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Are there any places in the UK where one still can't pay with a card / contactless? Restaurants, campsites, etc.? Is it a good idea to bring / withdraw a few GBP just to be on the safe side, or is it completely unnecessary? I've got an EUR bank account with a Mastercard debit card. My bank doesn't charge extra fees for non-EUR card transactions (other than cash withdrawals, which cost €5 flat).

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    Homeless people.
    – user127796
    Commented Jul 29, 2023 at 8:55
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    "My bank doesn't charge extra fees for non-EUR card transactions" - wow. congrats on your contract. :-)
    – Martin Ba
    Commented Jul 29, 2023 at 9:35
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    @MartinBa It’s perfectly standard for banks not to charge fees for card transactions – I don’t know any banks here that do so for private cards. What they do often do is give you lousy exchange rates, which is essentially a hidden fee, but there’s no explicit fee, unlike international cash withdrawals (which generally result in bad exchange rates and a flat fee). Commented Jul 29, 2023 at 23:26
  • Your main problem will be buying a can of coke or a packet of crisps. A lot of places will only accept cash for that sort of transaction.
    – Simd
    Commented Jul 30, 2023 at 5:32
  • @MartinBa Of course there is an exchange rate penalty, but that can't be avoided anyway. I could of course withdraw some EUR at home, bring them to the UK, find a money changer with the best rate and convert them to GBP. This way, I might save roughly €2 on every €100 changed. IMO, absolutely not worth the hassle. Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 5:39

12 Answers 12

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I live in the UK, and don't use cash very often any more, but wouldn't be without it.

Twice in the last few weeks I've been to takeaway food places that were cash only. One was across the road from a cash machine/ATM but the other wasn't - and the former would have made for some very expensive chips, with a €5 fee for cash. In both cases, they were the last places open without a detour, while cycling, so just choosing somewhere else wasn't realistic (in one case it would have meant a hungry night in the middle of a 600km ride).

Similarly on long rides (that's mainly how I travel these days) I've often stopped at village hall cake sales - more interesting than a coffee shop, but cash only.

Some convenience stores and small shops still have a minimum card spend, which isn't handy if you only want a drink. This includes things like ice creams at campsite reception, when they otherwise like cards.

When going to the beach, cheap privately-run seasonal car parks are often cash only. They may lack enough signal or just not have invested in mobile payment terminals. This is often the sort of place with no ATM nearby. In general, if there are limited options to get dinner, and you really don't want to carry cash, you should probably book somewhere in advance to be sure of getting in at a place that takes cards (the vast majority of pubs and restaurants do, so this is about capacity and opening hours).

Contactless payment terminals are becoming much more realistic for small businesses, even market stalls, to the extent that a coffee stand that was cash-only before covid is now card-only.

As vending machines are still often coin-only (though newer ones take cards), it can be worth carrying coins if you think you might want to use them.

If you don't have a backup card, ideally with another bank, travelling abroad and relying on contactless does put you at the mercy of tripping an automated block on your card - or even cards if they're from the same bank, including joint cards with a partner.

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    As a UK resident I take cash with me, but very, very rarely need it. Not long ago merchants would refuse small transactions by card (because they had a poor contract that charged them a fixed fee per transaction). Now it's swung the other way, and many mobile and street traders won't take cash. Commented Jul 28, 2023 at 11:03
  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Travel Meta, or in Travel Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Willeke
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 10:16
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I visited Orkney a while ago, admittedtly a very rural part of the UK, and was in a few situations where I had to pay cash. I don't remember exactly where, but I believe the Italian Chapel was one place, where the entrance fee could only be paid with cash and I had at least one situation in Kirkwall, where a shop usually was accepting cards, but the card service was currently out of order.

Since you especially mention camp sites, that would be a kind of location where I would not 100% rely on card payments.

