Best Ways to Take Money to Europe in 2023
From vibrant metropolitan cities to quaint countryside, sun kissed beaches to snowy mountains, there’s plenty to explore in Europe. Whether you’re heading over for a shorter break, or moving to live, study or work, you’re going to need some money to pay for yourself. While euros are used in 20 or so countries, there’s a broad range of other European currencies too - so the best way to take money to Europe may simply depend on exactly where you’re headed, how long for, and how you prefer to manage your money overall.
Read on as we explore 4 possible ways to take money to Europe, including their benefits and drawbacks, to help you pick the right way for you.
Prepaid travel cards to use in Europe
Ideal for: setting your travel budget ahead of time or on the go and making secure and convenient payments and withdrawals
Flexible prepaid travel cards are available from a specialist online provider like Wise, allowing you to hold a selection of major currencies. That can be especially handy for a trip to Europe, as you’ll be able to hold and spend euros and pounds, and most other European currencies too. If you get a card that supports all the currencies you need for your trip, you can easily convert your balance from CAD to the currency or currencies you need in advance, to lock in the exchange rate and set your travel budget.
Check the card you pick has no inactivity fee or closure costs, and you can also hold on to it once you're back from Europe, to top up and use on your next foreign trip.
As well as being flexible and convenient, prepaid travel cards are not linked to your normal CAD transaction account. This improves security, and means there’s no way you can accidentally blow your travel budget.
Learn more about our picks for the 5 best prepaid cards - there’s more on our top choice, Wise, next.
Wise - our pick for prepaid travel card
With this card:
Hold and exchange 40+ currencies and manage your money from your phone
No annual or monthly fees to pay, and no minimum balance requirement
Currency exchange uses the mid-market rate with no markup
Some free ATM withdrawals available every month
Receive payments to your account with local bank details for up to 9 currencies
|Wise card pros||Wise card cons|
✅ Currency exchange uses the mid-market rate
✅ No foreign transaction fees apply
✅ Free to hold and spend 40+ currencies
✅ Receive payments to your Wise account in a selection of global currencies
✅No minimum balance or ongoing fees
❌ It can take up to 14 days for your physical card to arrive by mail
❌ Free ATM withdrawals are limited to 2 per month, to the value of 350 CAD. Fees of 1.75% + 1.5 CAD after that
❌ 10 CAD fee to receive payments to Wise in CAD, via SWIFT
Pros and cons of taking money to Europe with a prepaid travel card
Some cards support a selection of major currencies, usually including EUR and GBP
Easy to order your card online - some options can also be collected in person if you’re in a hurry
Cards are available with no minimum balance or ongoing fees to pay
Currency exchange may have better rates than a bank will offer
Exchange rates may include a markup on the mid-market rate
ATM fees may apply, depending on the card you pick
Some cards charge a fee if you spend in an unsupported currency, or if you spend a currency you don’t hold in your account already
Travel debit cards to use in Europe
Ideal for: spending overseas with no need to carry cash - and a handy linked app so you can manage your money from your phone
Travel debit cards - importantly - are not credit cards, which means there are no restrictive eligibility requirements, and no interest to pay. Just order a debit card that’s designed for travel from a specialist provider online, top up in the currency of your choice and start spending.
You’ll often find you can get specific travel benefits with your card like insurance or airport lounge access, and you’ve also got the increased peace of mind from knowing that your card isn’t linked to your normal CAD transaction account.
Different cards do have pretty different features, so compare a couple to get the best for you. It’s worth also checking that all the European currencies you’ll need are available to avoid surprise currency conversion costs creeping in. Plus, picking a card which supports a broad range of currencies will mean you can use it for the next time you go away, too.
We’ll go into more detail about our top pick for a travel debit card - the Canada Post Cash Passport - next. You can also learn more about the best travel debit cards in Canada here.
Canada Post Cash Passport - our pick for travel debit card
With this card:
Get your Canada Post Cash Passport conveniently online or in a Canada Post location
Load any of up to 7 major foreign currencies, including EUR and GBP
No fee to spend a currency you hold in your account
Lock in exchange rates in advance of travel
Free secondary card in case your first is lost or stolen
|Canada Post Cash Passport card pros||Canada Post Cash Passport card cons|
✅ Hold 7 major currencies in your account
✅ No extra fee to spend a currency you hold
✅ Issued on the Mastercard network for global acceptance
✅ Contactless payments or Chip and PIN options
✅ 24/7 global assistance if you lose your card
❌ 15 CAD fee to get your first card
❌ 3.25% fee if you spend a currency you don’t hold in your account
❌ Top up and cash out fees may also apply
Pros and cons of taking money to Europe with a travel debit card
Convenient and safe as you won’t need to carry a lot of cash at any one time
Many cards come with linked accounts you can use to hold a selection of foreign currencies
No interest or penalty fees - just top up the amount you want to spend and you’re done
Not connected to your main CAD account, adding extra security
Some transaction fees usually apply
You may pay a fee when converting from one currency to another, which can be rolled up in the exchange rate you get
Some cards have card order or closure costs associated
Taking cash in Europe
Ideal for: small purchases and tipping, and for use in some European countries where cash is still very commonly used
Cash usage in Europe varies pretty widely. In some countries card payments are absolutely the norm. But in others, cash is still king, and you’ll find some merchants that won’t take your card payment. Even when you’re heading to a place where cards are widely accepted, having some cash on you in the local currency is reassuring - and can be helpful as a backup plan in case your card is out of action for some reason.
