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currency exchange

I'm looking for an easy and non-expensive way to buy euros here in the states. I I know some of you will say wait till you get there, but I am OCD and must have everything prepared in advance.

My son's wedding and a few other things requires cash. So I want to place each payment labeled in a separate envelope with the exact euros owed. This will make my life easier and be less stress on me. I've been to my bank and they exchange money through the bank exchange. So I will pay the bank a fee and the conversion rate will be higher. They can't tell me what that rate will be for some reason. I know it can change daily but they should have some approximate idea. IDK.

So, do any of you have experience with currency exchanges before you leave the US? If so, who offers the best rate? And how much is suggested to bring in cash for souvenirs, meals, etc.

Thanks everyone, This is my first trip overseas and I have no idea what I'm doing. I'm planning this entire vacation/wedding myself. So I really appreciate all of your expertise.

Posted by
52 posts

Banks can usually order Euros for you and I have previously bought Euros from AAA.
That said, it is easy to use the ATM's in Europe.

Posted by
4124 posts

The best sources of Euros in the USA are from Wells Fargo and Bank of America. They give better rates that other banks. However, you need to have an account or credit card from one. We have purchased foreign currency from our local Bank of America and they always provide us with the current rate.

Still, you will do better getting foreign currency at an ATM once in country.

Posted by
139 posts

I order currency through my credit union, and based on that experience, wherever you go, I'd recommend that you specify the denominations of the bills you desire. If you order 500 euro, for example, you might end up with large bills (200s and 100s) which aren't very helpful if you need smaller amounts. We've tried several times to exchange for smaller bills as walk-ins to Italian banks and got no cooperation. Had to get more money and save the big bills to pay our hotel bills. The hotels weren't keen on accepting large bills either. I learned my lesson the hard way.

Since I go through the State Department FCU, you would not be eligible, but it's an outside contractor they use, www.eZforex.com, so I'd call them. They might be able to help and they are very easy to deal with. Today's rate in $1 = 1.15 euro, with no additional fee. They ship it to me overnight, secure, for $1.00, but ask about shipping rates, too. They might be different.

Posted by
16757 posts

I've never read anything on this forum (and I read a lot here) that would allow me to conclude that any particular financial institution would be cheaper than another, beyond the fact that many will claim not to charge customers a fee. That doesn't mean they're cheaper, because the bad exchange rate produces much of the profit and each one sets its own exchange rate, probably every day.

Must you pay in person, in cash, or are there some vendors whom you can pay by bank transfer--understanding that there's not much of any protection once the money is transferred? (But there's no protection if you pay cash, either.) If bank transfers would work, I think you'll probably save a lot of money by using TransferWise. I haven't needed to do so, but others on the forum have used it to pay traffic fines and--I believe--occasionally for apartment rentals. They have said TransferWise is much, much less expensive than arranging to transfer money through a bank. Bank transfers are very common in Europe; it's just the US that's way behind on that service.

If you don't want to or cannot move the money that way, what I'd suggest is that you contact a few banks (feel free to also call AAA) and ask them how much it would cost you today to obtain a specific number of euros. Pick an amount that's reasonable for your needs. Ask each bank the same question. I hope they'll be able to answer since you aren't asking for a flat figure that will be used in the future--which is an impossible question for a bank since it doesn't know what's going to happen with the exchange rate. You can then go online and easily find the current exchange rate. I've just done that. $1000 = 926.02 euros (1 euro = $1.0799). That's as of now.

But I'd use TransferWise unless it is somehow a problem for folks on the other end, which seems really unlikely. Even if there are a few people who insist that you hand them cash, I'd use TransferWise for the others.

Edited to add: Wanderlust58 is absolutely correct that large bills can be a problem in Italy. You don't want to get stuck with big notes there. They're inconvenient in many countries, but Italy is among the worst.

