When do you acquire foreign currency?

Travel Forums General Talk When do you acquire foreign currency?

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1. Posted by Teoni (Travel Guru 1754 posts) 2y Star this if you like it!

The last few trips I have done I have been obtaining my currency in country mostly from ATMs but I know a lot of people still get currency for the country they are visiting before they leave. These days with ATMs, currency exchangers and banks in pretty much every country I wonder is there still some advantage to getting foreign currency before you leave? Is there some countries where this is a good idea?

2. Posted by AndyF (Moderator 2463 posts) 2y Star this if you like it!

I know you can get good rates with the right bank card just using ATMs in the country, but I've been a victim of ID fraud in the past so I try not to leave much digital footprint. I'm also a "planner", in terms of enjoying preplanning the things to see and do, packing, and getting the money together. So I normally get foreign currency before I leave home. It also gives me peace of mind that a) I know I can afford it, b) it's one less thing to consider on arrival when I may be tired / jetlagged.

Having said that I also have backups. Usually a prepaid debit card and a credit card. I'm normally travelling with my girlfriend in which case we are each other's additional backups in terms of spare cards. If I'm travelling alone, it's 3 cards stored in separate places.

Perhaps I'm a bit OCD but these habits mean I'm uncomfortable in countries with closed currencies, such as Ukraine where you need to find a cash machine on arrival before you can get some money to travel beyond the airport - very frustrating.

3. Posted by leics2 (Travel Guru 3506 posts) 2y Star this if you like it!

Like Andy, I'm wary of using ATMs abroad because of issues with bank fraud, identity theft and the additional costs I have to pay. The vast majority of ordinary UK credit and debit cards levy charges on foreign withdrawalsand on payments in foreign currency.

For the US I have a pre-paid currency card which functions as a debit card. I'd use that in a US ATM if I needed to..it's free...but up to now have only used it as a debit card.

I pay hotels using my credit card (and just suck up the fees) and use cash or my pre-paid card for everything else. I always take 2 credit cards and cash, plus the pre-paid for the US, and never take my everyday debit card. They, and my passport, always 'live' either in an under-clothing pouch or in a hotel safe.

I never take huge amounts of cash because I don't spend huge amounts of money, so I just get it from my own bank. With a small amount any variation in exchange rates (other than at UK airport exchanges, which are notorious for poor rates) is a matter of pennies, a couple of GBP at most.

If I visit a country with a closed currency, I prefer to exchange a small amount at the airport rather than risk an ATM and will exchange the rest locally as and when needed, again avoiding ATMs. Small amounts = exchange rate variations in pennies (always less than card charges). That's something I'm prepared to tolerate rather than risk losing money to ATM fraud or having a card 'eaten'.

4. Posted by road to roam (Travel Guru 1096 posts) 2y Star this if you like it!

I once counted 15 cambios all next to one another in the arrivals hall in MEX. In fact, there's even a cambio "district" in the centre of the city. We've also found great rates with black market exchangers at many land border crossings. The chances to exchange in many parts of the world are plenty and all that competition is good for you.

Here in the US, cambios are either a few banks scattered throughout town mostly offering the service to account holders (many times banks must order certain currencies and popular currencies are extremely limited to on-hand supply and almost always involve very large bills which can be difficult to break) or one or two kiosks at the airports, often operated by the same company, again offering large bills along with crap rates and fees.

If we're in a country long enough we need to eventually get to an ATM, though. We always keep some emergency dollars and euros to exchange if we need to, but haven't had to rely upon those.

Credit cards and debit cards are simply not accepted in many hotels in our price range in the countries we tend to travel in (nor is booking online) so cash is king for us. Having said that, pre-paid debit cards are a good idea to have just in case.

Our bank partners with loads of banks throughout the world and we can withdraw cash from associated bank ATMs without taking much of a hit at all.

Except for land border crossings, I carry a few days supply of local currency and simply shop around for a better rate once I get away from the airport and settled.

[ Edit: Edited on 14-Sep-2019, 10:17 GMT by road to roam ]

5. Posted by karazyal (Travel Guru 3711 posts) 2y Star this if you like it!

There is a fee to use most ATMs overseas. Even if you have a card that says "no ATM fees" they may have an annual fee. The card you use may say no ATM fee on their part but will it pay for ATM fees imposed by foreign ATMs?

For me, when overseas using an ATM, I take out the most I can at one time if staying in that country for a while. The fee usually is the same for a small amount withdrawn or the maximum your card provider or particular ATM charges.

For the places I visit nowadays I just bring cash, for me US hundred dollar bills, and not use an ATM. When they run out I will use an ATM with a debit card from my credit union. No annual fees, they pay (tiny amount) interest on my balance and some money back for out of area ATMs. At a daily limit of $500 US per withdrawal, per day, that is more than enough for my cheap hotels and other spending requirements.

