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Now Confused about money exchange

Hi--We will be visiting Budapest, Vienna and Prague next week--I am now confused with different advice as to where to exchange money ...which ATMs? I understand there can be very different charges!!!!
And should we have some foreign cash (from our local bank) BEFORE we arrive?
Thanks

Posted by
5896 posts

The overarching goal is to save money on fees, so stick to bank-owned ATMs (you can Google and look them up on every airport webpage) and be cognizant of how much your own bank charges you for foreign withdrawals. If your bank charges high fees (like 5% and a $5 fee on top of that, or something similar), shop around and consider credit unions, if you can. Also, keep in mind that you can use credit cards as well, so don't overdo the cash withdrawals unless you want to be stuck with a foreign currency you can't use anywhere else in the world (e.g. Hungarian forints). I don't take any foreign cash before I arrive because I am not risk-averse and don't find looking for an airport ATM to be particularly bothersome; other people may have different levels of comfort.

Rick Steves has good money tips. I would read that section of the website and follow it. No need to reinvent the wheel.

Posted by
16458 posts

You will be dealing with three different currencies, two of which may not be easy to obtain in the US. And you'd get a poor exchange rate--and possibly a service charge--on each one in your hometown. I'd just plan to get each currency on arrival in the country.

Some ATMs do charge fees. It's a fluid situation, so what worked best for someone last year may not be the best for you next week. Read the screen and walk away if there's a fee you can't live with. The Euronet machine at the Budapest airport (where I saw no other options) didn't charge me a fee in May 2018.

The main thing is not to fall for an offer to record the transaction in dollars ("lock in" an exchange rate). That will cost you money. Watch out for the same, costly, practice when you use your credit card. I don't know about Austria, but the pay-extra-by-choosing-dollars business is extremely common in Hungary and Czechia, and you may run into folks who will be aggressive in trying to take advantage of you in that way. Keep control of your credit card and the reader, and watch the screen. If someone presents you with a credit card receipt for signature that shows the amount in dollars, do not sign it.

Posted by
10369 posts

Good advice. You can go to google maps and enter "Budapest ATM" and all the locations pop up. The only brand that worries me is Euronet, because it's not bank related.

I travel to Europe 2 or 3 times a year and have for nearly 20 years, and I still prefer to arrive with some euros and forints in my pocket. But that's just me.

Forints are available through my bank; Bank of America.

Finally, don't sweat it. If you end up paying a charge here or there, we are only talking maybe 3%. In the big picture when you consider plane tickets and hotel room costs, what's an extra 3% for lunch? People tend to get a little overly uptight about such things.

but the pay-extra-by-choosing-dollars business is extremely common in
Hungary and Czechia, and you may run into folks who will be aggressive
in trying to take advantage of you in that way.

Never, in 20 years, had anyone be "agressive". Again, relax and enjoy. Worst case scenario if something does happen just doesn't matter ... it's a holiday, relax and enjoy.

Posted by
16458 posts

James, I've spent a lot more time in Europe than you have in the last 5 years, and I've had multiple people choose dollars for me after I said "euros", "forints" or "zlotys", plus one Polish store clerk who reached around to my side of the post-mounted credit-card device to press the Dollars button. When I refused to sign the dollar-denominated charge slips, all of the offenders claimed they couldn't void and re-run the transaction in the local currency. Only patience and persistence on my part (which not all tourists have time for) resolved the situations to my satisfaction.

I call that aggressive pushing of dynamic currency conversion. I'm not claiming it happens everywhere or every day (though in some countries DCC will be presented as an option the vast majority of the time), but it's something to watch out for--especially (in my experience) in some of the former Iron Curtain countries and Spain. I do not appreciate being taken advantage of, and I don't want other tourists to incur unnecessary extra expenses, either.

Posted by
20435 posts

This is really very simple but for some reason we tend to put a lot of words to it and adding lots of confusion.

  1. The cheapest and most convenient way to obtain local currency in any country will be via a debit card at a bank-owned ATM. Bar none.

  2. It is rare but it is the possible that the OWNER of the ATM may impose a fee for using that ATM. (That practice is common in the US but not as common in Europe.) That fee will be disclosed. Also I avoid all stand-a-lone ATMs as these can be prone to having scam card readers attached. Always use ATMs attached to banks during open hours.

  3. Some ATMs may offer the option to complete the transaction in dollars or local currency. It is called dynamic conversion and should ALWAYS be REJECTED. Always deal in local currency with both debit and credit cards.

  4. Beyond the rare user fee for using an ATM, all additional fees will be added by the card issuer. So call your debit and credit card issue and ask what the fees are. They can range from zero to perhaps $5/transaction and 3%. Even with fees debit cards are still cheaper than using a money exchange or something similar.

