A Syrian refugee family arrives in front of a tavern at a beach on the Greek island of Kos.

Question: I've heard reports of people in Greece on holiday unable to exchange their pounds for euros, and ATMs not working with British cards. Is that likely to become common elsewhere in the Mediterranean? I'm going to Spain.

Dennis W


Answer: While the collapse in the pound will make the summer painfully expensive for British travellers, the banks will be as happy as ever to take your pounds. However low sterling sinks, pounds - and British bank cards - will still be valid abroad.

The reports that you heard seem to comprise a story that took on a life of its own on social media.

At the root of it, as far as I can tell, is that on Friday morning on the island of Kos, two unrelated things happened.

First, a hotel on the island put a sign on reception saying: “We're not changing English or Scottish pounds just yet while we wait to find out what the rate will be”, which was a perfectly reasonable and rational decision. They might have been charging too much or too little, and after a couple of hours they were told the rate and went ahead. One report that the hold-up was because “the European Central Bank had not yet set an official exchange rate” shows what tosh the story was; the ECB does many things, but does not set exchange rates, the market does.

Second, an ATM in Kos was temporarily out of order. As regular visitors to the Greek islands will know, this is not exactly a rare event. There is no reason why ATMs in Spain or anywhere else will reject British bank cards. The banking system converts at the prevailing rate, transactions go through and you discover some time later how puny is the pound. All you can do is seek to minimise the amount you pay them for the privilege.