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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?

To see my answer just

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!


idawson idawson 9 years
Here is another thing that you can use ....
bushra bushra 9 years
aside from the cash tips, can i just say please please please look out for your valuables, i was in starbucks once and i remember a couple from the US sounding very dejected when the husband realised his wallet had been stolen.
OliveBlack OliveBlack 9 years
If you want to change money whilst in the UK, larger post office branches or Marks and Spencers will change it with no commission. All the places in tourist areas that advertise that service usually do charge commission.
ames3560 ames3560 9 years
A couple of my own tips :) Capital One (at least when I travelled last year) doesn't have a fee for using it oversees, and often times there are exchanges that you can change your cash before you go, for a minimal fee, and change it back when you get home. As long as you have the receipt, they won't charge you the fee. I think it was $10 when we did it.
Twinkle1 Twinkle1 9 years
We usually exchange a few hundred euros before leaving and use the credit cards most of the time. We were surprised however to find that some shops don't accept foreign credit cards. This happened in Norway after we had spent half an hour selecting groceries and after we had already bagged everything. :oops:
Advah Advah 9 years
I'll just add a quick detail to Misswills' excellent post: if you're travelling to Scotland, Halifax is called Bank of Scotland, so you can add that one to the list (you mainly get RBS and BoS here anyway). Thanks for all the advice, I'm travelling the other way round (from the UK to the US) in a couple of weeks, and I was about to email Savvy about it! :) Thanks also for the suggestion to let the credit card company know you'll be abroad, I'd have never thought of it!
nextjen nextjen 9 years
My husband and I travel a LOT and we always use ATMs and credit cards. Use credit cards at the hotels and cash everywhere else. Do not get traveler's cheques. No one uses them anymore.
gatsby-esque gatsby-esque 9 years
Also, make sure the money from your debit/ATM card is in your checking account and not your savings. ATMs in the UK and Ireland do not give you the option of withdrawing from either your checking or your savings account. ATMs will ONLY withdraw money from your checking account over there, so put all the money you will use on your trip into that account. I learned this the hard way!
jazspin jazspin 9 years
I second everyone else's comments about waiting to use ATMs over there (withdraw a decent amount and keep the extra in the hotel safe or something to cut down on transaction fees), also - be sure to call your bank and credit card companies and let them know you will be traveling so they don't freeze your account - it only takes a minute or two, and it might save you tons of future hassle.
randomname12345 randomname12345 9 years
After living in the UK for a while, I have a few tips to pass on to you: Most UK ATMs won't charge fees for use. The only ones that do charge are private ATMs owned by independent contractors and not banks. These are the ATMs you'd find in places like convenience stores, movie theatres, hotels, etc. The ones on the "high street" are usually bank owned. When in doubt, just check the screen or the signs around the ATM. They will always mention if there are service fee charges. You will, however, get charged service fees from your home bank in the US. Be sure to ask what they are. Sometimes it's a flat rate per transaction; other times it's lumped into the foreign transaction fee as a percentage of your total transaction. Some reputable bank names to look for: HSBC, Barclays, Lloyds, Alliance and Leicester, Hallifax, Cheltenham and Gloucester, NatWest, RBS (Royal Bank of Scotland). Also, there are ATMs everywhere in London. They have them at the airports and at train stations, too. This takes away the need to go hunt down an exchange counter. Don't change money at your bank or at the airport before you go. You will get a miserable exchange rate. Always exchange at your final destination. Don't use traveller's checks. You get the worst rates and it's hard to find a reputable exchange counter. Many of them may claim to have no commission fees or foreign exchange fees, but they make up for the difference by giving you a really miserable exchange rate. Just bring credit cards instead. If you insist on changing money, do it when you're in town. The post office has a change counter and gives pretty good rates, as do all the major banks. Have fun and good luck!
mdjaeda mdjaeda 9 years
