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  • Writer's pictureLotus Girl Travel

Essential Tips for Exchanging Money Abroad

Travel tips for exchanging money before, during and even after traveling abroad.

woman's hands showing phone app and foreign money

Traveling to a foreign country can be an exciting adventure, but navigating the world of currency exchange can sometimes be a hassle. To help you make the most of your travel budget and avoid unnecessary fees or scams, I have outlined a few essential tips for exchanging money before, during and even after traveling abroad. Whether you're a seasoned globetrotter or a first-time traveler, these tips will ensure you get the best exchange rates and convenient options for managing your finances on-the-go.

  1. Consider Getting Foreign Currency Prior to Your Trip from Your Bank: This is something I always do before my trip, but I am a planner! I prefer to have some local currency in hand when I get off the plane. Many banks offer this service, allowing you to obtain the desired currency at a competitive exchange rate. However, keep in mind that banks may charge a fee for this service, and it's advisable to order the currency well in advance to ensure availability. I order foreign currency right from my banks' app. If you are part of your bank's Preferred Awards Program, there is typically no fee for this service. Most banks offer the option to pick up your order at the closest bank near you, or if it’s under $1,000 (or a certain amount), you can have it delivered to your house (fees may apply for expedited service). Having a small amount of local currency can be helpful for immediate expenses upon arrival, such as transportation or small purchases.

  2. Research the Local Currency: Before leaving, take the time to familiarize yourself with the local currency of your destination. Know the current exchange rate and become familiar with the common denominations and currency symbols. This will help you figure out whether an exchange rate is fair to avoid potential scams.

  3. Use a Reputable Currency Exchange Service: While it may be tempting to exchange currency at the airport or a hotel for convenience purposes, I don't ever recommend this. These venues often charge higher fees and offer less favorable rates. Avoid currency exchanges at airports! Instead, opt for reputable currency exchange services in the city, such as banks or authorized exchange offices. Compare rates and fees beforehand to ensure you are getting the best deal.

  4. Withdraw Local Currency from ATMs: One of the most convenient and cost-effective ways to obtain local currency is by using ATMs. Look for ATMs affiliated with major banks, as they usually offer competitive exchange rates and lower fees. However, be aware of any additional fees your home bank may charge for international withdrawals. Always look for ATM’s that are physically connected to a banking institution - and avoid ATMs that are free standing to avoid scams. Find out if your bank has an international partner. My bank is affiliated with Barclay’s (UK) BNL D’Italia (Italy) and BNP Paribas (France), etc. I ustilize a ATM locator for these banks when traveling to avoid transaction fees. You can also use your credit cards to withdrawal cash. American Express has 1.5 million ATMs worldwide and they are affiliated with many banks. Just look for the AMEX logo on any ATM or use their ATM locator. Visa also has an ATM locator.

  5. Carry a Combination of Payment Options: This one probably goes without saying, but it’s a good idea to carry a mix of payment options to ensure you are prepared for different situations. I suggest carrying your I.D., cash, and two different types of credit cards (make sure your cards don't charge foreign transaction fees - some cards charge 3%). This way, you will have alternatives if one payment method becomes unavailable or is not accepted. I prefer the these two cards because of the benefits they offer: Chase Sapphire Preferred and American Express, including no fees for international transactions.

  6. Avoid Dynamic Currency Conversion: When paying with a credit card or even sometimes with your debit card abroad, you may come across the option of dynamic currency conversion. This feature allows the merchant to convert the purchase amount into your home currency at the point of sale. I was asked so many times on a recent trip to Ireland and Scotland if I wanted to pay in Euros/Pound or with US Dollars. It can be confusing if you are not sure! While it may seem convenient to pay in dollars, it often comes with high exchange rates and additional fees. Always choose to pay in the local currency to avoid unnecessary charges.

  7. Utilize Currency Conversion Apps: Make use of reliable currency conversion apps or websites to stay up-to-date on current exchange rates. These tools can assist you in quickly calculating the value of your purchases and ensure you're not being overcharged. Some apps even work offline, making them ideal for areas with limited internet connectivity. Here is a currency conversion website and when abroad, I use the the XE currency conversion app.

  8. What To Do with Left Over Foreign Currency? Your bank is probably the best place to exchange currency, but it may not buy back all types. If I only have a little left, I like to give it to my young nieces and nephews, especially the coins. They LOVE it! If you don’t want to pay the the high fees at the airport for them to buy back any used foreign currency, American Airlines participates in UNICEF’s Change for Good program, which takes donations in foreign currency to help improve the lives of children worldwide. You can also look for an Admirals Lounge or Flagship Lounge in airports to donate. If you’re already back home, you can mail your unused foreign currency to the program’s office at Change for Good, UNICEF USA, 125 Maiden Lane, New York, NY 10038. The other option is to save it for your next trip!

By following these tips and being proactive in managing your currency exchange, you can make the most of your travel budget and have peace of mind while exploring new destinations. Remember to stay informed, seek reputable services, and plan ahead to ensure a smooth and enjoyable trip.


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Safe and happy travels,


Dorothy

2 Comments

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Guest
Jun 14, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

This is awesome information! So helpful! Thank you :)

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Kristi Hels
Kristi Hels
Jun 14, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

I love all your tips & tricks; thank you!

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