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Tips for Exchanging Currency

Ask Savvy: Tips For Traveling Abroad


Dear Savvy,

I will be going to the UK this spring, my first international trip in many years. Do you have any tips on exchanging currency, or using debit or credit cards overseas? The dollar is low right now (as you know) - does that change anything I should be doing?

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A: You're quite the savvy traveler, asking important questions in advance! And while you're well aware that traveling to the UK will be an expensive trip because of the dollar's weakness compared to the British pound, there are some tricks to keeping your expenses down.

Do your best to avoid the exchange counters and opt for a reputable bank's ATM — while you'll pay a surcharge at the ATM you won't lose the additional percentage on every dollar exchanged that some counters charge. Because of the transaction fees, you may want to take out more cash than you need immediately, but only do this if you have a secure place to lock up your cash and won't be carrying it around on you.

If you're someone who dislikes cash, using your credit card (conscientiously!) might be a good option because you wouldn't have transaction fees like you would from using an ATM. However, many credit card companies apply fees to purchases made in foreign currencies, so check with yours to see how their fee would compare to the ATM surcharges. If you own several cards, check with each about their fees on foreign purchases and use the card with the lowest fees.

Lastly, if you find yourself desperate for cash and must use a currency exchange counter, only use the counters once you've landed in the UK and exchange leftover currency before you travel home. Steer clear of the counters at airports and train stations, especially, and remember that exchanging at a bank is your best bet. Bon voyage!

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