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Exchange currency before trip or when we arrive?

My mother and I are planning to travel to Europe at the end of the summer and are wondering if it's a smarter idea to exchange currency before we go or once we get there? We will be visiting Amsterdam, London, Norway, and possibly Sweden as well. I am just trying to plan ahead and not pay a lot more than we should in exchange rates. Thanks for any feedback, it's much appreciated.

Posted by
5326 posts

If you end up with surplus euro that you don't want to keep change at one of the specialists in London, such as Thomas Exchange.

Posted by
2738 posts

Since you are going at the end of the summer, you have more than enough time to open an account at CapitalOne, Schwab, or one of many credit unions. These will all come with free ATM cards, and they do not charge for ATM withdrawals. ATM withdrawals are similarly free of charge at European bank-owned ATMs (easy to find). You will then not be exchanging money, but withdrawing your own money from your own account, in the local currency. The cost will be somewhere between 0-point-6 to 0-point-8 of one percent (0.6-0.8%) that the interbank network gets over the exchange rate. You will be funding your account by electronic transfer from your regular account, the whole process will take a coupe weeks to finalize.

You are using several currencies. By clever estimating you can always leave yourself with little amounts of leftover currency as you eave each country, thus minimizing re-conversion costs at exchanges when you eave, although you may find it useful to hang on to leftover Euro and GBP for next time.

Two notes - always let your bank know before you leave which countries you will be in when, and if an ATM offers to do the withdrawal in terms of US dollars, always say no.

Posted by
8138 posts

Just be sure that you're using a bank ATM at the other end. You can often find ATM's that are not bank owned in places frequented by tourists, and they will be taking advantage of you on service charges and/or discounting the currency.

My credit union gives me full credit.

My Wells Fargo charges $5 plus 3% discount on the currency. No thanks!

Posted by
19092 posts

Yes, Wells Fargo charges most customers 3% plus $5, but if you have a PMA account with Wells Fargo it gives you two fee free withdrawals at the Interbank rate per calendar month. My last trip was over two calendar months, and I increased my daily max to $750, so I got $3000 without charges. My local bank charges 2% plus $2. My credit union charges 1%, no fee.

I had a Chase credit card that did not charge a currency exchange fee (normally 3%) for POS transactions, but they were getting a card fee from the merchant. Now that the EU has reduced the fee they can charge the merchant to 3/10%, I think we'll start seeing credit card companies doing away with the fee free transactions in Europe.

So shop around.

Posted by
15154 posts

Get money locally when you are there using the ATM. The exchange rate will be much better than the exhorbitant rates charged in the US.

At most get a bit of cash from home to cover for your first day of arrival (taxi, etc.), in case you don't see an ATM at the airport (although I have yet to see a European airport without an ATM inside).

Posted by
1 posts

i just returned from 2 weeks in central europe. i entered poland and used the atm at the hotel for euros. i was able to use euro/us currency in prague without having to buy a large sum of krowns. the hotel in prague exchanged to krowns with no commission. and would gladly exchange in small amounts ($5 euro for krown) remember you can easily use a credit card even for small purchases except at vendor stalls but remember have the money entered in their currency. most of the exchange places usually did not charge a commission. i took about $300 in 20's - i had no problem exchanging for the euros. i would wait till i got there. roseann52

Posted by
78 posts

I just opened a Chase account today so that we'd have access to two accounts while in Italy. The banker said we could order Euros, free of charge. Should I get at least enough to cover our first night in Venice? Why, or why not?

Posted by
5835 posts

Italy is pretty modern and has ATM cash machines all over the place. The Venice VCE ATM did appear to have a max w/d of 200€.

Posted by
19092 posts

"most of the exchange places usually did not charge a commission."

Yes, but what exchange rate did they charge you?

When I was in Prague in May 2012, I took a picture of the exchange rates at a currency exchange shop. They were offering 18 Czech Koruna for a dollar with "no commission". The Interbank rate (Oanda) that day was 19.7295 Kc/$. That's a "discount" of 9.6%. Depending on your bank, you can pay 0% to 4% from an ATM.

Posted by
8367 posts

This is one of the "hot" questions that gets asked a lot. Many are quick to say just wait until you get there and use ATMS. Just last week a poster shared that he ended up not being able to use his card at ATMs for a day and wished he had brought some with him.

I think the best choice is to bring a small amount of euros with you to get you through your first day/night just in case you have an issue that arises. Then use ATM machines to withdraw cash from your account as described above.

I feel the peace of mind I have knowing that I have a few hundred euros on me to start outweighs any worries about exchange rate costs. My peace of mind is worth the cost.

People are quick to quote Rick about using ATMS. They also need to remember that he is the first to say that sometimes you need to be willing to spend a little more if it will result in a more comfortable and relaxing trip for the traveler. Just choose those times thoughtfully.

Posted by
19092 posts

If you go to Europe and use euro from an ATM, bring some (a couple of hundred) back with you (assume you will return) so you will have euro when you arrive in Europe the next time. I've been doing this for 15 years.

Ten years ago I arrived in Frankfurt with three ATM cards. For technical reasons, the first two did not work. I was relieved when the third card worked, but I did have enough euro with me so I could have lived until I had a chance to call my bank back in the States.