Much of traveling abroad's appeal comes from the newness of everything. New streets to walk on, new words spoken, new meals served. Among all these fresh experiences rests one not-so-glamorous reality: new money.
If you're traveling abroad, chances are the U.S. dollar is not going to cut it. The good news is that there are plenty of currency exchange services out there to help. The bad news is that a lot of them are just looking to fleece tourists who are in a rush to get to their hotel. Here's what to avoid and what to look for.
Best Places to Exchange Currency in 2019
Those who plan ahead will have the safest bet when going abroad. Banks enjoy access to the best exchange rates and generally charge lower fees than exchange bureaus. Once you decide on an estimate of what you'll need, either buy currency at a local branch or order it shipped to your home. You can do the latter online or over the phone, but know that this usually comes with an added shipping fee on top of whatever foreign exchange fees are already in place.
You can also have currency delivered to you by placing an order with a foreign exchange provider online. The rates on these services are typically worse than anything a bank can offer, but they're also better than the exchange bureaus you'll find once abroad. And they typically waive shipping fees on larger orders.
Foreign Banks and Bank ATMs
Even when you're abroad, banks remain your safest option for not getting ripped off. Many foreign banks can give you a better deal than the exchange rates you'll find at foreign exchange bureaus, especially if you find one in partnership with your own bank back in the U.S.
Bank ATMs (not kiosk, mall, or supermarket ATMs) can also give you a pretty good deal sans the wait in line at the bank. They may include a small transaction fee, but as long as you withdraw enough money, you can easily offset this with the money you'll be saving from its better exchange rates.
Places to Avoid for Currency Exchange
Airports know that thousands of tourists fly into its terminals each day, and with that thousands of people are looking to get cash fast. Armed with the knowledge that you'll probably need to catch a bus, train, or taxi soon, airport kiosks offer the absolute worst exchange rates and highest fees you'll find anywhere during your time overseas. Take this advice and wait till your outside of the airport to look for cash. Or if you absolutely need to, only take out as much as you need for the ride out and look for better options later.
Currency Exchange Stores
Like airports, these stores try to take advantage of unsuspecting tourists, usually popping up near major attractions where someone may find themselves short on cash for a guided tour or cab fare. While not as bad as the airport, these stores are still looking to make a profit exclusively off of exchange, and with that comes much worse fees and exchange rates than those offered at local banks and ATMs.
Prepaid Cards and Traveler's Checks
While not nearly as bad a deal as what you find at the airport or currency desks, these are still one of the few currency exchange options you can complete before traveling that may not be worth it. You purchase these cards before leaving the U.S., deciding how much money you want to put into it, and they work as a debit card abroad, with the exchange rate locked in at wherever it was the day you purchased the card. This mode appeals to many because, if stolen, you can simply report the incident and request a replacement without losing any of the card's value. The downside you face with this option is that, unlike cash, not everywhere will accept debit cards. And in addition, banks typically tack on an additional fee for providing a travel card as well as transaction fees for each use, leaving you, for the most part, much better off with cash.
Traveler's checks are another, albeit somewhat antiquated, option. Like prepaid travel cards, you purchase these ahead of time and use them when abroad. Again, the benefit here comes from security. Given that they'll be in your name, any use of them will require your signature and identification for use. But also like prepaid cards, they're not the most convenient, with many places not accepting them, meaning you'll usually have to cash it at the nearest bank at whatever your destination is, which will typically include fees of its own.
This one's a bit of a mixed bag. While the convenience of the service is hard to beat when your hotel offers to take your cash or traveler's checks, make sure to ask about their rates. This changes from hotel to hotel, and if you're not careful, one can really scam you. Be especially wary if you've chosen a hotel in a less-reputable part of town.
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