How to Get the Best Exchange Rate and Avoid Fees

How to Get the Best Exchange Rate and Avoid Fees

Besides the language barrier, the whole foreign money thing is probably on the top of the list for anxiety when travelling abroad.  Once you get the hang of it, though, you can kind of relax and enjoy the ride.  Planning ahead of time really cuts down on how much of an idiot you feel like when it is time to actually fork over the dough.  {I have to say, the Euro really helped to uncomplicate things in this arena.}

Getting the most bank for your U.S. buck is really just a matter of a bit of research.  First things first, check with your bank.  Most of the time, using your credit or debit card, or pulling money from an ATM will yield you the day’s best possible exchange rate.  Though, in fair warning, if you use an ATM other than your own bank’s, you will probably get hit with a fee {it’s minimal, usually around $3-$5 USD}.  If your bank charges for foreign transactions, you may want to call around to other banks/financial institutions and see about opening a different credit card, etc.

Next, know the exchange rate.  It will fluctuate a bit–sometimes daily, but usually, you will have general idea.  I like to use the site when I am planning my vacation so I can see up to the minute exchange rates. It helps me plan my vacation better.  I like to know how strong my money is when I am budgeting.  If you watch it long enough, you will know when the rates are favorable.

While I usually carry some cash in the currency of the country I am travelling, I try not to over do it.  Every time you exchange dollars to euros, for example, there is a transaction fee.  Exchanging leftover foreign currency will get you yet another fee.

Try to avoid exchange companies in the airports {and train stations}.  They charge a much, much higher fee than ATM’s.  It’s the price of convenience, I guess.  If you need cash on hand BEFORE you get to the country to tide you over until you can find an ATM, go to your local bank or American Express office.  They can usually “order” the currency you need for a small fee.  Also, if you can’t find an ATM once you arrive, look for a post office–they will usually be able to convert money–again, at a higher fee than an ATM.

Do you  have any experience with exchange rates?  What are your tips?



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  1. Patty says

    I think it was meant to be funny but it would tick me off too. I also think you were extra sensitive because you weren’t getting to go to the event for your daughter and felt bad about that, and you were also probably stressed about the luncheon prep. I only started reading your blog about a month ago, and I can already tell you that YOU ARE NOT A BAD MOTHER. If, because of missing one event it makes you bad, then we are all bad mothers because no one can be everywhere. I felt that way and I only have one kid. Even with me missing a few events (I worked full time.) during her growing-up years, she has turned out wonderfully and we are good pals. If it bothers her, she’ll take it up with her therapist later (this is what my daughter tells me, funny girl she is).

  2. Janet S says

    About money exchange rates – I use a CapitalOne credit card (small exchange rate fee) for the bigger expenses (hotel rooms) and then my credit union ATM card (I believe it’s a 1% fee) to get enough cash for several days’ of dining and entertainment expenses, and replenish the cash supply as necessary.

    For our 16 day trip to Spain last fall, I made sure there was enough cash in our checking account before we left. When we returned, I only had the one credit card bill and everything else had already been paid for with cash.

    Once in a while when paying for something with a credit card, the vendor will ask if you want to pay in euros or US dollars, and you should always pay in euros and let your bank do the conversion. Otherwise, if you pay in US dollars, the vendor’s bank will not only charge you their exchange rate, but your credit card company will still charge you a fee for the foreign transaction. We made this mistake a couple of times before we understood the ramifications.

  3. Jennifer says

    We ran into a fee issue while visiting Victoria, BC. We used our debit cards for purchases and restaurants instead of getting currency. When we got home, and checked our account we found out that we were charged a $3 fee on every transaction (which really adds up fast). All of this could have been avoided if we had checked the policy of our credit union before our trip and just got cash from an ATM.

  4. says

    Thank you so much for any advice. We leave for Europe next month and this part of it has been anxiety-producing. If we use the ATM we get hit with an almost 8% transaction fee. Didn’t even think about the debit card having a transaction fee. We may get cash from Triple A before leaving in pounds and euros – they give a great rate. Of course we don’t want to be left with extra when we get back and then end up losing when we convert back.

  5. Noah says

    I am actually in China right now on business. At the hotels that I have stayed at here (Shanghai, Gaoyou, Chongqing) they will exchange your money for free or an extremely small fee.

    By the way, if you are ever planning a trip to China go to Chongquing. It is inland China and you need to fly there from Shanghai. It is a large city of about 30 million and there is a ton of stuff to do, but I think the best thing to do is take a cruise from Chongqing to Shanghai down the Yangtze River.

  6. says

    If you go to France Bank of America has a partnership with a band call BNP Paribas. I don’t know how it work in France but with my BNP debit card I can withdraw money for free in any Bank of America. Something to check then, it may be possible to withdraw money with a Bank of America debit card in any BNP Paribas banks!

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