  5. Finally I just think it is just smart to have a hundred euro or other local currency in your pocket on landing and not being dependent on finding an functioning ATM at the airport. But others disagree and always dependent on finding an ATM but it does add an additional element of risk.

Posted by
844 posts

There is one thing that I don't think anyone mentioned yet but is very important. Make sure you call your bank now and your credit card companies and give them a list of countries that you are going to be in. Otherwise your transactions could be denied. After you give them a list of the countries, have that person read the list back to you.

On our trip to multiple countries, the bank person had put us in for Slovakia not Slovenia. Good thing I asked her to read it back to me.

Have a Great Trip!
Mimi

Posted by
10369 posts

I guess, over the years, I have been "tricked" a time or two. Probably means I paid $2.06 for that $2.00 beer once or twice. THAT PISSES ME OFF! RUINS THE ENTIRE TRIP!! DAMN (former) COMMIES!

I guess one thing that might be true is that if you avoid tourist venues the odds of such issues are less.

Posted by
17572 posts

If your bank charges high fees (like 5% and a $5 fee on top of that, or something similar)

Or something similar, like 3% plus $5. That's what major US banks have said they would charge me in the past (I've always then used my credit union account which charges 1% plus $1. I've never seen 5% plus $5. Since Wells Fargo only charges account holders 5% for euro over here, if your bank charges 5% + $5, you'll be better off taking the money from home! And Wells Fargo now only charges $5 for a foreign ATM withdrawal; that's just over 1% on a withdrawal of a little less than $500, slightly better than the credit union. I found that out by accident when my CU ATM card wouldn't work at FRA, so I used my Wells Fargo card. When I got home I noticed WF had only charged my the $5, not 3% as well. I inquired at the bank and found that a straight $5 is their new fee.

And, BTW, if you pay cash, they can't charge you DCC!

I always arrive with a couple hundred euro, but it's left over (deliberately) from my past trip, so no need to get it from the bank.

Posted by
20435 posts

You know, James, if you paid cash especially for smaller purchases you would not have that problem. We tend use cash the majority of the time. Solves a lot problems reduces credit card risk substantially. Don't quite understand the resistance to using cash but for us it is an old habit from the years when we only had travelers checks.

Posted by
10369 posts

Frank, I never have this "problem" ... period. Life is too short. Mostly I am a cash guy. But you know it's hard to spend all the coins you get in change. I suspect a lot of tourists end up with 3% of all their Euros in the form of coins that they bring home, give away or leave behind. I've got a huge jar full of Forint coins. I dig out the 50's, 100's and 200's for beer money.

Posted by
16458 posts

If someone sneaks DCC past you on a hotel bill, the excess is going to be more than chump change. The overcharge is often 3.5% in countries like Hungary snd Czechia, but I've seen it at 7% or perhaps more.

And I have to disagree that fee-charging ATMs are rare in Europe. I think that is true in some countries, but they are very, very common in some others. The practice seems to be spreading rapidly.

Posted by
20435 posts

In our experience fees are rare. But that is only our experience from traveling through out Europe over many trips and many months. Some countries has no meaning. Exactly where do you think ATMs fees are prevalent?

We will be in Amsterdam next months will report if there is a change.

Posted by
10369 posts

I almost always prebook my hotel in dollars. :-)

And are you telling me I once I probably paid $2.14 for a $2.00 beer!!!!

Posted by
4718 posts

We were charged fees by three different bank-owned ATMs in Sicily in February. It proves nothing but that things change fast. Its not something I worry about in the big picture.

Posted by
10369 posts

My only point is after airline tickets, hotel costs; a few fees, if they happen, aren't worth stressing over.

Posted by
17572 posts

I suspect a lot of tourists end up with 3% of all their Euros in the
form of coins that they bring home, give away or leave behind.

I used to have that problem since it was simpler to just give someone a numbered note, which was easy to identify, rather than figuring out the coins I had. Cradle the coins in your hand, between you fingers and your palm. Small coins (1, 2, & 5 euro cent) are easy to identify because they are copper colored and small. The 1 and 5 cent piece are smooth and noticeably different in size . The 2 cent piece has a circumferential groove around the outside.

The 10, 20, and 50 cent pieces are brass. The 10 and 50 cent pieces have a lot of similar size small notches around the perimeter and very different in size. The 20 cent piece is in between in size and has only a few notches (7, I think).

Lastly, the largest coins, the 1 and 2 euro coins, are larger, but noticeably different in size. If that isn't enough, the 1 euro coin has intermittent milling, the 2 euro coin has uninterrupted milling around the circumference.

The only real challenge, and I've heard Germans complain about this very thing, is that the 50 cent and 1 euro coins are similar in size and easy to confuse, but the large number of small notches on the 50 is telltale.

Since I figured that out, I usually only bring home a small number of coins.

