How to use your Starbucks card for free foreign currency conversions!

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As it is a Bank Holiday today, I have no qualms in filling a slot with a silly travel tip which you may, actually, find that you can use.

If you have a Starbucks plastic payment card or pay via the Starbucks app, you may not know that there is a degree of compatibility between countries.

According to the Starbucks website here a UK Starbucks account in £ can be used in the US, Canada, Puerto Rico, Ireland, Australia and Mexico.

It cannot be used in Brazil, Germany, Italy, France, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Portugal, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Taiwan, Thailand or Turkey.  Cards issued in those countries cannot be used outside of national borders.

Here is why I mention this on HFP:

Starbucks 350

Imagine you are at JFK in New York about to depart for the UK.  In your pocket you find that you have $20 in notes and about $4 in loose change.  It is hardly worth changing back into £, and it is unlikely that anyone would take the coins off you anyway.

Instead, you go over to the nearest Starbucks and ask to top up your account using all of your remaining $.  The rate is apparently spot, give or take – and you get to use up all your coins as well.

It will convert to the £ equivalent and you can spend the balance when you get home!  Happy New Year.

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Comments

  1. Worth noting that this no longer works in Hong Kong as of about six weeks ago (I’m sure it used to)

  2. Shame that Starbucks makes terrible coffee.

    • … and doesn’t pay its fair share of taxes in the UK. Although the fact the coffee is shite makes boycotting them easier!

      • Yawn…….. . . . . . . . .

        • Don’t moan about potholes, lack of funding for schools & police etc then because if every business with a permanent place in UK making a profit paid the proper UK corporation taxes due then there would be more money in the pot to fund these things and make the country a better place.

      • Blame the Government not Starbucks. Anyone here voluntarily pay more tax than due?

        Starbucks is pretty much the only UK chain for filter (brew) coffee. No-one else other than Pret does it, so outside city centres it’s only Starbucks.

        • Yes I do – I am on an employed contract and am happy to pay up to 45% income tax rather than a fudged limited company contract as recommended by an accountant friend to be paid minimum wage and then the rest as lower taxed dividends. If we all paid our fair share then we’d all benefit – doesn’t need the govt to make the first move either but agree the bigger solution lies with them.

        • RIccatti says:

          Paul, that accountant friend will get you/people in trouble.

          That scheme of setting up a limited company solely for the purpose of collecting what is otherwise a regular salary — the scheme stopped being acceptable to the HMRC years ago.

          The especially egregious sign if you do pay an exactly the minimum wage.

        • Yep, IR35 rules have got pretty strict now – esp if working with public sector organisations they’ll treat you as an employee but more and more companies have to do the same now.

        • Lady London says:

          But it’s not coffee!
          I quite like Pret’s coffee though. And fine to have it at McDonald’s in UK.

      • Lady London says:

        +1. Seattle Coffee House used to make fairly decent coffee in the UK before Starbucks took them over.

    • Out of curiosity, who do you think makes better coffee than Starbucks?

      • Caffè Nero, Costa, independent coffee shops, my mum – pretty much anyone makes better coffee than Starbucks. They may have improved since I last went, but I see no reason to bother finding out, since it’s unlikely.

        • Completely agree about Caffè Nero and Starbucks. Even Greggs make better coffee than Starbucks.

          Of course if are adding milk and sugar then it doesn’t matter where you buy your drink from. But I think Starbucks is for people who don’t actually like coffee (ie most Americans)

          I rarely get coffee outside as good as the lungo I make at home using Percol Black and Beyond beans, ground fresh every time.

        • It’s not just about the beans though is it. Beans are definitely a matter of taste, so fair enough if you don’t like the Starbucks roast, but the quality of staff training in Nero and Costa seems to be terrible – no consistency about what product you’re getting (milk temperature, foam/milk ratio, whether the coffee goes in before or after the milk etc). Starbucks delivers consistently well-made drinks the world over.

      • In Seattle, next to Pike St Market, is the first branch of Starbucks which is now a museum. A few doors away is a French style bakery which sells superb coffee, cakes, bread etc. Otherwise Starbucks seem to supply almost everyone in the Pacific North West including hotels and cruise ships.
        When we recently stayed in the Marriott Kensington my heart sank when I saw the warning: ‘We use Starbucks coffee’ outside.

      • I don’t like Cafe Nero, that burnt taste typical of Italy is just not to my taste. Starbucks is generally poor, worse than Costa I’d say. Of chains Pret is far and away the best. But in truth good coffee comes from an independent, chains will never match up. But without any direct knowledge I’d guess that milk based drinks outsell coffee by some margin, so does it matter to most people.

    • +1

  3. Currently in the USA. I will do as you say. Although 00.19 in 2019.

    Happy New Year!

  4. Fab tip

    Just out of curiosity

    Why is this Starbucks card top-up quirk available in some countries and not others?

    What about other countries like Greece and Belgium for example – any reports for those?

    • I’ve used the app in Corfu.

