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Where to exchange Dollars for Euros?

I prefer arriving in Europe with a wad of Euros. In the past I have always bought Euros at my bank prior to travel. My bank's rate is 0.06 above the current exchange rate. Is there a better method to obtain foreign currency?
Thanks

Posted by
3444 posts

6% is actually pretty good for buying Euros in the US before travel. Airport exchanges are around 10 - 15% last I checked (December). AAA or AmEx is also in that range. If you have friends who recently traveled to Europe, they may have leftover Euro they might be willing to sell to you at a rate you can decide between yourselves.

The only better way is to use an ATM after arrival in Europe.

Posted by
6535 posts

Yes. ATMs all around the world work the same way for obtaining cash. Why pay someone a large markup (or any markup) for something as ubiquitous as an ATM?

Also, use credit cards with 0% foreign exchange rate in lieu of cash. I hardly use cash at all, and only for very small incidentals.

Posted by
18117 posts

I wouldn't buy a wad of euros in advance. I'd buy just enough to get me and my traveling companions into town, then I'd look for an ATM. And unless I was on my one-and-only trip to Europe, I'd take 100 to 200 euros home with me so I wouldn't have to even think about it the next time.

Posted by
6554 posts

But remember all ATM's are not created equal. The ones affiliated with banks give the best exchange rate. American Express machines and Travelex ATM's (among others) will clip you on the exchange.
Also check with your local bank to see about transaction fees and if they charge an up rate on the exchange. Wells Fargo charges $5.00 and 5% on ATM withdrawals which is not at all good. I use a credit union ATM card in Europe and keep a backup from my local bank.

Posted by
2396 posts

The OP already stated he wants to arrive in Europe with a “wad” of Euros so I am sure he knows the alternative is seeking out an ATM at the airport. I’m with him. I don’t want to be fumbling with my debit card, trying to watch my baggage, making sure I am using a working bank affiliated ATM in a crowded airport after an overnight flight when I am basically brain dead. If you are talking about 100-200 Euros pay the bank and be done with it. Unless you are backpacking between youth hostels the cost is inconsequential when you look at the total cost of your trip. You can get more Euros at a bank ATM when you are settled. I am finding with each trip I use fewer Euros and more credit cards.

Posted by
20966 posts

You may what to define a "wad" for you. We always have about a hundred euro in pocket on arrival. It is either saved from a previous trip or purchased locally. A hundred euro will always gets us out of the airport, to the hotel, and through most of the next day. Then I find a bank owned ATM and generally take out another 500 or more if I am paying the hotel in cash.

Posted by
145 posts

We always arrive with Euros. We do not want to be looking for an ATM when we arrive. While we may pay a small premium the comfort of knowing we have money is worth it.

I concur that the when considered in the total cost of the trip the cost is small.

I personally do not use a bank, rather I use an exchange place, which has better exchange rates.

Posted by
20966 posts

Curious what you mean by an "exchange place." I think it is impossible for any exchange place to beat the exchange rate provide by a debit card. It is always within a half point of the interbank rate so I don't how it could be lower anywhere else.

Posted by
2396 posts

Yeah, I’d like to know as well. The currency exchange places (the ones with the red exchange rate signs and thick glass) offer horrible rates in my experience. I don’t think I’ve used one since the advent of debit cards.

Posted by
996 posts

Long story short - there is no one, perfect answer. You may have to decide what feels best for you in this situation.

For me, I prefer to have about 200 Euros in hand before I land. This has saved me more than once. I go to my own bank. I buy a specific amount of foreign currency to save me the hassle when I land, jet lagged and slightly overwhelmed.

You can always find an ATM later, assuming you have a bank card, sufficient cash & have notified your bank beforehand that you'll be traveling.

YMMV, of course, but in my experience this is what I'm comfortable doing, even if it costs a little extra up front.

Posted by
2661 posts

I always use AAA for my pre-trip foreign currency. I, too, don't want to bother with ATM's on the first day. I find the exchange rate satisfactory and there are no fees if you are a member. Considering it is just down the street, the convenience is a winning factor as well. However, it's my impression from this forum that all AAA/regions do not have the same rates so do a little research ahead of time.

Posted by
18117 posts

Bob gives his location as "Coquitlam", which is in Canada. I remember an earlier post (perhaps from Bob) that gave me the impression there are cheaper ways to get European currencies in Canada than we have here in the US. Seems only fair, since it appears that Canadians don't have the no-fee credit card options available in the US.

