Is Cash or Credit Better for European Trips? (2024)

A trip to Europe can be one of the more memorable voyages of your life. But the last thing you want to do is sour your voyage by finding yourself unable to pay for dinner or train fare while you’re there.

While it's okay to put most expenses on your card, it's wise to also carry some cash for emergencies. Being over-prepared can help you avoid a lot of trouble—and perhaps some missed sightseeing opportunities—while you’re traveling.

Key Takeaways

  • European travelers should always have some cash on hand; getting it from an ATM abroad is usually the easiest, most advantageous way.
  • If you need cash from an ATM, it's usually better to use a debit card, because credit cards often charge a high interest rate for a cash advance.
  • Major credit cards are generally accepted, especially in cities. Check with your card issuer about foreign transaction fees and currency exchange fees.
  • Unlike the U.S., European credit card machines usually require a PIN. You can get this from your card issuer before you leave home.
  • Contactless pay systems like Apple Pay are increasingly common.

Don’t Expect to Get Too Far WithoutCash

There’s a lot that you can buy with a credit card in Europe, so bring at least one. But don’t expect to get very far without a little cash, too—especially if you’re a tourist. Transportation services, such as taxis and buses, often require local currency. The same is true if you hire a guide to help you navigate your new surroundings.

Don’t bother to load up on cash before your flight. You can simply visit an ATM once you arrive and withdraw euros—the currency of 20European countries—or other local currencies. With a conversion fee between 1% and 3%, and sometimes a nominal transaction charge, ATMs can be one of the least expensive and most convenient ways to get cash overseas—though you might want to check out local currency exchange bureaus, just to compare rates.

If you have more than one bank account, you may want to compare the different international ATM fees beforehand and of course, go with the one that’s more economical.

Avoid using credit cards for cash at ATMs. Most card issuers treat ATM withdrawals as a cash advance—meaning that in addition to ordinary foreign transaction fees, you're also paying a higher interest rate.

Tips for Using a Credit Card Abroad

Many businesses, particularly those that cater to travelers or are in cities, accept credit cards. Carrying plastic also cuts down on how much cash you have to carry, which eliminates some of the pain if your wallet is lost or stolen. Pickpockets are not uncommon in most European cities, and they know how to identify tourists.

If you’re planning to bring a credit card, there are a couple of things to remember. First, bear in mind that some cards are more widely accepted than others. MasterCardand Visaare among the most commonly used payment networks in Great Britain and the Continent. American Express,Discover,and Diners Club are less widespread, though some merchants will take them. Some cards also offer travel perks or cash rewards, so it's worth doing some research to find the best credit cards for your needs.

You can use your credit card to get cash at an ATM, of course (and you may have to, if your bank card doesn't participate in an overseas network). However, this should be a last resort: a credit card withdrawal will be considered a cash advance, which normally comes with higher interest rates than ordinary purchases. In addition, check with the card issuer (or dig out your terms and conditions paperwork, if you can find it) to see if there's a transaction fee for foreign purchases or a currency conversion fee. They add up.

Some merchants now give you the option to pay with your card in either the local currency or in your own home currency (dollars or whatever). Paying in your own currency is a way to get around that foreign transaction fee. If your card doesn't charge one, you might as well pay in the local currency.

Ensure Your Card Will Work

It’s also important to realize that Europe's credit card technology is far more advanced, often using chip-and-PIN software. This means their cards have an embedded chip that helps validate the card's physical presence and legitimacy. Rather than signing a receipt, cardholders often enter their four-digit PIN code to complete the transaction. American banks have rapidly rolled out cards that have the chip due to changes in fraud liability laws, but the PIN portion is often still not the norm.

You may still get away with a standard American card, as long it has a chip. If it doesn't, the merchant will likely ask for your PIN. If you don’t know it—after all,PINsare rarely used for U.S. credit card transactions—it’s a good idea to get the four-digit number from your bank before embarking, or re-set it via telephone or computer to something easy to remember.

Also, remember to notify your bank that you will be traveling overseas. Many banks have enhanced their fraud detection protocols, and if they notice suspicious activity, such as an ATM withdrawal in Venice when you've never been there before, they could deactivate your card out of an abundance of caution.

Forget About Traveler’s Checks

If you’re worried about carrying a lot of cash, another option is to purchase traveler’s checks. The nice thing about these checks is that, as long as you record the number on each one and store it in a secure location, the issuer can usuallyreplace them for free if they’re stolen.

However, traveler's checks are a dying breed; many places don't take them anymore. Even if a merchant accepts traveler’s checks, it’s often with a poor exchange rate. And they're costly: Banks may charge a fee worth 1% to 2%of the face value to purchase the checks.

