This guide is here to help demystify the ins and outs of using cash or card, Euro or Hungarian forint and how to avoid being charged extra fees that come with spending abroad. Travel should be about enjoying yourself, and where better to enjoy your time than in the city nicknamed "Paris of the East".
Find out how much typical holiday expenses are going to cost in Hungary
While no longer the dirt-cheap destination it once was, travellers to Hungary and Budapest will still be surprised how far their dollar stretches. Official statistics estimate that the daily costs of living and travelling in Hungary are between one-third to one-half when compared with Western Europe.
Budapest can be conquered cheaply without too much effort at all. On the flip side, Budapest is no stranger to elegance. The city accommodates both the shoestring traveller and those looking to be indulged like a royal.
Like a Royal
On a shoestring
Gorge on gourmet Hungarian and international food and wine at one of Budapest's celebrated restaurants. Cost for one person, dinner and drinks = upwards of AU$145.00
Munch on street food or brave one of the many cafeteria - style eateries around the city. Cost = AU$2.00 - AU$5.00 per meal Get a half litre of beer to wash it down for around AU$1.50
The ballet at the National Opera Theatre. Cost per ticket (the best seats in the house) = AU$100.00
Head to the city's youthful nightlife quarter any night of the week for live music, hole-in-the-wall venues, exhibitions and parties. Cost for entry = AU$0.00 - AU$2.00
A night in one of Budapest's famous 5 star hotels. Cost = around AU$350.00 per night
In one of Budapest many backpacker hostels. Dormitory style accommodation can be as low as AU$10.00 per night for off-season, double it for the summer.
Prices are approximate and are subject to change.
Tip: How do you say "How much does it cost?" in Hungary? - Mennyi bekerül? (pr. men-yii be-ke-ruul)
Exchange rate history
The AUD / HUF currency chart looks like a crazy seismogram and reflects the changing value of the Hungarian forint over the past 5 years. The Australian dollar gained in value in 2016, we get an extra 12 HUF now than in February, but this is less than half a cent in Australian money.
Average exchange rate AUD to HUF
*Exchange rates are accurate as of 3 September 2017
The best, easiest and cheapest way to take money to Hungary is to use a travel-friendly card which doesn't charge for international ATM withdrawals, it's a bonus if you can also save on the currency conversion fee. While you can probably get by in Budapest using only your card, most businesses are still cash-based outside the capital and some provincial cities. Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted under the Maestro and Cirrus brands.
Travel money option
They come with back-up PIN security, a spare card just in case yours goes missing or is stolen.
Travel cards are accepted electronically in Hungary and allow you to withdraw money from an ATM with your PIN number.
You can reload your travel card over a secure online portal.
While you are able to load travel cards with Euros, withdrawing money in Forint will incur a currency conversion fee. Alternatively, you are able to withdraw euros from many ATMs in Budapest, however you will need to then change your Euro to Forint to be able to spend it within the city.
Some travel cards charge you every time you reload funds so if you are unsure about how much money you will need, it's best to look for a travel card that allows you to reload money for free.
If you use a Citibank ATM in Hungary you will not be charged any fees for the withdrawal.
You don't need to worry about transferring money to another account to be able to withdraw cash or make purchases.
Debit cards are directly linked to your bank account, which can have security implications if your card is lost or stolen.
Cards can be blocked instantly if lost or stolen. If a suspicious transaction is discovered, the cardholder will be reimbursed if they have taken reasonable steps to avoid fraud.
If something goes wrong, a credit card is a way to access emergency funds.
Withdrawing money from an ATM will be treated as a cash advance, which come with high interest rates.
You need to inform your credit card issuer if you are travelling overseas otherwise they will block your card upon notices international transactions.
This table is a general summary of the travel money products in the market. Features and benefits can vary between cards.
How different travel money products work in Hungary
Using a travel prepaid card
No doubt Hungary isn't your only stop on your European holiday. Sandwiched between Croatia and the Czech Republic, two very popular destinations for Australian travellers, and a stone's throw from Western Europe, a travel card is not the best option for a Hungarian holiday.
There are no travel cards which let you load Hungarian forint. You can preload a travel card with euros and spend in euros in Hungary and dynamic currency conversion will occur when you make a purchase or withdrawal. However, you'll be charged conversion fees. There are travel cards which waive this fee, but these cards will charge for ATM withdrawals. If you have a travel card loaded with euros, you may be able to withdraw euros from some ATMs, but you'll still need to exchange euros to forint.
Tip: In most situations, you will get ripped off if you pay euros instead of Hungarian forint.
Using a debit card
It makes sense to take the Citibank Plus Transaction Account to use in Hungary. In fact, this account can be cheaper to use in Europe than at home. Citibank don't charge for currency conversion when spend in a currency other than Australian dollars, Citibank don't charge an international ATM fee and Hungarian Banks do not charge local ATM operator fees. The only consideration is the exchange rate.
The Visa debit (and credit) card exchange rate is applied to any transactions overseas using a Visa product (excluding travel cards). This rate is a touch above the market rate and is better than what you get exchanging bank bills (in Australia or overseas) or using a travel card (travel card rates are inflated by card providers).
A list of major banks in Hungary
Tip: Avoid using ATMs from 3rd party providers (non-Hungarian banks), you'll incur an operator fee.