I trust Bob will correct me if I'm misinterpreting, but I don't think he is saying his source is cheaper than an ATM withdrawal in Europe if you have a no-fee ATM card, but rather that it is cheaper than buying foreign currency at a Canadian bank.

Posted by
28 posts

Bank of America doesn't charge a fee if you do a large enough exchange.

Posted by
18117 posts

There are two sources of profit for a bank (or currency-exchange bureau): fees and the chosen exchange rate. Not being charged a fee doesn't mean you've necessarily gotten a good deal. The bank could be using an especially unfavorable exchange rate. You have to compare the exchange rate you received to the closing official exchange you see online (probably from the day before). How far off is it? It could vary by 5%, 7% or more. That is what you're paying the bank for the convenience of flying to Europe with euros (or whatever currency) in your pocket.

If your bank charges a fee, you still have to check the exchange as described above, but you must also add the fee to it.

Edited to add: If you have to exchange a lot of money (i.e., buy a lot of foreign currency) in order to qualify for a no-fee deal, you are certainly paying the bank a decent amount extra in absolute terms, in the form of a conversion rate that is advantageous to the bank.

Posted by
3444 posts

On Friday, Bank of America was charging 6 cents over the GBP exchange rate you would have gotten at an ATM and 7 cents for Euro for purchases of currency at my local branch of at least US$1,000. So €1,000 would cost you US$70.00 more than at an ATM in Europe.

This is around the standard markup on rates that the big banks charge.

Posted by
17867 posts

Wells Fargo charges $5.00 and 5% on ATM withdrawals which is not at all good.

On my last trip, I primarily used my credit union ATM card for withdrawals at 1% over the exchange rate, because I believed the above was almost true for Wells Fargo (actually, the last time I had to use them, the rate was $5 + 3%, not 5%).

One time on the trip I had to use my WF card (the CU card was not accepted). When I came home, I found I had only paid $5 (+0%). I later found out that that is the new WF policy, a flat $5 (which is 1% on a $500 withdrawal).

Posted by
18117 posts

That would be painful for me, because I prefer to make small withdrawals, but it doesn't seem grossly unfair.

Posted by
17867 posts

I use an exchange place, which has better exchange rates

Often, when I am in an airport and see an exchange booth (usually Travelex in the US), I compare their rate with the Interbank rate on Oanda at the time. I usually find them to be about 10% - 14% over the Interbank rate.

On May 23, 2012 I was in Prague, on the road down from the castle to Karl's Bridge, and took a picture of the rates in the window of an exchange shop. With no commission, the rate for Koruna in US$ was about 9% over the Interbank rate that day. The day before, I had paid about 2% over the Interbank rate at the train station using my ATM card from a Denver bank.

Posted by
20966 posts

Have a feeling that Bob is not returning to explain "exchange place." I am willing to consider his definition for an exchange place is different than mine. At least for US travels the exchange rate using a debit card at a bank owned ATM cannot be beat anywhere.

Posted by
18117 posts

I seldom look at posted exchange rates these days, because ATMs are so easy to use, but I have seen some posted rates in former Iron Curtain countries that were really, really good--perhaps 2% off par or even a bit better on a few occasions. I do not know whether those places were also charging fees, but the rates were much better than what I have seen in western Europe. And I've seen lots of people actually using those exchange booths.

It's possible the poor exchange rate observed in Prague had a lot to do with the location of the booth--near the Charles Bridge, which is Tourist Central.

Posted by
120 posts

My thanks to all here who have offered their advice. In the end, I will probably only get a few hundred Euros before the trip. I have found, in the past, that going to an ATM attached to a foreign bank associated with my bank is a secure practice. I'll just load up my checking account ahead, and withdraw via debit card. Sound like a plan?

Posted by
18117 posts

Yep.

Just don't fall for any proposal to "lock in" a specific US dollar amount or anything like that. Perform the entire transaction in euros (or whatever is the local currency).

Posted by
28 posts

acraven, that is a valuable point.
Many places 'offer' to let you pay in US dollars or euros. When you choose to pay in US dollars, that includes whatever the vendor's exchange rate is (translates to 'bad exchange rate').

Posted by
17867 posts

Many places 'offer' to let you pay in US dollars or euros.

Letting you pay in US$ is called Dynamic Currency Exchange. It's not good for you. Not only do you pay the offerer's exchange rate, which is probably not as good as that offered with an ATM card, but you probably still pay your bank the same or nearly the same exchange rate discount (%) and fee ($) on the rate after dynamic conversion.that you would without DCE.