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how do you prefer to exchange currency?

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I’ve mentioned before that I’m off to Washington DC at the end of the month. Although in my day to day life, I’m not especially frugal, I am a bit of a budget traveller. For 6 days in DC I plan to spend about $400, to include all food and accommodation.

The big question is, how shall I obtain this money in US$?

The way I see it, there are three main options, and of course, I could do a combination of these.

rely on plastic

This would basically mean using a debit or credit card to make purchases wherever possible, and withdrawing small amounts of cash for sundries at ATMs once I’m in the States.

Benefits include not having to do anything before I go, and being able to only change as much money as I need. Downsides are that ATMs may not be available when I want them, my card may get stopped because my bank thinks someone has stolen my card, each transaction involves a fee.

buy traveller’s cheques

I could get buy American Express traveller’s cheques and then cash them once I’m in DC.

This has the advantage of being pretty secure. The disadvantages are that it’s a pain to carry them round, and if I don’t use all the cash I have to fork out two lots of commission.

carry greenbacks

Finally, I could just change some £ sterling for US$ before I leave.

The main benefits are that once it’s done I don’t have to worry about converting any money and I have more time to shop around for the best exchange rate. The disadvantages are that it’s not very secure, and again, if I underspend I’d have to change the money twice.

How do you normally deal with foreign money, and what do you think that I should do?

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10 comments for “how do you prefer to exchange currency?”

  1. When I was in Europe, I made one huge ATM withdrawl of Euros (wasn’t in England that time) and that was my budget. I didn’t always carry all of it on me, or split it between suitcases and my person. DC can be dangerous, depending where you are, but this method might work.

    P.S. I don’t know what your plans are, but if you’d like to do lunch that weekend or something, let me know. Oh, you could also pick up the purse–it might get there faster than if I shipped it. :)

    Posted by Mrs. Micah | November 15, 2007, 12:21 pm
  2. Be sure and call your credit card companies before you leave and tell them you will be making purchases in DC. The last time my parents came to visit me in Canada they only called the one credit card company that they had had problems with before, but two other cards were cancelled while they were travelling. I think it is becoming more common for cards to get cancelled automatically if there is no prior warning to travel.
    I personally would go about 50% cash, 50% card.

    Posted by Looby | November 15, 2007, 4:06 pm
  3. Cards by far get you the best exchange rate. If you have a Barclay’s account by any chance then you can withdraw money for free at Bank of Americas in the US. Even with ATM fees, if you limit your withdrawals you still come out ahead in comparison to traveler’s checks or cash exchange fees. Not that you need it with the pound to dollar exchange rate. I’m immensely jealous.

    Posted by Jess | November 15, 2007, 4:17 pm
  4. Call around to find CC that does NOT change international exchange surcharge. Most CC will charge about 3% when you use different currency on your card.

    My wife and I found one through Commerce Bank that let us use the card without that fee.

    As far as the exchange rate, it’s hit or miss. We found that it really depends on the bank that process the transaction for the merchant. Some banks gave us great rate, but some gave us really lousy rate.

    Posted by Pinyo | November 15, 2007, 5:19 pm
  5. Hey, welcome to Washington D.C.! There’s a whole bunch of PF bloggers like us who live here.

    Your money will go far since the dollar’s so weak right now.

    Posted by Money Blue Book | November 15, 2007, 10:17 pm
  6. I think I’ve read on two different blogs now that Capital One has a no-currency conversion fee, though I’m not sure if that would be available to you??? I’m sure one of the places I read about it was 2million, can’t remember the other.

    One thing to keep in mind, it may not be that easy find places to exchange money. I could be completely off-base on this, given that you’ll be in DC and the hotel probably has info for foreigners, but in my part of LA, the only place that exchanges currency is the American Express travel office - none of the banks around here seem to do it.

    Have a wonderful trip!!!

    Posted by Chief Family Officer | November 17, 2007, 11:04 pm
  7. I usually take some in cash (used to use travellex, arrange online for pick up and get good exchange and commission free).

    Then I take nationwide flexaccount card. Good exchange rate and no commission. Need to make sure you have enough readies in there as it takes 4 days to transfer in from another bank - same as everywhere else.

    Completely off topic, but come to think of it… weren’t we supposed to get that 4 days to transfer money from one place to another disappear?

    Gone quiet! Do you know anything about it?

    Posted by Llama for brains | November 20, 2007, 3:27 pm
  8. I agree with the majority of the advice posted thus far.

    1) Do your research with you current financial institutions and see if they have any special offers for international travel. Also, notify them of your intended travel locations and dates to give them a “heads up”.

    2) From the traveling I have done (to include the various research involved) it seems to me that utilizing ATMs from a popular banks are the best bet. The rates are usually competitive and if you can find an ATM that is in cohorts with your bank back home them you can say bye-bye to the ATM fee as well. I also agree with the “lump-sum” ATM withdrawal theory although while carrying large amounts of cash isn’t smart you can spread load it throughout your luggage, or just look mean and carry a big stick!

    Posted by bemental | November 21, 2007, 4:09 am
  9. My husband, who’s traveled on business a lot over the years, swears by ATMs. Instead of converting money before arriving at his destination, he withdraws some cash at the airport. He takes out a reasonable amount for the particular city for a few days as opposed to taking out enough for the whole trip, and it has never failed him in Asia, Europe, or South America.

    The cash is for small things, like cabs, food, etc., and credit cards pay for hotel bills, larger meals, etc. Over the past few years, U.S. credit cards have started adding on exchange fees for purchases not made in dollars. However, he’s Irish and has an Irish credit card, which hasn’t copped on to such charges. If yours card hasn’t either, you might be ahead of the game.

    Overall, doing this has made travel easier, and we haven’t found the costs to be a problem. Find out with your bank to see if and what they currently charge so you don’t have any surprises.

    Have fun!!

    Posted by MetaMommy | November 24, 2007, 7:43 pm
  10. I prefer to use credit or debit card because it is practical and easy to use and can be brought to every where but may become a problem is the cost to be borne by the customer but all choice depending on the situation we
    great information, thank’s

    Posted by currency exchange rate | June 12, 2009, 8:45 pm

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