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Ask an Expert: are prepaid cards the best option for spending overseas?

Each week, the Which? Money experts answer your financial queries. You can submit your questions to money-letters@which.co.uk[1], or via our Facebook[2] or Twitter[3] pages.

Q: I’ll be going on holiday soon and would like to know the best ways to spend while I’m abroad. I’ve used prepaid currency cards in the past, but have found that they’re not always practical as I wasn’t able to use them everywhere. For example, several petrol stations refused to accept them.

Submitted via Which? Money Magazine[4]. A: Many of us look forward to visiting loved ones or escaping the cold this Christmas – but working out how to manage day-to-day expenses abroad can be challenging.

Unexpected circumstances often pop up when travelling, so make sure you have a range of payment options – including a small amount of cash, as well as a credit or prepaid card. Which? explains the best way to manage your money when planning a trip, including prepaid, credit cards and debit cards, as well as buying currency.

Prepaid cards for spending abroad

Prepaid cards are a popular option for travellers.

You can choose how much to load onto your card in advance, which may help you reign in your spending, and the fees are often lower than using a debit or credit card. If you’re planning to spend euros or dollars, some prepaid cards[5] allow you to load up on that currency before you leave. This ‘locks in’ the exchange rate, so you know how much you’re likely to spend and don’t get any unpleasant surprises.

Most of these cards charge a fixed ATM fee, though some will charge you a percentage of your withdrawal. Alternatively, you can take out a ‘sterling prepaid card’,[6] which allow you to pre-load pounds. This means the exchange rate will be decided at the moment when you make a withdrawal – which could be good or bad news, depending on how the pound performs.

The market-leaders for sterling prepaid cards[7] are Monzo and Revolut. Revolut offers free withdrawals of up to GBP200 per month, then charges 2% on each transaction. Monzo currently offers free withdrawals, but plans to start charging in the new year.

Best credit cards for overseas

When using a credit card overseas, it’s important to watch for hidden charges.

Some of the most common include:

  • A foreign loading fee of up to 2.99% every time the card is used
  • Interest charges incurred from the moment the card is used, even if the balance is fully paid off
  • A cash withdrawal of around 3% when you use an ATM abroad.

You may also lose track of how much you owe, as the exchange rate tends to change from day-to-day. But some credit cards don’t charge for foreign usage – which could be an advantage for frequent travellers. Which? rates the best credit cards for foreign usage[8] here.

Using a debit card

Of all your ‘plastic’ options, a debit card[9] is likely to be the most expensive.

Like credit cards, there are a number of unexpected charges which could add up during a week away, including:

  • A foreign exchange fee of up around 2.75%-2.99%
  • A cash withdrawal charge of around 2%
  • A ‘penalty fee’, which some debit card providers levy on every transaction

If you have to use your debit card, consider making a single large withdrawal at the start of your holiday, rather than using it over-the-counter. But the percentage fees on a larger transaction may be hefty, so work out the likely fees beforehand. It’s also wise to tell your debit card provider that you’re planning to be overseas, to avoid having your card blocked for ‘unusual activity.’

If you do want to use a debit card, Starling Bank charges no fees for overseas transactions worldwide, while Metro Bank charges no fees in Europe – and a number of other providers offer reasonable deals.

Buying foreign currency

Regardless of how many cards you have with you, always carry a bit of cash. Card payments are not accepted on transport or in retailers and restaurants in many countries – including some that may surprise you. It’s also handy to have a cash reserve in case your card is stolen, goes missing or gets blocked by your bank.

When buying travel money,[10] it’s important to shop around for the best deal. Tourist hotspots – especially airports – are often likely to offer the worst exchange rates. Often currency dealers will allow you to haggle, so don’t be afraid to push back on a low offer.

A number of services allow you to buy currency online[11] before you travel. Often they offer good rates and the convenience of picking up your cash at the airport. But these services aren’t regulated by the FCA – so if they go bust, you may not get your money back and there are less safeguards against fraud.

Which? Limited is an Introducer Appointed Representative of Which? Financial Services Limited, which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FRN 527029).

