Where to Exchange Currency at the Best Rates

You can exchange U.S. dollars for foreign currency at a range of outlets both in the country you visit and here at home. It’s wise, however, to get the bulk of your foreign currency at ATMs abroad, which typically offer better exchange rates than any other sources, including your bank in the U.S., online exchanges, and the booths and kiosks in airports and tourist areas. Still, it’s smart to carry a small amount of the local currency when you first arrive in a new country, to cover immediate costs until you can reach an ATM. While abroad, plan to carry $50 to $100 worth of local currency per person, per day, according to AAA.

Currency Exchange at Banks

Most major banks will exchange your U.S. dollars for a foreign currency if you have a checking or savings account with the institution. In some cases, a bank will exchange currency if you have a credit card with the bank. Few charge a fee for this service, and the exchange rate that banks offer—which changes with the foreign exchange market—is typically more favorable than other sources in the U.S.

Banks

Details
Bank of America
  • no fee
  • offers online ordering ($100 minimum)
  • orders under $1,000 can be mailed directly to you
  • orders over $1,000 must be picked up at branch
Wells Fargo
  • no fee
  • offers online ordering ($200 minimum)
  • orders over $1,000 ship for free
Citigroup
  • no fee
  • offers online ordering
  • $5 fee (except for CitiGold and Citi Priority Account Package)
  • free delivery to branch
PNC
  • no fee
  • must exchange at branch
TD Bank
  • no fee
  • must exchange at branch
U.S. Bank
  • redirects to Travelex, a foreign-exchange provider

Some banks provide online orders that deduct from your checking or savings account; the foreign currency is then shipped to your home address, sometimes for a fee depending on the size of the order. Others require you to call or stop by a branch to order currency. Common currency requests—such as euros or Canadian dollars—may be fulfilled that same day, while other less-requested currencies could take two to four days to get. Many banks will also buy back any extra foreign cash you have after you return, albeit usually at less favorable rates than you paid for the currency.

Converting Foreign Currency Online

A handful of currency exchanges are available online. Travelex is one of the larger foreign exchange providers and is one that U.S. Bank directs customers to online. AAA also provides currency exchange for its members. Both Travelex and AAA will buy back foreign currency upon your return.

TravelexAAA
  • free store pick-up
  • free delivery on orders over US$1,000
  • typically ready for next-day pick-up, but can take up to 5 days
  • US$50 minimum order
  • US$3,000 maximum order
  • order online, in-store or over phone (1-888-626-2027)
  • free two-delivery on orders over US$1,000
  • shipping fee of $15 on orders under US$1,000

Currency Exchange While Abroad

Foreign ATMs typically offer the most favorable exchange rates overall, despite any fixed fees you may be charged. But it’s still smart to keep the number of ATM withdrawals low by taking out larger amounts of cash while abroad, to reduce the number of fees that you will pay. The following fees are often levied by foreign ATMs:

  • Foreign transaction fee: Covers the cost of converting U.S. dollars into a foreign currency
  • Out-of-network ATM fee: This fee, up to $5, is assessed for using a foreign ATM
  • Foreign-ATM use fee: ATM operators (outside Europe and Mexico) charge this convenience fee
  • Cash advance fee: If you use your credit card for the cash withdrawal, your issuer may charge this fee.

Some U.S. banks have worldwide alliances or affiliate banks in other countries that can make it easier for customers to get money abroad from foreign ATMs, often without imposing as many fees. For instance, Citibank has 45,000 ATMs across the globe that don’t charge out-of-network fees. But they still impose a foreign-exchange fee.

Similarly, Bank of America customers can use ATMs belonging to China Construction Bank, an affiliate of the U.S. bank, without paying out-of-network fees. Additionally, Bank of America is part of the Global ATM Alliance that gives its customers access without a fee to 50,000 ATMs from other bank global members such as Barclays, BNP Paribas, Banca Nazionale del Lavoro, Deutsche Bank and Scotiabank. Your last resort for converting currency should be exchange counters at airports or kiosks near hotels or in train stations. While they may be convenient to access, these exchanges typically don’t offer the best rates.

Non-Currency Options

You can avoid the hassle of converting currency by using credit cards or special travel prepaid cards, which also may be safer to carry than a wallet full of cash. Additionally, traveler’s checks offer security measures if they are lost or stolen.

Credit cards: Choose a card with no foreign transaction fees, which banks charge when a transaction on the card passes through a foreign bank or is made in another currency. The fee is typically around 3%. Capital One and Discover don’t charge this fee on any of their cards. Other issuers typically may not charge the fee on their premium or travel rewards credit cards.

Prepaid cards: Visa offers its Visa TravelMoney Card at Triple-A locations that can take the hassle out of foreign exchange. The card can make debit purchases and can be used to withdraw money at worldwide ATMs. Funds can be reloaded in person, over the phone or online using cash, bank account funds, or a debit or credit card. Similarly, Travelex offers a MasterCard prepaid travel card that locks in your exchange rate and doesn’t charge ATM fees. But it does charge a hefty 5.5% foreign exchange fee.

Traveler’s checks: Some banks and American Express offer special checks that can be redeemed for local currency at certain banks, foreign exchange locations and American Express travel services offices. foreign retailers may also accept traveler’s checks instead of the local currency. If lost or stolen, the checks can be refunded so long as you have the serial numbers of the checks. There are no withdrawal fees, but you may be charged exchange fees.

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