For some people using an ATM for cash withdrawals gives them some sort of a "peace of mind" worrying about cash being stolen from them. I would rather give up the cash than have some gang of thieves torture me for my pin numbers!

Overseas I prefer to pay cash for cheap purchases and not use a debit card for things I buy in a store, restaurant or drinks in a bar. I just don't eat or drink in ritzy places anyway.

Don't leave home with a single debit card and have some credit cards for emergency situations that may come up. On some travel forums there are posts from tourists who lost or damaged their single debit card (or someone stole it) and they are trying to get money from home just to survive.

  • * For some countries I visit the currency exchange at the airport may be a little less than what I can get in the city area but still it is better than I can get in my country. I change enough cash at the airport to see me through the first day and later hunt up a better rate. (I pay cash for taxi or bus or train rides and not flash a card.) The less I use a debit card overseas, my belief, the less exposure to some sort of credit card type fraud.

6. Posted by Andrew Mack (Travel Guru 1037 posts) 2y Star this if you like it!

Outside Europe I can never remember (and always forget to check before hand) which countries want you to show some local currency as proof of funds on entry. I know they pretty much all accept showing them USD/GBP/€uro equivalent but there are some 'jobsworths' out there, so as routine I usually get at least a few hundred £ or $ of currency at a specialist exchange before I go.
I also take GBP (or USD/€uros depending on the country or what I have left over from previous trips) and 2 cards.

7. Posted by greatgrandmaR (Travel Guru 2102 posts) 2y Star this if you like it!

Quoting Teoni

The last few trips I have done I have been obtaining my currency in country mostly from ATMs but I know a lot of people still get currency for the country they are visiting before they leave. These days with ATMs, currency exchangers and banks in pretty much every country I wonder is there still some advantage to getting foreign currency before you leave? Is there some countries where this is a good idea?

It depends on the country and what you are doing right after you get off the plane. Back 20 years ago when we went to Costa Rica, the cab drivers would not accept foreign currency (even dollars), so we had to exchange some money in the airport in order to get to our hotel.

Now I usually arrange pick-up at the airport which is pre-paid. Still, it gives me some peace of mind to have at least a little local cash. I can get it from our credit union or from my brokerage - they have to order it in advance and it usually comes in the mail and has to be signed for.

Also in the old days we carried Traveler's Checks. We no longer do that, but when I traveled with underage grandchildren, they were too young to have a credit card that they could use out of their home country, so they carried Traveler's Checks. Which can only be cashed in a bank, so less convenient. We wanted to get some cash in England and I couldn't make the ATM work (being unfamiliar with them) so we tried to get cash at a bank. They referred us to the PO as they said they only gave cash to their customers.

We do not use ATMs at home or abroad. We just carry cash. My husband likes $20 bills. I always like to have some $5s and $1s. So if a taxi driver says he will take care of our luggage boarding the ship for $10, I am not in a situation where all I have is a 20. (which happened to me once in Australia). I did carry a large amount in $50s once, to pay for a tour in St. Petersburg. It was $650 and I didn't want to carry that amount in $20s. Larger bills are more likely to be counterfeited and some places will not accept them - either because they don't have enough change or because they are wary of them.

[ Edit: Edited on 14-Sep-2019, 14:38 GMT by greatgrandmaR ]

8. Posted by 55vineyard (Full Member 159 posts) 2y Star this if you like it!

My small local bank does not carry foreign currency so I just use an ATM here and there.

9. Posted by Teoni (Travel Guru 1754 posts) 2y Star this if you like it!

It really is interesting to see other points of views on this. I guess I am lucky I have cards that don't charge foreign transaction fees and so far only twice I have paid an ATM fee, I usually try to research which ATMs won't charge me a fee. It is interesting people bring up bank fraud. For me I guess I treat it like the risk of getting hit by car, I take percautions to minimize the risk but I won't go out of my way to avoid all road crossings. Every day I go through my app to check transactions so I can jump on any dodgy ones that pop up and always make sure when I pay they bring the machine to me. The financial institutes I use are pretty easy when it comes to disputed transactions so maybe that is what makes me less concerned about the issue.

For me the issue has always been cost. Where I live rates are just not very competitive so I gain a lot if I get the currency in country especially if it is one of the more obscure currency then the exchange rate is normally a complete rip off and they always add fees on top of it.

10. Posted by BeateR (Full Member 193 posts) 2y Star this if you like it!

We always and everywhere take our cash out of an ATM and pay as much as possible via creditcard or bankcard.
Even if there is a small fee, either for ATM or for paying with card: you get the best exchange rate by doing it so and in the end it always was the cheapest way for us.