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currency exchange into Euros from Homestreet bank in Seattle

Hi fellow travelers!

I got a note from my bank, Homestreet, that they can now can get me Euros for my dollars prior to leaving on my trip....and I am tempted. But today, I asked the teller whether it was a "good" exchange rate, and he said he couldn't say - except that it was the rate Wells Fargo would get in exchanging dollars for Euros. He offered that they don't charge their $15.00 fee if I exchange more than $300.00, which I was going to do anyway.
But all this talk got me wondering, of course, if every bank gets a different exchange deal...or what? And, whether this is why it makes it risky to buy Euros here before leaving town for Paris (where I land)? I really didn't want to hassle with the ATM in the airport because I want to use "true" Bank ATMs, and thought they would be easier to find once I get into the Rue Clers area.

Thoughts, anyone? Thanks a million (Euros!)!

Roberta

Posted by
6171 posts

Every bank has its own markup for making an exchange because it requires human labor, as opposed to an electronic transaction through an ATM. Personally, I wouldn't exchange anything. Getting a nominal amount of money at an airport ATM (just enough to get you into the city center) is a minor inconvenience, not a full-blown hassle. There are bank ATMs at most airports. People seem to have outsized worries over something that is very minor, like the ability of an ATM to work overseas. I only show up with Euros if I have some left over (same with any other currency). I've always used an ATM upon arrival and never had an issue...if there is a line an an ATM (rarely), I just go find another one.

By the way, it's very easy to find out the bank's markup - just compare it to the day's exchange rate which is available on any online currency conversion tool, like Yahoo (it does fluctuate a bit daily). The teller told you she/he wouldn't charge you a fee on top of the markup....but be assured, the exchange rate for the conversion will have a markup (it's just a question of how much - the bank should have its exchange rate posted in writing somewhere).

Posted by
2525 posts

Well Fargo rate = $1.1859
VISA brand bank ATM rate = $1.128787

That's an easy choice for me with a zero foreign transaction fee debit/ATM card.

Posted by
20624 posts

All banks, credit card networks, etc., because of huge amounts get their money at near what is called the Interbank rate. Basically the wholesale price for money. It changes slightly minute to minute much like the stock market. So the bank buy at the going rate and can resell the money to at any marked up rate that it wants to use. Wells Fargo in our area generally marks up the exchange rate by about 5 % or so. Actually one of the lower rates around. However you cut it they will make a couple bucks providing you with the money. No free money. Now, I am willing to pay that for a hundred euro or so just to have money in the pocket. Normally we save a hundred or so from our last trip so it generally not necessary to buy additional euro prior to going.

Posted by
15577 posts

Banks are in the business of making money, especially transactions which require a human being and and some physical commodity, in this case foreign bank notes. You should have asked what the cost was for $300 worth of Euros, then checked the actual current rate on your smart phone.

Think of it this way, you are buying a scarce commodity here that has no real value until it is transported 4000 miles away, where every ATM on every street corner is stuffed full of them.

Posted by
7173 posts

You can't just look at the exchange rate because there can also be added "fees". Chances are a really good exchange rate means there WILL be added fees to your transaction and you probably won't be told about that until you're in the middle of making the transaction at a currency exchange.

Just use the ATM.

Posted by
2518 posts

You don't have to wait to get to Rue Cler to find a bank ATM. I've never had a problem locating one at CDG. If you don't see one, ask. And they're not a hassle. Just touch the Union Jack on the screen and you'll get the English version. The last one I used was an HSBC ATM. Just don't use the Travelex ATM's.

Posted by
15 posts

OOH LA LA am I happy I asked the travel pros in the Ricky Steves' forum! Thank you ALL! Of course I should have expected that my sweet little Homestreet Bank wasn't doing me a "free" favors in the exchange, and was packing it into the rate. DUH! Ok, next time, I'll grab my RS book and trust he knows it ALL. See you in Paris! Roberta

Posted by
2329 posts

Contrarian view: buy the Euro's ($300 worth) use those to travel to your hotel, have a meal, use an ATM in Paris once you are settled. I think overseas flights are stressful enough. I don't like the idea of landing, immigration, bathroom, using an ATM in a very public area, trying to hide the cash in my money belt while trying to watch my luggage. Did this once, never again. For me the few dollars you spend getting some Euro's in the US pales in comparison to the cost of your entire trip. Really, it's a rounding error. I can't see the obsession with saving $15-20.

