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best way to convert cash dollars to euros?

I know that ATMs are by far the most economical way to obtain Euros, but I happen to have some cash that I want to convert to Euros for an upcoming trip. What is the most economical (i.e., best exchange value, factoring in both exchange rates and transaction fees) method of doing this:

  • here in the U.S. or once abroad?
  • at a bank or at a "currency exchange booth", such as at the airport? (I'm guessing a bank)

[For those who will ask why I would like to do this versus depositing it in my bank account and then withdrawing at an European ATM, lets just say I want some spending money that the hubby doesn't need to know about. Don't judge.]

Posted by
6045 posts

If you have a major bank in your area (Wells Fargo, B of A, etc) then that is the best place to exchange dollars for euros in advance. If you have an account at the bank, you'll get a decent rate of exchange and a not too bad fee. I know that at least Wells Fargo used to let you exchange for euros even if you weren't a bank customer just with a higher fee. I can't personally confirm that currently for any bank because it was several years ago that I did it. Currency exchange booths at the airport both here and at your destination will charge a larger fee, not sure if their exchange rate would be different but they might be - I've never used one.

Posted by
3318 posts

...I want some spending money that the hubby doesn't need to know about.

That being the case, just buy them at home at a major bank. Then be sure you secure your "mad money" in a money belt.

Posted by
381 posts

A friend just told me that AAA will order most foreign currencies that are available the next day. If the amount, in dollars is over $500 there is no fee and if the amount is less than $500 the fee is $12.00.

Posted by
844 posts

If you do it at a local bank before you leave home do it in advance as they likely don't keep Euros on hand and have to order them so allow extra time, I'm thinking 2 weeks at least.

Posted by
20624 posts

You only have a couple of choices. Try AAA. They sell currency packs. Cost will be about 10% or more. Depending on where you live some malls have currency exchanges -- TravelEx. Again probably 10% or more. And there are similar currency exchanges at major airports. And you bank can always get currency with a little planning. The bank could be a little cheaper under 10%.

PS -- Just saw above posting on AAA. In the currency exchange business there is no such thing as "No Fee." No Fee always means a poor exchange rate. So if they bury the fee in the exchange rate, it is still a fee.

Posted by
4506 posts

Here's another option...

Open a new checking account (in your name) at Wells Fargo bank and obtain a debit card to such account; then you can withdraw the money from an ATM in Europe for the best exchange rate.

If you don't want to do that, then just exchange your dollars at the bank.
Wells Fargo Bank keeps Euros in stock, so you don't need to wait to get them.

I have a separate account and it's nickname is, "travel account", my husband knows about it but he doesn't care.
I prefer to transfer money to this checking account and use it as my primary travel account and thus keep track of my trip cost.

Have a wonderful trip!

Posted by
3283 posts

I typically have picked up euros or other currency at my local Wells Fargo before I leave on a trip. They typically need a day for Euros more for other currencies. (I live in a suburb of St. Paul/Mpls) I have an account with Wells Fargo only for this purpose. The last time I picked up Euros, I noticed that while I wasn't charged a "fee", their rate of exchange was pretty terrible in comparison to the current market rate. I was told that was their cost of doing business. I only needed Swiss Francs for a couple days and had about $10 Swiss Francs from a previous trip. I declined to even take any Francs and just took enough euros until I could get to an ATM in Europe. In Basel, I was able to use my limited Swiss Francs, a credit card and even a few Euros. In the future I will just order the bare minimum until I can get some in Europe. Also, if you charge anything in Europe, make sure the transaction goes through in that country's currency NOT USD.

Posted by
2329 posts

If you are taking about more than pocket change, lets say 100 Euros, you will take a big hit buying them in the US or at a currency exchange. Open a separate account with it’s own ATM and withdraw the money from an ATM in Europe when hubby is napping.

Posted by
6543 posts

I use a credit union ATM card with no service fees. I only use that card when traveling. I avoid using my Wells Fargo ATM card because they charge $5.00 and 5% on any cash withdrawal--a ripoff.
In Europe, I am very careful to only use bank.ATMs and I get the funds charged in Euros,.not U.S. Dollars.

Posted by
5497 posts

A FAQ. The RS website's money tip is your best starting point: https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/money/cash-tips

Bank or currency exchange kiosk home or aborad charge you for the convenience one way or another. The test is to look at the conversion rate (and fees if any) for USD to EUR and for EUR to USD. For example at today's Interbank rate, if a bank or kiosk is marking up the exchange by 5%:

Buying 100.000 EUR will cost you 123.85 USD

But if you sell 100.000 EUR back, you only get 111.76 USD

The difference, $123.85 - $111.76 = $12.09 is the buy/sell spread.

https://www.oanda.com/currency/converter/

Posted by
5698 posts

I use my Wells Fargo debit card at the airport ATM upon arrival. No fees and no currency conversion charge connected to my card which is why I keep it.

