Gone are the days of American Express Traveler’s Cheques and having to find a convenient place to cash them when you run out of money in a foreign country (thank goodness)! Today, there are more ways than ever to make sure you always have that foreign cash handy when exploring the world. But…not all Euros or Caribbean dollars are created equal! Here is a short guide to obtaining and dealing with foreign currency on your next vacation
1. Know Before You Go
Always check to see which currency is used in the countries you'll be visiting. (One of the many services I provide as your travel agent!) Sometimes, despite there being an official currency, dollars will be widely accepted. Having this information will greatly inform your strategy.
By far the easiest and smartest way to access cash while abroad is to use an ATM. The conversion rate is usually the best available…just proceed with reasonable caution. Be sure that the ATM is located in a well-lit secure area (preferably inside the front door of a bank) and be sure no one can see you type in your PIN number. There are “stand alone” ATMs in many touristy areas that are NOT related to a banking institution, but these tend to charge higher transaction fees, have lower exchange rates and be less secure. Always stick with a well-known name. Check with your home bank before you leave to see if they have any agreements with foreign banks in the country you are visiting to minimize transaction fees and be sure to let them know that you are going to be using your ATM card in foreign countries so they won’t put a security “Hold” on your card when you withdraw cash in Prague.
Just put in your card and choose “English” as the language option. Then proceed as you usually do here in America, only realize that you are withdrawing EURO and not US Dollars…If you withdraw 100 Euro, the equivalent in USD will be debited from your account. Most Europeans don’t call them ATM’s; by the way…look for “Bankomat” or “Cash Point” or sometimes a “Distributeur”. Don’t worry; you’ll know it when you see it!
3. Your Home Bank
Your local US bank can order you some foreign currency before you ever leave home. I usually keep a stash of unused Euros from previous trips at home, but if I find that I don’t have enough to comfortably arrive in my destination, I always order a small amount from my bank. The exchange rate is usually not as good as using ATMs in Europe, but the convenience of having cash on hand upon arrival is comforting. That way, I'm ready to grab a quick snack or pay for a taxi ride to my hotel. Plus, not having to locate an ATM in a new destination is worth the trade off for me. Be sure to give your bank a few days to order the foreign currency!
4. Currency Exchange Bureaus
These should always be your last resort, especially the ones located in airports, train stations and highly touristy areas. Rates and fees are very unfavorable. The only time I recommend a change bureau is if you have several different kinds of currency that you want to combine into one (for example, you have British Pounds, US Dollars and Norwegian Kroner that you want to convert all into Euro at once). Just be prepared to be hit with a substantial fee..
5. Credit Cards
If you plan to make major purchases while abroad, you’re almost always better off putting it on a credit card that can give you certain protections – especially if the merchant is going to ship the item to you back home in the US. Be sure to let your credit card company know that you will be using the card abroad during your trip so they don’t place a security “Hold” on your account when a charge comes in from Poland! Also, sometimes the merchant will ask if you want your purchase to be in local currency or US Dollars…ALWAYS CHOOSE LOCAL CURRENCY! If you ask for the charge to be made in US Dollars, you will usually be hit with an extremely unfavorable exchange rate. There are many credit cards out there that don’t charge International transaction fees, so do your homework before you travel.
So, you see? With just a little planning and knowledge, you can ensure that your trip to Europe or elsewhere around the world is as rewarding financially as it is personally. Let’s get started planning your next adventure! Click here to set up a complimentary dream vacation planning session.
Lisa is the travel loving, animal adoring, Mickey Mouse hugging owner of Dreams Delivered Travel.