Money. It’s a drag. At least, it can be when you are dealing with currency exchange. But, it doesn’t have to be. Sarah and I have learned (sometimes the hard way) some of the best ways to deal with the currency exchange issues you might face during your travels.

Common Questions about Currency Exchange

International travel comes with the inherent truth that you have to use another type of money when you are in that country. There’s no getting around that. It’s true. But what does that mean? Some of the questions you might be asking yourself at this point:

  • Do I need to take wades of foreign currency with me everywhere I go?
  • Can I use my debit cards safely?
  • Can I use my debit cards at all?
  • Will I be assessed a transaction fee?
  • How do I make any decisions on this?

Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered.

Assess Your Destination

One of the best ways to avoid confusion with your currency exchange is to assess your itinerary. Consider these factors and how you should handle them:

  • Am I staying in a major city? If so, there is a higher chance that everywhere you go will accept debit and credit cards. You might not have to do any type of currency exchange. Make sure you put a travel notice on all cards you are taking with you! If you are staying in the countryside, many places will be cash only. Be on the safe side and take out a large chunk (at least half) of your travel budget to exchange if you are staying in a rural area.
  • Am I familiar with where I am going? If you aren’t, then it would be wise to take out a small percentage of your travel budget (10-25%). Don’t get caught off-guard by unexpected cash only fares. 
  • What is the currency they use? Familiarize yourself with the currency. This way, you are aware of exchange rates and if your cards have any issues with the currency you will be using.
  • Does this region accept different types of currency? Some major cities, Prague for example, will accept a variety of different currencies (I was able to use Euros and Czech Crowns. I even found one place that would have taken the few US dollars I had on me). You can eliminate currency exchange confusion by only taking one with you. Be aware that not everywhere will take different currency, and it’s always best to use the regional standard.
Best Places to Exchange Currency

Now that you’ve looked over your travel plans and made some decisions about how much you need (if you do at all), it’s time to get your foreign currency. There are plenty of places to go to do this. Here’s a look at the most common and some of the pros and cons that are associated with them. 

The Good
  • Your bank. Most national financial institutions will exchange money for you. PROS: Some of the best rates available. Most banks charge minimal to no fee. Also, you can choose the denomination of your bills. Finally, there isn’t a limit on the amount of money you can exchange (or at least one you’ll likely hit). Most banks will also ship the money right to your house. CONS: There is typically a waiting period to get your money; this can be as short as 1-2 days or upwards of 2 weeks.
  • ATM. These cash machines are about as frequent overseas as they are here in the states (at least in the larger cities). They work just like the ATMs here, too. PROS: Instant cash. Also, if you are using one of your banking affiliates (you can check this on your personal bank’s website), there shouldn’t be any additional fees such as a foreign transaction fee or unassociated banking fee. CONS: If you are using an ATM that isn’t associated with your bank, you can pay some hefty add-ons. All of the typical charges you’d experience in the states you’ll be hit with overseas, plus foreign transaction fees which are more expensive. Additionally, there will be a limit to the amount of money you can get out at one time; everytime you hit up the ATM, the more you’ll accrue in fees.
The Bad
  • Airports/train stations. If you haven’t noticed them before, all international airports provide currency exchange kiosks. PROS: Easy access. Again, these are ideal for the traveler who didn’t do their homework before they set out on their adventure. Can get several types of currency at one time. CONS: The rates here won’t be as bad as the exchange stores, but they won’t be good. Also, there are fees for exchanging less than $500.
The Ugly
  • Currency Exchange Stores. In many of the major cities, you’ll find little businesses that do currency exchange. PROS: Quick money. These can also be convenient if you can’t find an ATM around. CONS: Often you’re going to get terrible rates. You’ll want to ask yourself how bad you need that money if you find yourself here. 
Final Thoughts

Do your homework. Research your destination and your bank. If you decide you need money, order ahead of time. If your bank has international affiliates, see if they have branches near where you are staying. Currency exchange doesn’t have to be a foreign problem or a drag.

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