Posted by
5005 posts

robinsegg, your question was pretty specific. I'd say the most economical way to get euro is to find someone who just returned from a trip and buy any they have left over at the current interbank rate. Its a win-win for both of you.

You'll just have to check with your bank and local AAA and do the math. My bank, for example, charges a $15 flat fee for any transaction, plus their own marked-up exchange rate. Not good, but not worth it to me to open a new account somewhere else. Each state's AAA is a separate entity, and some offer good exchange packages, and some don't. Mine, for example, would have to order euro from the neighboring state, and then charge me for the privilege.

So, get in the habit of bringing enough back for your next trip.

Posted by
4506 posts

Question for Suki,

I use my Wells Fargo debit card at the airport ATM upon arrival. No fees and no currency conversion charge connected to my card which is why I keep it.

I have a Wells Fargo debit card and get charged $5 per ATM transaction when I use it in Europe. What’s the secret for not getting charged a fee?

Posted by
17653 posts

I avoid using my Wells Fargo ATM card because they charge $5.00 and 5% on any cash withdrawal--a ripoff.

My Wells Fargo ATM card, and I think it is system wide, used to charge 3% plus $5, but as of this summer, they only charge $5 (which is 1% on a $500 withdrawal), That's what I got charged last October.

What’s the secret for not getting charged a fee?

Maybe she didn't get charged a fee, but I doubt it. Some people just don't know how to figure the fee. (That's what the banks count on.)

Posted by
4506 posts

Comment for Lee.

My Wells Fargo ATM card, and I think it is system wide, used to charge 3% plus $5, but as of this summer, they only charge $5 (which is 1% on a $500 withdrawal), That's what I got charged last October.

My Wells Fargo debit card charges me a flat $5 for any non-WF ATM withdrawl in Europe, whether I withdraw €100, €250 or €500, and no other fees. This has been true for me since 2008, so I generally will withdraw €500 per transaction and pay cash for most of my expenses.

Posted by
16826 posts

I have had no experience with the Chase Liquid Card, but the online information about fees is not very encouraging:

  • $4.95/month if not linked to one of the very specific "qualifying" types of Chase checking accounts.
  • $2.50 for every use of a non-Chase ATM (which would be all ATMs in Europe).
  • 3% exchange rate adjustment (all usage in Europe)

Although it is definitely possible to spend more in fees than one would have with the Liquid Card, it doesn't look like an especially good deal to me. Why not open one of the Capital One accounts that charge no fees for overseas ATM usage? Or look for a local credit union that has a similar policy?

Also note that use of the Liquid Card or other debit card to make purchases does not confer the same customer protections usually provided by credit cards.

I'm traveling and don't know how to do links on my tablet, but I found the Chase Liquid Card fee schedule easily by Googling.

Posted by
11549 posts

robinsegg, I guess my question would be how REALLY important is it that Himself doesn't know about the money? Reason being, I'm thinking any kind of account usually involves communication from the bank in the form of statements and whatnot so, well, a bank account could be difficult to hide, especially if you share an email account.

So if it's REALLY important that he doesn't know, then exchanging at a bank before you leave if probably the best way to go, exchange rate be darned. No judging here as I'm sure, Ms. Robin, you have your reasons for keeping the nest egg under wraps but worth the question?

Posted by
3277 posts

Something to think about.

If you do any type of transaction at a bank where you have an account they will most always make some sort of notation in your account which may appear on your statement. If secrecy is your goal, this might not end up that way.

At my former bank, whenever I did a currency exchange (this was long before ATMs on every corner) they did a deposit of the cash and a withdrawal of the foreign currency along with associated fees. It showed on my statement. My current bank requires any cash being presented for any purpose to be deposited first into your account and then they do back office credits and debits to complete the transaction.

Most banks here in the US will not do a foreign currency sale to you without an account. Whether you can find one in your area depends on where you are and what banks they are. Many say Wells will do it -- not in my area. They only want to talk to you if you have an account or are opening one with them. In Europe, no bank will exchange currency any more unless you have an account. When I asked in Italy about it (I was having minor debit card issues which cleared up the next day), they told me it takes 7 - 10 days for them to exchange the currency and get Euros back to credit to your account.

The only way I can think of to do this and be guaranteed only you will know about it, and unfortunately it is probably the most expensive, is to use the airport exchange booth either at your departure airport in the US or arrival in Europe.

Posted by
3277 posts

Wells on their website claims they charge $5 and 3% for every foreign ATM transaction for any account. I too am confused by those who claim no fees of any kind or only the fee without the percentage.

These must be special accounts for either high dollar customers or special deals that are not available to the general public.

Posted by
101 posts

Thank you for the varied feedback.

And yes, I have come to the conclusion that secrecy and maximum economy are opposing goals.

I'll probably just change a small amount, take the exchange hit, and deal with the spousal eye rolling for the occasional higher credit card spending. ; )

Posted by
11549 posts

LOL!! Whatever shakes out, have a REALLY great time!!