Posted by
15 posts

HA dear contrarian! Believe it or not, that was in the back of my mind in asking this because, as usual, I have put aside 50 EU from when I last came back to US from EU to save for next trip, and I was tempted to just call it good and get into Paris with that amount until the Homestreet letter came to my condo. Literally, I did't want to stuff 5 - 100s into my bra stash pocket ( what I prefer) at the machine:-)! But the big deal for me is that I slipped up and got a ticket to get to the top of the Tour Eiffel on the very day I land at the WRONG time. So, I get into CDG at 1pm, and the tour starts at 4pm, and outside of hitting the TI for my passes, and taking the Roissy Bus (which I prefer) into Rue Clers, I thought the corner I could cut was the ATM. I do think $15-20.00 isn't that big of a deal considering I screwed up, and I should rethink this again now that you pointed out that I might be being "too" frugal considering my biopic mistake on the tix (non-refundable or changeable, of course). ^Thanks again to all!

Posted by
967 posts

I also plan to come home with Euros for the next trip, but this time I also bought some from my local Wells Fargo.
I'm in agreement with Alan ... for a few extra dollars I don't have to juggle luggage, jet lag, ATM card and neck pouch.
The money is already secure and I can get settled and rearrange when I get to my lodging.
Just remember to put enough in your wallet to get yourself there!
Happy trails!

Posted by
6543 posts

Just wait until you get there to pickup cash from a bank ATM. Beware that not all ATM's are "bank owned.", and the others will get you on the exchange rate and other charges.
We have a credit union ATM card only used from time to time when we travel. Unfortunately, Wells Fargo would charge us $5 per transaction plus 5% if we used their ATM card internationally--a rip off.
When traveling, we use a Capital One Visa for every thing we can. Europe's now as much a "card" society as a cash society--maybe more.

Posted by
2525 posts

How challenging is it to locate an ATM at an airport, punch in your pin and walk away with local currency? It's not in my experience within the eurozone and far afield from it. My backup plan is to convert say $100 of cash at a currency exchange booth to get me started and until locating an ATM near the first accommodation. I've never utilized it. If it makes you feel warm and fuzzy, then buy currency in advance, just don't over complicate the topic.

Posted by
6171 posts

Europe's now as much a "card" society as a cash society--maybe more.

That's an overgeneralization. It applies mostly to Scandinavia. Southern/southeastern Europe uses cash a lot more than one may expect, as do smaller towns everywhere. Also, many people in "Europe" prefer using debit cards to credit cards. They don't see credit cards the same way Americans do (to be used everywhere, including buying chewing gum).

As far as getting to an ATM in an airport, I also don't see how it's such a complicated deal. It's no more complicated than finding a restroom. If people can land after a long flight and somehow manage to make it to their hotel, they cannot manage a 5-minute pit stop at an ATM that works exactly like home? Even if I found no ATM that wasn't Travelex or didn't charge some big fee, I would simply take out the bare minimum to pay for transport to the city center (and pay a premium on that small minimum, as opposed to a much bigger amount). You can even locate all the ATMs by simply Googling an airport map (relevant to your flight) and finding them beforehand. This is seriously small potatoes kind of stuff. I'm surprised that currency exchange places still exist and people still use them.

Posted by
3318 posts

There is nothing "wrong" with waiting until arrival in Europe to get Euros from an ATM. And we'll be the last to criticize those who do. We just like the comfort factor of having some local currency in hand when we arrive. Getting two or three hundred Euros from your local bank will cost a little more. But the small amount extra it cost to have money in hand when arriving is money well spent, and the extra cost relative to the overall cost of the trip is not, in my opinion, that much. It also eliminates the hassle of trying to find a machine and the stress of hoping it works all while you are somewhat jet lagged. There was a post a day or so back that indicated all the ATMs were out of currency when someone arrived in Europe. Then too, occasionally the machines just plain malfunction. Just my two Euros cents worth.

Posted by
3277 posts

"all the ATMs were out of currency when someone arrived in Europe."

Really? Every single ATM all over Europe? Wow. ;-)

While I don't doubt that one or two might have been completely out, it is impossible to believe every one where ever in Europe they landed was really completely out. The only time I would have believed that is during the Greek crisis when there were severe limits on withdrawals and everyone was rushing the machines to get what they could in Greece. Did those machines all ay they were out of cash? Or were the transactions denied because the amount requested was over the limit for the ATM to dispense in one transaction or over the card limit?

There have been network issues where withdrawals were not possible due to not being able to communicate with the card issuer to get approval for the cash request. Happened to me a couple years ago in Italy. For one day, Visa debit did not work at most ATMs. MasterCard was fine. So those who had the proper backup card had no issues getting money.

