Five countries where cash is still king
With Starling Bank, withdrawals abroad are fee-free. Here, High Life helps you decide how to splash the cash during your next trip
To paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of the death of cash have been greatly exaggerated. While countries including Sweden and South Korea may be heading towards a cashless society, there are still plenty of others where notes and coins are still the best way to pay.
This is even truer for travellers looking for an authentic experience in a destination. From picking up spicy roadside tacos in Mexico to making an offering at a Shinto shrine in Japan, cash is your key to getting closer to the locals and the location itself.
That’s why you’ll want to make sure you’ve packed your Starling Bank card for your trip. Unlike other banks, Starling makes it easy to withdraw cash abroad without any extra fees added on top – and without having to notify the bank before you travel.
And with the Starling app you get real-time notifications that tell you whenever money moves in or out of your account, putting you in control and helping you stay on track with your finances as you travel. Your experiences on holiday may be priceless, but you shouldn’t have to pay more for them.
Below, High Life has rounded up five destinations where cash is still king – and the best card-free experiences you can have in them.
Today, just 18 per cent of payments in Japan are cashless – something the government is trying to increase to 40 per cent by 2025. There’s a strong cultural tradition of cash in the country, which begins in childhood with otoshidama, where children are given small amounts of cash in little envelopes each New Year, and which goes right through to weddings and other celebrations where crisp new bills are often given as gifts.
Splash the cash: If you’re visiting a Shinto shrine, it’s customary to put some coins into the offering box in front of the altar before saying a short prayer. Many Japanese people will tell you that five yen is the going rate – though this isn’t dictated by the religion. The way ‘five yen’ is pronounced in Japanese (‘go-en’) sounds like goen, the Japanese word for ‘good fortune’.
The volatile state of Spain’s economy over the last few years may be the reason why many Spaniards rely on and prefer cash. Following Covid, this attitude has only grown with 86 per cent of people saying that access to cash in times of crises is very important, important or more important than before.
Splash the cash: Experience Spain’s vibrant dining scene. From churros con chocolate at breakfast to the traditional fixed-price menú del día later in the day, cash is your friend. In fact, you’ll face some very sceptical waiters if you try to pay for a meal that’s less than €20 with a credit card. Make like the locals and pay in cash – and that includes the tip.
“Top tip: When you withdraw cash from an ATM, you may be charged a local fee – but there won’t be any additional charges from Starling. Savvy travellers know to check out other banks nearby to find one that offers free withdrawals”
While young people in China are quickly adopting new mobile payment methods, including Alipay and WeChat, neither supports foreign credit cards, meaning they’re not suitable for tourists. Many smaller shops and markets don’t have credit card readers either, so stock up on yuan before heading out to explore.
Splash the cash: Chinese flea markets are a haven for picking up antiques, crafts, collectibles and decorations. Look out especially for calligraphy brushes, Chinese paintings, jade jewellery and Mao-era curios, featuring the communist leader’s face on everything from clocks and stamps to copies of the ubiquitous Little Red Book.
According to a 2019 report, almost half of Mexican households don’t have a bank account and 90 per cent of transactions in the country are conducted with cash. Join the locals by withdrawing your pesos from an ATM. (Remember that, while the local country may charge a small withdrawal fee, Starling won’t charge you anything extra!)
Splash the cash: Mexican street tacos are the best way to get bang for your buck. Described as ‘the most democratic of Mexican foods’, they’re cheap and cheerful, costing just 8-13 pesos (about 30-50p). Visit a stand early or late in the day – tacos are either a morning treat or a night-time snack. Not sure which of the many vendors to choose from? Follow the queues.
“Guess what? As well as its retail account, Starling Bank also offers a Euro account, a Euro Business account and a USD Business account – perfect if you frequently need to make payments in euros or dollars”
While non-cash payments, especially those using electronic or digital modes, are rapidly increasing in India, cash is still the most well-established and widely used payment method. As a tourist, not only will you find it tricky to find places to use your credit card in India but, in some instances, you’re also likely to get a better price by paying with cash.
Splash the cash: Hail a brightly coloured rickshaw to take you to your next appointment. Nicknamed ‘tuk-tuks’ thanks to their juddering two-stroke engines, there are around a quarter of a million of them ferrying Indians and tourists from place to place. Each ride begins with a fare negotiation, and – as a general rule within Indian cities – should never cost more than 100 rupees.
Starling Bank is fast and award-winning – and its retail account has no monthly fees. It’s also easy to use when travelling, as there are no fees overseas and you can make free cash withdrawals of up to £300 a day. There’s no need to set up an appointment with a bank manager to open an account – you can do it from wherever you are in the world, and there’s a 24/7 UK based customer support team. For more, visit starlingbank.com