Best Dollar Exchange Rate to Buy US Dollars in the UK: Insider Tips for Travel in 2023
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Like the United Kingdom, the United States uses cashless payment systems and contactless cards. The US is famous for tipping, but even that can often be done with digital payment too.
This is why our Monito experts will explain why going digital is the best way to buy dollars in the UK before your holiday. You can say goodbye to traditional brick-and-mortar cash changers like the post office dollar exchange, Tesco, M&S, and Sainsbury's who advertise zero commissions but charge high hidden dollar exchange rate margins.
We will find that the cheapest options to buy foreign currency, such as Starling Bank, Revolut, and Wise, are also among the most convenient ones. And if you still want cash for that American cash-only diner, cash tips, small-town bus systems, and corner stores, then you can still use the multi-currency account cards we recommend at American ATMs cheaply.
The Best Dollar Rate in the UK
Revolut: If you want to buy and hold USD while still in the UK, consider the Revolut multi-currency travel card. Get one of the best dollar exchange rates when you load USD on your card.
Wise Account: Wise offers a multi-currency account that exchanges pounds to dollars and 50+ foreign currencies, which you can exchange at the real exchange rate and at low fixed fees. Get a debit card for travel too.
What You'll Find In This Guide
- 01. The best way to get the best dollar exchange rate
- 02. Where's the best place to buy dollars before my trip?
- 03. Compare the best dollar exchange rates from leading providers
- 04. How can I order dollars online in the UK?
- 05. How do I sell back my leftover dollars?
- 06. Frequently asked questions about the best place to buy dollars online
How Do I Get the Best Dollar Exchange Rate While On My Trip?
Many British travellers enjoy holding US dollars in cash while in the United Kingdom prior to their flight to the States. Many opt to exchange pounds for dollars at a high-street bank, online money changer, or bureaux de change, but these methods are actually neither the most cost-effective or most convenient ways to get dollars.
Spend With Cards, Not Cash
Credit and debit cards that charge no foreign transaction fees are by far the cheapest ways to spend while you travel. This is because the exchange rate that MasterCard or Visa applies to your card purchases is negligibly small — about 0.2% weaker than the real mid-market exchange rate.
In contrast, if you had spent cash dollars that were exchanged with the post office dollar exchange rate or the dollar exchange rate at Tesco, M&S, Travelex, or Sainsbury's, then you may have suffered from an exchange rate around 5% weaker than the real exchange rate.
Get Cash Dollars From ATMs in the US
By the same token, take out cash dollars at ATMs with a card that waives foreign transaction fees if you need cash. The minor inconvenience of paying $2 to $5 in ATM withdrawal fees is better than getting hit with hidden fees from UK money changers.
Here are a few UK debit cards that will lower the costs when you need to take out cash with ATMs in the USA:
Starling Bank's debit card is an excellent choice for a travel card, not only because card payments are widely accepted across the United States. Starling Bank also waives all foreign ATM fees. You may still be charged by the local ATM provider, but at least Starling Bank will never hit you with its own fees for using ATMs abroad.
What's the Best Card For Getting Dollars in the UK?
Compare UK debit cards Starling Bank and Monzo, which have no foreign transaction fees, with multi-currency cards Wise and Revolut, which allow you to hold US dollars and multiple other foreign currencies on one debit card.
Exchange Rate Margin
Foreign Transaction Fee
Generic ATM Machine Fee
Card Provider ATM Fee
Total Dollar Cash
|Go to Starling Bank||Go to Monzo||Go to Wise||Go to Revolut|
Exchange Rate Margin
Foreign Transaction Fee
Generic ATM Machine Fee
Card Provider ATM Fee
Total Dollar Cash
|Go to Starling Bank||Go to Monzo||Go to Wise||Go to Revolut|
The Best Way to Buy Dollars in the UK Before Your US Trip
Using debit cards that offer no foreign transaction fees is a cost-effective way to spend abroad. However, if you want to actually hold US dollars, then Monito has found multi-currency cards to be far and away the best way to do so. You'll be able to save dollars in your online multi-currency account and access them with the corresponding debit card in the United States like any other local.
How the Revolut Multi-Currency Card Works
The Revolut Multi-Currency Card offers multi-currency debit cards to customers when they sign up. Your card should be shipped to you for free within 7 business days, so plan this ahead of your trip if possible:
- Link your UK bank account details to the multi-currency account;
- Top up Pound sterling into the account online or by mobile app;
- Convert your pounds into USD at an industry-low exchange rate margin;
- Pay zero fees per conversion (within the fair use limits);
- Use your card in the USA with no foreign fees.