Posted by
17653 posts

Wells Fargo would charge us $5 per transaction plus 5% if we used
their ATM card internationally

Has Wells Fargo changed their international ATM rate? Last time I looked it was 3% plus $5 (means about 4% on a $500 withdrawal). That's why I use my credit union ATM card at 1%, but some people don't have the choice of a 0% card.

I believe that Capital One is 0% only for POS transactions, not ATM ones. Here is a website that shows some ATM rates. In my experience in Germany, economical accommodations and restaurants are cash only; they don't take credit cards. So if you are using a credit card, you are probably paying more than you save by not having CC fees.

BTW, don't take Homestreet's word that they charge the Wells Fargo rate. Ask them what their rate is, then look up Wells Fargo's here.

Posted by
3318 posts

Mark, the poster I cited indicated all the ATMs in the airport were out of currency. I should have made my point more clearly. Sorry for the misunderstanding.

Posted by
6171 posts

the poster I cited indicated all the ATMs in the airport were out of
currency

I would examine such a hearsay claim critically since it's just as hard to believe how ATMs owned/operated by multiple independent parties at a major airport could all be out of money at once. Did the poster actually check each one to make such a claim? If not, why put this out there as if it's fact? This seems like a serious exaggeration, but folks will use whatever info they get to reinforce their previously held beliefs. As has been said before, there are multiple reasons why a single ATM may not perform as one would expect, but that doesn't mean that's it's not working at all.

Posted by
17653 posts

It's been a long time, but I remember someone posting here that it was in Italy, at Fiumicino airport, and all of the workers who filled ATMs were on strike, and there was no money in any of the ATMs. Probably were none in Rome, either.

in 2004, I arrived at FRA with three ATM cards. When I put each of the first two in the ATM and requested the max, it returned my card and said "contact your bank". Fortunately, I had several hundred euro on me, enough to cover the next few days, but not all two weeks I was going to be there. The third card worked and I took out the maximum. One of the other two worked later that week; it had been a glitch with the amount I asked for. The other one never worked at the maximum because the bank, without notifying me, had reduced my maximum.

Posted by
663 posts

Europe's now as much a "card" society as a cash society--maybe more.

That's an overgeneralization. It applies mostly to Scandinavia.
Southern/southeastern Europe uses cash a lot more than one may expect,
as do smaller towns everywhere.

Very true, and not only for southern Europe. In Germany at least, there are places where you really don't need to think of using the plastic, like farmers' markets. Trying to pay with a credit card for a roll at a local bakery isn't going to get you far either. And a few stores are simply old-fashioned in that respect. My hairdresser for instance will not accept anything but cash.

Also, many people in "Europe" prefer using debit cards to credit
cards. They don't see credit cards the same way Americans do (to be
used everywhere, including buying chewing gum).

Absolutely. However, it's not so much the customers who prefer one over the other but the store owners. The fees for credit card use are much higher for them than the fees for debit card use.

You can be fairly sure that credit cards will be accepted at hotels, gas stations and large stores (chains). Debit cards however are much more widely accepted in smaller stores too.

For us at least, drawing money from an ATM is also much less expensive with a debit card. They charge horrendous fees for drawing money by credit card. I personally don't even remember my credit card PIN because, for that very reason, I have never used it for that purpose.

Posted by
3318 posts

Agnes, Re: "...folks will use whatever info they get to reinforce their previously held beliefs." I don't have to reinforce my beliefs -- nor do you. Every one is entitled to his or her opinion and that opinion should be respected. One indisputable fact (not hearsay) is that on occasion ATMs do run out of currency, do malfunction, and the user of the machine makes a mistake(s). All any of us can do is share our experiences (as the cited poster did) and let the readers make their own decision. My post was to simply pass on information that might be helpful. Sorry if it was misinterpreted and offended you.

Posted by
6171 posts

I'm not offended at all, and I apologize if I came on too strong. I work off probabilities, and the probability of having everything fail at once is still remote. It doesn't mean it can't happen, but it seems that people respond disproportionately to isolated worst-case anecdotes that have a small chance of coming to pass. I'm not very risk-averse though (as a caveat), but I do respect that people have different levels of risk aversion. I hate to see people worry needlessly though, so I try to offer a countering viewpoint.

