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 fees. One way to avoid that is to exchange currency and carry around cash. But 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 sell foreign currency. Some financial institutions order currency and ship it to their customers’ homes. That may be a convenient way to get the money you need for your trip. But 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. And banks often get access to the best exchange rates.
2. Visit an ATM
If you work long hours and you can never make it to the bank before it closes, your next best bet is to stop by an ATM before leaving the country. As long as it’s within your bank’s network, you should have to pay little to no fees for your withdrawals.
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. 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.
3. Consider Getting Traveler’s Checks
Another way to exchange currency is to purchase traveler’s checks. Many traveler’s checks come from American Express, but you can get them 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 vicinity that sells them. 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’ll let you cash them in.
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.
4. Buy Currency at Your Foreign Bank Branch
Opening a bank account in a foreign country might make sense if you frequently travel there. If the bank sells currency, you could wait until you arrive to get the funds you need. But 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.
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.
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. You can ensure that you have a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees or you can exchange money. Some of the cheapest ways to get foreign currency include purchasing it from your bank and withdrawing money from an in-network ATM. You’ll likely get stuck paying higher fees if you exchange currency at the airport, a currency exchange counter or a hotel.
Just keep in mind that exchange rates change constantly. If you want the best value for the dollars you’re exchanging, it’s a good idea to pay close attention to what’s happening in the economy and the direction that rates are moving in.
Update: If you have financial questions beyond currency exchanges, SmartAsset can help. So many people reached out to us looking for tax and long-term financial planning help, we started our own matching service to help you find a financial advisor. The SmartAdvisor matching tool can help you find a person to work with to meet your needs. First you’ll answer a series of questions about your situation and your goals. Then the program will narrow down your options to three fiduciaries who suit your needs. You can then read their profiles to learn more about them, interview them on the phone or in person and choose who to work with in the future. This allows you to find a good fit while the program does much of the hard work for you.
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