Team Fathom breaks down some common currency questions into simple dollars and cents.
You hustle to the airport, shuffle through security, take off, land, locate your luggage, and figure out your next move. The last thing you want on your mind is money worries.
Should you exchange currency now or later? Should you have done so at home? Will you get price gouged?
For your pre-flight peace of mind, we answer some of the most common questions about converting currency when traveling abroad.
What should I carry in my wallet while traveling?
Bring enough cash to last the first 24 hours of your trip, a debit card to withdraw local currency, and a credit card to pay for airline tickets, hotel rooms, car rentals, and other big bills. Pro tip: Call your bank and credit card companies to let them know you'll be traveling to avoid triggering a fraud alert. If you're an American Express loyalist, now might be a good time to add a Visa or Mastercard to you collection, as many places won't accept your AmEx.
Once you reach your destination, make sure to keep some money on hand, for the businesses that don't accept plastic or take only chip-enabled cards (i.e. automated ticket machines in Europe). If you’re worried about putting all your eggs in one basket — which is a smart idea in case you get robbed — stash an extra credit card and cash in your hotel room, or fold a big bill into a small bag or pocket as backup. For next level thief deception, only keep a small amount of cash in your wallet and place the rest elsewhere, like in your (closed) shoe.
Should I change money before I get to a foreign country?
Usually, no. You’ll get better rates at the ATM machines in your destination country. But if you need cash immediately upon arrival or are traveling to a remote destination without reliable infrastructure, convert bills at your local bank before taking off — enough to get through the first day or to your destination from the airport, as mentioned above. In most cases, you'll need to call the bank in advance (allow a few weeks) if you’re looking for an uncommon currency. If you can, keep track of the exchange rate for the best deal.
Where should I change money when I get to a foreign country?
ATMs are amazing: They're ubiquitous, always open, and consistently offer the best exchange rates. Most banks charge a small fee for using foreign machines, but they're still the way to go when you consider the upside: They are convenient and keep you from carrying around wads of cash. (Though if you want to minimize the bank fees, take out as much as you can and think you'll need. Just don't carry it all at once in the same place.) We don't like to get money at Travelex airport kiosks unless we're desperate, and we're wary of Travelex ATMs, which have replaced bank ATMs in the arrival halls of many airports, particularly in Europe. Local banks just offer better rates.
What is dynamic currency conversion and how do I avoid it?
At a cashier or independent ATM, dynamic currency conversion gives you the option to complete your transaction using your home currency instead of the foreign currency. The service intends to let travelers know exactly how much they’re transacting, but using dollars in Europe means the machine or merchant converts the money (often at below-optimal rates) and then charges you a fee for it. The takeaway: Always withdraw and pay with foreign currency.
I hate seeing "foreign transaction fee" on my credit card statement.
Everyone does. If you do a lot of overseas travel, it's worth signing up for a credit card that doesn't charge such fees and using that when you travel. Call your bank and ask, but excellent options include Capital One, Chase Sapphire Card, and American Express. If you fly often with one airline, get more bang from your loyalty and purchases with a card like British Airways Visa Signature.