Travel Tips: How to Exchange Money Before Traveling

Whether you’re traveling out of the country for business or for vacation, you will have to decide how or if you would like to exchange your dollar for the local currency.

Should I exchange money before I travel abroad?

It is not necessary to exchange currency before you leave for your trip, but it is necessary to know how you plan to convert your U.S. dollar before you board the airplane. Luckily, travelers now have an abundance of options on how to exchange currency and easily pay for items during their trip. Here’s a quick look at what your most popular options are:


  1. Use a credit card for all purchases.
    If you would prefer to not handle cash at all, one of the best and most secure options you have is to simply use your credit card. If your credit card does not have a foreign transaction fee, you will receive the best exchange rate for the most convenience.
  2. Withdrawal from an in-network ATM during your travels.
    Just like ordering directly from an international financial institution, withdrawing local currency from an ATM eliminates the fees associated with middle men and provides the best exchange rate. If you’re using an in-network ATM, the fees should remain low, but it’s still recommended to complete a few, larger withdrawals rather than many smaller withdrawals. Before you leave home, research where the closest in-network ATMs will be in the airport or near your hotel. If you can’t find one in-network, you will likely have to pay extra surcharges and fees from an out-of-network ATM and it would be smart to look at a different option.
    AmeriChoice is part of CO-OP’s ATM Network, a network of credit unions that have joined together to provide ease of service and convenience on the scale of a national bank. This includes over 35,000 ATMs in the United States and Canada that offer no fee transactions when using your credit union debit card.
  3. Order directly from your financial institution.
    Financial institutions that have offices internationally will usually be able to provide you with a currency exchange before you even leave for your trip. Ordering directly from a financial institution, whether it’s a branch or an ATM, cuts out the fees associated with exchanges that occur through the middle man like an airport exchange counter.

Less Recommended

  1. Order Traveler’s Checks
    This service still provides much-needed security for your funds, but has higher fees and less businesses are accepting them with all of the advances in technology. Using a credit card is still a better option.
  2. Using online currency converter services
    In a world where you can have virtually anything delivered to your front door, foreign currency is no exception. There are many websites that offer these services, although you’ll likely pay a higher fee along with delivery charges.

Not Recommended

  1. Stopping at an airport or hotel exchange counter
    These counters are the middle men we’ve been warning you about. While it is definitely convenient to be able to take care of your exchange right after you hop off the plane, it will cost you in unfavorable exchange rates as well as commission fees. A little research and preparation before you arrive to your destination will allow you to score a better deal without giving up much in the way of convenience.
  2. Filling up a prepaid debit card
    Prepaid debit cards are less likely to come without foreign transaction fees, and will likely come with every other fee in the book. Plus, they lack the same security and protection that other credit cards and regular debit cards provide. Skip these if you can.

Should I use local currency or only credit cards while abroad?

There are pros and cons to each method of payment. However, the most popular advice is to use a credit card for larger purchases but keep local currency on hand to pay for small items or cash-only services like public transportation. If you’re concerned that you will have a surplus of local currency at the end of your trip, and do not want to pay the fees to exchange it back, simply use the surplus towards your hotel stay at checkout and then put the rest on your credit card. It will give you the best exchange rate for your dollar!

Travel Tips from the Experts

  • Avoid dynamic currency conversion fees by always asking your card to be billed with local currency rather than the U.S. dollar.
  • Notify your financial institution before you leave so that your accounts are not frozen to protect you from fraud.
  • Many foreign ATMs do not accept pins with letters, so make sure your pin is a four-digit number before attempting to withdrawal from your account.

To further prepare for your trip, read up on our banking checklist of items to take care of before your travel. And have a safe trip!

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