Learn the best places to exchange currency in the U.S. and abroad
Updated on November 9, 2021
Michael J Boyle
Reviewed byMichael J Boyle
Michael Boyle is an experienced financial professional with more than 10 years working with financial planning, derivatives, equities, fixed income, project management, and analytics.
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Fact checked byRebecca McClay
In This Article
In This Article
- How Do You Exchange Currency?
- Where to Exchange Currency
- Where You Shouldn’t Exchange Currency
- How to Cut Currency Exchange Costs
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
When preparing for a trip overseas, you have many things to do, from getting passports to finding the perfect accommodations. But how will you pay for everything once you get to your destination? In many cases, you’ll need some local currency on hand for things like taxi rides, tips, and souvenir shopping. However, exchanging U.S. dollars for other currencies can be a bit tricky. Learn where to exchange currency to get the best rate and minimize fees.
How Do You Exchange Currency?
Whether you go to a currency exchange kiosk overseas, process an exchange through your local bank branch, or request the currency online, it works the same way:
- You request a different currency than you have.
- The institution processes the exchange based on its exchange rate and fees.
- You pay the amount due in one currency and receive the amount requested in the other.
But the place you choose to do the exchange could make a big difference in how much cash you end up with. For example, say you have $1,000 and you’re thinking of exchanging it for the equivalent amount in euros at an airport kiosk run by International Currency Exchange (ICE). The ICE exchange rate for U.S. dollars to euros when we were doing our research was 0.73, which would get you about €720 for your $1,000. By comparison, Wells Fargo’s rate was 0.80. Trading in your $1,000 at Wells Fargo in advance of your trip would get you €800, which is €80 (about $94) more than if you were to make the exchange at the airport.
Institutions that offer currency exchange services set their own transfer fees and exchange rates. It’s important to look at both factors to understand the total cost. While these institutions may advertise low or no fees, they often profit from the exchange rates.
Where to Exchange Currency
When it comes time to exchange currency, you have several options—both at home and abroad. You can go to:
- Your local bank or credit union
- Currency exchange kiosks (often in airports)
- Foreign ATMs with a credit or debit card
- Online money transfer services like Xoom and Western Union (use abroad)
Which option is the best? To find out, we compared the exchange rates, fees, and total costs from a variety of institutions. Here’s what we found:
Best Places to Exchange Currency in the U.S.
|Provider||USD to EUR Exchange Rate||1000 USD to EUR Conversion||Fees (USD)||Net Amount (EUR)|
|Bank of America||0.80032||€800.32||$0||€800.32|
|Currency Exchange International (partners with many credit unions)||0.77712||€777.12||$0||€777.12|
|International Currency Exchange (ICE Airport Exchanges)||0.72663||€726.63||$0||€726.63|
In the U.S., you basically have two options. You can buy the foreign currency from your bank or credit union, or you can visit dedicated currency exchanges, which are commonly found in airports or tourist districts.
Banks and credit unions tend not to have fees—at least if you’re changing an established minimum amount—but they make up for it (and then some) by charging you a less favorable exchange rate. You may have the best luck asking at your own bank for the more popular foreign currencies. In other cases, you may have to order the currency from the bank and wait for it to come in or be delivered to you. That process may come with additional delivery fees.
You can also visit currency exchange shops in tourist areas before you leave town, but these tend to have the most unfavorable rates you’ll find.
Exchanging currency before you leave your home country is not necessarily required or beneficial. Actually, you can likely access the foreign currency at a lower cost upon your arrival.
