Currency Exchange and Traveling

Currency Exchange and Traveling Updated: 2022-04-18

Travel changes in conjunction with technology, sometimes making it easier and sometimes making it a bit harder. This cannot be more true when it comes to exchanging money for use when traveling abroad.

I'll go through many of the questions I have been asked over the years and also tell you what I do when traveling.

Travel Using Traveler's Checks

The first time I traveled was in 1988 and traveler's checks were the best way to exchange money as well as protecting the value of the amount of traveler's checks you purchased. If you lost one, you had a receipt of the check # which could be cancelled. This allows travelers to purchase $500 USD in traveler's checks and "cash" them along their travels, converting to other currencies as needed.

Traveler's checks are no longer used, in my opinion, as there are many other safe and economical ways to exchange money these days - so DO NOT purchase traveler's checks.

Exchanging Cash at the Bank Before Traveling

Banks would offer "trip packs", which would allow you to purchase a small amount of currency for each country you would visit during your vacation and this was a great way to ensure you had money for incidentals like food or taxi rides and not have to worry about cashing a traveler's check. There were always fees involved and you had to order the currencies you wanted well in advance as they had to be delivered to your local bank branch.

As with traveler's checks, there is no reason to purchase currencies before leaving home as the fees are extremely high and technology has taken over.

Using Credit Cards While Traveling

Credit cards weren't as widely accepted in the 80's as they are now - you can buy a single coffee using a credit card and no one will question you. I use my credit card for as many purchases as I can, ensuring I keep what cash I have on hand for the smaller items or places which do not accept credit cards (which is far fewer these days)

I ensure that I select the local currency when exchanging because my card does NOT charge a currency conversion fee; check with you card as they typically charge 4% to convert currency. If you select USD, the credit card merchant used to process the charges will give you a less favorable exchange rate, making a larger profit and passing that on to you.

I always charge in the local currency and never in USD!

Exchanging Currency using ATM (Automated Teller Machines) While Travealing

As soon as I land, I would head to the ATM in the airport and pull out 200 in the local currency, or something close to the USD equivalent - however this past trip, I've started to do a little more research and have determined this is not the best route these days.

The ATM you find inside the airport is typically run by the currency exchange desk you will also find at the airport so the exchange rate isn't great and they add fees on top - make sure you know the current exchange rate and read the screen to see what fees are added. This can be as high as 10% on top of the poor exchange rate, leaving less money in your pocket for your vacation.

I now look for the first local bank machine instead and you can find them in the airport but outside of baggage claim as well as many in the downtown area. Your credit card will get get you a taxi and downtown so no real need for cash right away.

When using an Irish bank ATM, make sure you read the screen as they now ask if you want the money converted and withdrawn in your home currency or in the local currency. This is completely deceptive and will result in you losing money to the bank itself; you withdraw in EUR, your bank automatically does a bank-to-bank conversion and deducts the respective USD from your account. When allowing the Irish bank to do the conversion, they are shaving a few cents off and you're paying more. In fact, I verified this by taking out 200 EUR -- if I elected to convert to USD at the ATM, it would cost me $223 however I declined that and allowed it to be deducted in EUR... and the deduction from my checking account was $117, saving $6 USD on this one transaction alone.

As of today, I will always pay special attention to the ATM and read the screen before withdrawing money to ensure the best rate however I will always use the Irish bank ATM for cash.

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