Travel Tips

Currency Exchange

7:32:00 PM

You’re going to a foreign country- you need some of their cash.  Period.  Don’t expect that your favorite credit card will be accepted everywhere.  Plus, other countries have such beautiful money :) I was always told to exchange your money at a bank before you get to a foreign country.   This seems safe and all, right?  You have their currency before you land, and you don’t have to worry about it!  But, how much currency should you get? And how much money will you lose in the exchange?  Did you even know that you will/can lose money, and sometimes a significant amount as well!

I have exchanged money many different ways, and always get mad at myself that I haven’t always learned from my own mistakes!  So, let’s help you from losing too much of your money to an inflated exchange rate or fee. 


 Finding the official exchange rate:

I use the app “GlobeConvert” on my Iphone.  It updates daily and has been very accurate.  I used it every day on my travels in order to understand how much I was always spending!  Helps you feel like you aren’t spending monopoly money!

You can also look online.  

The ways to exchange: 

For best results- read all of the options.  You may use a combination of all or some of these.

At your bank before you go

Every bank is going to have a different exchange rate.  Check into the rate at your bank and compare it to the official exchange rate.   If it eases your mind to have some currency before you go, do it.  But try and do it at a bank that has a good rate.  And you have to do this weeks in advance!  It takes them time to get the currency at their location sometimes, especially if it’s a less traveled country. 
I don’t do this because my bank told me a while ago that I would get better rates elsewhere.  Thanks for the honesty!  I also remember back in 2014, the guy I traveled with lost about $400 by doing this. 

At a bank there

I am sure this differs from country to country and from bank to bank.  I assume that you can get bad rates anywhere.  I can only speak from my experiences.  The USD is valuable compared to most currencies.  In Brazil, we found a Citibank, and thought we may have a good chance there as we also have American branches of that bank.  My friend received basically the exact exchange rate there!  So if there are banks by where you are staying, it doesn’t hurt to check it out. 
To do this option, you would have to bring your personal currency with you.  Again, USDs are valuable, so I always bring some with me.  Just in case you get into trouble, it could potentially help you get out.  But be sure to keep it in a safe place.
Also- they wont accept any torn, bent, or marked up bills.  So make sure they are in near to perfect condition.  I couldn’t believe how picky they were!
You will also most likely need your passport with you to do this. 

At a currency exchange in the airport

Just don’t do it.  Don’t.  I beg you.  I tell myself every time to not do it.  A few times, I have gotten nervous and done it anyway.  But don’t do it, unless you have to.  YOU WILL LOSE MONEY.  You will get an awful rate, and they will take a fee.  This month, I converted $100 USD and lost $30 of it.  That’s almost 1/3 of my money just taken for no reason. 

At a currency exchange in the city

You can find some exchanges in the city that will give you a good rate.  It doesn’t hurt to stop in.  Last month in Peru, I only lost $1 on the exchange.  I don’t have a lot of experience with this, but I think depending on the area and the currency, you could come across a range of options.  Again, the key is to know the official rate and if there is a fee.

Use debit card at an ATM

This has always been my best option.  Two things to talk to your bank about- If you use your debit card, do you get the exact exchange rate?  I did.  Does your bank reimburse ATM fees?  Mine did.  Foreign ATM fees can be expensive.  Mine were anywhere from 4-8 dollars every time this most recent trip.  But I was paid back!  Check and see if that is the case for you.  Maybe find a bank that pays you back.  If not, just try to do one withdrawal, and it will most likely be better than the other options still!  Make sure there is no other fees or anything.

Things to think about:
  • Airports will have ATMs, most of the time outside of the security, so you can get the currency before you leave the airport.  You can always ask to make sure before you leave the secure area.  This is what I do 99% of the time.  I didn’t in Sao Paulo, Brazil because the internet told me one of them had a card reader on it, so I got scared away.   If you are nervous, google the airport. 
  • Don’t use random ATMs on the street- people can put card scanners on them.  Use ones inside of big banks.  If you are going to really unsafe places, research the major banks, so you know which ones to trust. 
  • Know that not everywhere will accept your debit card.  Sometimes it took a few tries on an ATM to get it to accept.  Sometimes the ATM didn’t have an “English” option, so maybe know the ATM words in that country’s language.  Sometimes, one ATM wouldn’t work, but the one next to it in the same bank would work.  Be patient.   Don’t wait until you are out of currency to get more so you avoid using sketchy ATMs. 
  • If you use ATMs, check your statements every once in a while to make sure your card didn’t get scanned.  I have never had trouble with this, but was careful about where I used the card.

In the end, talk to your bank about your best option.  They will help you- if you’re with a good bank!

I know this was a lot!  But I hope it helped!  Feel free to ask me any questions, and I'd love any input or personal experience! 

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