Posted by
10369 posts

Here is a real confusing issue, the 1 euro coin is identical to the 100 forint coin, and the 2 euro coin is identical to the 200 forint coin. The values are worlds apart. The only differences are the number and the pattern stamped on it

Posted by
1234 posts

Prague: I found the comments from UncleGus in this post to be useful regarding ATMs in Prague:
https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/czech/atm-in-prague

He mentions the fees for various banks, some of which did not charge him fees. I then did a Google Maps search for "bancomat" near my arrival station in Prague and my hotel. I found one of the no-fee CSOB bank ATMs next door to my hotel, so I'll be using that.

In Budapest last fall, I arrived at Keleti (train) station where there is an OTP (bank) ATM inside the station, just to the left of the front door. I was not charged a transaction fee. Search Google Maps for your arrival station and then search "nearby" for an OTP or another bank-owned ATM. It will usually show you a picture of the machine and its location within the station. If you don't know if it's a bank ATM, James E can probably confirm.

Similarly for Vienna. (I already had cash so didn't get Euros there.)

Having said all that, I bring some Euros with me, usually leftover from the prior trip. It's worth my peace of mind for a few dollars to have some cash.

Posted by
5146 posts

Based on James E's comments about forint coins, one method might be to put your Euro coins in a ziploc bag when you get to Hungary. In fact, putting your coins (and bills) away every time you switch currencies might not be a bad idea.

Posted by
17572 posts

In the 1980s, well before the eurozone, I traveled on business in Europe, and that, put your money from each country in a ziploc sandwich bag. Or maybe it was envelopes; not sure if there were ziploc bags back then.

At one point I think I had leftover money from five countries. I started in London (1), flew to Germany (2), flew to Paris (3), train back to Germany (Munich), flew to Marseilles via Zürich (where I got Swiss Francs, 4), then flew back to Paris, then car to Brussels (5), train to Germany, then train to Zürich.

Do I appreciate the euro.

Posted by
2065 posts

I live near SF and my local bank can easily order the more obscure foreign currency for me--I love saying I want 100,000 HUF...which is less than $300 :) I travel solo so like to arrive wherever with some local cash, like to hit the ground running and not have to worry about finding an ATM that I feel comfortable with--part of a bank, with a secured lobby preferably, and use it during bank hours. In Budapest I prefer OTP. If I'm taking more than 1 type of currency I keep the one I'm not using clipped together in my belt loop pouch that goes under my clothes, and use a small ziplock to put any excess in once I'm done with it, if there is any excess it's not much so it goes in my locked suitcase.

Posted by
2894 posts

Never, in 20 years, had anyone be "aggressive"

Then you have been lucky.

I now constantly run into clerks who claim to have no idea how to not charge me in dollars. I have had several punch the dollars button on the card machine. I have had a few get downright angry with me when I refuse to pay in dollars. IF this isn't aggressive, don't know what is.

This is why I still use cash for the majority of my purchases in Europe. There never is any confusion about what currency I want to pay with. There is never any concern with bank fees. I can simply drop my payment on the table in a restaurant and leave.

The upcharge from DCC may be only 3%,or 7% or as much as 15%, but with enough transactions over the years it adds up. If I have a way to not pay extra fees to anyone that is the option I will choose. That is why I have the credit cards I do and the debit card I do -- none of those charge any fees when I use them outside the US.

Posted by
10369 posts

In Budapest, if it is going to happen, it will be in District V. That's the center of Tourist Hell and it exists for one reason, to serve tourists. While it is worth seeing, do it, then get out. So, yes, if your destinations are Rome, Barcelona and District V; the odds are greater that this will happen. Still, to the best of my knowledge, in about 2 years on the ground in Europe over then past 40 years (first trip was Greece/Italy/Egypt in 1980) it has not happend to me. Bigger things to worry about in life and travel. For perspective, I have been the subject of attempted pickpocketing twice (both in Paris).

I can simply drop my payment on the table in a restaurant and leave.

not very couth.

Posted by
2894 posts

I did say "can" not "will".

Simply an example of the convenience of cash where you don't have to wait for the credit card to be processed.

Posted by
10369 posts

I think in most places, unless you drop the money on the table and leave, that the credit card takes no longer than cash. Either way its done at the table.

But again, I use cash a lot more than my card.

Posted by
1794 posts

mtpeony, like others have mentioned I like to have some Euros upon arrival. I am currently in Budapest and it was especially handy to pay our apartment manager the Euros we came with. I also had a small amount of Forints that I have used today to pay cash when credit card was not accepted. I will go to an ATM that is connected to a bank when needed. We are fortunate that our bank waves the international withdrawal fee. @James, we spent part of our day in the Vll district on a waking tour and enjoyed lunch at Macesz Bistro. WONDERFUL!

Posted by
10369 posts

Janis, glad you are enjoying the trip. Yes, one of my favorite places. Dont forget to try the wine!!