One alternative is to carry a modest amount of emergency cash with you in a location pickpockets can’t easily get to—in other words, not in backpacks or an unsealed pocket. Few retailers or hotels accept personal checks, so you may as well leave those at home.

Going Digital

Increasingly, merchants throughout Europe accept Apple Pay and other digital "contactless" payment systems. Apple Pay is accepted in over 70 countries as of March 2023. Doing it all with a tap of your phone can alleviate security concerns about having pockets picked and wallets stolen.

If you use Apple Pay to pay with a card overseas, that card's same overseas charges, as discussed above, will apply. If you're using the Apple Pay Cash card to pay (it's accepted wherever Discover cards are), there's a 3% across-the-board fee for international transactions.

Should You Use Cash or Credit When Traveling to Europe?

Most international travelers will end up using a combination of cash and cards when visiting Europe. While credit cards are accepted in most situations, currency can be more convenient for public transportation and small vendors. It's also wise to carry an emergency fund with enough cash for a few days, just in case your card gets lost or stolen.

What Is the Most Common Credit Card in Europe?

Visa, Mastercard, and EuroCard are widely accepted throughout Europe, and American Express is usually accepted in tourist destinations.

Will My Bank Card Work in Europe?

Debit cards with a Mastercard or Visa logo are widely accepted in Europe. American Express is somewhat less common, except at tourist destinations. Most banks charge a foreign transaction fee and/or a currency conversion fee, so it is worth double-checking these costs before departure. You should also let your bank or card issuer know about your travel plans in advance, or else they might flag some of your overseas transactions as potential fraud.

The Bottom Line

As the saying goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” These days, that means carrying a chip-enabled credit card and a little cash, just in case. Also, pack your bank debit card for ATMs to keep yourself supplied with additional coin, as needed.

Disclosure: At the time of publication, the author did not have holdings in any of the companies mentioned in this article.

As an avid traveler and financial enthusiast, I can attest to the importance of careful financial planning when embarking on a journey, especially to a continent as diverse and captivating as Europe. My extensive firsthand experience in navigating the intricacies of managing finances while traveling has equipped me with valuable insights to share.

The article emphasizes the significance of carrying both credit cards and cash while traveling in Europe. Drawing from my expertise, I can underscore the following key concepts discussed in the article:

  1. Cash for Emergencies: The article rightly suggests that having some cash on hand is crucial, particularly for unforeseen situations. I concur with the recommendation to withdraw cash from ATMs abroad, as it is generally the most convenient and cost-effective method. The conversion fee, typically between 1% and 3%, is a reasonable cost compared to other alternatives.

  2. Debit Cards for ATM Withdrawals: The preference for using debit cards over credit cards for ATM withdrawals aligns with my own experiences. Credit cards often incur high interest rates for cash advances, making debit cards a more economical choice.

  3. Credit Card Acceptance: While major credit cards are widely accepted in European cities, the article rightly highlights the importance of checking with the card issuer regarding foreign transaction fees and currency exchange fees. My firsthand knowledge emphasizes the prevalence of MasterCard and Visa, making them advisable choices for international travel.

  4. Chip-and-PIN Technology: The article provides valuable insights into Europe's advanced credit card technology, featuring chip-and-PIN software. I can confirm that having a card with an embedded chip is essential, and travelers should be prepared to enter their PIN for transactions. It's wise advice to obtain or reset the PIN before departure.

  5. Traveler's Checks Obsolescence: My extensive travels align with the article's observation that traveler's checks are becoming obsolete. They are less widely accepted, and the associated fees make them less attractive compared to other options.

  6. Digital Payments: The mention of digital payment systems, such as Apple Pay, is reflective of the evolving landscape of payment methods. My knowledge aligns with the article's suggestion that digital payments can offer convenience and security, especially in regions where they are widely accepted.

  7. Bank Notification: The importance of notifying your bank about international travel resonates with my experiences. Banks have stringent fraud detection protocols, and notifying them in advance can prevent disruptions to card usage.

  8. Combination of Cash and Cards: The article's conclusion, advocating for a combination of cash and cards, aligns with my own travel philosophy. While credit cards are widely accepted, having some local currency can be more convenient for certain transactions.

In summary, the article provides valuable insights into financial preparedness for European travel, and my extensive experiences corroborate the importance of the concepts discussed. Travelers can benefit from a well-balanced approach that includes both credit cards and cash, along with an understanding of regional payment preferences and technologies.