Avoiding Fees When Buying Dollars in the UK
When you convert your pounds into a foreign currency, such as the dollar, foreign exchange service providers will charge you two kinds of fees:
- Exchange Rate Margin: Providers apply an exchange rate that is poorer than the true "mid-market" exchange rate. They keep the difference, called an exchange rate margin.
- Commission Fee: This fee is usually a percentage of the amount converted, which is charged for the service provided.
Even if you have a travel credit card with your British high-street bank that charges no foreign transaction fees, Visa and Mastercard's exchange rate does not perfectly match the mid-market rate. Each time you spend money abroad, you will not be spending as efficiently as if you were holding actual dollars.
This is why we recommend using multi-currency cards over high-street bank travel cards or currency exchange bureaus. Use multi-currency cards at point of sale at restaurants and other purchases. If you need cash, try to stay under their monthly free ATM withdrawal allowance.
Revolut is an excellent choice for a multi-currency card because it also applies an industry-low dollar exchange rate, within the fair usage limits. However, it adds a markup on weekends. Commission-free conversions are limited to £1,000 for Standard and Plus plan customers. A 0.5% fee will be applied for the amount exceeding the limit. That allowance increases if you upgrade memberships.
Revolut allows you to withdraw up to $200 per month from ATMs without fees. After that, there will be a 2% fee per withdrawal.
Unlike banks, credit unions, airport kiosks, and foreign ATMs, Wise is transparent about never charging a hidden exchange rate margin when you convert your pounds into dollars (and 51 other currencies). The live rate you see on Google or XE.com is the one you get with Wise. An industry-low commission fee will range from 0.35% to 2.85%. GBP to USD transfers generally incur a 0.5% fee.
Wise allows you to withdraw $200 per month from ATMs. After that, they will charge 1.75% per cash withdrawal.
Compare Rates Online: Where Else to Get USD Exchange in the UK
While getting dollars in cash is cheapest if you use your debit card at an ATM in the USA or if you open a multi-currency account, you still have several options to get dollars in the UK before your trip.
1. Money Transfer Services
If you prefer cash pickup and cash delivery, then have a look at Small World and Western Union. They both ranked as the top two cheapest options for GBP to USD exchanges from November 2021 to November 2022, according to Monito's comparison engine.
While you will have to pay a premium for cash pick-up and cash delivery, these international money transfer services will allow you to hold physical dollars before your trip. In any case, these specialists will almost always be cheaper than converting currency at a high-street bank, Tesco, the Post Office, or an airport bureaux de change:
2. Exchange Rate For USD With a High-Street Bank or the Post Office
Despite commonly heard advice, the post office and the high street have become outdated money transfer providers. New companies are offering innovative ways to obtain foreign money cheaply and digitally.
We found that UK Post Office was converting £1 GBP into $1.12 USD even though the mid-market exchange rate was at £1 GBP = $1.15 USD*. That's 2.608% weaker than the mid-market.
*Exchange rates recorded on 2 November 2022 10:00 CEST.
3. Airport Bureaux de Change
Bureaux de change at airports in the United Kingdom is convenient for last-second exchanges before you head off on your travels. They charge huge exchange rate margins and hefty commission fees. We've seen margins exceeding 10%. Airport kiosks should be avoided at all costs.
If you need dollars in cash for your travels, Monito recommends that you withdraw cash from an ATM in the USA with a card that charges zero foreign transaction fees. The exchange rate margins will almost certainly be smaller, and the cash withdrawal fee charged by the ATM should amount to a minor inconvenience of $2 to $5.
How To Order Dollars Online for Delivery in the UK
The multi-currency account offered by Revolut remains the best way to convert your Pound sterling into US dollars and hold dollars digitally for your travels.
However, traditional foreign exchange services do run online platforms, which you may use to purchase dollars. These Small World and Western Union competitors offer travel cards while others offer cash pickup or delivery.
Money Changers: Tesco, M&S, Travelex, Sainsbury's, etc.
UK money changers often advertise their zero commission fees, which is a plus. However, the exchange rate they use to buy your pounds and sell you dollars will be weaker than the mid-market exchange rate.
While the Post Office's 3.8% margin is average, other British money changer companies may take more. Their rate schedules will fluctuate day by day.
You can usually order dollars with money changers in one of three ways:
- Order dollars in store;
- Buy dollars online and collect them the next day;
- Same-day collection.
One such brick-and-mortar provider is Travelex, a worldwide bureaux de change found in airports around the world, which we have reviewed on Monito. The pound to dollar exchange rate is usually better online, which will give you more dollars for your pound sterling. They have a travel card, which you can use to hold several currencies at once.
