currency exchange: travel tips

Photo by Garry Knight

This Frugal Friday I am going over currency tips and how to get the most out of every dollar you have while traveling.

It is so much easier now than ever before to take out money while you travel, and you have a million resources at your fingertips to help you do so. There will always be pitfalls, but for every challenge, there is a solution. Below you will find some helpful tips regarding cash, currency, and international transactions so that you can avoid any surprises along the way.

Carry Cash 

Travelers checks are outdated and are more of a nuisance than they are helpful in this day and age. Instead, carry cash. Use ATMs to withdraw money when needed. Each transaction you make, you will be charged a transaction fee not only by the institution you are getting money from but also from your bank back home. I recommend taking out as much money as allowed per transaction so that you can minimize the times you get charged these fees. Stick to using ATMs that belong to banking institutions. If it looks sketchy, it probably is.

Talk To Your Bank 

Ask your bank how much money you can take out per transaction or per day, prior to your trip. Maximum amounts may vary from country to country and ATM to ATM. Not every ATM will allow foreign cards, so ask your bank to see which locations you can use in the country you are visiting. While you have them on the phone, ask to see if they will increase your daily withdrawal limit if you plan to make larger transactions. Don’t forget to set a travel alert on your cards to let your banks know where and when you are traveling. If you don’t, your bank may put a hold on your card if they find any of your transactions “suspicious.”

Open A Specialty Checking Account For Your Travels

Open up a checking account that waives foreign transaction fees or reimburses you at the end of every month for any that have accrued. For example, Citibank has locations around the globe, and won’t charge a transaction fee if you’re in that network. Sometimes this varies from country to country, so double check what areas are free and which may result in a fee. If you live in the US, opening a Charles Schwab brokerage account can save you hundreds of dollars a year in ATM fees. They reimburse you for transaction fees at the end of every month. This is an ideal account to have if you travel a lot. You can use your card in any ATM, unlike most bank cards.

travel tips currency exchange

Photo by

Don’t Buy Foreign Currency Before Your Trip 

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been to an airport that doesn’t have an ATM. If you can manage to wait until you get to your destination, I recommend taking out money there instead of purchasing it in advance. If you can’t wait until arrival to get cash (and I lump myself in this category), do not exchange your money at the airport, hotel or other currency exchange office unless it is your last resort. They will have the worst exchange rates. Instead, check with your local bank well in advance. They may carry some currency, however, many will need to be special ordered.

Bring Back-Up American Dollars 

Chances are high that you will encounter some type of issue using your ATM card or credit card during your travels. Bring a crisp new $100 bill with you (or more) just in case. Dollars are highly desired in many countries so it can be helpful to carry it with you when you’re in a bind. You never know when a bank may go on strike or your card gets eaten by a machine.  Cash from home might be the only way to get through the day before things are resolved.

foreign currency exchange

Photo by

Use Plastic For Large Transactions 

If you’re paying for a big-ticket item, use your credit card. If you don’t already have one, I recommend opening up a credit card account with no foreign transaction fees. Many cards and banks will have a foreign transaction fee between 1-3% which can add up quickly and can be avoided. Using a credit card for these larger purchases will be more effective than withdrawing a significant amount of cash. Best to save the cash for smaller purchases so you can minimize ATM transactions.

Spend Your Coins 

Coins are useless when you travel home. You will not be able to exchange them and they’ll end up just burning a hole in your pocket if you don’t spend them. When you’re not used to coins as currency you may be tempted to break another bill, but try to take the time to learn the coins and use them in transactions whenever possible. If you still can’t use them all before you leave, spend them on souvenirs in the airport, or donate them. Many airports have locations where you can donate any leftover change from your travels.

Count Your Change 

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there are a lot of dishonest people out there that take advantage of tourists and their lack of knowledge of the local currency. Be sure to take the time to count the change you received to make sure it is the amount that you should have received back from your transaction. Yes, mistakes can happen, but there are some people that have no problem ripping off a tourist that isn’t paying attention to what they are owed.

Know The Conversion Rate 

Conversion rates change daily. Keep up with all the changes on sites like When you’re shopping, be sure to keep in mind what the estimated value of the dollar is and calculate the cost of your intended purchase. Expect to pay about 4-9% of the total you are exchanging due to bad exchange rates.

Divide Up Your Money & Cards 

If you’re making large withdrawals, it is best to distribute your money into various locations within your luggage and on your person. Keep some in your wallet and purse, some in your money belt, and some in your luggage. Worst-case scenario is your wallet or purse gets stolen, but you have some backup cash and a card in your money belt or luggage so you can get by.

Use An RFID Card Case 

Does your credit card have a chip in it? Did you know there are ways for thieves to scan your cards and IDs? I recommend buying a sleeve for your cards to keep you accounts save while traveling. This precautionary measure can give you a bit more peace of mind.

currency exchange rates

Photo by Lima Pix

Travel Where Your Dollar Goes Furthest 

Use the information you find on conversion rates to see where you can get the most bang for your buck. A quick google search is also helpful to determine the locations that would provide you with the most value for your money. It is helpful to know what common purchases would cost you in that country, from dining at a restaurant to booking that fantastic boutique hotel.


Be ready for some unexpected issues. Not everything will go perfectly, but following the tips above can help you avoid major complications.

I once had to spend about an hour on the phone with my bank just making sure that my card would work at the next ATM I tried. I had to borrow cash from a friend because an ATM I used was flagged for suspicious activity, so my card was put on hold. my card could also only be used at certain banks while my friends had Charles Schwab cards and could use any ATM. Once that was resolved I had to make more frequent withdrawals in order to pay my friend back for the days they spotted me.

This is pretty minor, but still can be a hassle while you're on the go.

Your Turn...

Any other tips or advice for your fellow Venuelusters?

Have you encountered any issues with money while traveling?

Let us know in the comments below!