Currency exchange: when, how and where?

Every traveller knows exactly how important it is to have enough money of the right currency to reach the next step of one’s journey. How fool? Not if you are travelling through several countries and have to keep in mind the exchange rate for every currency. Choosing the wrong mean to change your money may significantly affect your travel budget.


The first thing to do is to know the exact exchange rate for your money in the country you are going to visit. On the web there is a good deal of tools to do so. Once you have the right knowledge, you will have to choose how to act. A good option in this field are credit cards: card issuers typically tack on currency-conversion fees of 2 to 3 percent for international transactions, and you will get a better rate with lower fees than those usually associated with exchanging cash. This will allow you to easily handle hotel and restaurant bills and the biggest purchases, but do not use your card on ATMs, since it will charge you with heavy fees and interests starting the day you withdraw the money. If you need quick cash better to use your ATM card. In this way you will pay lower fees or none at all, if your bank has international branches or partners that allow you to use your ATM card for free.

Foreign exchange desks – like those usually seen in airports, hotels and through the streets of most big cities –  may seem appealing, but their rates can vary sensibly and aren’t usually favourable. Plus, they may add commissions which are not immediately stated in the advertising boards. Sometimes it may feel like you have no other choice, but you really should enter these exchange offices only if strictly unavoidable.

Travellers used to prepare their journey in every detail will prefer to pack the needed currencies before leaving. It is possible to buy foreign money in your bank, but if your destination is somehow “exotic” and its currency isn’t much traded you will have to pre-order what you need a few days in advance. An interesting alternative is to buy foreign cash online and have it shipped to your home, or to reserve the requested currency exchange from Travelex on its website and collect it in any store worldwide. This will allow you to take advantage from a better exchange rate than elsewhere and to leave for your journey without further concerns.

Traveller’s cheques are another popular mean to easily receive money in the right currency wherever you go and they have the profitable advantage of being replaceable in case of loss or theft. But they also need a proper office in the hosting country to trade them for real money, and again you may have to face further commissions or extra fees. Still a good option if you are travelling in rural areas where you may unlikely find any ATMs.

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Lived in England since 1998 and travelled the world since 2005, visiting over 100 countries on 5 continents. Writer, blogger, photographer with a passion for adventure and travel, discovering those off beat places not yet on the tourist trail. Marco contributes the very best in independent travel tips and lifestyle articles.

2 thoughts on “Currency exchange: when, how and where?”

  1. Great article, very important advice. Thank you for thinking of posting this 🙂

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