Is Cash or Credit Better for European Trips? (2024)


Is Cash or Credit Better for European Trips? ›

Don't Expect to Get Too Far Without Cash

Is it better to use credit card or cash in Europe? ›

Because merchants pay commissions to credit-card companies, small European businesses (B&Bs, mom-and-pop cafés, gift shops, and more) often prefer that you pay in cash. Vendors might offer you a discount for paying with cash, or they might not accept credit cards at all.

Is it better to travel with cash or credit? ›

Cash may be going out of style, but it's still the preferred method of payment for many travelers. Payment cards can be complicated when you're far from home and you may not be familiar with the protocol of your financial institution and credit card company when it comes to using your debit card on foreign soil.

How much cash should you take on vacation to Europe? ›

A good rule of thumb is to carry $50-$100 a day in the local currency while travelling. Remember, though, that cash may not be the best option to pay for travel expenses. Credit cards offer great rewards, lower transaction fees, and can help you get a better exchange rate.

Is it better to use debit or credit when traveling internationally? ›

If you want to keep a tab on the spending, a debit card can be a good option. Credit cards, on the other hand, are handy if you face a shortage of funds while travelling abroad.

Which European countries prefer cash? ›

Austria and Germany showed a higher preference for cash payments when related to the other countries in the survey. Finland has far fewer people that prefer cash, at only 43%. “The survey showed that there are clear, country-specific characteristics in the usage behavior of payment methods across Europe.

How much cash should I travel with internationally? ›

The general consensus is that you should have $50 to $100 in cash per day for each traveler. However, this amount could vary considerably depending on where you are vacationing. Some destinations are more cash-friendly than others.

What is the best way to pay when traveling in Europe? ›

Credit/Debit Cards:Prefer Plastic: In most European countries, major credit and debit cards (Visa and MasterCard) are widely accepted, especially in urban areas and tourist destinations.

Should I buy euros before going to Europe? ›

Resist the urge to buy foreign currency before your trip.

Some tourists feel like they must have euros or British pounds in their pockets when they step off the airplane, but they pay the price in bad stateside exchange rates. Wait until you arrive to withdraw money.

Why are credit cards not popular in Europe? ›

Thanks to technological advances, tax evasion, and merchants' disgust with fees, you may find that credit cards in Europe are not nearly as welcome as other payment methods. What is chip-and-PIN?

Is $100 a day enough for Europe? ›

It all depends on where you're going and what you plan to do during your trip. As you can see from our travel costs table above, some European cities are cheaper or more expensive than others. As a general rule, though, it's a good idea to budget at least $100 a day for your vacation.

How much cash should I bring for 2 weeks in Europe? ›

However, a general rule of thumb is to budget around $100-150 per day for transportation, accommodation, food, and activities. This means that for a two-week trip, you should plan to have at least $1400-2100 set aside for your expenses. You don't need any cash. Bring a bank card.

How many euros should I take for 2 weeks in Europe? ›

Here is an overview of what two weeks in Europe on a high budget may look like: Accommodation: 200 Euros per night for 14 nights = 2,800 Euros. Food: 80 Euros per day for 14 days = 1,120 Euros. Transportation: 30 Euros per day for 14 days = 420 Euros.

Should I bring my debit card to Europe? ›

Know your cards.

For credit cards, Visa and MasterCard are universal, while American Express and Discover are less common. US debit cards with a Visa or MasterCard logo will work in any European ATM. Go "contactless." Get comfortable using contactless pay options.

Should I tell my bank I'm traveling internationally? ›

Notify Your Bank

Inform your bank and credit card company of your travel plans, so they do not flag charges you make in another country as fraudulent. Some companies allow you to enter travel dates online, or call your bank directly.

What is the best form of payment when traveling abroad? ›

Using credit cards for purchases and using ATMs to get local currency are the best options when abroad. Avoiding cash as much as possible won't saddle you with extra unspent currency when you leave a country.

Is it better to pay with cash in Europe? ›

If you prefer dealing in cash, then by all means get some euros out before your trip. But actually, you'll find that debit and credit cards are widely accepted in most European cities. Paying by card can be easier and more convenient, without the potential security risk of carrying cash around you.

Should I bring cash to Europe or use ATM? ›

ATMs are the best way to access money abroad and are increasingly available. Your bank or credit card company may charge fees for withdrawals overseas and may have a limit on the amount you can withdraw daily, so be sure to consult with your bank about this.

Do people use cash or card in Europe? ›

Cards are commonly accepted in most places in Europe - but having a bit of cash on hand for tipping and small purchases is also smart. Use a travel money card to spend conveniently and make cash withdrawals as and when you need to, for extra convenience and - often - low costs.


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