Your morning coffee, tap. The bus to work, tap. Artisan handmade organic vegan raw soap from a pop-up, tap tap tap.
From the supermarket megastore down to your local farmers market, card payments in the UK are accepted everywhere.
Contactless is now so common that being asked to enter your pin usually results in a vacant look as you pray your fingers remember the pattern on the pad.
But as the UK heads towards a cashless society, there is a whole world full of countries and societies with their own financial infrastructure and cultural view of money.
If you have ever wondered which is the best way to spend abroad, cash or card, then we have the answer. Using data powered by our 400,000 WeSwappers we have found which destinations holidaymakers use cash the most and which use a card.
Whilst most of Europe hovers around the 50% mark, Scandinavia is leading the way in card payments. Our data found that over 70% of spending was with a card in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland. Unsurprisingly these countries are all well on their way to becoming cashless societies. However, further south in Slovenia, Croatia and Greece card payments made up less than 35% of transactions. With contactless and mobile payments advancing we expect most countries to become more card-friendly in the next couple of years. For now, this map can give you a good understanding of which payment method is best for which countries.
Top Card Friendly Countries
Well on its way to becoming the first cashless society, Sweden is a pioneer in card and mobile payments. With cash transactions in retail down to 15% and two-thirds of residents reportedly managing completely without cash it is no surprise Sweden topped our list. We found that 81% of the total spend data in Sweden was with a card. Does that mean you don’t need any cash? Well, public toilets accept card, public transport in Stockholm and Gothenburg only take card and tipping is not common in Sweden. You’re actually more likely to see “Card Only” than “Cash Only” signs in shops and restaurants. However, just because debit and credit cards are accepted everywhere does not mean they are the best options for those visiting the country. In fact, cashless countries could end up costing you a lot of money in bank and card fees, so take a look at prepaid options as these often have no transaction fees which means more money for Swedish favourites like lingonberries, crispbread, and Pickled Herring.
Like Sweden, Norway is close to becoming a cashless society with less than 10% of transactions being in cash. Even the official Norway tourism website states that “cash is no longer king”. Whether you are buying a single cup of coffee or your entire week’s accommodation, card is accepted all over and if you do need any cash there are ATMs everywhere, even in rural towns. Some Post offices and grocery shops do not accept foreign credit cards so best to check first or carry a debit or prepaid card too. In restaurants, you may need to confirm the total by typing the value before your PIN, this is so that you can add a tip although tipping is not common practice like in the USA.
It seems the Scandinavian countries are really up for this life without cash. We found 71% of all WeSwap transactions in Finland were with a card and you should have no trouble using any of the major providers. Whilst the media buzz surrounds Norway and Sweden’s path to no cash, Finland recently became the first country to offer Chinese tourists a completely mobile payment experience. As many do not have Western credit cards Chinese visitors can now pay all across Finland using their smartphone! For those without the Alipay app be prepared to show valid ID if your credit card needs to be swiped as this is common practice in Finland. Cash can still be useful and you will find ATMs marked OTTO are widespread. When paying in cash try and use smaller denominations as often shops will not have a lot of change.
As a leading major financial centre, Luxembourg is another country that relies more on debit and credit cards than cash. Visa and Mastercard are the most widely used with American Express being accepted in most places. If you need to withdraw cash then ATMs are common all over cities and in smaller towns.
Top Cash Friendly Countries
Cambodia has a strong cash economy and despite having its own currency, Riels, you are more likely to use $USD. Most tourist-focused businesses will list prices in US Dollars and generally, you will get smaller change back in Riel. Credit and debit card use is growing but only higher end hotel chains and restaurants will accept them and you will likely face a 2-4% charge. Cash very much dominates in Cambodia, so you are best off taking some or withdrawing from a cash machine. Most ATMs dispense Cambodian Riels and USD and will often charge a few dollars to use. Canadia Bank, ANZ Royal Bank will work with Maestro, Visa and MasterCard and SBC bank accepts Visa and MasterCard. Your bank may also charge a fee for using the ATM so check your provider first as these fees can add up. With a beer costing just $1 and an entire meal for $3 avoiding your bank’s charges can go a long way in Cambodia.
Since 2000 the official currency in Ecuador has been the US Dollar, you will usually get your change in Ecuadorian coins which are the same denominations as their U.S. counterparts. Change can be a problem for many vendors so try and carry smaller bills. Some hotels and large restaurants may accept credit and debit card payments but these will be subject to surcharges. It is best to use your card to withdraw cash from an ATM which you should have no trouble finding in Ecuador. Major banks include Banco de Guayaquil, Banco Pichincha, and Banco del Pacífico.
We found that the majority of transactions (77%) in Croatia were in cash. With the unfamiliar currency and exchange rate, hard cash can make it easier to manage your money. Credit and debit card use is widespread in Croatia with only smaller shops and restaurants not supporting the payment option. ATMs are readily available especially in tourist areas and most will have an English language option, remember to decline the Dynamic Currency Conversion and always choose the ‘local currency’ option.
Surprisingly Japan is a cash-driven economy, credit and debit card use is not as prevalent as you might think and for foreigners, non-Japanese credit or debit cards will not always work. You will need cash at markets, smaller shops, local restaurants, and even some of the larger establishments so it is best to carry a good amount with you when you are out. With many ATMs not accepting foreign cards look for 7/11 stores, post offices, and family marts these will accept most major credit, debit and travel cards but it is a good idea to tell your bank you are travelling first.
Unlike the rest of Central America, Mexico is actually very card friendly. With many of the popular restaurant, hotel and shop chains located around the cities and a strong tourism industry credit and debit cards are widely accepted. Even in smaller stores, most major cards will work just fine and it is mainly the local restaurants and shops that will be cash only. It is a good idea to carry some cash with you just to make sure you are covered but don’t walk around with more than you need for that day or so. When you need to use an ATM go for those found in big banks like Banamex, Santander, and Banorte, and withdraw in Pesos. Whilst US Dollars are accepted in tourist areas it is better to have Pesos in case places won’t take your Dollars. ATM fees can vary and your bank or card provider may charge too so it is good to go for a card with free ATM withdrawals.
Off on holiday and want to know whether to take or withdraw cash? Just drop a comment below with your destination and we’ll let you know which is best.