The Truth About Currency Exchange
Show me the money!
So….you’re wondering about how to exchange your money before traveling abroad. It’s an exciting time, right? Flights are booked, hotel reservations are made, your itinerary is set in stone (probably…mostly….) and your bags are nearly packed. But, what are you supposed to do about money? Chance are the place you’re traveling to has a lot of cash only options like shopping, eating, more shopping, transportation and more. You know you are going to need cash at some point, but what should you do about it?
Having live abroad, and now having run a travel company here at VoyEdge RX for the past three years, we get this question all the time. And truth be told, the answer is slightly different for everyone because of where you are traveling to, but there are consistencies throughout that must be shared and cemented so you can avoid paying for fees when you travel.
So, let’s get down to brass tax and talk about some of the strategies and tips I always recommend to our customers at VRX so that you can save a little bit of coin while you travel and spend more where it matters, on experiences not things. I’ll list the questions out and dive into the answers down below, but if you think I missed something or want to know more, just comment ‘As a guest’ at the bottom of this post and we’ll go from there.
Should I exchange money at the airport or a bank in the U.S.?
This is probably the most common question our team gets. We run tours from the U.S. with customers from all over the states, many of whom have traveled a lot, but also many of whom who haven’t, and this is usually their first big question. The answer here is NO. Do not go to a bank or exchange money at a kiosk in the airport for the currency you need. It is a rip off and you will lose out on the exchange rate.
Before you go to your destination, use the website www.xe.com and see what the exchange rate should be for the country (or countries) you are traveling to. I guarantee you the listed global transaction rate will always be substantially higher than the ones your bank or these airport kiosks will offer you. Remember, they are designed to make money and if they were giving you an honest rate, they would not be making money. Remember this, and avoid these kiosks and your bank at all costs!
Especially avoid these types of places below! Anything with Money Transfer, Western Union, Just Cash, Traveler’s Checks etc, should be avoided!
So, how should I get cash in the country I’m visiting?
The absolute best way for you to get cash in the country you are visiting is by using the ATM’s! Nearly all the ATM’s in the world have the same foreign transaction rates (that are actually much higher than your bank at home or the airport kiosks) that XE.com has and you are better off by being in the country and using the ATM’s there. You will get the best transaction rates (USD to your desired currency) by using these ATM’s. Oddly enough, the ATMs within banks have a higher currency transaction rate than if you went inside to exchange physical money.
Use the ATM’s. Period. No if’s ands or butts about it.
Which ATM’s should I use, though?
Great question! And arguably a guessing-game at best, and probably more easily answered by telling you which ones not to use. Here’s the deal, though… you will want to avoid any ATM in a very busy public setting. ATM’s in piazzas, or in areas with high foot traffic should generally be avoided. There are a lot of these, especially in Europe or Asia, where you will simply want to wait for the next one. Try and find an ATM inside of a bank branch, preferably one where you need an ATM card to swipe to get in. These ATM’s are usually less used, are more clean and will provide a safe environment for you to use for a few minutes.
As a side note, I have been hacked after using an ATM in a public setting, and often card thieves will (somehow, I don’t know) steal your information after using an ATM. These are often the ones unprotected and situated on the street. Be careful and try to use an ATM within a bank branch.
Another side note, call your bank and see if they have any international bank partners. For instance, Bank of America is partnered with Bnp Paribas, and Bnp has locations all throughout Europe, meaning that if you take money out of your checking account or savings account, you can avoid paying withdrawal fees. Make sure so call your bank and at the very least, ask! They may even have a preferred list of banks and branches you should use depending on the country you are visiting which will take out less fees.
And speaking of fees, make sure to call and ask your bank about international withdrawal fees! Some banks charge a percentage fee based upon how much you are withdrawing, while others take out a flat fee per transaction. I’ve met some unfortunate individuals who have both fees applied, and if this is you - find a new bank! Debit cards should really only have one or the other, and before you depart, make sure you know which ones apply to you.
For various Credit Cards….most CC’s these days waive foreign transaction fees (which are often at 3.9% or higher PER TRANSACTION) but if you have a good credit card, you should have no problem paying for things when you can. Credit Card companies will also give you the BEST transaction rate possible (remember, they want you to use that credit!) so when you can, and when it applies, always use your credit card vs. having to pay for something in cash. Again, this will depend on which country you are visiting, but keep this in mind.
P.S. Don’t forget to set a travel alert with your bank or CC company before going abroad! The number or website (or in your app) should be listed on the back of your card and you can set an alert within seconds so your bank knows you are going somewhere.
How much cash should I take out?
This is a personal preference. If you have traveled around enough, you most likely have a personal amount you like to keep on hand. But, let me ask you this - how much cash do you usually roll around with when you’re at home?
Chances are, it’s very little. Maybe less than $200 at most, and my personal preferences are on point with that. Depending on how much you will need in that country, I usually like to roll with as little as $150-$200 USD. If I’m in Europe and using Euros…I like to keep the same amount on me there, usually no more than 200 euros in my wallet.
Now, this all depends on your fees that you might get from using your debit or credit card. Luckily, I have up to 10 ATM transactions a month that are re-credited back to me so if I need to take out money a few times during my travels, I’ll do it, knowing that I’ll get those fees reimbursed. Generally, as a point of thumb, if I have to take out more than 150-200 USD of whatever currency I’m working with…I’ll store half in my luggage and take the other half with me, while always trying to use my CC wherever I go so I don’t have to use cash.
All in all, it’s a personal preference and with the 21st century world we live in, you’ll be in good shape no matter where you go. Europe especially is super easy, while the African plains and Southeast Asia can be a little more difficult.
So, to recap….
Always bring at least $50 of your OWN currency with you before you travel internationally
Never use airport kiosks or terminals to change currency
Set travel alerts with your bank, debit and credit card to let them know where you are going and for how long
Ask your bank if they have any partner banks you should use for withdrawing money
Never use public ATM’s in a foreign country
Only use ATM’s in physical bank branches (or grocery stores with cashback options) for withdrawing money
Never carry more than 150-200 USD of that currency on you
Store excess cash in your luggage where it is safe and secure
Avoid western unions, cash transfer places, travelers checks, money orders and always use your credit card for the best foreign transaction rate (use xe.com)
If you have any questions about this, shoot me an email at: email@example.com or comment down below ‘As a Guest’ and leave a pro tip about exchanging money or withdrawing money from your personal travels. We are always keen on sharing good ideas and traveler’s tips!
See ya out there….