Posted by
11132 posts

"Rick Steves has good money tips. I would read that section of the website and follow it. No need to reinvent the wheel."

YES - so here they are. Read all the links on this page, and you'll be an expert: https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/money

As for finding ATM's, one trick I stumbled upon is that if you look on Google Maps for "ATM's," you get a lot of Travelex, Euronet, and other stand-alone machines, but if you look on Google Maps for "banks" you get bank-connected ATM's.

Would a taxi or car service possibly take Euros ?
(ie for someone arriving into city via train/plane, before chance to go to obvious bank ATM)

Posted by
1794 posts

@Blackcat- When we recently arrived in Budapest we had planned to pay our taxi by credit card. Unfortunately FoTaxi's credit card system was down. No problem. They accepted Euros. This is one reason we like to have cash upon arrival. Just a personal preference.

Posted by
10369 posts

The Taxi will take Euros at something less than a favorable rate. But worst case is the ride might cost a dollar more. Fair, since the now have to exchange your money and they aren't in the business of tracking daily changes in the exchange rate.

Posted by
20435 posts

Just back from Budapest and surrounding area. Checked a number of different ATMs from private to bank owned as we were wondering around and did not see any attachments to the ATMs. We did use two ATMs that were inside the entrance to the bank behind a locked door. What was interesting is that I noticed people encountering the locked door and then just moving on. You needed to swipe your debit card to unlock the door but the devise was quite small and off to one side with no markings. It was not very obvious. Once inside it was like any other ATM -- choose a language, insert card, pin number, select amount, and confirm.

We encounter the dynamic conversion process frequently. Generally it showed up on the handheld credit machine window as (1) dollar amount or (2) Forint amount. Selected 2 on the key pad and the charge went through with no additional questions.

Also, the standard conversion for euro was 300 to 1 everywhere when printed on menus or price tags but we use local currency exclusively. With the exchange rate today of 305 Forint for a dollar and 334 for euro it would have been cheaper to pay in cash with euro. Did come home with 900 Forint. We did find in the general that the prices in BP were very reasonable if not cheap.

Posted by
16458 posts

Wow. The forint has weakened greatly since I visited Budapest in May 2018. During my trip the rate was about 263 forints to the dollar; it's now 305:1--a deline of about 14%.

I'm surprised to hear that there were places where costs were lower in euros, but I guess those businesses don't rush to reprint their menus/price lists when the market exchange rate shifts. I see that it has often moved (both up and down) several percentage points from one month to the next since the time of my trip.

Posted by
10369 posts

While its made imported goods more expensive, it has also ramped up local production for internal consumption and for export which has brought down unemployment drastically. As a result, Hungary's economy is actually doing very well. In a country with a pretty meager annual wage, expensive imported "luxury" goods aren't as important as jobs so for the time being this is working for them. But like everything, it can go wrong if ignored.

Best of all, it makes a trip to Hungary incredibly cost effective.

Posted by
17572 posts

Every time when I visit Europe... I all the time buy with Card.

In Germany that's called "how to make your trip more expensive than it has to be". Except for POS purchases in tourist areas and major department stores, not paying in cash in Germany limits you, in the case of hotels and restaurants, to the more expensive places.

Posted by
10369 posts

not paying in cash in Germany limits you, for the most part, to the
more expensive hotels and restaurants

This is the Hungary forum, correct? Good

Your card will work at 95% of every place you come in contact with; tourism or otherwise. You really, really, really have to get off the beaten path to find many places that don't take a card. This wasn't necessarily true a few years ago, but now it is as common to see cards being used as cash and I suspect in a few years the majority of the transactions will be cards. My last trip it seemed that maybe 1 in 4 payments were tap cards.

Posted by
17572 posts

Ryan's comment may have been made on the Hungary forum, but he did not limit his practice to Hungary. He said, "Every time when I visit Europe.

Posted by
10369 posts

Don't see a Ryan. But the question was.....

Hi--We will be visiting Budapest, Vienna and Prague next week--I
am now confused with different advice as to where to exchange money
...which ATMs? I understand there can be very different charges!!!!
And should we have some foreign cash (from our local bank) BEFORE we
arrive?

Of course "next week" was 5 months ago.

To recap: Exchange money at ATM's, preferably Bank ATM's for a better rate. Choose to charge your account in the local currency to help ensure a better exchange rate. If you bank is going to charge a transaction fee, then bigger quantities are better than smaller quantities. All three cities have ATM's all over the place. A bank as you or I understand them are sort of going out of style as everything can be done in an ATM or online these days. As you can exchange money in ATMs you would imagine correctly that you can use your Credit or Debit card in shops and restaurants ... almost universally true in most middle income and above districts of each town and of course in all tourist areas. And with the credit card there is probably no transaction fee. But to ensure you get the best exchange rate, always have them charge in the local currency, never in dollars.