Travel Tips

Foreign Transactions & Currency Abroad

By on June 10, 2014

Indo RupiahMy first travel chore when I arrive at a destination is to get local currency. Unless I need cash immediately, either for a taxi or public transport, I usually wait until I get to my hotel. Pre-booking a car or taxi in advance can make your arrival a smooth and effortless process. For example, Red Cab or Exclusive Airports, are my go-to airport private car hire services for Europe when I need them. But when I need to get cash, either at the airport, near my hotel or anywhere on the road, I use bank owned ATM’s and avoid ATM’s or cash machines owned by foreign currency exchange companies. You will see a lot of ATM’s at the airport but which is the best to use?

Use a Bank Owned ATM

You will get the best exchange rate of the day at an ATM owned by a bank or financial institution. Privately owned ATM’s or Cash Machines owned by foreign exchange companies will charge you a high fee or issue the currency at a terrible exchange rate. Only use ATM’s owned by a bank and be sure to use a Debit Card (that takes money directly from a checking account) with a four digit pin code. Withdraw the maximum amount of money you can for that day (amounts vary depending on type of account). Now you have some petty cash for some time and this will help minimize any fees incurred. It will also save you time by not having to return to the ATM so frequently.

If you use this ATM you will pay a terrible exchange rate or high fee on top of what your bank charges you. Beware!

If you use this ATM you will pay a terrible exchange rate or high fee on top of what your bank charges you. Beware!

You might as well go up to the counter and exchange $$$ for a terrible rate or high fee.

You might as well go up to the counter and exchange $$$ for a terrible rate or high fee.

 Beware of Fees

Your bank may charge you a fee for using an out of network ATM and/or a foreign transaction fee. Do the math before your leave. Some banks, like Bank of America, waive the out-of-network ATM usage fee for each withdrawal. For big purchases or expenses, I travel with a credit card that offers no foreign transaction fees. There are loads of them available now. This is key to minimizing or eliminating the fees that come with foreign transactions.

Chip and Pin or Chip and Signature Cards

Using your American style magnetic credit card may possibly present some problems. At kiosks, automated machines, toll booths, etc, your magnetic credit card is useless and will not be accepted. Also, presenting your magnetic card to a waiter, especially in European restaurants, may become an exercise in patience. More and more banks in the US are now offering chip and pin or chip and signature cards to make foreign transactions go smoothly. Do yourself a favor and inquire about getting yours before you leave. Otherwise, be prepared for the possibility of trouble when using your magnetic card. 

TAGS
RELATED POSTS
4 Comments
  1. Reply

    Barbara Carlson

    June 10, 2014

    I thought it was best to get money at my bank in Arizona before my trip.
    I’m going on a tour to Italy, I’m taking. 25″ bag and am not sure if a 21″ bag would work or a smaller one that rests on the 25″ one. It seems that you have to measure the bags yourself because they measure not counting the wheels.

    • Reply

      Angel

      June 10, 2014

      Usually, ordering money from your local bank comes at a price. You will either get a terrible exchange rate or have to pay a high fee and/or shipping charges even if it’s delivered to your local branch. Double check http://www.xe.com for the most up to date exchange rates.

      As far as bags, it’s up to you to measure. Luggage companies will tell you whatever they want. I’ve found the ones to have true sizing to be reliable. Don’t forget to double check the website of the airline you are flying on to get the most up to date dimensions and measurements.

  2. Reply

    Eilene Jacobs

    June 12, 2014

    Hi Angel,
    We had the pleasure of meeting you at Savinar Luggage several weeks back. I do have a question about exchanging USD to foreign currency. We will need Euros and GBP. We are able to exchange USD at Wells Fargo where we have an account, with no transaction fee. Why would you wait until you got to your destination where there will probably be some sort of fee. Also, so much confusion about what type of travel card to get for London. we will be there for the better part of two days. Is an oyster card our best bet, or the other travel card that is offered. Thanks so much.
    Eilene Jacobs

    • Reply

      Angel

      June 12, 2014

      Hi Eilene,

      I think I answered this in the other post you commented on.
      Buying an Oyster card will save you time & money. The price is about 60% cheaper compared to buying a single ticket. The oyster cards also have built in price capping. There is a desk at Heathrow where you can purchase cards. I would highly recommend it.

      Wells Fargo may not charge you a service fee but they are likely to charge you a shipping fee if the branch does not have the currency you desire. For example, B of A charges a shipping fee even if the currency is delivered to the branch. For Wells Fargo, the shipping charge is about $15. Ouch! That is much more than using an out of network ATM. And their exchange rate for the day is $1.75=1£. Today’s interbank rate (the rate you get an ATM is 1.68).

      In the end, I can’t be bothered, especially if I’m arriving at Heathrow, to get foreign currency beforehand. Heathrow is a great airport, with lots of services, where travelers can get all sorts of chores done before heading into town. In my opinion, you don’t even need cash until you get to your hotel. You can buy the oyster card with your Credit Card. You can purchase Heathrow Express tickets with a Credit Card. My favorite option is to pre-book a car to pick you up. Sort out getting cash at your hotel neighborhood.

Leave a Reply

Angel Castellanos
Pasadena, CA

I'm a US based travel expert and spend my time teaching people how to travel well, smart and often. I'm passionate about travel and helping people save time & money. This blog, or travel lounge, is a collection of my practical travel advice and experiences from traveling 8-10 weeks internationally each year. I believe that travel has never been easier and that everyone can achieve their travel dreams. Happy Travels!

Please Subscribe

Search
    Join me on Twitter
    %d bloggers like this: