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Currency Exchange
Old 06-12-2016, 03:51 PM   #1
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Currency Exchange

Does anyone have any experience or know anything about using Travelex for current exchange when traveling out of the country? How are they? Do you like using them or do you use someone else?


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Old 06-12-2016, 03:57 PM   #2
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Does anyone have any experience or know anything about using Travelex for current exchange when traveling out of the country? How are they? Do you like using them or do you use someone else?
I try to avoid any of the currency exchange pirates. It is almost always cheaper to just use your ATM card to make a withdrawal in local currency when you get where you are going, and try to only get as much as you'll need (so you don't have to exchange a lot back into $$ when you return). Just beware of skimmers/thugs at foreign ATMs--using a machine at a real bank branch is best, or at least a machine affiliated with a bank located in a busy public place. And then hide the keyboard very well as you enter your PIN.

If you >must< exchange money, the "very convenient" kiosk at the airport generally gives the worst rates.
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Old 06-12-2016, 04:13 PM   #3
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I try to avoid any of the currency exchange pirates. It is almost always cheaper to just use your ATM card to make a withdrawal in local currency when you get where you are going, and try to only get as much as you'll need (so you don't have to exchange a lot back into $$ when you return). Just beware of skimmers/thugs at foreign ATMs--using a machine at a real bank branch is best, or at least a machine affiliated with a bank located in a busy public place. And then hide the keyboard very well as you enter your PIN.

If you >must< exchange money, the "very convenient" kiosk at the airport generally gives the worst rates.
This is absolutely true in my experience.
I've found that when you get into the city, it's usually not hard to find an ATM that is physically inside a bank (most seem to be on the sidewalk outside) and those are where I try to make my cash withdrawals.

One slight disagreement with samclem: I also like to get somewhat more than I need, because I like having plenty of cash on hand -- I greatly prefer it to using a credit card overseas. I also like to make sure I have somewhere in the $50-100 range to bring home with me. It's not that long between trips, and it's great to have enough to get you through the first day until you can find one of those bank ATMs.

Also, to figure out what the current rate is, just get the XE app on your phone.
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Old 06-12-2016, 04:17 PM   #4
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Does anyone have any experience or know anything about using Travelex for current exchange when traveling out of the country? How are they? Do you like using them or do you use someone else?


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Don't do it! Use an ATM instead. Call you bank to lest them know you'll use your ATM card overseas. And make sure your PIN is 4 numbers and nor longer.

There are very few places that exchange cash for less than a typical ATM bank foreign conversion fee of 3%.

Travelex is expensive.

We use ATMs, although we did find an exchange in Vienna that had a quite low conversion fee built into the rate. There are a couple of places in Amsterdam that run about 3%. Don't believe people who claim "no fee" - it's built into the rate a place charges you. Notice the difference (spread) in converting the current one way, and then the other. Or look up the VISA or FOREX rate, and calculate the difference - that's what you are being charged.

Last year we went through the trouble of getting a Charles Schwab bank account for their 0% ATM foreign exchange fee. We also have a Fidelity ATM card which states it charges 1% which is much lower than most.

We also use a lot of cash in Europe, and don't mind bringing plenty back for next year as we travel yearly.
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Old 06-12-2016, 05:41 PM   #5
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Don't do it! Use an ATM instead. Call you bank to lest them know you'll use your ATM card overseas. And make sure your PIN is 4 numbers and nor longer.

There are very few places that exchange cash for less than a typical ATM bank foreign conversion fee of 3%.

Travelex is expensive.

We use ATMs, although we did find an exchange in Vienna that had a quite low conversion fee built into the rate. There are a couple of places in Amsterdam that run about 3%. Don't believe people who claim "no fee" - it's built into the rate a place charges you. Notice the difference (spread) in converting the current one way, and then the other. Or look up the VISA or FOREX rate, and calculate the difference - that's what you are being charged.

Last year we went through the trouble of getting a Charles Schwab bank account for their 0% ATM foreign exchange fee. We also have a Fidelity ATM card which states it charges 1% which is much lower than most.

We also use a lot of cash in Europe, and don't mind bringing plenty back for next year as we travel yearly.

Would you say it's better to use a credit card rather than an ATM card?


