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How to Deal with Foreign Exchange While Traveling

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This is a guest post written by business blogger Tamsen Cartwright. If you would like to write a guest post for Expat and the City, send an email to info@expatandthecityblog.com.

Foreign currency exchange during your travels can cost you more than you realise. And some methods of currency exchange cost more than others. Here’s a quick lowdown on managing foreign currency exchange for your journey abroad.

Currency Exchange Basics

Currency exchange rates fluctuate all the time. If you’re savvy you could buy currency for your travels when the exchange rate is more favourable. But it’s difficult to do this effectively unless you have excellent financial knowledge.

foreign exchange while traveling: box of coins

Photo via Pixabay

You should, however, always check exchange rates right before you leave home or enter into a new country. Familiarising yourself with how much everything costs in your own currency’s terms will help you to avoid spending more than you intend.

Currency Exchange Options

Visit a Foreign Exchange Counter

Currency exchange shops and counters pop up everywhere you find tourists – hotels, the big sights, the airport. But they don’t always offer the best exchange rates and are best left for emergencies. If you do want to exchange your money in this way, shop around and ask about any additional fees (some charge up to 20%!) before handing over your cash.

foreign exchange while traveling: airport foreign exchange counter

Photo via Pixabay

Order Currency from your Bank

A good option if you want to have local currency in hand when you touch down in your destination is ordering currency from your bank. Again, the deal you get will depend upon your particular bank but banks get better rates on their currency which they can pass on to their customers. This means you’re likely to get more for your money than you would at a foreign exchange counter.

Use a Debit Card at an ATM

The fees you’re charged for using your debit card at an ATM will depend on who you bank with. You usually get a good exchange rate. But, to limit fees, take out as much cash as you’re comfortable with each time. Some machines ask if you want to withdraw money in your own currency or local currency. It’s always cheaper to go for the local option. The same goes for the next method of exchange too.

foreign exchange while traveling: using a debit machine

Photo via Pixabay

Pay With A Credit Card

Depending on where you’re travelling to and where you’re making your purchase, it may be possible to pay by credit card. Your card provider will often charge a currency conversion fee of 2 to 3 percent. But they’ll also provide a good exchange rate and better fees than you’d get at a foreign exchange counter. Just remember never to take cash out of an ATM with your credit card – as at home, there will be astronomical fees to pay.

Use Traveller’s Checks

Traveller’s checks are a good option if you’re worried about carrying lots of cash around with you and don’t want to use an ATM. They can be replaced if they’re lost or stolen, unlike a wallet full of banknotes. However, they’re not especially convenient as you need to find somewhere that will exchange them into currency when you want to use them. And these places often charge a fee so they aren’t particularly cost-effective either. Due to regulation on fees, however, they’re a really good choice if you’re travelling to China.

Paying in Dollars or Local Currency?

Some countries accept US dollars as well as their own local currency. Do a little research before you travel to get up-to-date advice on whether to use them or not. In countries like Argentina, where the dollar is in demand, some higher end restaurants and hotels will offer a good exchange rate when you pay in dollars. In other countries, such as Mexico, it’s a better idea to use local currency to make your money go further.

foreign exchange while traveling: money

Photo via Pixabay

The way you choose to exchange currency while travelling will depend upon where you’re going and what you’re most happy with. However, the best deals are definitely to be found using your bank and credit cards.

How do you like to exchange your currency for your travels? Have any tips to suggest? Let me know in the comment section below!


About the Author

foreign exchange while traveling: Tamsen CartwrightTamsen Cartwright works at Learn to Trade UK. She’s a business blogger often writing about ways to achieve financial freedom. She might often be found sharing her suggestions about investing and trading online.

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11 Comments

  • Reply
    Sumit Surai
    March 26, 2018 at 9:04 pm

    Useful tips! I almost always avoid the airports and hotels. They have the worst rates. I search for govt certified smaller shops.

  • Reply
    Kiara Louise
    March 25, 2018 at 5:54 pm

    Such a useful post thank you for sharing. I am absolutely horrendous when it comes to numbers so I usually suck at all this foreign exchange stuff. You have some great tips though thanks

  • Reply
    Food and Footprints
    March 23, 2018 at 4:04 pm

    Very useful tips here. We like to use the Schwab ATM card that reimburses fees to take out cash. Ideally, we use our credit cards as much as possible. Always a shame to take losses on currency exchange.

  • Reply
    Divyakshi
    March 22, 2018 at 11:48 am

    These are some absolutely useful tips! I always struggle with getting a good rate from my bank when I travel as the commissions are way too steep. But most of the times, exchanging USD in local currency has been very beneficial. Home country credit cards not so much, but forex cards are a BOON!

  • Reply
    Emma | The Gap Life Diaries
    March 22, 2018 at 8:03 am

    I always go for ATM too – especially in Europe where currency exchange is rare now, you ALWAYS seem to get ripped off, so it’s the lesser of several evils. I always have some USD on me when I travel too, as that’s the currency which usually turns out to be most useful in case of emergencies!

  • Reply
    Brianna
    March 21, 2018 at 11:50 am

    I use a number of these while traveling, but my go-to is just using an ATM. I have a card that doesn’t charge FTFs and reimburses ATM fees, so there’s rarely any trouble with this method.

  • Reply
    Eric Gamble
    March 19, 2018 at 6:50 pm

    Great tips. I usually use an atm while there because even though I get dinged by Chase on transaction fees, I find that I make usually a bit more per dollar than the foreign exchange counters.

  • Reply
    Danila Caputo
    March 19, 2018 at 7:03 am

    We always use a debit card at ATMs when we arrive, because it’s the cheaper option and will allow you to take more money if you need them, without having to walk around with your pockets full!

  • Reply
    Mikaela
    March 16, 2018 at 11:39 am

    We try to calculate our currency needs at home and have local currency with us – we have not done exchanging abroad in years. Obviously, with a longer time adventuring abroad you’d have to eventually.

  • Reply
    carolcolborn
    March 16, 2018 at 11:09 am

    My husband handles these things but this post gave me a good idea of the things he has to consider!

  • Reply
    Nomad'er the Distance
    March 16, 2018 at 9:21 am

    I always find the ATM to be the easiest way to get cash when I’m traveling!

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