Heading to Europe? Despite Europe being made up of many different countries, most use the Euro which is convenient for travellers. You can compare a range of travel money options in this guide to spend like a local while you're in Europe, while avoiding unnecessary fees and charges.
Plus, we've outlined how much you can expect to pay for everyday items while you're in Europe to help you plan your budget.
Wondering how much money to take to Europe? How long is a piece of string. Like anywhere, prices in Europe are varied. Countries like France and Germany are a touch more expensive than places like Greece, but no matter where you are in the Eurozone, your trip is going to be as cheap or expensive as you let it be. For example, shop at Franprix for cheap cheese and wine in France, a delicious baguette is just over 1 euro in price. Alternatively, you can easily spend a couple of hundred euros on dinner for 2 on the Champs Elysée.
Some basic prices across Europe
When it comes to food, if you're eating in a restaurant, prices will be higher than grabbing a bite on the street, i.e. Gyros in Greece, Trapizzino in Rome or a jambon et fromage baguette (ham and cheese sandwich — far better than it sounds) in France are all less than €5 in price. In most European countries you can expect to pay anywhere from €10 - €30 for a meal in a mid-tier restaurant. Once you hit 5 star restaurants, price is likely to be less of a concern. Prices for staple goods in Western and Central Europe (rice, potatoes, pasta, etc.) are comparable if not cheaper than Australia.
Tip: If you're at a restaurant, the 'plat de jour' (plate of the day) will be one of the cheapest and best tasting dishes on the menu.
Accommodation is likely to be your biggest expense when you're visiting Europe. We've included a snapshot of some prices for budget, midrange and top end hostels and hotels in different European countries below.
Hostel $15 per night
Hostel $15 - $20
Hostel $30 per night
Camping $12 per night Hostel $20 per night
Gyros (street) $3 Small beer (supermarket) $1 - $2
Walk around the Acropolis and Parthenon (pay $30 to go inside or enjoy the spectacular view from the outside for free)
Walking tour of Berlin Free (although it's polite to tip the guide a couple of euros at least)
Get the food items mentioned above and camp at the Champ-des-Mars for a view of la Tour Eiffel.
Walking tours of Rome Free (plus a tip for the guide)
*Prices are approximate and based on summer seasonality and are subject to change.
Exchange rate history
It's very difficult picking the future movement of currency pairs. The European Debt Crisis saw the Aussie dollar rise against the euro in 2012. Since then, the euro has regained its value. 1 euro has been worth about $1.4 - $1.6 Aussie dollars for the past 3 years.
Conversion rate history from AUD to EUR
*Exchange rates are accurate as of 3 September 2017
Travel card, debit card or credit card?
This all depends on where you're travelling. A prepaid travel card can be a good idea if you're staying within the Euro financial zone and the United Kingdom. If you're travelling to another destination like Croatia, the Czech Republic, Sweden or Hungary, for example, you're better off using a debit card which waives the fee for currency conversion (ATM fee waivers are a bonus too). While there are travel cards which don't charge you for currency conversion, the back end fees, exchange rate margin and extra account management make a travel friendly debit card such as the Citibank Transaction Account a better option if you're moving in and out of the Euro Zone. This is in addition to a credit card, which can be a travel essential if you want tighter financial security and flexibility.
Travel money options for Europe at a glance
Prepaid travel cards
Credit cards with no foreign transaction fees
Debit cards with no foreign transaction fees
Taking local cash
Have a look at how these different types of travel money product will work in Europe.
Travel Money Option
Travel prepaid cards
Multiple international currencies load Euros and GBP on most travel cards
Currency conversion may apply
Conversion fee is almost double the charge than on debit and credit cards
A chance for waived international ATM fee
No ATM operator fees on European bank ATMs for cash withdrawals
International ATM fee and currency conversion fee applies when on withdrawing cash with an Australian card
A chance for waived international ATM fee
Operator fees may apply
Cash advance fees
Can be costly with initial purchase charges
Not all merchants accept travellers cheques
More difficult to manage expenses
Higher risk of theft
This table is a general summary of the travel money products in the market. Features and benefits can vary between cards.
How do travel cards, credit cards, debit cards and more work in Europe?
Using a travel prepaid card
A travel card can hold multiple international currencies. The main value proposition: use a travel card to spend in a currency already loaded on the card and you save on the fee for currency conversion. You can load Euros and GBP on most travel cards, but few other European currencies will be supported.
If you're travelling to one of these European countries, consider using a debit card or credit card rather than a prepaid travel card. A currency conversion fee applies if you're spending in a currency not loaded on the card. In most cases, the conversion fee is almost double the charge than on debit and credit cards. There are less than a handful of countries in Europe that have not adopted the Euro.
Although the United Kingdom is not a part of the Euro Zone, all travel cards let you load pounds sterling. Preload both euros and pounds and you can use the one card to spend like normal on both sides of the English Channel.
Using a debit card
Visa and Mastercard branded debit cards will work throughout Europe without problem. There are fees that come with international debit card use — mainly currency conversion fees and ATM fees — these charges can be avoided by taking the right debit card on holiday to Europe. Debit card providers such as Bankwest and Citibank waive international ATM fees. Unlike in Australia, you'll find most European banks don't charge a local ATM operator fee. Westpac also have deals with major European banks allowing cardholders to make cheap ATM withdrawals.
Tip: European bank ATMs do not charge a local ATM operator fee when you make a cash withdrawal. Only the international ATM fee and currency conversion fee applies when you withdraw cash with an Australian card.