      I tried to use it in New York, but insufficient funds meant I needed to top up – but you can’t top up a UK card through the app whilst in the US (that was in 2015).

  5. If you ever have more than $2 of American coins you haven’t managed your cash properly….

  6. You can also spend your GBP credit at spot exchange rate too – just scan the barcode in the app. I don’t drink coffee but can be handy for a snack on the go, especially when all my credit was acquired at 1/3 off through Amex promos!

    It’s annoying it doesn’t work more widely though – plus in Oz there’s only about 3 stores anyway!

    • Guesswho2000 says:

      There’s 42, only in VIC, NSW & QLD though. Which is fine by me!

      • Wow – never remembered there being that many – only ever saw a couple in Melbourne CBD! Looks like about 8 there now – still not many for 5m population (vs 246 in London!) I see total was down at 23 a few years ago but clearly slowly increasing…

        https://www.cnbc.com/2018/07/20/starbucks-australia-coffee-failure.html

        • RIccatti says:

          Look up the price of pint of milk in an Australian supermarket — and you can understand why Starbucks operation accumulated a debt.

        • Haha yes, supermarket prices in Oz are certainly quite high. I found it better value to eat out, esp with salary packaging 🙂

        • 55p per litre (the standard supermarket price in Australia) is pretty cheap for milk – you’d struggle to find it much cheaper in the UK.

        • Was more than that when I was there but that was a few years ago and in South Yarra so may have been a bit on the pricey side! Certainly a lot of other items were more than I was used to here too although I suppose probably not much different to Waitrose pricing!

  7. Michael Jennings says:

    I prefer the “I have a smoker friend” trick for getting rid of leftover cash. Buy a carton of cigarettes in the duty free shop at the airport. Hand them all your remaining cash and pay the balance with a credit card. Give the cigarettes to your friend when you get home and let him pay you the total cost of the cigarettes back. (I charge my friend spot).

    It only works in places where cigarettes are cheaper than the UK, but that is most places.

  8. Rob always talks about the typical demographic of HFP being, business class flying, 6 figure salary, zero debt. So if that’s true why does this typical demographic care about reclaiming £4 of unspent coins when travelling?? Personally I’d rather be hearing all that cash was going to charity

    • Yes that’s true. There are certain regular commentators who seem obsessed with saving pennies yet also seem to have reasonable incomes. Personally I think life is too short. Each to their own but it does leave you with a skewed view. As Rob says though the relatively small number of people who post regularly simply does not reflect the number of city email addresses he sees.

    • TGLoyalty says:

      Pennies make pounds.

      No one likes leaving money on the table no matter how much you earn.

      However, I’m with you all my loose change goes in the charity boxes at airports.

    • While they may be the typical demographic, they aren’t the only demographic. Why can’t Rob write articles for other people too?

  9. OT: Amazon.co.uk top up £40 get £5 offer (read T&Cs)
    https://www.amazon.co.uk/b/ref=asv_gclp_bwd_p?_encoding=UTF8&node=11301833031

  10. RussellH says:

    Interesting article, but I just do not see why any regular traveller (as I assume most people here are) would not hang on to the cash for the next trip?

    Particularly USD or EUR – there are plenty of places outwith the USA where USD can be spent as cash. I never change spare cash from a trip, unless it is somewhere like Tunisia where they ban import and export of their currency.

    Occasionally I do get caught out by this – the Swedish Kronor I still ‘have’ have all been cancelled and I had to send several CZK banknotes to the Salvation Army in Prague as they were due for cancellation in a couple of months.

    And given that throughout my life the value of GBP against almost anything else has been steadily downhill, there is always the distinct possiblity of making a profit.

    • Peter K says:

      I’ve seen the £ compared against the € within the past few years go from 1.4 to about 1.1 back to 1.4 down to 1.1 again. Things go in cycles as a general rule.
      Also, some of us lose coins or forget to take them on the next hol so a good cashout is useful.

      • RussellH says:

        Re value of GBP – I am looking over the period frm when I first started to travel on my own, so since 1961. Of course there have been short term fluctuations, but the overall trend has been steadily downward.
        I very clearly recall my first summer (1966) job in Germany, in a small machine shop near Bonn. I was paid DM2 per hour. At the time the exchange rate was £1=DM13,40, so my pay was the equivalent of 14.925 pence /hr. This was a definite improvement, though, on the 1/10+1 halfpenny I got at the GPO in 1964, equal to 8.54p per hour..
        [For those who are too young to remember DM. €1=DM1,98]

        And, lose coins??? Forget them??? Really???
        🙂

  11. Given that you can frequently buy Starbucks gift cards through various schemes at 5-10% discount, I don’t think you are really getting great value even at spot rates. (it’s small amounts, I know)

  12. Nick Burch says:

    You can add India to the list of places with a Starbucks but where the cards aren’t interchangeable. UK Starbucks cards won’t wok in India, and Indian ones won’t work back over here. I believe it’s because Starbucks India is a 50% joint venture with TATA

  13. in France and London cannot use my starbucks app or gold card..refused to take it!!

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