Best Places to Exchange Currency Abroad
|Provider||USD to EUR Exchange Rate||1000 USD to EUR Conversion||Fees (USD)||Fees (EUR)||Net Amount (EUR)|
|Mastercard Debit Cards ($5 ATM fee, no foreign transaction fees)||0.84943||€849.43||$5||€4||€845.43|
|Visa Debit Cards ($5 ATM fee, no foreign transaction fees)||0.84374||€843.74||$5||€4||€839.74|
|Xoom (paid with bank transfer or PayPal)||0.82685||€826.85||$0||€0||€826.85|
|Remitly (paid with debit card)||0.83044||€830.44||$4.99||€4.14||€826.30|
|Mastercard Credit Cards ($5 ATM fee; cash advance fee of $5 or 3%, whichever is greater; no foreign transaction fee)||0.84943||€849.43||$35||€30||€819.43|
|Visa Credit Cards ($5 ATM fee; cash advance fee of $5 or 3%, whichever is greater; no foreign transaction fee)||0.84374||€843.74||$35||€30||€813.74|
|Western Union (paid with debit card)||0.7572||€757.20||$7||€5||€752.20|
|International Currency Exchange (ICE airport exchanges)||0.72663||€726.63||$0||$0||€726.63|
While abroad, one of the best ways to get local currency may be by using a Visa or Mastercard debit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees to withdraw cash at an ATM. You’ll need to check with your financial institution to ensure your card will work in your destination country. And be aware that you may be charged ATM fees by your own bank and by the ATM owner overseas—which can really add up. Also, be sure to tell your bank when you’re traveling, so your card doesn’t get shut down on suspicion of fraudulent activity.
Services like Xoom and Remitly also have competitive rates and offer money pickup locations worldwide. You can create an account and request the transfer online. Then, you pay for the foreign currency using a debit card, credit card, or bank transfer. Xoom also lets you pay with PayPal. Once paid, you can pick up the foreign currency from a local cash pickup location at your destination (you cannot pick it up in the U.S.). It’s important to note the fees can vary depending on the payment method you choose. Remitly charges 3% when you pay with a credit card. Xoom doesn’t charge any fees for paying with your bank account or PayPal, but charges $17.99 for using a debit or credit card.
You may also be able to exchange currency through a bank in your destination country at a competitive rate. However, the exchange rate and fees can vary by the institution and the country you’re visiting. If you want to go this route, research the banks in the area before you go.
Where You Shouldn’t Exchange Currency
If possible, steer clear of airport exchange kiosks, as they generally have the most expensive rates. In the example above, ICE was the most expensive option—the fees reduced the net amount of currency you’d receive by 14%. Additionally, getting a cash advance from a credit card (either through an ATM or at a bank in your destination country) can come with a collection of fees, along with interest costs if you don’t pay off the balance. Depending on where you’re staying, your hotel may offer currency exchange, but that also tends to be an expensive option.
Before using a credit card to get cash in another country, be sure to check the ATM fees charged by the ATM owner and your bank, as well as cash advance fees, foreign transaction fees, and cash advance APR.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t bring a good travel rewards card on your trip (one with no foreign transaction fees). Making purchases with the card in places that accept credit cards is one of the best ways to save yourself the hassle of cash, plus, it’ll get you some of the best exchange rates going.
How to Cut Currency Exchange Costs
There are a few ways to lower the cost of exchanging money when you’re in another country, whether you’re using a card to make a purchase or exchanging currency for cash.
The first, as we’ve mentioned above, is to avoid credit and debit cards that charge foreign transaction fees for processing transactions in another currency. At around 3% per transaction, these fees add up quickly if you’re using your cards to make multiple purchases and/or withdraw funds. So if you’re going to use a credit or debit card abroad, look for one with no foreign transaction fees.
Next, when making purchases using your credit or debit card overseas, don’t accept the transaction in U.S. dollars. If you do, the merchant can process the currency exchange itself and give you a worse rate than if you’d paid in the local currency. This is known as dynamic currency conversion. Instead, accept the transaction in the foreign currency so you can benefit from the competitive exchange rates provided by Visa and Mastercard.
Lastly, don’t be lured by low transfer fees alone. They are only part of the story. Look up the most recent exchange rate from U.S. dollars to the foreign currency you’ll be using. Then, compare the exchange rates offered by providers to calculate your total costs.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is a currency exchange?
A currency exchange is an institution that buys and sells various currency types. You can use it to sell one type of currency and buy another. The buy/sell rates and fees can be set at the discretion of the institution.
How does currency exchange work?
Financial institutions are allowed to buy and sell at rates that allow them to realize gains. As a customer, you can exchange one currency for another with these companies. However, you will need to pay their fee and/or exchange rate on each transaction.
Where will you get the best currency exchange rates?
You will likely get the best currency exchange rates from a U.S.-based bank or by withdrawing money from a foreign ATM with a Visa or Mastercard debit card that doesn’t have foreign transaction or ATM fees. Both the Capital One 360 Checking Account and the HSBC Premier Checking Account offer debit cards without foreign transaction fees.