Posted by
15 posts

I am just loving and appreciating all of the input from all of you, thank you! I must say that your stories, experiences and personal ways of doing things really got me thinking deeply on this topic...so much so that I remembered I have a friend who works at Wells Fargo as a Banker. So I asked him, too! Here's what he has to say:
"Not all of our branches have foreign currency so call ahead to that branch should you decide to use Wells Fargo. We charge $7.50 (amount doesn't matter) for non-customers. Rate today is 1.1861. I would take plenty of Euros with you since it's cheaper than using ATM's. Most people take $500-600 with them for a weeks stay so it's just a matter of how comfortable you are holding onto money. Will you be gone for a month? Hopefully you have a credit card that doesn't charge for every foreign currency conversion when you make a purchases. FYI, most banks don't offer foreign around here. We have lots of non-customers who only use Wells for foreign."
So now that's from the horses' mouth!

Thanks again, fellow travelers, and here's to seeing you on the Road!
Best Wishes,
Roberta

Posted by
6171 posts

Rate today is 1.1861. I would take plenty of Euros with you since it's
cheaper than using ATM's.

Using the figures Bruce gave earlier, you have to infer this statement cannot be true using simple math. A 5% markup vs. the ATM rate is not "cheaper".
(1.1859 - 1.1287)/1.1287 = 0.0505
Your own ATM rate may be different than Bruce's. Mine is 1% added to the interbank exchange rate. But 1% is still less than ~ 5%.

My take is to do your own calculations because folks in the banking business are not unbiased observers. They profit from all the markups.

Posted by
15 posts

HA! I see that this plot is thickening again!

Ok, y'all. I'm going to do a "little" of EVERYONE'S suggestions:
I'll tuck a 100.00 bill into my bra pouch for extra protection
I'll get "some" Euros to go with my 50 EU note (once I find out what Homestreet is packing into their rate, otherwise I"ll check with my BECU credit union for their rate to exchange - which I forgot about checking with)
I'll check the ATM in terminal 1 at CDG "if" it's "near" the Roissy Bus gate at Door/Exit 32-34, and a stop at the TI at Door/Exit 36 to see if it's a "bank" ATM if and only if time allows, otherwise skip it and find the first bank ATM in Rue Cler first thing in the morning.

Afterall, my fast trip to the Top of the Eiffel Tour will probably not require anything more than a great big smile since I already have my tix, yes?
Bon Voyage!

Posted by
2329 posts

And a lot of luck. As I read your previous post your plane lands at 1 PM and your ticket is for 4 PM. You'll probably not exit the airport until 2-3 best case, assuming the flight is on time. Then you will be on a bus at the beginning of rush hour-could take an hour. I assume you plan to check into your hotel near Rue Cler, then get to the ET? Wow!

Posted by
15 posts

You are very kind, Alan, to zoom in on my dilemma that prompted my question of whether to buy Euros in US. As it stands, I went through several back and forth emails with the officials at the Eiffel Tower about my error, but they insisted "no exchanges, no refunds".....yet when I pressed as to whether I might still be admitted even if arrive late, they didn't say "no" to that. Rather, they said the people at the gate will "see." So, I'm thinking of every corner I could cut - thus, the ATM stop. I just loathe the idea of taking the RER in from the airport. I am hoping to get thru customs quickly, zip to TI for a museum pass, and head to the Roissy. Of course, if I "have" to skip the TI, I will, but I know the line there should be short and easy versus in the city. I expect to check in at my hotel to drop my bag...and yes, I think I'll be an hour late or more...but I will be single...I am ready to bribe with smiles and using some "quasi-French"...and I will be patient. I actually can't think of a better way to start my first day than hanging out at the ET waiting to lift (maybe I'm delusional). Afterall, I have until they close to get up, yes? When I originally went to reserve they had a very late time slot, and I thought I'd be too tired to take it, so I took the 4pm because I thought I arrived in the morning that day - which was totally wrong! Anyway, now it looks like I might be relegated to being the "last up" that day in the end, afterall. It is not ideal, but it is the (hopefully only) error I've made in my itinerary. Every trip requires atleast 1, I suppose, so this way I get it out of the way:-) Heck, if it's already 5pm by the time I arrive, I may as well just "take my time" getting over there because it's going to be "wait and see" anyway. C'EST LA VIE!:-)

Posted by
17653 posts

it's cheaper than using ATM's.

There is a gold exchange in Vancouver that "claims" a pretty low rate for cash. I haven't tested it, but I don't think you can go directly from USD to euro. If you have to go through CaD, then I doubt they are cheaper.

I''m a fan of using WF to get a little cash to have when you arrive, but in no way is WF cheaper than an ATM, except for a very small amount (like maybe $100). The worst ATM rates I know of are (at WF) 3% plus $5, which for a %500 withdrawal is 4%. Some of use even have 0% or 1% ATM cards.