Whether traveling to remote areas in South America or cities across Europe, I always use ATMs. If you do this, you HAVE to check with your bank to find out what fees are charged--both exchange rates and ATM surcharges. Without naming names, there are some banks that skim heavily off the top of your transactions, while other, friendlier banks give you a favorable rate fee-free.
shanimalcracker shanimalcracker 9 years
P.S. BE CAREFUL about credit cards and know the terms. I went to Canada yesterday and used my credit card to buy a $1.00 drink from a 7-11 and ended up getting a $2.50 charge on it. Hmmph! Getting a charge that costs more than the actual item purchased is not too pretty!
shanimalcracker shanimalcracker 9 years
This is AWESOME! I am leaving to Italy, Czech, and France this Saturday so this could not have come at a better time. Thanks!
DreaAST DreaAST 9 years
nice tips.
baybug baybug 9 years
I like using my cards rather than paying cash. Unless it is for something really small.
cubadog cubadog 9 years
I just wait till I get to the country I am arriving in to get cash unless it is out of the way and I always call my credit card companies before I leave they have gotten a lot tougher and mark accounts more frequently then they used to. When I go to Europe I don't even bother picking up any currency anymore before I leave, banks charge way too much for it. I just hit an ATM as soon as I get there.
trésjolie1 trésjolie1 9 years
Remember, if you go to Germany you can't pay with credit cards like you can in other countries such as UK and France, and you will need to take out your money from ATM's and pay in cash. The ATM's themselves are sparsely located, so don't pass one by thinking there will be another down the road. If you really can't find one, ask for "Sparkasse", the German term, and someone will probably be able to point you in your direction.
chibarosa chibarosa 9 years
I usually exchange some currency before I leave home so that I have it on hand when I get there, but even with the fees you get a better rate in the country where you are purchasing the currency. Just my experience though.
chibarosa chibarosa 9 years
This is redundant, but I agree with the above statements. ATMs are the way to go if you can find one that is international (like HSBC or Citibank), and it is definitely wise to call your bank and/or credit card company before you leave to let them know how long you will be traveling. Otherwise your transaction may be denied and that is so embarrassing and can be hazardous if you really need whatever you are purchasing. Traveler's cheques can really be a hassle depending on your destination. In Mexico and the Caribbean I had no trouble exchanging them in hotels or in banks (which give better rates than hotels), but in Brazil it was terribly difficult. There were so many convenient international ATMs that it was a snap to go withdraw cash every other day or so. That way I didn't have too much on hand in case of theft but the fees didn't break me either. And I don't trust hotel safes for large quantities of valuables...Maybe I'm paranoid but I'd rather be safe than sorry.
SkinnyMarie SkinnyMarie 9 years
Would you be able to make the exchange in the US? I don't like using ATM's (especially for the fee the bank may charge). Would my bank here be able to exchange the currency before I leave? Also what about preloaded credit cards (like american express)
cvandoorn cvandoorn 9 years
I find that credit cards use an exchange rate favorable TO THEM, which means you end up losing even more money. Some even charge you a fee for using it be careful. And yes, ATM's are definitely good, but make sure you take out a lot to begin with. You don't want to rack up fees taking out 10 pounds here and there.
nancita nancita 9 years
Great tips. Thanks, Savvy. I am also a fan of using ATMs overseas. Just don't forget to call the card companies before you leave! I forgot once and it was a bit of a problem. :)
mlen mlen 9 years
definitely don't forget to call the credit card companies AND your bank- i did that once and they blocked my account for fraud and i couldn't withdraw money! and savvy made a good point- some cards charge more than others for overseas charging, so i'd call each and ask them- cause you might be able to save yourself a 1 or 2% fee that way. and the atm is definitely a good way to go. happy travels!
sweetpeabrina sweetpeabrina 9 years
If you're going to be using a credit card overseas, make sure you tell your credit card company before you leave. That way you won't run into any problems using it.
Lovely_1 Lovely_1 9 years
a lot fo palces really don't take them! I was in europe for 3 months and never even used one...sersiouly, few palces take them.
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