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Where do you get the best currency exchange rates? ›
Banks and credit unions are generally the best places to exchange currency, with reasonable exchange rates and the lowest fees. Here's how financial institutions — and a few other places — can help travelers exchange currency.What is an exchange rate Select the best answer? ›
An exchange rate is a relative price of one currency expressed in terms of another currency (or group of currencies).Do ATMs give best exchange rates? ›
ATMs tend to offer competitive exchange rates, and you can save on ATM fees by withdrawing more cash than you need instead of withdrawing smaller sums several times during your trip.Where can I convert foreign currency to US dollars? ›
Head to your bank or credit union before you leave to avoid paying ATM transaction costs. You may even receive a better exchange rate. Credit unions and banks will exchange your dollars into a foreign currency before and after your trip when you have a checking or savings account with them.Is it better to exchange currency at your bank? ›
It can be delivered to your local branch for pick up. Exchange rates at banks are slightly better than elsewhere. You can also order currency before you leave on your trip from a number of websites that will ship it to your home within a couple of days.How can I exchange currency without fees? ›
An ATM (preferably in your network)
The best way to exchange currency abroad while avoiding fees is through your bank's ATM network. Before travel, check to see if your bank has an ATM network — or even bank affiliates — at your destination so you have a better chance of avoiding unnecessary fees.
When you exchange cash, you get a significantly worse exchange rate than when you use a card. The difference can be as much as 6%. This is why using a card is better. However, you should not use a credit card to get money out of ATMs.Do banks charge a fee for currency exchange? ›
Banks and airport exchange services typically charge a commission on currency exchange and may also charge a service fee.What time is best for exchange rate? ›
The U.S./London markets overlap (8 a.m. to noon EST) has the heaviest volume of trading and is best for trading opportunities. The Sydney/Tokyo markets overlap (2 a.m. to 4 a.m.) is not as volatile as the U.S./London overlap, but it still offers opportunities.Can you exchange currency at a post office? ›
If you've come back from your holiday with some spare cash, take it to a Post Office branch that deals in foreign currency and we'll buy it back from you.
What US banks do currency exchange? ›
- America First Credit Union: Credit union members may visit select branches to exchange up to $5,000. ...
- Bank of America: Bank of America customers may exchange up to $10,000 online or over the phone. ...
- Citibank: You can call or visit a branch to exchange over 50 types of currency.
There is no fee for ordering foreign currency online. The bank receives compensation from the purchase and sale of foreign currency banknotes in the form of the difference (also known as the spread) between the price we pay to obtain the foreign currency and the price at which we sell the foreign currency.How do you find real exchange rate? ›
The real exchange rate (RER) between two currencies is the nominal exchange rate (e) multiplied by the ratio of prices between the two countries, P/P*. The RER therefore is eP*/P.Which is the best exchange rate system and why? ›
Fixed exchange rates work well for growing economies that do not have a stable monetary policy. Fixed exchange rates help bring stability to a country's economy and attract foreign investment. Floating exchange rates work better for countries that already have a stable and effective monetary policy.What are the 4 types of exchange rates? ›
There are four main types of exchange rate regimes: freely floating, fixed, pegged (also known as adjustable peg, crawling peg, basket peg, or target zone or bands ), and managed float.Can you negotiate exchange rate with bank? ›
Negotiate for even lower margin and better exchange rate
You can start by asking your bank if they offer better rates than other banks. If they turn you down, you might want to start looking at providers who offer a lower margin. Some providers will offer to swap currencies at a low rate for immediate settlement.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card: Best Overall No Foreign Transaction Fee Credit Card.
- Chase Sapphire Reserve®: Runner-Up No Foreign Transaction Fee Credit Card.
- Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card: Best Flat-Rate No-Foreign-Transaction Fee Credit Card.
They charge you between 10%-12% more than the value of the amount. Airport currency exchanges come with extra fees and whopping exchange charges. It is better to take advantage of international travel cards or credit cards to avoid High currency exchange rates at the Airport.Which bank does not charge foreign exchange fee? ›
1) Chase Bank
Chase Sapphire Checking customers do not incur any fees, including foreign transaction fees, for withdrawing cash from an ATM abroad.