Which? Mortgage Advisers and Which? Money Compare are trading names of Which?

Financial Services Limited.

References

  1. ^ money-letters@which.co.uk (www.which.co.uk)
  2. ^ Facebook (www.facebook.com)
  3. ^ Twitter (twitter.com)
  4. ^ Which?

    Money Magazine (try.which.co.uk)

  5. ^ prepaid cards (www.which.co.uk)
  6. ^ ‘sterling prepaid card’, (www.which.co.uk)
  7. ^ sterling prepaid cards (www.which.co.uk)
  8. ^ best credit cards for foreign usage (moneycompare.which.co.uk)
  9. ^ debit card (www.which.co.uk)
  10. ^ buying travel money, (www.which.co.uk)
  11. ^ buy currency online (www.which.co.uk)

The Best Tablets of 2018

Which Tablet Is Right For You?

There are countless tablets on the market, but which one is right for you? Whether you’re eyeing an iPad, one of the many Android tablets available, or a Windows slate[1] for productivity, here are the key factors you need to consider when shopping, along with some of the top-rated models we’ve tested. With the holiday product lines in place, the Amazon Fire HD 8 is our top pick for tablets under £100.

Microsoft’s new Surface Pro–no number, but it’s the fifth generation–is our favorite Windows tablet of the moment. And while Apple gets points for ambition with its new iPad Pro models, the classic, more-affordable iPad is our favorite iOS tablet.

Choose Your Operating System

Just like with a full-fledged computer, if you’re getting a tablet, you need to pick a camp. There are three main operating systems to consider: Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android (including its Amazon variant), and Microsoft’s Windows 10.

Windows is best if you need to run full-fledged office software with an add-on keyboard. Android tablets[2] make great media players, ebook readers[3], and kids’ devices, and you can often get better specs for the dollar than with iPads (if you want a tablet specifically for children, check out The Best Kids’ Tablets[4]). iPads still have the broadest range of general-purpose tablet apps. Generally speaking, the greatest strength of Apple’s iOS, the operating system on the iPad, iPad mini, and iPad Pro tablet lines, is twofold: It’s very clean and intuitive, and the wide selection of apps that you can buy right on your tablet–more than one million iPad-specific titles at the time of this writing–work uniformly well with very few exceptions. For more, check out our iOS 11 review[5].

Google’s Android mobile OS gives you a choice of hardware from several different manufacturers and offers maximum configurability, a top-notch notification system, fast and smooth web browsing, and seamless integration with Google applications like Gmail, Google Maps, and Hangouts for video chat. Android also includes support for multiple user logins so you can share your tablet with a friend or family member, a useful feature that’s missing in Apple tablets (despite Apple’s Family Sharing, which isn’t the same thing). See our Android 8.0 Oreo review[6] for more. Windows 10 comes the closest to offering a traditional computing experience with full x86 support for all of your Windows software.

And you can run the full version of Microsoft Office when you buy a Win 10 tablet. Also, connectivity options and hardware add-ons for Windows models are typically more plentiful than with other tablet types. Head to our Windows 10 review[7] for more.

What About Apps?

What’s a tablet without quality apps? If you want third-party apps specifically designed for a touch-screen interface, nothing out there beats the iPad with its huge library of programs and games designed specifically for Apple tablets.

The App Store is well curated and monitored, offers a deep selection, and includes every popular app you can think of. If a wide range of compelling apps that look good and work well on your tablet is your main priority, Apple is your best bet. For more, see the 100 best iPad apps[8].

Android has made great strides in app selection, courting more developers and offering more high-quality tablet apps, but it’s still not as many as Apple offers.

It’s tough to say exactly how many tablet-optimized Android apps are available, but it’s likely in the thousands, rather than the hundreds of thousands. There are also Android phone apps, which look decent on a 7-inch tablet, but less so on a 9- or 10-inch one, so you’re likely to have more problems getting high-quality apps for larger Android tablets. That said, check out the 100 Best Android apps[9] for our top picks.