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    The 3 campsites I'm most familiar with all take cards, with one really preferring them - but I know some of the most basic backpacking sites don't. Also if your campsite sells ice-creams in reception, and has a minimum card spend, be prepared to be disappointed if you don't have cash Commented Jul 28, 2023 at 12:15
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    If "a while ago" was pre-Covid, things have changed a lot in the UK. Commented Jul 28, 2023 at 16:33
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    @JackAidley No, a while ago was this January. Commented Jul 30, 2023 at 17:20
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In my recent travels to England, (I have not been in the other parts of the UK in those trips) I could pay with cards or contactless at all places but one hotel. An other hotel had connection problems on check-in but preferred bank payment later over cash at arrival.

I would still not travel without a few pounds in cash, as connection problems do occur at random times, also when you can not wait till they are sorted.

I have, also before covid, had travel to England in which I did not use cash at all. But I have been in too many situations where cash made life easier.
Just like at home, I can go months without getting cash but then I have a few things to buy where only coins will work like a fending machine which is a bit older, a roadside fruit selling spot, or where all cash is accepted, like the odd market trader who does not do cards or even a butchers or a bike shop only accepting cash.

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    Vending machines are a good point too; I have coins with me when I'm most likely to need one. UK snack vending machines are (IME) quite likely to be coin-only, cards are sometimes accepted, notes very rarely indeed Commented Jul 29, 2023 at 11:41
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    Cards at vending machines become more common, with acceptance of bank notes going down. Card readers are cheaper to build, and you don't need to return coins. Some machines refuse to give change for coins.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 9:02
  • We are now in a situation where you can expect either cash only, coins only, cards only or even contactless only, or machines that combine two or more. As you can not predict what you are going to find, best have some coins and a card that also allows contactless.
    – Willeke
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 10:29
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When I was in London (might not be representative of the whole of UK) a couple of weeks ago, I didn't use any of the cash I had brought (as @Willeke says in her answer, it's good to have), and I even visited one restaurant where the staff told me they only accepted cards (I saw some shops had signs to the same effect).

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Now that my UK trip is over, I can add my own anecdotal story. TL;DR: I didn't have any GBP cash on me at any point in time, except for some small coins that my children found and which we took home as souvenirs.

Longer version: I didn't really plan to go cashless, having read all the advice from more experienced travellers and UK residents. However, I kept asking myself every day "Do I need cash for today and tomorrow?" and each time the answer was negative.

We stayed several nights at a campsite near Dover that accepts online card payments. Then we stayed with friends which was of course for free. I researched all car parks in advance and they were all either cashless or free of charge. That is, except for one in Conwy, Wales, where I messed it up and entered a car park in a marina, which cost GBP 3, cash only. Since I had none, I drove away in search of another car park and found one in front of a school, free of carge, of course empty because it was August, and even closer to the town centre and to the Conwy Castle.

Another cash-only situation was a woman selling balloons on a London street. However, the fact that I had no GBP cash was a great excuse that even my children could understand.

Restaurants, supermarkets and petrol stations of course all accepted cards. The only minor inconvenience I encountered was that contactless card payments didn't work above certain threshold. In my home country, if the amount is €50 or less, a PIN is not needed for a contactless payment; if the amount is higher, one needs to enter PIN as well. In the UK, my contactless transactions above a certain amount were simply rejected and I had to stick the card into the reader and enter the PIN, something I haven't done for ages. Not sure how that would work with an NFC payment by smartphone, since I don't use that.

Again, I'd like to stress out that this is just anecdotal and I don't advise anyone to travel around the UK with no GBP cash. It's just something I did, without actually intending it. Maybe if we visited some really remote places like the Scottish Highlands or even some outlying islands, having no cash might have been an issue. The remotest place we visited was the Snowdonia National Park and there we encountered no issues.

On the way back home when we stopped at a local bakery in rural Germany that only accepted cash, it reminded me that the UK is really much more cashless than most other European countries.

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    Re phone payments - Google Pay and Apple Pay both have no limit, unless one is set by the card issuer.
    – CMaster
    Commented Aug 23, 2023 at 8:09
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I agree that the use of cash has declined dramatically in the UK in the past few years but I find that there are still occasions when you need it.