So, for example, if you are travelling from the USA to France and want to buy some Euro there, you will pay less for it in France, as this is the currency that you will find everywhere. At the same time your American Dollars will become rare and valuable, which means that you will get more money for them.
Is it cheaper to withdraw cash abroad or exchange? ›
Avoid exchanging money at airports and hotels - they usually have the worst rates. If you want to withdraw cash from an ATM when you're abroad, always do it in the local currency. This guarantees the mid-market rate. However, your bank may charge ATM fees and foreign transaction fees (more on this later).How much do you lose when you exchange currency? ›
How Much Do You Lose When You Exchange Foreign Currency? On an average, travelers tend to lose a minimum of 6 to 8 percent and a maximum of 12 to 15 percent of the amount while you exchange foreign currency in various forms.Should I use ATM with or without conversion abroad? ›
When an ATM or card machine asks if you'd like to accept an exchange, there's only one right answer... always say no. Always refuse any conversion, always choose the local currency for the country you're in.Is it better to use credit card or debit card abroad? ›
Credit cards are widely accepted around the world and can also serve as a deposit, e.g., when renting a car. Credit card transaction fees are typically higher than debit cards. Most banks charge an average conversion fee of 2% for a credit card payment, that's 1% more than for a debit card payment.Do credit cards give good exchange rates? ›
Use your credit or debit card when possible
Fees aside, using your credit or debit card is probably your safest bet for getting an exchange rate that's closest to the market rate. But be aware that while your card's issuer bases its exchange rate on market conditions, it does set its own exchange rate for transactions.
First, there's a currency conversion fee, which is charged by the card network, such as Visa or Mastercard. Both charge 1%. There's also an extra fee added by the card issuer. This is typically about 1% or 2%, although it varies based on the issuer and the card.Is it better to get euros in US or Europe? ›
If buying euros in advance, whatever you do, don't overdo it! In almost every case, euros you can get abroad from an ATM will be cheaper than those you can get back in the States.What day of week is best to exchange currency? ›
Best day of the week to exchange currency
According to data from WeSwap and The Telegraph, you'll generally enjoy the best currency exchange rates on Fridays and Saturdays. Currency can fluctuate throughout the day too, with the morning or late afternoon cited as the best times to buy.
There is no specific best day to exchange currency, different factors such as political, economical factors, etc. play roles on currency exchange rates.What day of the week is best to exchange foreign currency? ›
All in all, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are the best days for Forex trading due to higher volatility. During the middle of the week, the currency market sees the most trading action.
Do you need ID to exchange currency at USPS? ›
If I'm buying/exchanging currency in a branch do I need to bring identification? If you are buying currency and paying by card then you will need to bring one of the following; Valid passport. Valid UK or EEA photocard driving licence.What is the selling USD rate today? ›
|Currency Name||Buy Rate (Card Rate)||Sell Rate|
|US Dollar (USD)||84.08||80.78|
|Sterling Pound (GBP)||102.33||98.01|
|Thai Baht (THB)||2.67||2.2|
Where to Get Good Rates: ATMs and Local Banks. The best place to exchange money is a local ATM or a bank. Many foreign banks are happy to exchange your dollars for local currency for a better rate than you find elsewhere, or you can go to an ATM to skip the line.How do I get the best exchange rate from an ATM? ›
Debit card travel withdrawals
The easiest way is to withdraw money with a debit card; you will get the best exchange rate (daily rate), but it will be increased by a conversion fee of 2.5%.
ATM exchange rates are all tied to the interbank currency rates traded on the global financial market. The rates constantly fluctuate, but will likely hover around the same figure for months at a time. With a quick Google search, you can find out what the current exchange rate is.What is the exchange rate on an ATM? ›
ATMs. Using local ATMs is one of the cheapest way to exchange money. Generally speaking, ATMs charge the spot rate plus about 2.5% -3.5%. This extra charge is known as a foreign transaction fee and can't be avoided (check with your debit card provider for the exact fee).Is it better to exchange money at airport or ATM? ›
Key Takeaways. Currency exchange shops and kiosks in airports are not the best places to exchange money. For the best rates, try a local bank or a bank ATM to make your currency exchanges.How do I get the best exchange rate for large amounts? ›
You can use a bank or currency broker to exchange large amounts of currency. The cost is a combination of exchange rates and transfer fees. Currency brokers can normally beat the banks in terms of cost.