Using a credit card
You won't have problems using a Visa or Mastercard branded card in Hungary, and like in Australia, American Express is accepted in fewer places. Bankwest is a standout provider in the travel credit card space. Bankwest waives the currency conversion fee when you use one of their platinum credit cards outside Australia; however, using your credit card for cash withdrawals is not advised due to cash advance and interest charges.
Tip: Some credit cards give you complimentary insurance cover when you charge the cost of your travel ticket to your account, which can be a saving of a couple of hundred.
Using a traveller's cheques
Traveller's cheques were once an essential travel money item. Today, they're an unnecessary product. Credit, debit and travel cards are widely accepted in Hungary, which eliminates the need to carry a physical cheque. Security of funds is the other main advantage of traveller's cheques. Card providers provide money back guarantees if you're the victim of card fraud. Check our guide to know what to do if you're the victim of credit card fraud.
Paying with cash in Hungary
As a full member of the European Union since 2004, the long-term plan is for Hungary to eventually introduce Euro as its national currency. It is possible to pay in Euro in many shops, at restaurants and at hostels. But be warned, you will rarely get your money's worth. Most places that accept Euro cash do so at a dodgy rate.
Citibank. No international transaction charges and no international ATM fees. She used this transaction account as her main account in Hungary and Europe.
Bankwest. No currency conversion fee, no annual fee and complimentary international travel insurance. Just a backup and for big purchases like flights.
Cash. Her family gifted her some euros for her birthday before she left Australia.
Where there any places where you cards weren't accepted?
Kate says she mainly used cash in Budapest. While credit and debit cards are accepted in most places, Kate says the markets were strictly cash only. She talks about the grand market halls which dot the inner city. These vendors sell everything from fresh produce to antiques and homemade wares and cultural icons, cultural icons and visiting the Hungarian bazaars was one of the highlights of her trip.
What about ATMs?
She says that unlike Australian banks, Hungarian Bank ATMs don't charge a local fee when you withdraw cash. You will pay when you use a non-bank ATM; however, you won't have to look far to find a place where you can withdraw for cheap, or for free. Her Citibank account waived the international ATM fee so she didn't pay for ATM withdrawals at all in Budapest.
What travel money tips do you have for Hungary?
She gave the following tips about having the best time in Budapest and what to look out for.
Money changing scams. Although Kate says she never fell victim to an exchange scam, it's well known that you should never exchange money outside of an exchange booth. Always go inside. She says the people who want to change your cash on the street are going to give you fake notes. The main spot for this racket is on the famous shopping drag, Vaci Street, Budapest. She also says don't get your money changed at a bank as they charge a much higher commission that the exchange offices.
Festivals. She says to get a Festivalcard if you're going to the Sziget Festival. Sziget Festival is now completely cash free and the only way you are able to pay for anything inside the festival is with the Metapay Festivalcard or with a bank issued contactless enabled card. The cash free policy applies to other popular Hungarian festivals; Volt Festival, Balaton Sound and Budai Gourmet also.
Buying Euro or Hungarian forint currency in Australia
If you arrive in Hungary without cash, you can withdraw forints from an ATM or you can exchange funds at the airport. The airport exchange office is going to give you one of the worst rates. Just change a small amount to get you to the centre city. By taxi, it should cost around $10 from the train and bus stations, or about $2 by metro. From the airport its about $30 with taxi, or a maximum of $4 by metro.
If you want to have Hungarian currency on you when you arrive, have a look at non-bank providers such as Travelex. Unlike Australian banks, Travelex don't charge a commission. You can buy Hungarian forints and collect the cash at the major airports or from one of the many Travelex locations throughout Australia.
The Hungarian forint sits at roughly 200 forint (HUF) to 1 dollar (AUD). Foreign currency exchange spots are seemingly on every corner in Budapest, and widely available in smaller cities, towns and tourist frequented hot spots like Lake Balaton. Most will charge a small commission. You will be able to change euros, American dollars, British pounds, Australian dollars and Swiss francs at almost any change place, and many offer exchange rates for other foreign currencies, too.
Tip: Check out the going exchange rate on a reputable conversion website such as xe.com, to get an idea of the current exchange before you enter an office. If there is a huge difference between the 'buy' and 'sell', you should look for somewhere else.
Tip: Once you have handed over your cash, there's no going back. So do your own calculations and be sure to ask exactly the amount of local currency you will receive for your money, before you hand it over.
Using ATMs in Hungary
ATMs are everywhere in Budapest, and widely available in other small cities, towns and villages. Hungarian banks do not charge additional ATM usage fees, so the amount it costs to take money out from an ATM will depend solely on the fees and charges applied by your bank.
Third party ATMs are also common in Hungary and often found at petrol stations and in bars, but many charge a flat rate for usage, so best to stick to withdrawing money from a bank's ATM. Almost all ATMs will ask upfront if you prefer English, German or Hungarian. At some ATMs you are able to withdraw Euro.
Find cash, banks and ATMs in Hungary
Why you'll need a combination of travel money options
Debit cards let you spend your own money, and if you can find an account which doesn't charge for international ATM withdrawals, it will be a cost effective way to fund your holiday. But don't just rely on one product. A credit card is a must, even if it's for a 'just in case' situation. The last thing you want or need when you're in a foreign country is to be stuck without money waiting for your bank to send you out a replacement. Hungary is true gem for any traveler. Budapest boasts a fascinating history still visible among the city's rejuvenating and rich modern culture. With so much to see and do, it makes sense to get your finances in order before you arrive. Be safe in the knowledge that you are spending your travelling budget on discovering the country, not bank fees.
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