Donations in churches or museums spring to mind. Many just have a donations tin by the door. Paying for car parking often requires coins in some locations. And tipping. In some restaurants if you pay the tip by credit card (as part of the whole bill) the staff don’t always get it, or at least they don’t get as much. Whereas if you tip them in cash. It’s more likely to go where you want it to go. (So some waiters have told me).

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    Even churches now typically have a machine by the door that accepts donations by card. And the tradition of tipping is dying out, both for restaurants and taxis. These days I very often go out without any cash, and £100 from an ATM lasts me for months. In fact, ATMs are becoming rather scarce as a result. Nearly all car parks allow you to pay by phone, though if you're using them a lot you'll need 3 or 4 different apps. Commented Jul 28, 2023 at 16:09
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One thing that may be worth not overlooking... public loos (bathrooms).

It did seem between different trips in 2015, 2019, and 2022 that there has been a marked decline in the number of places that charge (especially after covid??). But there still were some, even at one or two medium sized transport locations, parks, and in big cities (TFL for instance has a neat link list of borough by borough sublistings, and some still show as pay).
More definitely take cards or services like Google Pay than in the past, but there are still some that don't.

So a small bit of money can help add a little flexibility, especially when traveling a lot in thrifty ways.

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    Some railway stations allow contactless for loo but some may only be cash from memory (2023)
    – maskin
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 11:46
  • As someone who refuses to pay for toilets on principle, if you are in a pinch then most pub toilets are quite easy to access, especially the larger chain pubs like Wetherspoons. They are also likely to take cards if you want to buy a drink or some food to be polite. But they rarely have access codes like cafes and other places do. Outside of London, larger supermarkets also tend to have toilets which are essentially public. Commented Aug 21, 2023 at 13:04
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I should put this in as an actual answer, rather than just in comments…

To be safe, you need two physical cards, duplicated to your phone if you can, on two payment methods [VISA/Mastercard etc. Amex is not popular in the UK & you might struggle to use it at all] and £20 - £50 in notes, plus a fiver in coins, for just in case.
The recommendation for duplicating onto your phone, ApplePay etc, is because of the high 'zero check' limit on NFC card payments. Some places it's only £40 but others it's £100 on just a tap, no PIN or any ID check required. That means your card is worth a lot if stolen, whereas your phone is no good without your PIN/fingerprint/face.

Your cards/phone must be capable of NFC, as well as chip & PIN - ATMs, of course, are all chip & PIN. Signature went out 20 years ago & no-one will be able to handle that any more.
London buses, for instance, have no way to pay by cash or regular card on board. It must be NFC. You can buy a pre-paid, auto top-up tourist Oyster card online or from train/tube stations to get round this requirement.

In bigger towns/cities you will find many places, pubs, bars, cafes etc have gone card only since covid. Even the homeless guys on London streets selling the Big Issue magazine have NFC readers these days.

In London I only take my phone with me, but I keep a spare 20 rolled up in a tiny metal case on my keyring, for just in case. [I also have a pound-sized bit of metal for supermarket trolleys on my keyring.] Out in the sticks, I'd have physical cards & more cash as well, possibly up to £100 if I was going to less densely-populated areas. In a large city, you're rarely more than 400 yards from an ATM, but out in the wilds there may not even be one in each village.
As already noted elsewhere, right out in the Lake District or the Scottish Highlands, you may be outside phone reception, & relying on finding some wifi to get your ApplePay working is risky.
[Comments note this may not be such a difficulty. ApplePay apparently works without a phone/net connection.]

Car parks have been covered elsewhere, but just to note, the entire car park system in the UK is a nightmare. Some only take cash; some only NFC, some you need an app or make a phone call to an automated system & give the non-human clerk your card details. Many times you will only find out which when you get there. Systems are being updated constantly & one that was cash last year could be pay-by-app this year. Google Maps isn't keeping up.

