Currency Exchange- Traveling Internationally

Discussion in 'General Discussion | Travel' started by BankerJenn, Sep 21, 2016.  |  Print Topic

  1. BankerJenn

    BankerJenn New Member

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    I'll be travelling to Italy soon and I want to find the best bank to have. I have been warned not to exchange money in NYC but to do it upon arrival through an atm. I'm willing to sign up for the best bank that offers little to no fee on the following: Foreign exchange fee, conversion fee, withdraw fee, fee for using a foreign atm, etc. Right now my friend said the currency exchange of 1,000 USD would get her 850 euros with no fee but that $150 would account for the conversion fee. People have recommended Bank of America, Scwab, etc.
     
  2. Wandering Aramean
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    Wandering Aramean Gold Member

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    Schwab is spectacular for this IMO. I've used it for years and love it.

    BoA is not a good choice. Even if you use the partner ATM in Italy to avoid the $5 flat fee you still pay 3% for the transaction.

    The $1000->850 EUR rate you describe is about a 5% hit overall; you're not losing $150 on the deal as the two currencies are not 1:1.

    Also, consider just how much you'll need to spend in cash versus on credit cards. It will vary based on whether you're in big cities or more rural and other factors but most of my Europe trips lately have seen very little cash spend versus CC transactions.
     
  3. eponymous_coward
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    eponymous_coward Gold Member

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    I use Fidelity, similar to Schwab: no fees on withdrawals (I've even used it in Thailand and been rebated the gouge they have on ATM withdrawals).
     
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  4. Counsellor
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    Counsellor Gold Member

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    Right. You can find lots of "no foreign exchange fee" credit cards, which convert at a rate better than you could get at a bank converting cash. If you put large expenses on the card, you'll need only "walking-around" money in local currency.

    How long are you going to be in Italy? Are you planning to travel anywhere else in the Eurozone? Will you be alone or with a group? These are all considerations to keep in mind.

    As for "walking around" money, when I am going to a country for a short period, and I will be with a group, I'll offer to put (for instance) a restaurant tab on my card and take cash from others in the group who were going to pay in cash anyway, explaining that this gives me "walking around" money without having to go to a currency exchange or ATM. Usually enough of the folks were planning to pay cash anyway to take care of my needs. (Might not get many takers if your group are all into points and miles, though.)
     
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  5. B1BomberVB

    B1BomberVB Silver Member

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    My Capital One 360 bank account ATM/ debit Master Card is excellent for this purpose. It converts my foreign withdrawals to USD darn near at the "mid-market rate" & has no withdrawal fees of its own.
     
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  6. satman40

    satman40 Gold Member

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    Beware of funny money in Italy, returned as change...

    Landing FCO late September, plan on using CC, we use Fidelity

    Have a safe trip.
     
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  7. estnet
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    estnet Gold Member

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    I remember getting candies as change when there was essentially no value to small amounts (and no coins available) VBG
     
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  8. radonc1951

    radonc1951 Gold Member

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    You have several issues here which need to be addressed.
    First, I believe that you should have some local pocket money in the country that you are visiting. In most of Europe, that will be Euros (€) although in Switzerland you will use Swiss Franc, etc. You need the cash because believe it or not, there are numerous retail outlets and restaurants which will not take your credit card unless it is a chip and pin. (unlike our current cards here in the US which are either chip and sign or swipe and sign). This is especially true with local transport where you can buy tram or bus tickets with a credit card only if it is a chip and pin card.
    I carry on me the equivalent of $100 in local currency. WA is correct that you will almost never need to use it if you are in big cities. On my last trip several weeks ago in London and Europe (including Switzerland) I bought $100 of Swiss Franc (via ATM through Schwab) and didn't use it once since I was able to put all purchases on a credit card. I also had Euros and didn't use any of them. However, I keep all my foreign currency at home and bring the ones I will need with me.
    So, IMO, wasting your time looking for the "best conversion deal" when we are talking about small sums of money is silly. We are talking, at worst about $1-2 dollars difference depending on the site, and the amount of time you might waste looking for the "right" vendor or ATM just isn't worth it. If you happen to have one of the above mentioned ATM cards (I have Schwab) then even better, but we are talking pennies here).

    This brings us to part 2 of your question. Credit cards. I carry 2 cards on trips. One is an AMEX (I have a plat card) and the second is a Visa/MC. The one that is best for you will probably take a little research but trust me, there are so many travel blogs out there on this subject that I could not possibly add anything to conversion rates, fees etc that have not already been written on.
    However, the one reason that I do carry 2 cards is that some facilities in foreign countries may try to convert your local currency into US dollars at the site of purchase. With Visa/MC, you have to carefully examine the receipt to see if that was done surreptitiously. If challenged, some vendors will redo the charge in the local currency but others will balk. When that happens, I cancel the Visa/MC charge and pull out my AMEX card. With AMEX, they have to ask your permission to do the charge in US$ and give you a receipt in $US. Otherwise the charge always goes through as local currency.
    Why is this important? Local conversions from native currency to US$ is almost always a rip-off. You are almost always do better letting AMEX or Visa/MC do the conversion rather than the local vendor (although exceptions do, on occasion, occur so it never hurts to ask).

    In summary, my tiny wallet contains about $50 in local currency, $20 of
    US currency, 2 credit cards and a color copy of my passport's face page. Hope this helps.
     
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  9. Wandering Aramean
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    Wandering Aramean Gold Member

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    Local transit is the only scenario where I've had issues using a mag stripe or chip+sign card. If the establishment has a person working there and a card reader there is universally a means by which they can swipe or chip+sig the card IME.

    I do agree having a small amount of cash is a good idea for street food, smaller shops or other such things, but using a CC is viable on most transactions (especially the big ones) and far easier than converting cash.

    And the Dynamic Currency Conversion scam remains an issue. Always insist on being charged in local currency. Always.
     
  10. radonc1951

    radonc1951 Gold Member

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    I agree with all of the above. Thanks for giving the CC scam a name.

    I think that given the time of year where people going to Europe are going to be attending certain street functions with lots of beer, and given the price of such a commodity, €50 may not go very far :p.
    But for a data point, I just spent 1 week in London and Europe and did not spend a dime in currency. ;) (I bought my tram tickets at the hotel and put it on my bill).
     
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  11. Wandering Aramean
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    Wandering Aramean Gold Member

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    I didn't name it but that's what it is called. :)

    I spent 4 weeks in Europe this summer. In Iceland and the Faroe Islands I had a single cash transaction over 12 days. That includes unattended gas pumps (Barclay Arrival+ PIN worked great), food, tours, lodging, etc. I think the smallest transaction was under a dollar but no one blinked at using a CC for that.

    Then I went to England and spent a lot more cash, mostly at smaller pubs and in smaller towns than London. It does vary wildly. It pays to be informed of options and not overspend on conversion. Also, depending on the location and how I've paid for my lodging I find that "cashing out" my leftover local money to pay off part of the final night's stay works very well to not bring any extra home. Though if I'm likely to return I just keep the bits of cash on hand. Having $20-50 worth of local in my pocket when I land the next time is reassuring just in case.
     
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