What is the best way to convert cash when you travel? Ask a dozen people that question and you can expect almost as many answers. Since we were recently asked this question, I thought it was time for us to offer our thoughts on the subject. Caveat: currency conversion in Cuba is different – and it may be changing. Get an update on Cuba before you go…
You need to answer one question before you make cash conversion plans. Do you want “easy” or do you want to lower your conversion cost? If you live on the “easy” side of the question, then we have a quick answer: before you leave on your trip, call your bank. Many banks will offer currency exchange, for a fee. Reach out to your bank and ask if they can exchange dollars for whatever currency you need. Once you have arrived at your destination, visit a local ATM if you need more cash.
|Cash from an ATM in Budapest|
Last year, we converted $400 to Euro with Chase bank and the fee was reasonable – we wanted easy: we wanted convenience and most of the countries we visited accepted the Euro. However, we still needed to have local currency in two countries on our trip. We had Euros, but needed local currency in Croatia and Gibraltar. In these countries, we withdrew cash from an ATM. More about ATMs later in this article.
One exchange point we avoid: currency conversion booths at the airport. Doesn’t matter if it’s the last airport in the US or at your destination, avoid exchanging money at a booth. The exchange rate is usually worse than from banks and ATMs; they charge a substantial fee -- cost more and you get less. However, it’s always best to have some local money in your pocket when you arrive (catch 22). You may need to pay for a taxi or a snack before you get to your hotel. Many hotels can exchange currency at the front desk. The exchange rate at a hotel can vary by hotel and country. It works if you need to convert a few dollars, but not a place to make a major cash exchange.
We try to avoid changing dollars in a local bank. Many local banks will need to verify your identity (request your passport) and require you to sign their exchange documents. Same rule of thumb for money changers in a storefront in the city. In some countries, there is an active black market for dollars, but this is illegal and carries one big risk, can you tell the difference between a counterfeit bill and a real one?
|Cash from an ATM in Indonesia|
If you travel with a Debit Card, you can get local currency from most ATMs. Here, you will get a good exchange rate, but may be charged fees by the ATM provider and/or your bank. Before you travel, it’s a good idea to check if you bank has foreign partners on their network. If so, you can get cash from a “networked” ATM with no (or low) fees and get the bank’s exchange rate. This is the best exchange rate you will find on your trip. However, do you really want to be looking for an ATM at six in the morning after an international flight?
Credit cards? The next article will be about using credit cards when you travel.
Like and follow us on Facebook: @AtthetaTravel