Cautious Conversions: Six Do’s and Don’ts on Money Exchanging Abroad

Converting your money from American dollars to Pounds or Euros can get confusing, frustrating and worst of all, expensive. Traveling to Europe from the states is costly in and of itself, the last thing you want to do is spend more money on excessive fees and hidden charges. After living internationally for 18 months and still getting paid in American dollars, we’ve learned a few tips and tricks we’d like to share with you.

DON’T ever convert your money at the airport or train station

I made this costly mistake the very first time we came to Italy back in 2013 and it cost me dearly. On top of the exchange rate where you’re likely losing a bit of money (ex: 1 USD = .78 GBP at time of publication), you will pay a hefty fee for the convenience. I don’t remember the exact numbers on my train station exchange fiasco, but I do know I lost something in the realm of $25 to fees.

DO exchange money at your home bank if necessary

If you feel like you’re going to absolutely NEED cash before you get to the country, I suggest buying it from your local bank or credit union before you go. They will have the best rates, but it will still cost you a bit.

DO pull cash from an ATM when you’re in country

This is what we have found is the easiest and most cost effective thing to do. While we may still incur some ATM fees, it’s not as high as the fees from the money exchange place in the airport. This is especially true if you have a credit union or bank that doesn’t charge you for international withdrawals. If you plan to travel internationally a lot this might be the time to look for a financial institution that meets your travel needs (more about that later).

DON’T use an ATM that has hidden fees

Now take the previous statement with a grain of salt. Not all ATMs are created equally. Ensure you’re using a safe ATM from a well-known bank or credit union in that country to avoid hidden charges. You often pay for the convenience of an ATM, so ones located in tourist places will likely have high surcharges and exchange rates. Another reason to avoid unknown or sketchy ATMs is the risk of skimmers that steal your information. The last thing you want on vacation is someone stealing your identity.

DON’T ever accept the dynamic currency conversion

You’ll encounter the dynamic currency conversion at ATMs and till points when you pay with your card. The machine will recognize your American card and automatically ask you if you want to pay in American dollars or the local currency. ALWAYS CHOOSE THE LOCAL CURRENCY. Choosing American Dollars (or your home currency) means you’re losing money in the conversion. Your financial institution will have a better exchange rate when they convert your money for the purchase than the ATM or till point will. Guaranteed.

DO get yourself a credit card that is good for traveling.

Not all credit cards are created equally. Some are good for cash back, some are good for rewards points, and some are really good for traveling. Several cards like the Capital One Venture Card, Chase Sapphire and American Express Platinum are built for travel so they don’t charge you conversion fees on top of the regular conversion rate and their rate is likely the best you’ll get.

So there you have it. My six tips to try to save you a little money. Conversion can definitely be frustrating and a little scary when you’re not used to it. I hope these help make your trip run more smoothly. If you have any of your own tips to share, please leave them in the comments.

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