Windows 10, meanwhile, offers an impressive array of more than 100,000 touch-screen-friendly tablet apps, but its real strength is in running the millions of existing Windows desktop apps. Many of those aren’t designed for touch screens, though, and may be better handled with an add-on keyboard and mouse.

Screen Size and Storage

This consideration is a bit obvious, but size–both screen real estate and storage capacity–is important to consider. First things first: When you hear the term “7-inch or 10-inch tablet,” this refers to the size of the screen, measured diagonally, and not the size of the tablet itself.

7-inch tablets are considered small-screen, while 8.9-inch tablets and above are considered large-screen. Apple’s iPads, Amazon’s Fire, and Samsung’s tablets all come in small- and large-screen iterations. And more than ever, phones are blurring the lines with tablets.

Big smartphones (or phablets) like the 6.2-inch Samsung Galaxy S8+[10] are challenging the need to even carry a separate tablet. Screen resolution is important too, especially for ebook reading and web surfing. A sharp, bright display is key.

Right now, the highest resolution you’ll find is 2,732 by 2,048 pixels, on Apple’s 12.9-inch iPad Pro[11] (the Microsoft Surface Pro is very close). If you’re in the market for a 10-inch Android tablet, look for a display with at least 1,280 by 800 resolution. The weight of a tablet is one definite advantage it has over a laptop–but with large-screen tablets typically weighing around a pound, they’re not cell phone-light.

After you hold one with a single hand while standing up for 20 minutes, your hand will get tired. Setting one flat in your lap, rather than propped up on a stand, can also be a little awkward. And few tablets will fit in your pocket, unless you’re wearing a very large jacket.

If you want pocketability, you might want to consider a phablet.

Cloud (off-device) storage is an option for many tablets (iCloud for iPads, Amazon Cloud Storage for Fire tablets, and OneDrive for Windows), but when it comes to onboard storage, more is always better. All those apps, when combined with music, video, and photo libraries, can take up a lot of space. Many non-Apple tablets have microSD memory card slots that let you expand storage.

Wi-Fi-Only vs.

Cellular Models

Some tablets come in a Wi-Fi-only model or with the option of always-on cellular service from a wireless provider. If you want to use your tablet to get online anywhere, you should opt for a model that offers a cellular version. Of course, this adds to the device’s price, and then you need to pay for cellular service.

Generally, though, with a tablet, you can purchase data on a month-to-month basis without signing a contract. Another way to get your tablet online: Use your phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot[12]. This won’t work with every phone/tablet combo, so you should check with your carrier before you seal a deal.

You can also buy a dedicated mobile hotspot[13], which won’t kill your phone’s battery life. Some even double as backup batteries[14] to charge your tablet.

The Top Tablets (for Now)

The tablets chosen here represent the best we’ve tested across a wide range of operating systems and price levels. Because we test so many and the market is constantly evolving, we update this story frequently to include the latest products.

That said, there are plenty of great tablets out there there that just missed the cut for this list, and one may be right for you.

For the latest lab-tested reviews, check out our tablet product guide[15].

References

  1. ^ Windows slate (www.pcmag.com)
  2. ^ Android tablets (www.pcmag.com)
  3. ^ ebook readers (www.pcmag.com)
  4. ^ The Best Kids’ Tablets (www.pcmag.com)
  5. ^ check out our iOS 11 review (www.pcmag.com)
  6. ^ See our Android 8.0 Oreo review (www.pcmag.com)
  7. ^ Head to our Windows 10 review (www.pcmag.com)
  8. ^ see the 100 best iPad apps (www.pcmag.com)
  9. ^ check out the 100 Best Android apps (www.pcmag.com)
  10. ^ Samsung Galaxy S8+ (www.pcmag.com)
  11. ^ 12.9-inch iPad Pro (www.pcmag.com)
  12. ^ Use your phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot (www.pcmag.com)
  13. ^ dedicated mobile hotspot (www.pcmag.com)
  14. ^ backup batteries (www.pcmag.com)
  15. ^ tablet product guide (www.pcmag.com)

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