Depending on where you’re going in Europe you may be able to pick up cash before you travel through a service like Canada Post - or you can exchange your CAD on arrival. However, for convenience you might prefer to hold off exchanging and just make ATM withdrawals as and when you need to when you arrive in your destination.
Use a travel debit card or prepaid travel card from a provider like Wise you may also find you get low overall costs and a great exchange rate.
Do I need cash in Europe?
Pretty much wherever in Europe you’re going, cash is handy for tipping and small purchases and for those odd times you can’t use your card. However, remember that although the euro is probably the currency we most commonly think of when we think about Europe, it’s not the only currency used there. Double check the currency used in your destination so you don’t end up incurring high exchange costs for a currency you can’t ultimately use.
Getting a prepaid card or travel debit card to make ATM withdrawals is a pretty foolproof method to get the cash you need, and can also net you low or no fees, depending on the card you pick.
How to buy European currencies on arrival?
You’ll find it easy enough to exchange your Canadian dollars on arrival, at currency exchange stores in cities, airports, or tourist areas. You’ll need to carry high denomination, clean notes and shop around to find a decent exchange rate. Aside from the potential of getting stuck with high overall costs, the major downside here is that you’ll need to take time out of your trip to find a currency store.
How to buy the currency you need in your destination in Canada?
Depending on the currency you need you can usually buy some cash in Canada before you travel. Canada Post has partnered with CIBC to offer foreign cash for collection or home delivery, or there are individual currency exchange stores in all major urban centres. Fees and exchange rate markups may apply, and not all outlets will carry all European currencies.
Best place to get European currencies from
There’s no single best place to get your travel cash - it’ll all depend on where you’re heading and how good a rate you can find either at home or on arrival. Compare a few options and bear in mind that it’s usually worth avoiding currency exchange in the airport or in your hotel.
Pros and cons of taking cash to Europe
Great for tipping, shopping in markets and other times only cash will do
Good as a back up plan in case your card is out of action or can’t be accepted by a merchant
Buy your cash in advance to save time on arrival, and set your budget in advance
Carrying a lot of cash isn't particularly safe
You’ll usually waste time during your break if you’re having to compare costs to get a good deal
Exchange rates vary widely and usually include a markup - an extra fee
Travel credit cards to use in Europe
Ideal for: spending and withdrawals which you can pay back over several months - and as a payment guarantee when renting a car or checking into a hotel
Travel credit cards usually have specific features which make them good for overseas use - such as no foreign transaction fee when abroad. Some cards also offer extras like complimentary insurance, annual travel credits and emergency cash if you’re unlucky enough to have your card stolen.
Using a travel credit card can be attractive if you’d rather pay for your trip over a few months - although interest will apply in this case, pushing up the overall cost. There are also some times when only a credit card will do, such as when you check into a hotel or rent a car. Bear in mind though, that using a credit card at an ATM is a very expensive option, with cash advance fees and interest mounting up quickly.
Overall there are some great benefits of using a travel credit card responsibly - but do remember that annual fees, interest, cash advance charges and penalties can apply, which can make this a costly choice.
Learn about our top pick - the HSBC World Elite Mastercard - next.
