Obtaining Euro Currency

My daughters and I are traveling for 3 weeks in June/July to Europe; 1 week in Ireland and 2 weeks in France. We have already secured and paid for airline travel - roundtrip, auto rentals in both countries, and some lodging in both countries. The remaining costs, i.e. other nightly lodging as we travel about, gasoine/petrol, food, etc. we plan to pay for using both my Visa credit card for major purchases, and my Visa Debit/Bank card for operating cash and other costs. What is the best and most economical way to obtain Euro currency for both countries? My bank/credit union allows a maximum of $500.00 U. S. dollars per day (calendar day) from ATM withdrawals - using Visa Debit/Bank card. Should I use the ATM Debit/Bank Card to get operating cash for all other purchases other than major costs for which I will use my Visa Credit card. Or, should i go to a currency exchange office whereever we are? Or, should i purchase Euros here in the USA before departure? I will not be carrying much U,.S. dollars in cash with me Please advise. Thank you. .

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
2429 posts

A couple of other points: if using a credit card for purchases, always have the transaction done in the local currency. A vendor may offer to use dollars but this means two currency conversions and more exchange rate transaction fees. Also, you mention "calendar days"; make sure this is true and doesn't mean "business days". Notify your bank and credit card companies that you will be traveling in Europe so they don't refuse your transaction as "suspicious", and never use a credit card for cash advances if you can help it (interest charges begin to accrue immediately).

Posted by Nancy
Bloomington, IL, USA
7670 posts

Using an ATM over there is the easiest and cheapest way. But some people feel more comfortable taking a little foreign cash with them to start out with. You could just exchange a small amount at the airport before you leave (not the cheapest, maybe, but the most convenient way).

Posted by Ray
Portland, Oregon, USA
1328 posts

hi, you need to contact your banking/credit unions and find out what their charges are for out of the country/foreign transations. using it as a credit card, debit card and cash w/d or cash advances. they will have rates and such for you. then you can ask how much they charge to buy foreign currency. then you can make an informed decision as to how you want to go. happy trails.

Posted by Suz
Denver, USA
223 posts

Yes to ATM's! NEVER go to a currency exchange, unless you're in the mood to be ripped off by a bad exchange rate and probably some additional "fees." Also watch out for the ATM machines within the airport when you land. Some of them - I hope most of them - are genuine bank-affiliated ATM's which should give you a good exchange rate and depending on your bank's ATM card you shouldn't incur big fees for the transaction. However, some people here have used what looked like a regular ATM at an airport (Heathrow was the one I read about) but it was some kind of Travelex money exchange thing that was way too costly. If you want to land in the country with a few Euro in your pocket, you can get them before leaving but you may not get as good an exchange rate as waiting to use a bank-affiliated ATM over there. If you belong to AAA, check out their "TipPaks," which are about $100 worth of Euros. I've gotten a good deal with Pounds (UK) with one of these, but others have reported that they didn't get a good exchange rate with them, so ask in advance what exchange rate they have for them. For my personal money decisions, I don't parse exchange rates down to the fourth digit to the right of the decimal point, but I do use http://www.xe.com/ to keep an eye on exchange rates in real time. Those tend to be ideal rates - commercial banking - and as consumers we won't get quite as good a deal. But they are a good benchmark for reference.

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
10840 posts

As recommended do check with your card issuer (generally the bank or credit union) for their fees. Without question, even if you have to pay some fees, the cheapest and most convenient way to obtain local currency is a debit card at a bank owned ATM. Best practice is to take two debit cards tied to two different account so if something goes wrong with one account you have a back up. We have been totally dependent on debit cards for the pass 10 to 15 years and have never had a problem with the original card but still carry the backup.

Posted by Doug
Portlandia
3289 posts

In addition to the above advice, be sure to let your bank know you'll be traveling in Europe so they don't shut down your account as suspicious. While you're at it, ask them to raise your daily withdrawal limit.

Posted by David
Florence, AL, USA
1960 posts

Don't get any $ before leaving home. Your bank will charge you a fee AND rip you off on the exchange rate. We always look for a BANK ATM when we hit the arrival airport. We've never had any problem getting local funds. I would suggest you take a couple of hundred U.S. dollars as a backup. Visa's work best for rental cars, hotel rooms, restaurants and souvenir purchases, as you do have some rights of charge backs in some cases. And some credit cards have extended warranty and secondary rental car insurance included.
Our Capital One Visa actually offers a good exchange rate. Not all cards do.

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
10840 posts

I never like any "Don't" recommendations since it is mostly personal choice anyway. As an old engineer I like back up to back up, so the idea arriving anywhere without some local currency in the pocket is not my idea of smart travel. Even if I have to pay $10 to get a hundred Euro in the US, it is the premium for an insurance against not finding an ATM, ATM being empty, out of order, only operated by TravelEx (situation at Heathrow), etc. So my don't advice is don't ever go into a country without a 100 Euro or local currency in your pocket.

Posted by Suz
Denver, USA
223 posts

I like Frank's "don't" advice. It's also what I do. I know how spacey I can be just after landing from a long international flight, in an airport I'm not familiar with. Having some of the local currency in my wallet when I land takes away the pressure to find an ATM immediately. If getting that currency before leaving costs me a few extra bucks, I consider it, as Frank says, the cost of insurance.

Posted by Nancy
Bloomington, IL, USA
7670 posts

I would suggest you skip the AAA TipPaks. They can have really bad exchange rates. Before a trip last year, I asked about them. At the time, the exchange rate for euro was about $1.30. AAA was selling TipPaks, with 60 euro in them, for $95 - $1.58 each. I was told that no matter what happened with the exchange rate, their price would be the same until they sold those particular packs.

