendor.  You could always ask your credit card vendor.  Maybe they will give you one.  (good luck – I haven’t had any)

Foreign Transaction Fee

A lot of domestic cards have a 3% foreign transaction fee ON TOP of usually poor exchange rates.  Don’t even bother to bring a card like this internationally.  Go through your wallet and find a card without a foreign transaction fee.  Most travel or high end cards do NOT have one.   Go check your cards and hope for happy surprises.

Contactless Cards (Tap)

This new technology, known as E.M.V. (Europay, MasterCard and Visa), uses embedded chips to store personal information about the cardholder. A personal PIN is then required for authentication.

Why do I care?  Well this is what you need to get through the Tube and a lot of payments.

Contactless is going big in the US at places like Costco and the NYC metro.  You may have one on cards in the past 2 years (2018+)

Do I have Tap?

Look for icon that looks like a 5 bar WIFI.  If you do you are good to go.

What if I don’t have Tap?

Ask your credit card vendor… they may be able to set one up for you. 

Magnetic Stripe can still be read and used.  No biggie until you get to vending machines or ticket kiosks.

My jeans were tested on animals. : funny

Do you have a modern phone?

Then your device can be used to pay contactless (Tap).  Just follow the instructions for your manufacturer to link your card to your phone.  Make sure you do this before traveling to avoid lots of security silliness.

Should I contact my bank / credit card company and notify them about traveling?

YES.  Most major cards have a very easy to use form to state when and where you are going.  Easy!

What happens if I don’t tell my bank?

Ever had your card denied before?  Not fun.  Is it likely?  It is possible. Happened to me one time while drunkenly trying to get to Heathrow at 6 am on a Sunday.  Cards turned off and no way to pay the cabbie… and no one awake in the US to turn my card back on.  Hilarity ensued.

Pro Tip – Document all Cards before Leaving

No one ever tries to be a victim.  Sometimes bad things happen like your ID being stole or your wallet. 

  1. ALWAYS write down all your info before you travel (just take pictures of both sides of your cards) – be careful of cell phone picture cloud backups!
  2. Bring two cards with you.  Why so you don’t have the fun I did with a card being turned off.


When using a credit card internationally, hotels and car rental companies often place a “hold” on your credit card for anticipated charges, which may tie up your credit line. It will be released if you are not required to pay the charges, but you should be mindful of how it may impact your spending. Check your credit limit online while abroad to ensure you have access to the funds you believe should be available to you.

VAT – Value Added Tax

If you travel to a country with a Value Added Tax (VAT), which is similar to sales tax, you may be entitled to a refund if you are not a citizen of that country. VAT ranges from 3 to 20 percent or more, depending on the type of product, and is already included in the price (it is not added at point-of-sale the way sales tax is in the U.S.).


A lot of locations around the world add VAT to receipts.  Taxes?  Yep!

London VAT Refund


You can receive a refund of VAT purchases at your port of disembarkation!

Tell me more!

You will need to do 3 things

  1. When buying any goods (think gifts) ask for a VAT receipt
  2. Bring purchased item and receipt (with VAT declared) to currency exchange location
  3. Where is this mythical exchange location?  You have two options at tall of the terminals
    2. In the gates area


Budget time in getting to your gate to get this done if you want your refund.


  • Use a Contactless Payment Credit Card with no Transaction fees an you will be much better off! 
  • Setup your phone as backup payment method
  • Get VAT receipts and get a refund

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