Wouldn’t it be great if there was an international currency instead of having to change to money that looks and feels different to what we are used to and have to convert prices on everything back to our local money in our heads before we buy things? Sadly, until this happens, we have to change to local currency when we are travelling. There are many inefficient and expensive ways to do this, but here are a few guidelines to avoid excess charges where possible.
- Draw from ATMs using your debit card – check with your bank what the costs will be to draw currency from foreign ATM’s. This can be quite expensive but is usually a lot cheaper than most options. If your bank has sister banks overseas you can often save a lot when drawing at these ATMs. If you do a lot of foreign travel, it might pay you to bank with a bank that offers cheaper ATM withdrawals of foreign currency when abroad, as it will save you a lot of money over the long term. Don’t use your debit card to make large purchases as refunds can take a long time to be reversed in case of an error or a return, even though the initial debit goes off your account immediately. This can leave you cash strapped if you are unfortunate to have a large mistake made.
- Bureau de Change that advertise as ‘no fee’ often offer significantly worse exchange rates than what you would normally get from a bank as they build the fee into the rate, often as high as a 9% charge to change your money. Make sure you are up to speed with the exchange rate. It is quite easy to check online at any point.
- Use credit cards for large purchases but not for cash withdrawals. As well as the ATM withdrawal costs, you could be subject to very high interest rates as well, up to double what you would normally pay on your credit card, with the interest levied from day one of the withdrawal. This makes for a very expensive way to get local currency. Although there is an extra 1% to 3% levied on purchases made overseas, this is still a cheaper option when making large purchases as the rate of exchange offered will be much better.
- Request that charges are made in the local currency and not in USD as you then pay your bank’s foreign transaction fee on top of the purchase often being at a bad exchange rate and adding in hidden fees. You will end up paying a lot more than you should, up to 10% or more in extra charges and costs.
- Use travellers checks as a fall back for emergency situations. Even though it can be costly and there are a few places they cannot be exchanged, over all, when there is a dire emergency, these are a valid form of payment that will see you through a tough situation.
- You may not be allowed to travel with a lot of cash, but most countries in the world will accept USD, so travelling with a couple of $100 notes can also help in an emergency.