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Old 06-12-2016, 06:01 PM   #6
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You don't want to use a credit card. You'll be charged a cash advance fee (and charged interest until you pay it off). How do I know? I made that mistake when really tired and used my CC rather than my Schwab debit card...
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Old 06-12-2016, 06:02 PM   #7
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Never use a currency exchange place! I order some foreign currency from my bank to start with for taxis, snacks, etc.
On my first overseas trip, which was a disaster, we got in 12 hours late, and there was only one exchange window open with at least 50 people in line.
Fortunately, I had some currency, and was able to head straight for the taxi ranks.
For everything else, I use my credit card or ATM if I need cash for something.
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Old 06-12-2016, 07:20 PM   #8
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Would you say it's better to use a credit card rather than an ATM card?


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It depends.*

If your credit card has no foreign transaction fee, but your ATM card does, then using the credit card would be better, and vice versa if the fees are reversed.

I got a credit card that has no foreign transaction fees. In fact I have three cards with no FTF.

You need to know exactly what any ATM or credit card you use is going to charge for FTF.

I use a credit card as much as possible, because I get 1.65% rewards back on my BankAmericard Travel Rewards VISA in addition to no FTF.

But, practically speaking, we still end up spending quite a bit of cash when in Europe. Smaller restaurant expenses, taxis (sometimes high), smallish purchases here and there. And we often stay and one or two places that require cash payment (typical of B&Bs).

So, I also went out of my way to get an account with an ATM card with no FTF.

* This assumes you aren't asking about whether to use a credit card at an ATM machine which it looks like a later poster assumed. No - you don't want to use a credit card at an ATM machine.
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Old 06-12-2016, 07:23 PM   #9
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Never use a currency exchange place! I order some foreign currency from my bank to start with for taxis, snacks, etc.
On my first overseas trip, which was a disaster, we got in 12 hours late, and there was only one exchange window open with at least 50 people in line.
Fortunately, I had some currency, and was able to head straight for the taxi ranks.
For everything else, I use my credit card or ATM if I need cash for something.
Ordering currency from your bank will probably cost like 6% or more when you check the exchange rate they are offering you. That's really high!!!!

If you need to order a small amount to get you started so you'll have something when you arrive for airport taxis or whatever, then just order enough to cover that amount plus some wriggle room.
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Old 06-12-2016, 07:25 PM   #10
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You don't want to use a credit card. You'll be charged a cash advance fee (and charged interest until you pay it off). How do I know? I made that mistake when really tired and used my CC rather than my Schwab debit card...
What? I use credit cards overseas all the time.

Do you mean that you used your credit card at the ATM machine to withdraw cash?

Yes, in that case you'll incur the cash advance fees plus interest. No, you don't want to use a credit card at an ATM machine.

I think the OP was asking about whether to use credit cards versus cash from an ATM for general expenses when traveling overseas. Not about whether to use a credit card at an ATM machine.
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Old 06-12-2016, 07:52 PM   #11
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Regarding credit cards overseas--much/most of the world uses "chip and PIN" credit cards and any (remaining) US card that uses only a magnetic "swipe" strip is useless. Even if you have the now common credit cards with a "chip", you need to have an associated PIN to use these cards in much of the world (the US will adopt this too, eventually). So, contact your card issuer and get a PIN to go with your present card, and ask them to be sure it will work with the "chip and PIN" technology where you are going.

As Audrey mentioned, the foreign transaction fees differ between card issuers, so even if getting a new card isn't worth the trouble for a single trip, at least find out what your existing cards charge and use the one with the lowest fee. Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted, AMEX less so, and Discover is a rarity (nonexistent?) in the places I've traveled outside the US.
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Old 06-12-2016, 08:05 PM   #12
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Regarding credit cards overseas--much/most of the world uses "chip and PIN" credit cards and any (remaining) US card that uses only a magnetic "swipe" strip is useless. Even if you have the now common credit cards with a "chip", you need to have an associated PIN to use these cards in much of the world (the US will adopt this too, eventually). So, contact your card issuer and get a PIN to go with your present card, and ask them to be sure it will work with the "chip and PIN" technology where you are going.

