The quick Expend guide to business spending in Europe

Expend Team

19 December 2019

Whether for business or pleasure, spending abroad is often fraught with complexity, some obvious, like different languages, and cultures. While some are not so obvious, like different fees, different exchange rates and different levels of technology adoption or implementation.

It's estimated that UK travellers 'waste' over £450 million a year in fees.

Fees and rates can seem more hidden these days, particularly when you pay with your card. It's not actually that long ago that spending abroad involved popping to your bank, post office or foreign exchange agent and buying euros or dollars at the exchange rate you could see in front of you.

The rate might not have been very good or the best you could get, but at least you knew what rate you were getting. Your job was simple, just get it to the hotel safe and lock it away. You've paid your price and you know what you have to spend. Oh, and do you remember traveller's cheques? Are they even still a thing?

These days there's a multitude of ways to pay and business PrePaid card solutions that claim to save you money and many do. However, I've decided that the benefit of potentially getting a few extra cents here and there is not worth my time. What is worth my time is faster expense management that can be there when I need it to manage my business expenses and not when I'm well... not.

Recently, I decided to use Expend exclusively on a trip to Vienna and one of the main benefits was that I had a low 1% foreign exchange fee when using my Expend card. I wasted no time trying to get the best rates and ‘playing the money markets’ as I always knew I was getting the best rates at that moment in time.

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Tip 1: Set a budget for the trip.

You'd do it on holiday, so you should do this on business trips. Whether you're setting the budget or asking for one. Adding 10% extra is prudent for that last-minute taxi dash to the airport etc. Expend lets you easily set budgets for employees and there's no need to top up every card manually, every card just takes from the central account based on the rules you set. Setting a spending limit also stopped me from buying cheese at a restaurant with one of the best selections I'd ever seen. 

Tip 2: Check they take Mastercard before you sit down.

Card and electronic payments are quickly taking over from cash, especially in the UK, but in many places cash is still king. In fact, a restaurant in Vienna are so against it that they put it at the back of their menu and we only saw it when looking at the desserts. The result was I had to make a mad dash to find a cash machine, leaving my better half sat alone and in my haste, I nearly fell for my tip number 4.

Tip 3: Do your expenses as soon as they happen.

With receipts in foreign languages just shoving them in your wallet to sort out later is a bad idea. You've got the joy of trying to match them up with only the amount and the name as a guide. Plus trying to remember what it was for and likely a bit of frantic Googling. Not difficult if you only have a few, but get over 5 and you'll likely start to struggle, especially if you wait until the end of the month. Using Expend's instant app notifications and receipt capture you'll definitely save a ton of time if you do it there and then.  

Tip 4: Don't fall for the 'helpful' trick when paying at a terminal.

If you're ever asked if you'd like to 'Pay in GBP’, do not press it. If you do, you're handing over the conversion rates to whoever runs the terminal and not Expend. It might seem helpful, but it's only going to cost you money. Expend does all the conversions for you. Also, if you pay with contactless, you will automatically pay in the local currency.

Tip 5: Don't fall for the same trick at an ATM.

In Vienna I was greeted by another helpful screen offering to charge in GBP for a small 6% fee. I wish I'd taken a picture of it, but I was in shock. Withdrawing €50 would have cost me about €3 in fees. 

Tip 6: Track what you're spending 'your' cash on.

Once you've taken euros out of a machine, it's easily spent. The less we use cash, the harder it seems to be to manage. Might seem okay if you're on holiday, but if you're spending company money and not tracking it, it will be a mess. If you don't account for it all, your employer could ask for it back. Thankfully we have created a cash management feature in our app that allows you to track those bits of cash you spend as they happen. 

Update: In April 2019, Mastercard changed some of the rules around when retailers and other sectors can ask you if you want to pay in GBP.

Expend Team

Taking over the world, one expense at a time

Powering businesses around the world with the ultimate expense management software and sharing our top tips and lessons through these blogs.

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