HSBC World Elite Mastercard - our pick for travel credit card
With this card:
Spend internationally with no foreign transaction fee
Variable interest rate based on purchase type and personal circumstances
Add extra cardholders to your account for free
Lots of extras and travel benefits offered
24/7 support of you’re a victim of theft or fraud
|HSBC World Elite Mastercard pros||HSBC World Elite Mastercard cons|
✅ No foreign transaction fee
✅ Up to 4 supplementary users on each account with no extra annual charge
✅ 24 hour worldwide assistance to get cash to you if your card is stolen
✅ Some complimentary insurance offered
✅ Options to earn rewards, including enhanced benefits for travel spending
❌ Interest and penalty fees may apply depending on how you use your card
❌ Annual fee of 149 CAD
❌ ATM withdrawals come with fees and a higher rate of interest compared to purchases
Pros and cons of travel credit cards to Europe
Earn rewards and discounts, or get travel perks - depending on the card you pick
Spread your costs out over a few months
Some cards have low or no foreign transaction fees
Credit cards are useful as a payment guarantee in some situations
Interest and fees usually apply if you don’t pay back your bill immediately
Cash advance and interest costs apply when using an ATM
Eligibility rules apply
Travel requirements from Canada to Europe
The travel requirements for Europe vary a lot depending on where you’re heading to. A lot of countries are covered by the Schengen agreement which means you won’t need a visa for visits of up to 90 days in most situations. This agreement covers around 27 countries, including major tourist destinations like France and Germany.
Some countries which are outside the Schengen area are also extremely popular with Canadian visitors - here you’ll have to double check the rules. However, the good news is that for major destinations like the UK, visa waivers usually allow tourists to enter hassle free.
Check the Canadian government’s travel advisory page to learn more and to get detailed information for your specific destination.
Does Europe accept Canadian dollars?
No. You won’t be able to spend CAD anywhere in Europe. If you’re carrying Canadian dollars with you you'll need to exchange them for the currency you need in your destination when you arrive.
Best currency to take to Europe
You’ll only be able to spend in the official currency in your destination, so the best currency depends on where in Europe you’re going. About 20 European countries use euros, but there are notable exceptions including the UK and much of Scandinavia. Double check the currency or currencies you need if you’re going to exchange in advance of travel.
You can carry cash in CAD and convert it on arrival, or get some travel cash before you leave in the currency you need - but for many travellers using a specialised travel card for cash withdrawals in Europe as and when you need them is the easiest solution.
Top travel money tips to Europe
Here are a few final tips to help your money go further while you’re away:
Have several different payment methods in case one isn't accepted wherever you are
Get a travel money card before you leave to make it easier and cheaper to spend and withdraw in Europe
Use the handy Exiap guides to learn more about currency exchange, travel cards, and more
How much money do I need per day in Europe?
Exactly what you’ll need to pay for your visit will depend a lot on what you like to do, and where in Europe you’ll stay. The costs of living vary a lot between countries, and depending on what type of trip you’ve got planned. As you’d expect, the large cities can be pretty pricey, but rural areas may offer better value for money.
To put this in context, in an expensive city like London you’ll find a 3 course lunch for 2 will set you back in the region of 130 CAD. Have that same meal in Lisbon, Portugal, and you can expect to pay about 73 CAD - and if you’re heading to Sofia, Bulgaria you’d pay under 60 CAD.
Do some detailed research to see how much things are likely to cost based on your plans and where you’re headed, so you can plan your budget. Get more detailed cost information by country and city, from Numbeo.com.
How much does it cost to fly from Canada to Europe?
Flight costs vary widely depending on where in Canada you’ll leave from, which European airport you want to land in, and the time of year you’ll visit. At the time of writing (October 2023), deals to major destinations like Paris or Amsterdam start from around 500 CAD per person return.
There’s no single best way to take money to Europe. In fact, having more than one way to pay is definitely a good idea - just in case you end up in a situation where your preferred payment method isn't accepted.
A good solution for many people could be to get a travel card - such as a prepaid travel card from Wise or a Canada Post Cash Passport - and to carry that as well as your regular debit or credit card as a back up. You can then use your travel card to make ATM withdrawals on arrival for those times when you need cash.
Use this guide to decide which option to take money to Europe will work best for you, based on your own preferences and needs.
Should I exchange money before I travel to Europe?
While you can switch Canadian dollars for the currency you need in Europe before you travel, it’s actually very easy to just make a cash withdrawal at an ATM on arrival. This can also be cheap, and may get you a better exchange rate compared to exchanging in advance, particularly if you have a travel card from a provider like Wise.
Can I withdraw euros from a local ATM?
You can’t withdraw euros, pounds - or any other European currency - at a normal ATM in Canada. However, you can get a travel card to make an ATM withdrawal on arrival in Europe, which will often mean you pay less compared to using your bank card which might come with a foreign transaction and international ATM fee.
Are prepaid travel cards a good way to take money to Europe?
Travel prepaid cards from services like Wise are a safe way to spend when abroad. With Wise you’ll also get mid-market exchange rates and low, transparent fees which can bring down the costs of your trip.
Can I use cash in Europe?
Yes. It’s unusual to find places where you can’t use cash - although cashless payments are preferred in some stores, particularly in Scandinavian countries. Having some cash in local currency, and a travel card, is a good way to make sure you’ll be able to pay no matter what happens.