Posted by
3 posts

I think the best way is to withdraw it at a bank ATM while you are in Europe. I was in Paris last month and my bank charged me $5 fee per transaction and the excharge rate was the market rate on the day of withdrawal. For this reason you should try to withdraw one large sum to avoid paying the fee multiple times. Check with your bank to make sure you have a reasonably high withdrawal limit if you use a travel checking account.
I bought some from Wells Fargo here in US and was charged a 7.2% fee, i.e. they quote an exchange rate 7.2% on top of the market rate. Last year they only charged 4.5%, so they are getting greedy!

Posted by
5497 posts

RE: Wells Fargo here in US and was charged a 7.2% fee.... Last year they only charged 4.5%, *so they are getting greedy*!

It's not greed. It's marketplace capitalism. No one is forcing Wells' customers to buy their Euros or FX here in the States. Those buying FX from Wells or other domestic national banks with similar mark ups are doing it for the convenice and security of arriving with FX currency in their pockets on hitting the ground.

The concept of free markets is we have choices and vote our dollars. Some of us wait until arrival to withdraw our FX in local currency from a local ATM cash machine using or no or low transaction charge ATM/debit cards.

Posted by
17653 posts

I was in my Wells Fargo bank a couple of weeks ago and discussed foreign exchange with the manager behind the tellers. I learned that:

  1. You have to be a WF acct holder to exchange currency at Wells Fargo, That's new this year,

  2. The exchange rate for buying euro is set in the morning at 5% above the Interbank Rate. Their rate is fixed for the day; the Interbank Rate changes all day long, so it might not be 5% when you look, and

  3. The charge for ATM withdrawals in Europe is $5 with no foreign currency exchange % discount. He told me that without knowing anything about my account type, amount on deposit, etc.

According to this internet page, Mark, the charge for a withdrawal at a non-Wells Fargo ATM outside the US is $5. They do charge 3% for an over-the-counter withdrawal or for an international debit card purchase transaction.

It looks like the currency conversion rate for credit card purchases might be 3%.

@Priscilla. It used to be that if you had a Wells Fargo PSA account, you paid no % or fee for up to 2 ATM withdrawals per month, but that is no longer the case. Maybe Suki is not current.

Posted by
3277 posts

Thanks Lee. That is why anyone who wants to know what they will be charged for foreign transactions, either ATM or purchases, must talk to someone at their bank to be sure and not depend on us who try but don't always have the correct answer.

Posted by
17653 posts

Right now - at this minute, the Interbank rate, according to Oanda, is 1.16426m $/€. The rate today at Wells Fargo is 1.22430 $/€. So right now Wells Fargo is 5.16% over the Interbank rate, not 7.2%. This is consistent with what I find every day, Wells Fargo is 5%± vs the Interbank rate.

I was in Germany in October, 2017, and I made multiple withdrawals from my Credit Union account at 1% plus $1. I made one withdrawal from my Wells account. The total fee from Wells was $5 per withdrawal.

My partner had changed her PIN but didn't remember to what, so she couldn't use her card, but she had $100 in USD. She went from bank to bank trying to convert USD to euro and no one would do it.

Posted by
3136 posts

I know that ATMs are by far the most economical way to obtain Euros,
but I happen to have some cash that I want to convert to Euros for an
upcoming trip.

Deposit that cash into your bank account or a new account you set up at a credit union while you're in the US. When you arrive at your first European airport, use a bank ATM (not Travelex).

[For those who will ask why I would like to do this versus depositing
it in my bank account and then withdrawing at an European ATM, lets
just say I want some spending money that the hubby doesn't need to
know about. Don't judge.]

Ok, I won't ask. I don't understand that kind of thinking anyway so why ask! :-) You asked for the "most economical way" to convert US$ to Euros and that's the answer.

Posted by
255 posts

I wonder if those prepaid debit cards work over where you're traveling. Maybe you could load the money on that kind of prepaid visa / mastercard and then use it over there. Hm.

Posted by
20624 posts

Historically pre-paid cards are a bad deal -- limited usage, some times high fees, no protected by current bank regulations, etc. The debit card at a bank owned ATM is the best and most convenient way to obtain local currency. After that any other method will be more expensive and less convenient.

Posted by
607 posts

I like to have some foreign currency in my wallet before I touch down, so I exchange before the trip. I only carry enough that I am comfortable losing. On the rest of the trip, i use the bank ATMs.

Back at home before the trip, I just go on the internet to find out the international market rate and then i compare it to the rates and fees of the local bank or local currency exchange companies. The currency exchange at the airport obviously has the worse rates. I have found that some smaller currency exchange companies (e.g. VBCE.com in Vancouver is very competitive because they cater to a large local immigrant population which do a lot of over seas trips) have no fees and exchange rates much better than banks. I usually find the local VBCE rate to be better than the foreign ATM bank rates. But I am careful not to carry too much cash at any one time.