If you’re planning to go abroad soon, you’ll need to have access to foreign currency. While you could make all your purchases with a credit or debit card, you run the risk of wasting too much money on foreign transaction fees. One way to avoid that is to exchange currency and carry around cash. Unfortunately, sometimes getting access to foreign funds can be expensive. If you’re on a mission to save money, here are the cheapest ways to purchase foreign currency.
1. Stop by Your Local Bank
Many banks and credit unions offer a foreign currency exchange service for a fee. Some financial institutions will even order currency, or allow you to order it online, and ship it to your home. That may be a convenient way to get the money you need for your trip. However, if you have to pay shipping fees, you could lose a lot of money in the process.
A cheaper way to get access to foreign currency is to buy it from your local bank branch in person. You may not have to pay a fee at all, as a loyal customer. Plus, larger banks often get access to the best exchange rates. The process is pretty simple and you could be able to exchange the money you need in the matter of minutes.
2. Visit an ATM
Another option, if you’re unable to go to a bank branch before it’s time to leave, is to stop by an ATM. As long as it’s within your bank’s network, you should have to pay little to no fees for your withdrawals, if the ATM is able to process foreign transactions. If not, you could take U.S. cash out and plan on exchanging it for the going rate when you enter the country.
You can also find out whether your bank has a foreign affiliate. If it does, you may be able to withdraw funds from one of their ATMs once you arrive. If there are fees that you have to pay, it might be a good idea to take out as much money as you can at one time so that you don’t rack up fees for smaller withdrawals.
3. Consider Getting Traveler’s Checks
Another way to exchange currency is to purchase traveler’s checks. You can get travelers checks from most banks or credit unions. You may be able to buy them from your bank or credit union, but you’ll likely have to pay a small fee. Again, going into the bank and buying them from a teller is a good idea if you don’t want to pay extra to have them mailed to you.
If you can’t get traveler’s checks from your own bank, there may be another bank in your area that sells them, and your bank might even be able to give you a referral. Many traveler’s checks come from American Express. If you visit its website, you can enter your address and get a list of the closest banks that provide traveler’s checks. But the fee you’re required to pay may be higher if you don’t have an account with the bank.
The good thing about traveler’s checks is that you can easily order additional checks if you lose them or someone steals them. Plus, once you have them, you’re the only person who can trade those checks in for foreign currency. The downside is that not all businesses let you use them to make purchases. So you’ll probably have to find a bank once you get to your destination that cashes travelers checks.
An alternative is to find a prepaid travel credit card, like the ones offered by American Express and MasterCard. They offer some of the same benefits that traveler’s checks provide without the hassle of having to cash in the checks.
4. Buy Currency at Your Foreign Bank Branch
Opening a bank account in a foreign country might make sense if you frequently travel there, or especially if you own property in the country. If the bank sells currency, you could wait until you arrive to get the funds you need. Setting up an account may take time, so you’ll either need to do it in advance or open the account so you can access it later during your next trip.
Even if you don’t open a foreign bank account, these bank branches still might be able to exchange currency for you. If they are willing to do so you’ll likely have to pay a fee, just as you would in the U.S. if you aren’t a banking customer.
5. Order Currency Online
There are various online bureaus that sell foreign currency. But to get the most money at the cheapest rates, you’ll need to do some research. Travelmoneymax.com is just one website that makes it easy to compare different bureaus and find the ones with the best exchange rates. You may be able to avoid paying a shipping fee by ordering large amounts of currency at a single purchase.
If you’re traveling to Mexico, England or somewhere else outside the U.S., you’ll likely need access to foreign funds. But depending on where you go, you might have to pay a lot of money in order to exchange currency. Some of the cheapest ways to get foreign currency include purchasing it from your bank and withdrawing money from an in-network ATM. Keep in mind that you’ll likely get stuck paying higher fees if you exchange currency at the airport, a currency exchange counter or a hotel.
Tips for Money Management
- If you have financial questions beyond currency exchanges, you should consider speaking with a financial advisor. Finding a qualified financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
- One way to avoid exchanging cash for a shorter trip is to have a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. You’ll want to have plenty of balance on the card for your trip, and make sure that the credit card company knows you’re traveling prior to your trip so that you don’t get stuck with a card that is declined for security reasons.
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