Posted by
4805 posts

You can try other banks, some will sell currency to non-account holders, but it would be more common to use your own bank. As someone mentioned, Wells Fargo offers about the best rates, it still usually comes to about 5% cost above interbank rates. Typical would be 5-10% cost. I assume your bank can not tell you the rate since they likely do not handle many requests, I would ask them to process a request, to see what it is at the moment. That will not tell you what it will be when you need the euros, but you can calculate whether it is 5% above cost, or 10%, or worse; that should stay consistent.

Posted by
868 posts

In a perfect world, if you are able to find someone to sell you euros at today's exchange rate, the cost of 1000 euros would be $1079 dollars. No one, of course, will sell them to you at that rate. At the Bank of America, you will pay (the rate right now) $1136 for that thousand euros. That means that you will pay $57 for the privilege of having BOA give you cash. That's not exactly cheap, but assuming that I am in Europe and go to an ATM. My BOA card charges me $13 for every withdrawal, so if I withdraw 500 euros twice, I will pay 26 dollars plus whatever exchange rate is in existence when I do my withdrawals. I am thinking that it is a wash, and I would rather have cash upon arriving in Paris.

Posted by
6144 posts

This is my first trip overseas and I have no idea what I'm doing.

I think for this very reason that you should step back and try not to make an emotional decision about this. First of all, it would be very hard not to either underestimate or overestimate how much money you would need if you have no experience traveling abroad and are not familiar with how much things cost overseas, exchange rates, etc. If you absolutely have to take hard local currency, then take the absolute minimum and rely on a 0% fee credit card or an ATM (also one with lowest fee possible) for the rest. No one here could accurately tell you which bank or institution offers the least-worst markup (which would be in the range of 5% - 10% or so) - that is something you have to do based on today's rates and comparing all your choices side-by-side against the official inter transfer rate (which you can find on sites like this: https://www.xe.com/currencyconverter/convert/?Amount=1&From=USD&To=EUR). Rates fluctuate daily and some banks also give their prized customers breaks/ discounts they don't give to others - so everything "just depends".

I would be very wary of carrying around huge amounts of cash in an envelope(s). If you find it missing or stolen, heaven forbid, then it's gone and you have no other protection for it. That's why I would say only take the minimum and only if you can't convince yourself that ATMs and credit cards are really the better way to go. Be aware of 2 types of extra costs: 1) exchange rate markup and 2) fees, including for processing, mailing, etc. Banks are not going to do the math for you, they will simply tell you that their rates are the best, most competitive, etc. So don't rely on them to be your agent or act in your best interest - their goal is to maximize their profits. It's not hard to figure out the markup once you ask them what exchange rate they use for the sale.

Posted by
16757 posts

Chani has brought up the risk of carrying large sums of cash, which I meant to mention myself. The obvious suggestion in such situations is to use a money belt or some other sort of under-clothing storage technique. Unfortunately, even that isn't foolproof. You cannot wear a money belt, etc., as you go though airport security before departure, so you'll need to have the money in your purse or carry-on bag as you go through security (so it will be out of your physical possession), then you'll need to stop in a restroom to put it back under your clothing. If for some reason you need to go through security again before you land in Italy, you'll have to put the money back in your purse/carry-on and then back under your clothes. And you'll be doing this when under stress (your first trip, the wedding). Worse, after the transatlantic flight you'll be jetlagged and possibly also sleep-deprived. That's a recipe for carelessness that shouldn't be underestimated.

We've had one report on this forum of loss of a money belt in an airport. I don't remember the details, but I imagine the snap-closure on the belt wasn't properly engaged when the wearer put it back on after clearing security.

Try very hard to avoid carrying large sums of cash to Europe.

Posted by
20597 posts

This is simple. "non-expensive way to buy euros here in the states" does not exist. At any time you can goggle dollar exchange and get the current interbank rate. At this moment it is $1.08 for one euro. Think of it as buying bacon or flour because that is what you are doing, "Buying euro." That rate, $1.08, will vary during the day but generally less than a penny. And since nothing is ever free, people buying and selling money need to make a profit to cover their expenses for provide the service. Think of the $1.08 as a wholesale and you cannot buy at wholesale. Therefore you will find in the United States regardless of the bank, exchange, etc. to pay between 6% and 12% over the bank rate. They dress that up in a variety of ways by charging fees or increase the price you pay -- perhaps $1.15 - 1.30 for the one Euro or both.

