Tips to Exchange Money Overseas
We used four different currencies during our three-week trip this summer. It’s always daunting to think about foreign currency conversion, but it’s a necessary evil. We hope these tips and lessons we’ve learned can help you exchange money on your next trip overseas. A little planning can help curb transaction and conversion fees that can easily add up.
1. Exchange money before your trip
It’s always best to carry a bit of cash, especially if you’re arriving late at night. The last thing you need is to arrive without cash if the airport ATM isn’t working or the local foreign currency exchange bureau has closed. Convert $100-$200 as a start at your local banks where fees may be waived. Exchange the rest of your money at your destination for significantly better foreign currency exchange rates. Cash is still king, especially in some small towns or at street markets.
2. Use ATMs at your destinations
While it’s possible to get money at local currency exchange outlets, ATMs usually offer the best money exchange rates and have the lowest fees to get cash. We usually use airport ATMs upon arrival using our debit card with the lowest fees.
We also minimize fees and transactions by withdrawing the largest amount of money possible. However, we do try to estimate our expenses so we don’t end up with too much foreign currency when leaving the country. It’s possible to pay more converting it back at home or at the next destination. Also, withdraw an amount that will give you small bills. Instead of $300, get $290 to get small denominations for tips and cab fares.
Using ATMs abroad incur non-bank ATM usage fees ($2-$5), operator access fees and transaction conversion fees that are usually 1-3% of withdrawals. Look into bankcards that reimburse international ATM fees like Paypal Debit, Charles Schwab or Fidelity. Check your bank’s global alliances with international banks so you won’t be charged ATM usage fees. Our Bank of America Card was good at Deutsche banks in Germany and Barclays in London. Credit unions also have minimal ATM fees.
Lastly, ensure your ATM PINs are usable overseas. Some ATMs abroad only accept four-digit PINs or don’t have letters on their keypads.
3. Use credit cards for big purchases
Use your credit cards for larger travel expenses such as hotels, merchandise, rental cars, and attraction tickets because credit cards often offer the best foreign currency exchange rates. However, every purchase is also subject to foreign transactions fees averaging 2.5%, so use cash for smaller items. Look for cards that waive these fees.
Decline vendor offers to convert your purchases into your home currency. This option doesn’t provide the best money exchange rates so opt to charge your purchases in local currency and check the bill before signing.
Bring at least two different credit cards (preferably VISA and MasterCard) in case you have issues with one of them. American Express and Discover cards are not as widely accepted overseas. My husband and I each carry two credit cards.
Some stores abroad will ask for your PIN with your credit card. Unfortunately, most U.S. issued cards don’t have this technology yet. We’ve never had issues using our credit cards without PINs overseas – yet.
4. Don’t use credit cards for cash advances
They come with additional fees and higher finance charges. Use as a last resort.
5. Download apps to your Smartphone
Apps such as XE Currency and Oanda both offer an easy currency conversion calculator.
6. Call your financial companies prior to departure
Call your banks and credit card companies one to two weeks before leaving the country to tell them when and where you’ll be using their cards so you won’t have any issues when using them outside of the country.
7. Photocopy your cards
Store the photocopies separately from your wallet in a safe place. Know and store in an accessible place the overseas emergency numbers to call if your cards are lost or stolen.
We hope these tips to exchange money overseas will help you have a more enjoyable and stress-free vacation. Let us know if you have any other suggestions in the comments below.
You may also enjoy:
- Helpful International Travel Apps
- Planning International Travel with Kids
- Applying For or Renewing Passports for Kids
- Key Medicines to Pack for International Vacations
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