Posted by Bruce
Whitefish, Montana
610 posts

After each trip to Europe we return with 100€ or so to hit the ground running during the subsequent trip. We've never had a problem gaining foreign currency through bank associated ATMs at arrival international airports (Europe and elsewhere). Worst case scenario is to exchange a small amount of US currency at an airport exchange bureau if there is no bank associated ATM.

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2012 posts

Frank's advice isn't bad. I rarely follow it, and I always have that "oh crap!" moment when I'm about to use an ATM in a new country and pray that my bank correctly noted where I'd be traveling and that I'll be able to obtain cash. We've had a couple of minor mishaps that were quickly solved, but it adds stress. If possible, I'd try to travel with at least some Euro upon arrival for that reason. If you think you'll be returning to Europe within the next several years, just bring some home with you and save it for the next trip.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7176 posts

My backup to the backup is to carry a few hundred U.S. dollars in my moneybelt. In a pinch, I can exchange it at no worse cost than doing it at home. Normally it comes home unspent and unexchanged. I have yet to arrive at an international terminal and not pass multiple banks of ATMs on the way to ground transportation. I stop and pick up local currency at one of them. The new caveat is travelers are getting smarter about the costs of exchange booths and using ATM's instead. The exchange companies have built automated exchange booths that look like ATM's. You can tell the difference by the name. If the machine has an "EX" as part of the name (e.g. TravelEx), avoid it; use the machines that have some form of Bank (Banc, Banco, etc.) in the name instead.

Posted by Stacey
Kansas City
111 posts

I agree with Frank. A few days ago I got €105 at the bank and it cost me an extra $10. Worth the peace of mind for me. My bank does not charge a service fee for customers, but also does not have the greatest rate.

Posted by Ray
Portland, Oregon, USA
1328 posts

hi again, what i do is to give some of the extra loose change to my nephews. happy trails.

Posted by Den
Madison, Wi, USA
62 posts

I agree with Stacey, I like the peace of mind knowing I a have a few Euros with me when I land. Some banks will charge of fee for obtaining Euros for you, some do not if you have an account. Be SURE to let your bank know you will be using your ATM in counties X. And be SURE to let your credit card issuer know the same! What dates this will be happening. All ATMs in Europe I have seen are the type that takes in your card. No swiping. There is that moment of suspense when you wonder if it will be eaten! I open a new bank account before going so I can have 2 ATM cards. Just in case. I carry the Visa. My spouse has the MasterCard. Just in case. USE MONEY BELTS! Scan your passport and send attachment to yourself. If needed, can get that email and print the copy.

Posted by Roy
Auburn, AL
797 posts

I have twice had situations where airport ATMs would not accept a debit card. In both cases, I had notified the bank in advance but somebody, somwhere failed to flip a switch or hit "Enter," or whatever. The first time was a near disaster but we finally scraped together enough euros to get through the first day, until the banks opened at home. The second time was a shock, but not a disaster; by then I had started carrying a card from my credit union as well as one from the bank. (This approach also enables you to bypass the daily limit on transactions when you need more cash.) I now try to save enough from one trip to jumpstart the next one, but I would rather exchange currency in advance at the bank than risk landing again without any local currency.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7176 posts

Roy's example could happen if the bank messes up, which can happen anytime. If they do, your card won't work until you call the bank and they take the hold off your account, which probably takes overnight. Our backup for that, though it has never actually happened to us, is to have two debit cards from two different accounts. We've never yet needed to rely on the backup plan but it's good to have one. If for some reason the primary card doesn't work, or is lost/stolen, we have a second account to use with it's own card. Normally I carry one debit and one credit card and my wife does the same. The cards represent four different accounts. We notify all the banks. If you lose or have a card stolen, another card from the same account will be worthless. Once you report the loss to your bank, they will close the checking account or cancel the credit card (and normally mail a new card to your home address) to ensure there is no (further) fraud on the account. Having two checking accounts at the same bank that you can transfer between allows you to switch cards and transfer money without a major hassle if they're set up for transfers (normally requires same owners on accounts).

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7817 posts

Betty Ann, don't miss Zoes tip about not letting merchants charge you in American dollars, they are doing you no favor,, always ask charges be put through in local currency. I like to arrive with about 100 euros in pocket, but after that I use my ATM debit card to make withdrawals, I only use my CC to pay for hotels, train tickets and any big ticket purchases/meals/ rental car. The rest of the time I use cash. I will never understand the reasoning of bringing a sum of American money for emergencies.. since most emergencies where you bank card won't work or is lost etc ,, or you are out in the boonies, well you may not be near an exchange booth to exchange your currency for theirs, no merchants would, and most banks absolutely will not do business with you unless you are a client of theirs.. I bring enough of my currency to buy lunch and magazines at the airports.

Posted by Jeremy
Durango, CO, USA
4 posts

Be sure to check your bank's charge for using the ATM. The Schwab bank, for instance, rebates all ATM fees. You don't want to pay 3-4 euros just to take out 50 Euros.

Posted by Bruce
Whitefish, Montana
610 posts

"I will never understand the reasoning of bringing a sum of American money for emergencies"... OK, so here's the reasoning. To the best of my knowledge, the most convenient and cost effective way for us to secure euros before a trip is ordering via a local bank ($250US minimum order). Of course, we always try to return from a trip to the Eurozone with say 100€ for the following trip and that's been the norm for several years. No problem. But if without euros in hand,I run the risk that there are no full/functioning ATMs at the arrival airport. In that situation, I can go to an exchange bureau window at the airport and purchase with cash the minimum required funds to make do until I find an ATM. In many trips to Europe, this has never been necessary. To buy euros in advance from the local bank guarantees I pay a premium. The same concept applies to other countries around the world and whether the traveler's native currency is US, Canadian, Indian Rupees, etc.