I need to get several thousand dollars worth of euros for my upcoming trip to Germany, Belgium, and France. All the banks I call in the city where I live seem to have lousy conversion rates. I need something better. Do I wait until I'm actually in the foreign country and do I go to a bank there? What do I do? Any suggestions?
Go with empty pockets and get all you want out of atms.
You would never expect to get a very good rate here, but you also don't necessarily get a great rate to change cash (or cashiers check?) at a bank in Europe. We prefer to use ATMs in Europe to withdraw cash. You may be limited by your bank to taking out $300 - 500/day; check the current limit with them and ask to raise it. Are you paying upon arrival for an apartment? You can find several similar discussions on this Travel Forum.
you wont win this game, its a matter of degrees of how bad you get screwed.
You can buy foreign currency on line but i havent done it yet. My credit union does a 8 USD charge and then whatever the exchange rate of the service. One thing about exchange rates, its like having a politician make a decision, it will change with the weather and what the feel like. Ive seen several different rates in one day. So pick you poison.
You can do the ATMS over there, but one comment. If you need alot of cash (more than ~500 or so equivalent USD) out of the ATM you may not be able to do it without doing a "cash advance". My card/limit out of my credit union is 350 USD/day -period. THere are charges/fees associated with the "cash advance" too. If you dont need all the cash at one time, you can try and do it every day, but in my opinion i have better things to do.
You can also bring USD there and exchange them at a exchange service, but again, who knows how good a rate you will get.
if you can, verify your need of cash and if you can use your credit card.
I had a similar situation several years ago, needing Euros cash. I had my bank raise my ATM daily limit to $700usd. It took 5 days to get 2500€ out of the BNP ATMs.
Note that I have experienced a local ATM machine limit below my bank's limit. That may have been an airport ATM anomaly (VCE cash machine limited me to 200€.
The only reason to bring cash with you is either to have some on hand when you land (just in case) or if you have to pay a large rental fee up-front (beyond your daily ATM allowance). The fee for the former is negligible. For the latter, sometimes you can get decent rates at local post offices or some banks will do an exchange (not all). In the US, AAA can have decent rates and so does Wells Fargo. Note that by decent I mean anywhere between 5-10% (of the interbank rate). Your ATM card will be less than 5%.
If you need to transfer a very large sum overseas, your bank could do a "wire transfer".
One thing about exchange rates, its like having a politician make a
decision, it will change with the weather and what the feel like.
That is false. The exchange rate when using the ATM in Europe is not arbitrary. It will always be within 1% or less of the Interbank rate that day. The use of a debit card at a bank owned ATM in Europe will always be the cheapest and most convenient way to obtain local currency. Purchasing Euro in the US will have a premium range of 5 to 10% upcharge.
You can check how much a premium above the Interbank rate tour financial institution charged for the conversion by comparing their deduct against the historic Interbank rate:
Note the difference between bid and ask. Also note that the transaction and posting dates can be separated by multiple days in the case of credit card transactions. The merchant or their bank may have delayed processing.
In the case of my BofA ATM withdrawals, BofA showed the conversion fee as a sepetrate line item. My credit union ATM withdrawal separates the ATM owner's fee from the withdrawal and did not include a conversion add.
Why do you need so much currency? The best way to go is with a credit card that has no international transaction fees. My capital one card converts at spot and has no fees. I use my card as heavily as I can, but hit up the ATMs when I get there for currency, as others suggest (a $5 fee from my bank, so I get as much as possible).
I was going to ask the same question as jpkand.
You will have no trouble finding ATMs in Germany, Belgium or France. I usually get some cash at the airport upon arrival and then use the cash machines inside the lobbies of banks to get more later. My standard joke is that you will find more ATMs in bank lobbies than you will find toilets in any of those countries. It seems like there is a bank on almost every corner.
The issues of your bank having a too-low limit per day on transactions are real. The Hughes Federal Credit Union here in Tucson has absolutely refused to up the paltry limit for our trips. However, we learned that the limit was per debit card, not for the account. We each have a card for the same account, so that means we can double the limit. Last time I checked it was $400. Today that will buy about 293 euros at a rate of about 1.36 dollars per euro. Not much. Hopefully your local bank or CU has a realistic limit or will up it to be appropriate for your trip.
Fortunately, like many people, we also have accounts at another CU, BECU in WA. They are much more realistic about how far dollars will go when converted to euros and the limit is so much higher that I never need that much. I suspect they are more realistic because Boeing people travel a lot for work and fun. I hope it has changed, but it hasn't been that long ago that HFCU was going to sell someone travelers checks because the teller had no clue that they were useless these days.
I can't remember if anyone else said it already, but it bears repeating: you must inform your financial institution of where you are going and when so that that your card(s), debit and credit, will not be blocked when you try to use them in Europe.