While electronic payments are widely accepted, cash is still king in most of the UK.
Thankfully, finding an ATM is rarely a problem. There are almost 70,000 of them across the country, and almost 97% won’t charge you to use them.
Headed to the UK anytime soon?
Here’s what you need to know about using ATMs.
You’ll find ATMs in the UK in bank lobbies; outside bank branches, post offices and supermarkets; in pubs, restaurants and hotels; at petrol stations and also in other less common locations.
All British ATMs belong to the LINK network. You can find the closest one by typing in your city or postcode on LINK’s online ATM locator.
Most ATMs in the UK accept Cirrus, Maestro and Visa (Plus) cards. The vast majority of credit and debit cards belong to one of these three card networks. However, you should ask your bank to confirm if your card will work.
British ATMs accept chip-and-pin type cards and cards with just a magnetic stripe on the back. However, you’ll need a four-digit PIN. Keypads don’t have letters, so you’ll also need to remember your PIN numerically.
Don’t forget to let your bank know when you’ll be traveling. Otherwise, you risk having your card frozen, as your bank might consider your transactions suspicious.
There are two types of ATMs in the UK: free and pay-to-use. The vast majority are free. Independently operated machines usually charge about £1.50 to £2 per transaction.
Your home bank will probably charge a withdrawal fee. You should also expect to pay a foreign exchange fee. These fees are over and above any fees charged by the UK ATM.
ATMs often offer the best exchange rate. Transactions are worked out at the mid-market rate, the fairest exchange rate possible. However, you do need to be careful. Some ATMs may ask if you’d like to be charged in your home currency. This is an exchange rate rip-off, as the ATM will make up an exchange rate instead of using the mid-market rate.
If you want to avoid paying ATM fees (or at least keep them to a minimum) try using these tips and tricks.
All ATMs in the UK have clear signage indicating whether withdrawals are free or not. If a machine charges a fee, it will tell you what the fee is. You’ll also get an opportunity to cancel the transaction before being charged.
Barclays, one of the UK’s largest and oldest banks, is part of the Global ATM Alliance. If your bank is part of the alliance, you can use Barclays’ ATMs without paying a withdrawal fee.
Allpoint is another fee-free network with 55,000 ATMs in the UK, US, Canada, Australia and Mexico. You can check whether your can use Allpoint ATMs by entering the first six digits of your card on Allpoint’s online card checker.
International banking giant HSBC is one of the UK’s ‘big four’ banks. As an Advance or Premier customer, you can make fee free-withdrawals from 2,400 ATMs across the UK.
Citibank, which also offers customers fee-free withdrawals from its ATMs worldwide, has a number of ATMs in the UK. However, these are all located in Central London.
If you’re not a customer of one of the banks mentioned above, it’s still worth asking your bank whether it operates in partnership with any banks in the UK. This might allow you to make ATM withdrawals in the UK for free when using certain ATMs.
When you pay by card at supermarkets, it’s common to be asked if you want cashback. This means a cash amount will be given to you on top of the purchase amount. This avoids ATM fees. However, your bank may still charge a foreign transaction fee and a currency exchange fee.
You can only get up to £50 (about US$65) this way. You’ll also need a chip-and-pin card. For security reasons, cashback isn’t allowed on cards with just a magnetic stripe.
Using a credit card to make ATM withdrawals is often more expensive than using a debit card. Fees tend to be higher; and the withdrawal is treated as a loan, which means the amount attracts interest.
If you have a UK bank account, or know someone who does, use Wise to make the transfer ahead of time and save even more. Not only does Wise use the real mid-market exchange rates to convert your money (which almost always beats the banks), but since your currency is received and sent via local banking systems in both your home country and in the UK, all those nasty international fees magically disappear. Give it a try.