How to Save on Currency Conversion

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Theo
Travel Writer

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You can’t exchange currency for free. Unless you exchange currencies with someone in the country you’re visiting directly. That’s likely not the answer you’re looking for. But I can help you save money on currency exchange fees. Keep reading to learn more.

I’ve dealt with a lot of currency exchange throughout my years as a digital nomad and expat. I want to help you save money on exchanging currency.


Summary

  • Bank ATMs are the best place to withdraw local currency.
  • Avoid converting currency at airports, hotels, & tourist hotspots.
  • Opt for using cash instead of cards when abroad.
  • Some countries may not accept cash; research whether your destination country uses it often.

Important Information

Can You Exchange Your Currency for Free?

Exchanging currency for free is not possible. A peer-to-peer exchange is an exception. But beware. Always check the laws of the country you’re visiting.

Peer-to-peer foreign currency exchange is a system where people trade currencies directly. Instead of using banks or currency exchange services, individuals agree on an exchange rate and make the swap themselves.

Where to Exchange Foreign Currency Without Paying Huge Fees

MethodDescription
BanksFinancial institutions that offer currency exchange services, often at a fee or a marked-up rate
Currency exchange kiosksDedicated booths found at airports, tourist areas, & malls offering on-the-spot currency conversion, usually with high fees
ATMsWithdraw local currency directly from an ATM, with fees that may depend on your bank’s policies
Credit cardsUse credit cards for purchases while traveling, which typically have competitive exchange rates, but may include foreign transaction fees
Online currency exchangeWebsites & apps that allow users to exchange currency, often with lower fees compared to banks or kiosks
Peer-to-peer exchangeDirect currency trading between individuals, where both parties agree on an exchange rate and perform the swap themselves
Different ways to exchange foreign currency compared.

Where to AVOID Exchanging Currencies

Areas where I’d never exchange currencies include:

  • Airports: currency exchange kiosks at airports often have high fees & poor exchange rates
  • Hotels: some hotels provide currency exchange services, but they typically offer unfavorable rates
  • Tourist hotspots: avoid currency exchange booths in popular tourist areas; they tend to have high fees and poor rates
  • Unofficial money changers: steer clear of unregulated or unofficial currency exchange providers, as they may not be secure or trustworthy

Cash vs. Credit vs. Debit Cards for Foreign Transactions

Cash is widely accepted and can help you stick to a budget. However, carrying large amounts of cash is risky, as it may make you a target for thieves. And you may need to exchange currency, which can come with fees.

    Pros

    • Widely accepted
    • Helps with budgeting

    Cons

    • Carrying large amounts is risky
    • May need to exchange currency

Credit cards are another option, offering competitive exchange rates and perks such as rewards and protections. Some credit cards charge foreign transaction fees, and not all merchants accept them.

Pros & cons for using credit cards overseas

    Pros

    • Competitive exchange rates
    • Rewards and protections

    Cons

    • Foreign transaction fees
    • Not accepted everywhere

Be sure to have a backup plan.

Debit cards provide direct access to your bank account, potentially avoiding currency exchange fees. But ATM withdrawal fees and the fact that debit cards generally offer less protection than credit cards.

Pros & cons for using debit cards for purchases overseas:

Pros

  • Direct access to your bank account
  • May avoid currency exchange fees

Cons

  • ATM withdrawal fees
  • Less protection than credit cards

Always weigh the pros and cons to find the best payment method for your trip.


Understand ATM Limits & Fees

Using ATMs overseas is a popular way to get local currency. But be aware of fees and limits. Different banks and countries have various withdrawal limits, and fees may apply.

Look out for:

  • ATM withdrawal fees: your bank may charge fees for overseas withdrawals
  • Foreign transaction fees: some banks charge a percentage for foreign transactions
  • Currency conversion fees: the ATM operator may add a fee for converting currency

To save money, try these tips:

  • Partner banks: check if your bank has partners in the country you’re visiting. You might pay lower fees
  • High-limit ATMs: some ATMs allow higher withdrawal limits, meaning fewer transactions and lower fees

Remember to inform your bank about your travel plans to avoid blocked transactions. Also, keep your bank’s contact information handy in case of emergencies. With these tips, you’ll be better prepared to manage your money while traveling.


What to Do With Leftover Foreign Currency

Here are some ideas on what to do with leftover currency:

  • Exchange it at the airport: convert your leftover currency back to your home currency before departing
  • Use it at duty-free shops: spend your remaining foreign currency at duty-free shops in the airport
  • Save it for future trips: keep the leftover currency if you plan to revisit the country or if it’s a widely accepted currency
  • Donate to charity: many airports have donation boxes for foreign currency to support charitable causes
  • Give it to friends or family: pass along your leftover currency to someone you know who is traveling to the same country
  • Sell it online: exchange the currency with other travelers through online platforms or social media groups
  • Keep it as a souvenir: hold onto the foreign currency as a keepsake or memento from your trip

I’d first attempt to exchange the currency. If the bank told me the amounts were too small, I used to keep them. But now I give it to friends who collect foreign currencies.

Or if I know I’m returning to the country soon, I hold onto it.


FAQs

Keep reading to find frequently asked questions about exchanging currency.

Can I Exchange Currency Online?

Yes, you can exchange currency online. Websites and apps like Wise (formerly TransferWise), and OFX offer currency conversion services, often at competitive rates.


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About Theo

Theodore began first experienced the wonders of traveling when visiting Vietnam. Afterward, he went crazy and ventured to at least… More about Theo