As Audrey mentioned, the foreign transaction fees differ between card issuers, so even if getting a new card isn't worth the trouble for a single trip, at least find out what your existing cards charge and use the one with the lowest fee. Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted, AMEX less so, and Discover is a rarity (nonexistent?) in the places I've traveled outside the US.
Your issuer won't be able to issue you a PIN (other than for cash advances) if the card is Chip and Signature only, which most US issued cards are, and all issued by major banks except Barclays. Only a handful of credit unions in the US issue true Chip and PIN cards, and these still default to signature required unless used at an unattended kiosk.

Many US tourists are still getting by OK in Europe major tourist areas with magnetic swipe credit cards, and magnetic swipe ATM cards. People do not complain about their credit cards not working overseas except in unattended kiosks - and and maybe Amsterdam Centraal. By now most US folks have chip enabled credit cards. But still maybe not Chip enabled ATM cards. US ATM cards work just fine in Europe as long as they are on a major network like VISA or Pulse and you have a 4 digit PIN. And you have called your issuer to let them know you are traveling. Otherwise they are likely to block your card when they detect foreign ATM withdrawal, and you'll have to deal with overseas phone calls back to the US?
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Old 06-12-2016, 08:14 PM   #13
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What? I use credit cards overseas all the time.

Do you mean that you used your credit card at the ATM machine to withdraw cash?

Yes, in that case you'll incur the cash advance fees plus interest. No, you don't want to use a credit card at an ATM machine.

I think the OP was asking about whether to use credit cards versus cash from an ATM for general expenses when traveling overseas. Not about whether to use a credit card at an ATM machine.

You're correct. I was wondering whether I should use a credit card for purchases, not use the credit card to grab cash from an ATM machine. As I understand it, it's better to use a debit card to withdraw cash from an ATM machine, right? I would prefer to simply use a credit card for just about all of my purchases. I think that's a good idea, don't you?


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Old 06-12-2016, 08:17 PM   #14
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Only a handful of credit unions in the US issue true Chip and PIN cards, and these still default to signature required unless used at an unattended kiosk. . . .

Many US tourists are still getting by OK in Europe major tourist areas with magnetic swipe credit cards, and magnetic swipe ATM cards.
Thanks for the fix. FWIW, I did experience trouble in using my mag swipe credit card for the Paris Metro (at a "manned" service desk) about a year ago.
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Old 06-12-2016, 09:00 PM   #15
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Thanks for the fix. FWIW, I did experience trouble in using my mag swipe credit card for the Paris Metro (at a "manned" service desk) about a year ago.
Fortunately most US folks have received chip cards by now, so this issue is going away.
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Old 06-12-2016, 09:14 PM   #16
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You're correct. I was wondering whether I should use a credit card for purchases, not use the credit card to grab cash from an ATM machine. As I understand it, it's better to use a debit card to withdraw cash from an ATM machine, right? I would prefer to simply use a credit card for just about all of my purchases. I think that's a good idea, don't you?


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Yes, you want to use a debit card for the ATM.

You can probably use a credit card for most of your purchases, but some restaurants may not be willing to take credit cards unless above a certain amount, and taxis will require cash. Same in shops - small purchases they may not accept credit cards. Small, quick eateries may not accept credit cards at all. It depends on where in Europe too.
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Old 06-12-2016, 09:40 PM   #17
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In the last ten years of annual trips to Italy, we have used a PenFed credit card for as many purchases as possible. It has no foreign transaction fee and the exchange rate is as good as you are ever going to get. For cash, we have used our regular bank ATM card at the Bancomat. We usually end up with a few hundred euros when we return home, which we save for the next year's trip. It gets us through the cab ride from the airport and other first day expenses until we can find the Bancomat.
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Old 06-12-2016, 11:10 PM   #18
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I'll add that the Schwab debit card is about as good as it gets. No foreign transaction fees and they reimburse you for all ATM fees.
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Old 06-12-2016, 11:39 PM   #19
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A long time ago I read that you could prior to a trip pay your credit card an extra couple of thousand. Then when you did ATM cash withdrawal on it, there was no charge as the card was already overpaid.
Has anyone tried that ?
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Old 06-12-2016, 11:43 PM   #20
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I used my no FTF CC that has a chip but no pin in Canada, and it worked just like the chip and pin CC, except of course no pin to enter.
A few places had me sign, but most did not.
It was great to see the exchange rate on my statement later with no fee.
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