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    Apple pay does not need internet to work, altough you wont get the notification until you get under coverage again, but the payment gets processed also in absence of internet service
    – DDS
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 10:53
  • Ah, OK. Didn't know that. Never been anywhere yet it became apparent.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 10:56
  • I also add that you can choose one card to be used in "express-cards" when phone battery is depleted but iphone still allow for transactions on the card set as express. support.apple.com/en-us/HT212171
    – DDS
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 11:03
  • That's probably more detail than we need. OP hasn't said they even have a compatible phone.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 11:18
  • It depends how prepared/paranoid you want to be. You'll probably be fine with a single Visa/Mastercard, and some cash for emergencies. Even if you can't pay by contactless, you can normally put the card in a slot. The only exception is public transport in some places, as you say, but most cities outside London still take cash (as well as other weird app-based or smartcard-based systems).
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 11:40
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I have travelled extensively, including in the UK, and my personal experience is that you should always keep two small cash reserves separate from your credit and debit cards.

One for discretionary spending, such as with street vendors, and for use in situations when you might not want to be seen taking your cards out (A couple of notes in a back pocket, for example), and one in case your cards are stolen.

My experience of the UK is that almost everywhere prefers cards. Visa is the favorite. American Express and equivalents are widely accepted, but not always. This holds true just about everywhere from Taxi and market stands to big tourist destinations.

Some places accept Applepay, some accept Paypal, few accept crypto.

Almost everywhere accepts cash still.

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    I agree with everything except 'some places take ApplePay'. These days if they have an NFC reader, they take Apple & Google just as easily as a card. In London that's all I carry with me, my phone [& an emergency 20 on my keyring, which I've only used once in 20 years].
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 10:55
  • Very occasionally I've come across businesses with cheap card readers that will take bank cards but not Google/Apple, but I agree it's fine on most card readers.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 11:29
  • London is London, outside of it things can be very diffetent Commented Aug 1, 2023 at 11:02
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Yes

Regardless of how many shops do or do not have a credit card reader, the one thing that you do NOT want to happen in general, and abroad especially, is to find yourself without any mean to pay.

This means that you should be looking for redundancies to cover for extraordinary events:

  1. Multiple cards, from multiple providers:
    • A card can get blocked, or you can trigger the spending threshold.
    • Not all providers are accepted everywhere.
  2. There may no available card reader:
    • There's always a few folks who resist credit card; I got to jump the taxi queue once because nobody before me had cash on hand and the driver didn't accept cards.
    • A shop near me underwent some renovations for a week, a few times in the morning as they were moving tills they could not accept cards as they were not connected.
    • Card readers fail.

For all those reasons, I recommend traveling with at least two cards (Visa & Mastercard are great in Europe) and a few hundred dollars/euros in cash, though perhaps not all in one place, and not all in your person.

And do remember to check what your spending limit/cash withdrawal limit abroad is with your bank, and possibly give them a heads up about your travel plans so they pre-clear your cards and/or raise the limits.

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  • While nicely written I do not feel this answer adds anything to the existing answers, but maybe for the amount of money, (which seems much for me, a few nights in a hotel not just a small bit of spending money.)
    – Willeke
    Commented Jul 30, 2023 at 13:23
  • It depends where you are but in a city, you'll easily find a place that takes a card, even if the first one doesn't. There may be somewhere which has a broken machine but unless you're in the middle of nowhere you can go somewhere else nearby. Going to the trouble and expense of acquiring an additional credit card or large amounts of foreign currency probably isn't worth your while. But it depends how much of a worrier you are and if they thought that you might be stuck will impede your enjoyment of your trip.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 11:44
  • @StuartF: It depends where you are, and where you incur expenses. An example of issues I've gotten into is having a hotel paid, but the hotel wanting an authorization on a credit card for in-room snacks/mini-bar. It was a pain, exhausted after a day of travel, to argue/negotiate with the manager when my credit card didn't work because I had exhausted the spending limits... and I dearly wished I had another then. I swore to myself: never again :) Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 11:48
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The pier at Clevedon only accepts cash, no idea why.

