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  • The Curious Traveler

Tips for exchanging currency for your next trip

So, you’re getting ready for your next Boundless Journeys adventure, and are wondering where – and when – to get local currency for your trip. Here are some recommendations from our home team of travel experts:

Credit Cards: You can use your credit card just as you would at home. Card issuers typically tack on currency-conversion fees of 2 to 3 percent for international transactions. You’ll get the best exchange rate and fees that are lower than if you exchanged cash. Do not use credit cards, however, to withdraw money out of an ATM. You’ll be hit with hefty fines and ATM fees, not to mention interest on your withdrawal. This is the best option for big purchases, pre- and post-tour hotel rooms, and restaurant tabs.

ATM Cards: Most banks allow you to use your debit card in international ATMs to withdraw local currency. Check with your bank to make sure your ATM card will be compatible at your destination, and make sure to let your bank know where you will be traveling. If they are not notified, banks often put a hold on your card when you use it abroad.

Most banks tack on 3 to 8 percent for ATM withdrawals, however, some banks have international branches or partners that allow you to use your ATM card free. Again, check with your bank. If you do have international transaction fees, you may want to minimize them by withdrawing larger amounts less often. This is the best option for daily expenses such as museum entrance fees and smaller purchases.

Exchange at your bank: Most banks sell foreign currency, but make sure to order the cash a week before you travel as it often has to be delivered to the bank. You may incur delivery fees of $10 – $20. Exchange rates for banks tend to be slightly better than exchange rates elsewhere, as banks receive wholesale rates not available to the general public. This is recommended if you want to have some foreign currency on hand upon arrival at your destination.

Buy cash online: You can by cash on websites like oanda.com and they will ship it to your home. Exchange rates are not as good as the ones you will receive at your bank, and there are often delivery fees incurred. With a poor exchange rate and delivery fees, this option is not recommended.

Traveler’s Checks: This is a good option for those who do not want to use credit or ATM cards or carry large amounts of cash, and it comes with peace of mind as Traveler’s Checks can be replaced if lost or stolen. The downside is you will need to find a place to exchange the checks for local currency upon arrival, the exchange rate is worse than any of the above options, and there are fees of up to $9 incurred for each check. This is a good option if you are traveling to China, as fees are low and the exchange rate is regulated by the Chinese government, making this one of the most inexpensive options.

Currency Exchange Desk: This would be the last option due to hefty fees – sometimes up to 20% and the lowest exchange rate. It is best to avoid visiting currency exchange desks, unless you’re in a fix and need money immediately.

The lowdown: Before you go, exchange some cash at your bank to have on-hand for immediate expenses such as taxis and food. Use your credit card for large purchases and your ATM card for daily expenses. If traveling to China, Travelers Checks are a good option.

If you have any doubt about how or where to get local currency for your next Boundless Journeys trip, our travel experts are on-hand to help with these and other destination specific questions. Give us a call at 1-800-941-8010.

About Boundless Journeys
Boundless Journeys is an award-winning small group adventure tour operator. With a diverse collection of locally guided, small group itineraries and Private Collection trips around the world, Boundless Journeys offers “The World’s Great Adventures.” The adventure trips for 2-16 guests are active, ranging from leisurely cultural explorations and wildlife safaris to challenging trekking ― with plenty of easy to moderate walking and sea kayaking in between.

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