Planning to travel abroad soon? You’ll need to look into exchanging currency if you want to have access to resources while on your trip. You have the option to wait until you get there to sort it all out. But you’ll pay a lot more at the airport or in your hotel lobby.
You can also keep the fees down by only converting a small sum of cash into currency and using debit or credit cards for the bulk of your purchases. But before you take this route, confirm that there are no foreign transaction fees associated with your debit or credit card.
Also, notify the bank that you’ll be traveling abroad so they won’t lock down your card mid-trip because they suspect fraud. And be mindful that some destinations may not accept credit cards on every corner.
Here are some tips to help you find the best place to exchange currency for less:
Before Your Trip
If you want to get the best currency exchange rates, you’ll need to exchange currency before departure using one of these options:
Visit Your Bank or Credit Union
Most major banks and credit unions offer currency exchange to account holders in-person or via an online portal. You’ll want to reach out to your bank or credit union to determine how to move forward. You can also login to the online banking dashboard to determine if you can order currency directly from your computer or smartphone and retrieve it from a local branch.
Here’s a breakdown of offerings at some of the nation’s largest banks:
- Bank of America: checking or savings accounts customers can order up to $10,000 in a 30-day period. Online orders placed by 2 pm will be shipped the same business day. But if you’re a Bank of America credit cardholder, you’ll need to visit a branch to place your order. If you’re a Bank of America Preferred Rewards client, you’ll receive a discount off the published exchange rate.
- BB&T Foreign Exchange Services: customers can order foreign currency banknotes by visiting a local branch.
- PNC Bank: if you’re a PNC customer, foreign currency can be ordered from a local branch. The order will be available within 24 to 48 hours, and there are no transaction fees.
- SunTrust (now Truist): Foreign currency orders can be placed at a SunTrust branch. A foreign transaction fee of $10 applies, and orders are available at the branch within two to three business days. There is also a $200 minimum on all orders.
- TD Bank: you can order foreign currency by visiting a local TD Bank branch. A foreign transaction fee applies, and orders and available for pick up within two business days.
- Wells Fargo: you can purchase foreign currency online using your Wells Fargo checking or savings account. You can also visit a branch or call 1-800-626-9430 to place your order. And if your order is over $1,000, it will ship free of charge.
You may also be able to exchange currency at your local credit union. Contact the branch to inquire to avoid wasting your time.
Converting Currency Online
Online currency converters like Travelex are a bit more convenient because you don’t have to visit your bank to pick up the cash. Instead, you can submit your order from the comforts of your own home and the cash will be delivered to your doorstep.
The downside: fees, fees, and more fees. There’s typically a fee to use the service, you’ll have to pay for shipping, and your U.S. dollars will lose value due to excessive exchange rates.
Foreign Exchange Stores
Depending on where you live, there may be plenty of foreign exchange stores that can exchange currency for you. However, it’s not the best place to exchange currency. Use them as a last resort if the banks or online currency exchange stores don’t quite work out. Reasoning: their primary money maker is fees, so most charge top dollar.
During Your Trip
Didn’t quite get the currency you need before departure? It’s not the end of the world, but expect to spend more on currency exchange fees.
If you’re visiting a frequently visited location, you may luck out and spot your bank’s ATM. This is a golden opportunity for you to get the local currency you need for little to no exchange fee. And even if your bank isn’t there, they may be connected with a bank abroad that allows you to take advantage of this luxury.
Otherwise, you’ll need to search online for nearby ATMs. But be sure to pay attention to the ATM fees. It may also be worthwhile to pull out your smartphone and search for a nearby ATM using your bank’s mobile app.
Aspiration and Schwab Bank don’t charge foreign transaction fees for using your debit card and both banks offer unlimited foreign ATM fee reimbursements. If you don’t mind paying the huge fees upfront, this is the best solution when traveling abroad because it all comes back to you at the end of the month.
You should only be using debit cards at foreign ATMs. Never use a credit card. The cash advance fees and interest are very costly.
The thought of being able to swap out your dollar for local currency in the hotel lobby may bring music to your ears. It’s safe, convenient, and you don’t have to ask around for recommendations on the best places to exchange currency.
Unfortunately, they share the same logic and make customers pay for this service through higher fees and less-than-favorable exchange rates.
Expect exorbitant fees and a crummy exchange rate when you exchange money at an airport kiosk. It all boils down to one word: convenience. And just as practically everything is overpriced at the airport, don’t expect them to cut you a break when it comes to exchanging currency.
After Your Trip
There’s a chance you’ll have some currency in your possession when you return from abroad. Unless you want to keep it as a souvenir, you should:
- Exchange the currency for cash at the bank: most banks will buy back foreign currency for consumers, so this is an easy way to get rid of that unwanted cash.
- Swap the currency for cash at the local airport: if you’re strapped for time but need to get rid of the local currency, head to the local airport and visit a kiosk. They’ll be more than happy to help you out. Plus, you won’t have to wait in those dreaded security lines.
You may have to spend a little dough to purchase foreign currency. But by planning ahead and using plastic if possible, you’ll avoid a ton of unnecessary fees and get a favorable exchange rate. And when you return from your trip abroad, you’ll have less foreign currency on hand to worry about.