Wanderfust58 posting at 6.24am today is a good example. He/she quoted an exchange rate of $1.15 that is roughly a 6.5% markup. Actually, probably not a bad deal. I would view that a the low end of average.

An ATM in Europe running through either Plus or Cirrus will always provide the less expensive Euro, sometimes as low as 1%. So depending on how much cash you need, using an ATM in Europe might provide a major savings.

Posted by
3223 posts

You don't say how far in the future the wedding is or how soon you want the Euros, but I would guess it isn't today. That is why your bank can't give you an exchange rate or cost of the Euros you want to buy: they deal in the present, they are not speculating about the future (nor are they allowed to for foreign currency exchange for their customers).

The only non-expensive way to get Euros in the US is to have a friend or relative bring some back from Europe if they are visiting there and you pay them the current exchange rate for them.

Also, it is important to remember that if you are needing to take more than $10,000 worth of currency, the total you have with you has to be declared when leaving the US. If you don't , you can be detained and all the cash confiscated. You will need to carry the transaction receipts with you if you get the Euros in the US to prove it is your money.

Currency exchanges, like the ones you see at airports, are the worst place to get money because of their fees and rates. Also, they don't have very large amounts at any one time. You also don't want to take US$ to Europe and attempt to exchange there. The rate is even worse and it may take several visits to the exchange booths to get the total amount you need. Banks in Europe will not help you unless ou have an account with them. And they really don't like dealing with cash anyway because almost everything is done by bank transfer.

You can get cash from your bank. That would probably provide the best rate overall and lowest cost if you absolutely have to have cash. AAA does offer small amounts of Euros at a high cost (think envelopes of €100 in small bills) that are designed to give you enough money to buy a coffee and maybe a taxi ride on arrival in Europe. American Express sells most foreign currencies and will deliver what you order directly to your home, but they are also expensive relatively speaking.

The best route if you can only deal in cash is to find a bank that has a no fee ATM card with a high daily withdrawal limit and then use a bank operated ATM with no fees charged once you get to Europe to get the cash you need. Of course, with the average cost of a wedding, this may be impractical as it would probably take several days withdrawals get enough. Because of this, I would go with the suggestion of others to use Transfer Wise as an affordable and trusty way to get the money to the right people.

Posted by
8889 posts

Also, it is important to remember that if you are needing to take more than $10,000 worth of any currency, this has to be declared when leaving the US.

Also, if you bring more than €10,000 into or out of the EU it must be declared to customs on arrival. That is total value of all the cash on you, not just Euros but all other currencies added together.

If you are buying Euros in the USA, somebody has had to securely transport those pieces of paper across the Atlantic, account for and guard them at every stage and finally securely deliver them to your bank. Somebody has to pay for this (you), just so you can transport the same pieces of paper with somewhat less security back across the Atlantic.
On the other hand, if you get them from an ATM in the country they come from, all that crosses the Atlantic is internet messages, which are a lot cheaper.

If you are paying BIG bills, you need to investigate how to send directly from your bank account to the recipients account. For this you need their IBAN (International Bank Account Number). This is the normal method of funds transfer in Europe. People can use e-banking to send money to any account in any country, as long as you know their IBAN.

Posted by
4124 posts

If you buy a lot of cash, make sure that you have a very safe place to put it. Pickpockets are amazinging clever and talented in places like Barcelona, Rome, Athens, Paris, Madrid, etc.

I have a money belt and put my passport a couple of my credit cards and most cash while out and about.

We were on a tour and were told about a Japanese tourist that was carrying 10000 Euros on him and was pickpocketed. Amazing, carrying so much cash!

