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Foreign Currency Exchange Tips

Updated September 30, 2016.

Dealing with foreign currency can be a head-scratcher. Don’t get burned changing your money from one currency to another.

Here are our tips to avoid losing money when changing money in foreign currency exchange transactions:

1. Exchange some cash before arriving in your next country

Sometimes exchange rates are more favorable outside of the country whose currency you’re looking for. Even if they’re not, it’s best to get some cash before arrival just in case your debit card doesn’t work or gets stolen.

2. Order foreign cash at home

Use Oanda (US only) or Travelex.

3. Avoid exchanging currency at airports or near tourist sites

The most convenient exchange outlets have the least favorable rates – walk a little further and save yourself money.

4. Use ATM machines to get the best exchange rate available

If you’re arriving without local money, get yours from an airport ATM or bank, not the currency exchange. You’ll get 2 – 5% better rates with the ATM.

5. Use credit cards for bigger purchases

You can save even more by using your no-fee credit card when paying for hotels, car rentals and other large purchases. Just remember in many parts of the world, cash is still king and vendors won’t accept credit cards for smaller transactions.

6. Take the time to shop around

Read the posted exchange rates and ask for the rate after commissions – rates vary based on a per-item or per-transaction basis, or on a percentage basis. To lure you in, some exchange kiosks will post their “sell rate” for US dollars rather than the “buy rate” (which is what you want if you’re changing US dollars into foreign currency) and they can differ dramatically. Another popular tactic is to list a great rate that’s only available for large quantities of money (ie, thousands of dollars). Avoid the issue entirely by only changing money in bigger banks and post offices

7. Get rid of all your cash before you leave the country

With the notable exception of European Union countries, getting rid of your cash before you leave is best. Changing it when you get to the new country won’t mean favorable rates, and most currency offices won’t exchange coins. If you don’t want to stock up at the duty-free you can donate it to UNICEF’s Change for Good program and other charities in many airports.

How to Find an ATM

Take a look and see if your ATM card is part of the PLUS or Cirrus networks. If so, you can use it to get cash in hundreds of countries worldwide. Each one of these networks have over a million ATMs around the world.The PLUS network is associated with Visa and Cirrus with MasterCard so your Visa and Mastercards will typically work at those ATMs respectively.
Find out beforehand if Cirrus or PLUS networks are going to be available in the countries you’re going. Usually they will be but it wouldn’t hurt to take a look. Here are their ATM locators:

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