Tips For Getting The Best Currency Exchange Rate

by Shelli Stein

I’ve written before about My Simple Currency Exchange Rate Philosophy and helping my nervous friend find a more relaxed approach to spending money when he travels. Before spending money, though, you need to consider how to get better or the best currency exchange rate. I think this topic is worth fleshing out a bit more, so let’s begin.

How I Get The Best Currency Exchange Rate

I’ve had many varied experiences over the years, and I think some of it has to do with the varied locations of my travels. For instance, when I was in Bali, cash was king. My lodgings did take credit cards, but otherwise, the local merchants wanted cash. The owner of the small family-run place I stayed at didn’t want me going to any money changer, bank, or ATM on my own. He felt very protective of me. He took me for a twenty minute ride on the back of his scooter, escorted me to his money changer, and handled the transaction for me. Later, when talking to other travelers, I learned that I got a really good exchange rate, but of course, a scenario like this is POSSIBLE, but not the norm.

Make Sure YOU Don’t Waste Money by Overpaying for Hotel Rooms!

I do feel that asking the locals, or even the concierge at my hotel, has lead me to the best places for exchanging US Dollars into the local currency. A few years ago in Buenos Aires, through an introduction some friends made for me to people who spend six months of the year in Argentina, a good money exchange offer came my way.

These “snowbirds” have bank accounts in Buenos Aires. If I brought $100 bills (which their bank preferred), they offered to get cash from their bank for me. I liked this idea and said yes, thank you! The exchange rate was good and if I had any Argentine pesos left at the end of my stay, they offered to buy them back from me. Good deal for me, and nice people, for sure. So these are two examples of having local help when exchanging money.

Using Cash Instead Of A Credit Card

Even though we miles/points folks use cash as rarely as we can, whether home or on our travels, we do need to have some cash on hand. Sometimes there is a fee tacked on to certain services or items and it’s just a better deal, even figuring the loss of miles/points to use cash. Many travelers use the Charles Schwab Visa Debit Card at ATMs and then the ATM fees are reimbursed. This is the most popular and convenient way to get cash. I will say that I’m picky about which machines I use in terms of their locations. Always look for an ATM that has some privacy and notice which machines the locals use.

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Is It Dangerous To Use ATM Machines When Traveling?

I’ve had two issues with ATMs. The one that got me seriously considering which ATM to use happened 6 years ago near the Vatican. I won’t go into detail in this post, but the ATM was using a skimmer, so picture me yelling, “Get away from me” at the top of my lungs at this guy who came up to “help” me, it was quite a scene. So do be aware and cautious about the ATM choices you make. An ounce of prevention can save your lung power 🙂

Smart Ideas For Getting Cash While Traveling

A friend of mine did something that I believe is smart. He opened a Charles Schwab checking account that he uses just for money when he travels. This way, he can keep just enough cash to access when he’s on the road. He can move more money in if he needs to, and if anything happens to that debit card, it’s not linked to any of his other bank accounts. Maybe you’ve done this too.

If you have a private client type of relationship with your bank, it’s a good idea to check with them about exchange rates. It certainly can’t hurt to ask. This can often get you a better exchange rate when traveling overseas.

Another currency exchange rate idea, and something I’ve had to do a few times, was to get cash from the hotel where I was staying. Now before you jump to the comments section and blast me on this, hear me out. Firstly, I’ve only done this a few times. I’ve done it in special needs situations only, and though a small fee was tacked on, because the cost was added on to my hotel bill, I did at least get points for it. It’s good to know that even though this is not even close to the top of the list of getting the BEST exchange rate, some hotels will do this and it’s possible. I’ve been very appreciative of the variety of things that hotels have let me add to my bills and the miles/points I’ve gained!

What To Do With Currency From Other Countries

I usually don’t concern myself with having cash leftover at the end of trips. I like to have a stash of some currencies, like Euros, for my next trip. If it’s a currency I don’t think I’ll need again anytime soon, a few days before I depart from that location, I’ll notice how much cash I have left and start to use it. That works for me.

It’s also fun to show people who don’t travel much, or for people who would like to travel more, what foreign currency looks like. And for some of us who have Italian lira or other currencies no longer in use, they make for fun show-and-tell stories.

So that’s my take on exchange rates and currencies. Please add any creative strategies you’ve used for getting the best currency exchange rate so we can all benefit!

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Boraxo August 13, 2022 - 12:40 pm

If you leftover coins and currency from many countries you can send them to leftover currency in London UK (see website) and they send you PayPal for the value. The exchange rate is poor but it is better than having them sit in a drawer for years.

Shelli August 13, 2022 - 1:23 pm

Great idea, Boraxo. Didn’t know this existed. Thanks for taking the time to add this option to the post.

CJH August 13, 2022 - 1:39 pm

i buy foreign currency from my Bank (well know bank with a national footprint) with an approx. 3% surcharge. Bank will buy back paper currency, if needed. I have only used an ATM in Europe twice, both times at the same bank lobby in Rome.

Shelli August 13, 2022 - 2:04 pm

Thanks for taking the time to share your strategy, CJH!

CJH August 13, 2022 - 2:15 pm

and I fly with the foreign currency in my Rick Steves money belt.

Rup August 14, 2022 - 9:09 am

I have an account with Charles Schwab and use that debit card to get cash from a reputable looking atm at the airport I land in and get more cash as I need directly from a bank atm in that country. I put all left over currency from the country in a zip lock bag in a drawer in my bedroom. Most countries I travel to I more than likely will return to even if it is a few years later. In that drawer I currently have Mexican Pesos, Canadian dollars, Euros, and Pounds. I just used some Canadian dollars last week in Banff and will pull out my Euros ziplock in a few days for trip in Italy, Greece, and France.

Shelli August 14, 2022 - 2:19 pm

Sounds like a solid system for your currency, Rup. Enjoy your upcoming travels, and thanks for taking the time to add to the currency conversation.

Daviator August 17, 2022 - 4:49 pm

I don’t use nearly as much cash as I used to. But my standard practice is this: on the day of departure from a particular country, I set aside any cash I will need to get to the airport (train/taxi fare or whatever, if I need to pay cash for that.) Any remaining cash, I take to the front desk as I am leaving the hotel and ask them to apply it to my bill and then I check out of the hotel.

That allows me to use all of my unneeded local currency (including coins) and most of the time I end up leaving with almost no remaining local currency.

Shelli August 18, 2022 - 1:07 am

Great strategy, Daviator. Thanks for sharing. Never thought to apply cash to hotel bills. For sure keeping currency for public transportation, especially taxi fares, makes good sense.

Which Women Appear On Banknotes And Why September 3, 2022 - 11:17 am

[…] find currency a fascinating topic. From how to get the best exchange rates to strategies for using currency when we travel, my curious nature wants to learn more. When […]


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