Our answer -There is no good answer to your question about the best way to exchange currency. The answer depends if you are looking for convenience or for the best rate of exchange. At the airport is the most convenient. If we are going to arrive at our destination late in the day, we exchange currency at the airport where we leave the US. Sometimes, we wait to exchange currency when we arrive. If you exchange in the US or your destination airport, you can expect to get a lower rate and to pay exchange fees.
The best rate of exchange is in a bank in the destination city. However, that is not convenient and time consuming -- not all banks exchange currency …
Most large upscale hotels will exchange currency, but again they offer a lower rate of exchange. Depending on the itinerary, some of the cruise ships will exchange currency, but they offer a poor rate of exchange.
When we travel overseas, we exchange $100 US so that we have money for incidentals, but we plan to charge most of our expenses on credit cards. When our cash gets low, we look for a currency exchange kiosk or ATM. We carry two credit cards that we know will be accepted in the counties that we travel into. Before you go, contact the company that issued the cards and verify that they will be accepted in the countries that you plan to visit. Last year, a Master Card issued by our credit union was rejected in Thailand and Viet Nam. Due to the high level of fraud, it is the policy of our credit union to reject all charges in these two countries. A few credit cards do not have foreign exchange fees. Many credit cards will have a 2 to 3 percent foreign traction fee added to every purchase. Be aware if your card charges an exchange fee or not.
Both MasterCard and Visa have two types of credit cards: 1) swipe and sign, 2) pin number required. In the US, we still use the swipe and sign card (stripe on the back) while much of the world has converted to a card that requires a pin. Don’t be surprised if a store or restaurant requests you to enter a pin number… However all establishments that are authorized to accept these cards are required to accept both types -- at least that is what it says in the credit card literature. That said, I have read of travelers having issues with swipe and sign cards around the world, but we have not experienced this problem.
Another option is to use a prepaid debit card that has a Visa or MasterCard logo – one that is accepted around the world. However, that debit card may incur foreign exchange fees…In a few months, we will travel to New Zealand and to Australia. We plan to exchange $100 at the airport in Auckland. Since we have a layover in Australia on our way to New Zealand, we plan to exchange $100 US in Australia. Most of our larger expenses will be charged to a credit card that does not have a foreign exchange fee.