The cynic in me thinks that any outfit who only wishes to deal in untraceable cash is doing so for nefarious reasons.

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    Merchants always have to pay a small commission from card payments, so on every transaction they lose a few % to banks. That's why some opt to not pay that commission and only take cash. (but nefarious reasons are a legitimate reason too, for example to avoid paying taxes in revenue)
    – wanaryytel
    Commented Jul 28, 2023 at 18:30
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    @wanaryytel Business bank accounts charge for depositing cash anyway, so together with handling costs, this isn't really true. Commented Jul 29, 2023 at 15:34
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    It does depend on how much the trader gets in in cash, how they pay their suppliers and pay for their needs, but the butcher and the bikeshop owner told me they rarely bring cash to the bank.
    – Willeke
    Commented Jul 29, 2023 at 15:55
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    In the Lake District there are a lot of cash-only places due to a lack of broadband/mobile connectivity (they don't allow mobile masts just anywhere in a National Park), I've had the same issue in the Highlands and Islands in Scotland. Commented Jul 30, 2023 at 20:57
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    (@JackAidley) banks also charge for getting change out. The amusement arcade at a peier will take a lot of coins, give out rather less (and most of those through change machines) so by taking payments in cash (mainly notes probably) they're turning coins into cash. Then pay a few suppliers in notes and they avoid banking fees in both directions. Plus they'll want to take cash anyway to separate kids from their pocket money - child accounts with cards aren't all that easy. Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 10:12
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Tour Guides or Tipping

  • Cash best

Food

  • Splitting payment with 'new' or old friends (easier than card/bank transfer, we don't have Venmo equilivent)

Cash for Parking is helpful

  • There are ways to pay by phone but not sure how using your euro card and providing your address via a phone call (though I think EU to UK has free roaming but I'm not sure)

Check your mobile roaming provider/Cash useful if in rural area with no mobile signal

  • Rural areas don't have great mobile coverage, so a physical card may be best not just one on your phone.

  • Aka mobile apps won't work if no mobile signal

  • See: @Dave Gremlin comment above: "In the Lake District there are a lot of cash-only places due to a lack of broadband/mobile connectivity (they don't allow mobile masts just anywhere in a National Park), I've had the same issue in the Highlands and Islands in Scotland."

This is the mobile coverage checker, if you know which network your mobile provider will use. https://checker.ofcom.org.uk/en-gb/mobile-coverage

Supermarket Trolleys

  • Need 1 pound coins or adaptor (For 1 trip, having some change might be worth it. This avoids buying an adaptor unless the UK and EU use the same one which is unlikely...) As mentioned by @Tetsujin
  • Trolley Adaptor: @davidbak This is one example: https://www.tesco.com/groceries/en-GB/products/306350899 Keep It Handy Trolley/Locker Coin Though 1 review states: "considering Tesco sell these trolly coins you'd think they'd fit in every single Tesco trolly...but they don't...they only fit in some."
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    Cash for parking?? I've already checked some car parks at the places I want to visit and all of them are "NO CASH". Including remote places such as the Snowdonia National Park. Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 8:54
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    @Johnnyjanko that's becoming more common for well-mapped car parks, with some even requiring payment via an app despite very poor signal meaning you can't download it. Privately-run seasonal car parks on the approach to beach places often don't appear on maps, and are only slowly adopting mobile payment terminals where there's a signal Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 10:07
  • Note: At least apple pay does not need mobile signal to complete a purchase (it works just like a contactless card)
    – DDS
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 10:50
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    @DDS The problem is often you need to make payments via an app such as RingGo, which you would need to download if you didn't have it, and which needs to make a connection every time you make a purchase. Most council areas now seem to have standardised on RingGo, which at least means not downloading lots of different apps, but it still needs a weak internet connection to exchange some data. Some have machines that accept contactless payments, which would be OK with Apple or Google Pay even with no internet connection, but there is a lot of variation.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 11:32

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