How to Sell Your Leftover Dollars
If you have leftover physical dollars, you can always store them up for your next trip to US or you can sell them back to banks and money changers in the UK. However, the rate that these money changers will use to buy back your dollars will be much weaker than the real mid-market exchange rate. And they don't always buy back loose change, such as if the amount is under $100.
Holding too many dollars at the end of your trip often happens because you overestimate how much you need when you order cash online. If you use a foreign transaction fee-free card or a multi-currency card to make purchases instead, then you'll never have to worry about carrying idle change.
That's why in the few cases that you need cash for tipping or for bus rides, we recommend using travel debit cards that offer fee-free monthly allowances for ATM withdrawals. Take out $100 or $200 in cash at a time, but rely on digital card payments for the rest of your holiday.
Frequently Asked Questions About Where to Buy Dollars in the UK Online
Where should I buy dollars in the UK?
Multi-currency travel cards are a great alternative too. These cards, offered by companies like Wise and Revolut, allow you to convert your pounds into dollars in the UK at or near the real market rate. Hold those dollars on a card so that you can spend like a local in the US.
How do I get the best pound to dollar exchange rate?
Experts at Monito recommend that you consider a Revolut Card (which can take up to 10 days to ship in the United Kingdom). Convert your pounds into dollars digitally at the best dollar exchange rate and access the dollars with your card.
Since US vendors have widely transitioned to cashless payments, multi-currency options are booming in popularity over cash exchange.
Is the Post Office dollar exchange rate good?
The post office dollar exchange rate is generally stronger than the dollar exchange rate offered by high street banks, Tesco, M&S, and Sainsbury's. However, multi-currency accounts like Wise and Revolut are unmatched because they often use the real mid-market exchange rate to change your pounds to dollars.
Is it better to buy dollars in the UK or the US?
The experts at Monito recommend travellers purchase dollars with Revolut for a very low exchange rate fee, or with Wise, which applies the mid-market rate, regardless of if you are in the United Kingdom or in the US.
Foreign exchange services, banks, and airport kiosks markup their rates without a transparent schedule. You will lose money if you present your pounds to either a bank in the UK or a bank in the US.
Can I get dollars at a UK Bank?
Yes, you can but this is one of the most expensive and inconvenient ways to get dollars in the UK. Banks and bureaux de change apply very weak exchange rates on your pounds. The experts at Monito recommend you use a debit card without foreign transaction fees and no ATM fees, like Starling Bank or Monzo, during your trip instead.
How do I get dollars before I travel?
- Open an account with a multi-currency card like Wise or Revolut;
- Top up pounds on your account;
- Convert your pounds into dollars;
- Spend like a local with your card during your travels.
Since much of the US runs on cashless payments these days, you may also want to consider debit cards that waive foreign transaction fees like Starling Bank or Monzo. This is much more convenient than using cash because you do not need to bring home excess foreign cash. Plus, the exchange rate that Visa and MasterCard uses is much stronger than the rate that a UK bank will give you.
Where can I use my dollars?
The following countries use the dollar as their official currency:
United States of America
Commonwealth of Puerto Rico
Republic of El Salvador
Republic of Zimbabwe
The Virgin Islands of the United States
The British Virgin Islands
Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste
Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
Federated States of Micronesia
Republic of Palau
Turks and Caicos
Is the pound to dollar exchange rate at Tesco, Sainsbury's, and M&S good?
Almost never. Purchasing dollars online with supermarkets and exchangers like M&S may be a convenient way to get cash delivered to you, and will be cheaper than banks and airport kiosks.
But the best way to ensure you get the best deal for your dollar exchange is to check the mid-market exchange rate, which is the one you see on Google or XE.com. Then, use Monito's comparison engine to compare money transfer services that have the best dollar exchange rate, in real-time and the lowest fees.
When is the best time to buy dollars?
The answer will always depend on your relative timeframe. The summer of 2021 was a good time to buy dollars because the pound was nearing a 5-year high against the dollar. But if you compare the pound-to-dollar rate of summer 2021 to summer 2014, then it was relatively unfavourable because the pound's 10-year high was in that summer of 2014.
Instead of trying to time the market, get the best dollar exchange rate when you spend in the US by using a debit card without foreign transaction fees, like Starling Bank or Monzo, or a multi-currency travel card like Wise and Revolut.
Other Monito Guides on Travel Money in the US
References Used In This Guide
1. Cash Withdrawals. Starling Bank. Accessed 25 August 2022.
2. Wise Calculator. Wise. Accessed 22 June 2022.
3. Revolut Calculator. Revolut. Accessed 22 June 2022.
4. Visa Exchange Rate Calculator. Visa. Accessed 22 June 2022.
5. MasterCard Exchange Rate Calculator. MasterCard. Accessed 22 June 2022.
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