ATM partners — why not withdraw for free? If you're a Westpac Group customer, that's Westpac, St.George, Bank of Melbourne and BankSA, you can avoid the international ATM fee by making withdrawals at Westpac Global ATM Alliance partners.
Westpac ATM Alliance partner banks
France and Italy
Germany, Spain and Poland
Ukrsibbank - Private Bank
Using a credit card
The cards listed below are among the cheapest credit cards to use in Europe, or anywhere in the world for that matter. This is because they do not charge a 'currency conversion fee'. This is a charge of 2 - 3% (depending on the card provider) charged when you carry out a transaction in a currency other than Australian dollars.
Credit card providers, such as Latitude, waive international ATM fees (operator fees may still apply); however, using your credit card to withdraw cash will incur cash advance fees and interest as well as ATM fees. You may be able to avoid the cash advance fee and interest charges if you preload your own money onto your credit card. The rules are different for each provider. The catch: you're waiving certain anti-fraud guarantees when you preload your own funds onto your credit card.
It is not necessary to take travellers cheques with you on your trip to Europe. Financial institutions offer money back guarantees if you're the victim of fraud, and there's a limited number of places where you can cash your cheques.
Paying with cash in Europe
Although the Euro was officially introduced in 1999, European citizens didn't start to see the new notes and coins till sometime in 2003. The notes are all different colours and feature different architectural designs from different eras.
There are places where you'll need cash; however, card payments are the norm throughout Europe. Contactless card payments are common in places like France and Germany, but cash is necessary if you're heading off the beaten track — places like smaller Greek islands predominantly use cash.
You won't need euros to pay for your visa when you arrive in the European Union, Australians get an automatic 90 day visa on arrival. If you really want to buy euros before you leave Australia, consider non-bank foreign exchange providers such as Australia Post or Travelex. Travelex lets you order cash online and pick it up at the airport before you leave. These providers don't charge a commission like the banks; but they do make a small profit by applying a margin to the exchange rate. You can make an ATM withdrawal when you arrive; ATM fees aside, Visa and Mastercard offer some of the best rates for everyday consumers.
Why you'll need a combination of travel money options
Never put all your eggs in one basket. A credit card and debit card combination is a good mix to use to access cash and make purchases. A credit card is a must: interest free days give you time to pay back your purchases, some cards offer free travel insurance and credit cards give you peace of mind through access to emergency cash. Don't use a credit card for cash withdrawals. It's almost too expensive to justify. Use a debit card or prepaid travel card to withdraw cash.
Marc took the Citibank Plus Transaction Account as his primary travel account to use in Europe. He applied for this account specifically for his trip. He used the Citibank Plus for ATM withdrawals and in-store purchases. Marc had no problems using his card and he used European bank ATMs so he could avoid the local ATM operator fee too. Marc notes that the Citibank Plus card did not have a CHIP (recent issues of this product do have a CHIP), so he was conscious of not using his card to withdraw cash at dodgy looking ATMs. Marc is back in Australia and continues to use his Citibank Plus Account for day to day spending. He likes the fact that the account is low on fees. He'll be using the Citibank Plus Transaction Account when he goes back to Europe too.
Marc used the Commonwealth Bank Smart Access as a backup card. The Commbank Smart Access account was Marc's main account in Australia before he went to Europe. Marc was topping up his Citibank account from his Commonwealth Bank as he needed more money. He kept the Smart Access card in his passport in case he lost his Citibank card.
What about ATM withdrawals?
Marc withdrew $300 - $500 Australian dollars in Euros each time. Citibank didn't charge Marc an international ATM fee, and Marc doesn't remember paying too many local ATM operator fees either.
Could you use your card everywhere?
Marc could use his Citibank card everywhere. He was given the option of paying in Australian dollars in a few places, but he chose to pay in Euros instead. The exchange rate is more favourable paying in the local currency.
What do you think is the best way to travel with money in Europe?
If you're like Marc and you don't have a credit card, Marc recommends the Citibank Plus Transaction Account. He also advises that everyone to take a backup. Whether it's a travel card, another debit card, traveller's cheques or a credit card, Marc says it's important to have options.
What are your travel money tips for Europe?
SMS alerts. You're required to confirm transfers between some accounts by entering a SMS verification code. This can be a problem if you're using an international SIM. Marc spoke to the Commonwealth Bank directly to disable this function while he was overseas.
Call your bank. Marc says it only takes five minutes to tell your bank about your travel plans. This stops your bank from blocking your account when you make a purchase or withdrawal.
Tipping. Tipping varies depending on what country you're in. In some countries and in some restaurants the tip is worked in as an automatic 'service fee', especially in Italy. Always read the bill to avoid paying two tips! Marc was told to tip 10% if he wanted to, but the service is shocking in some European restaurants so he didn't always follow this rule.
Euro-trips and gap years are almost a compulsory rite of passage for young Australians, but don't let your revelling get you in trouble. Covering your European vacation with travel insurance is imperative to ensuring you are financially protected against unexpected travel expenses. Travel insurance may include cover for:
Lost or stolen luggage
Emergency medical and dental
Compare travel insurance policies for Europe today, and find a policy to suit your specific needs.
Europe is a diverse continent rich in culture and natural beauty. Travel for an hour and the people speak a different language, the food is different and so is the architecture. If you'd like more information about taking travel money to specific European countries, have a look at our location guides.
Jeremy Cabral is the chief operating officer and global head of publishing for Finder. He has written hundreds of comparisons covering everything from credit cards to travel money to Netflix TV shows. Jeremy has a Bachelor of Business (Marketing) from the University of Western Sydney.
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