Posted by
7735 posts

You say you're planning this entire vacation yourself, but this is a pretty basic question. Do you have a good guidebook? The Rick Steves books are very good for logistics and always include a section on how to best get the local currency.

Don't EVER do an actual currency exchange company. They have all sorts of hidden fees and will gouge for everything they can. AAA, a credit union or your bank will be the best bet in advance.

Posted by
5486 posts

...easy and non-expensive....

You will be paying for "easy". What is easy will not be the cheapest. Wells Fargo's candid answer the the FAQ: Why are WF FX rates different than "Interbank" rates?
https://www.wellsfargo.com/help/checking-savings/foreign-currency-faqs/

Why are foreign currency rates quoted here different than those I see
elsewhere? The foreign currency rate typically includes Wells
Fargo’s sell or buy rate for that particular foreign currency, and/or
a charge in order to compensate Wells Fargo for any number of
considerations, such as risks taken, costs incurred and services
rendered (i.e., “mark-up”), including the amount of revenue Wells
Fargo expects to earn as a profit. Wells Fargo may offer different
rates to different counterparties for the same or similar
transactions.

And be aware that once you "wire" funds consider the money gone. Unlike a credit card or debit transaction you have no recourse against fraud.

And make sure you have the correct account information: https://pocketsense.com/happens-accidentally-wire-money-wrong-account-9859.html

Reversing the Transfer Although this is uncommon, wire transfers may
be deposited into the wrong account. Once the money is in the person's
account, it cannot be accessed by your bank or the receiving bank.
Wire transfers cannot be reversed. Wire transfer companies and banks typically address the sender's liability for entering incorrect
account information. Unless the bank made the error, there is little
that the transferring agency will do to retrieve your money.

Posted by
20597 posts

Since the answers are beginning to bounce all over the place because of different assumptions made by different posters you should give us a better idea of the amount of euro you need on hand and when. Second, do you have access at a debit card account at a bank or credit union? A little hard to provide accurate information with limited input from yourself. With rare exception the debit card at a bank owned ATM is almost always the best option for the less expensive purchases of euro.

Posted by
46 posts

Thanks everyone for your very insightful information.

The wedding is May 8th. So I'm just now starting to look into the currency. I'm been focusing on other matters that needed to be attended to first. I have plenty of time to do some investigating. I've read the Rick Steve's Italy handbook and have learned more than I thought imaginable. But I wanted to get some feedback from you guys who may have had some experience.

I'm estimating that I will need approximately a little less than $2,500.00 USD in euros. Most of everything else was paid already through transfers. One example is that we are staying at an apartment and were told that we will have to pay the Italian occupancy tax in cash once we arrive. So that will be needed immediately. The rest I can get a little at a time. I'd just prefer if I could have everything ready in advance. But, no big deal if it can be and if it is better to wait.

All day I've been comparing using my bank debit card, credit card, and/or a travel card. Its more than likely that I will have to withdraw from an ATM for the cash once we land. But nothing is set in stone right now. I'm still learning and investigating. I've spoken to my bank and credit card company learning about the fees, etc. It boggles my mind. I'm not in a rush right now. So I'll just keep learning from you guys with all the wealth of info!!

Once again.. Thanks so much..

Posted by
5486 posts

Be aware that there are two different ATM cash withdraw limits. One is the daily limit set by your financial institution. A $500 USD daily limit is common denominated in your local currency (USD for Americans). You can ask what your daily limit is when you do your foreign travel notification. I have had my bank temporarily increase my daily limit.

he second limit is the ATM transaction limit. It may be less than 300 EUR.

BTW, do your ATM transaction EUR not USD. Avoid/decline Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dynamic_currency_conversion

Posted by
448 posts

Caj, this works like a charm if you have time to plan for your travel to Italy. We have done this and it has worked great for us in Italy, Canada and in Ireland. There is no fee for giving you your cash from the ATM in euros. Open an account with Charles Schwab and Company, you do it all online. They require you to open a brokerage account in addition to a checking account. There is no fee for either account!!! Filling out the forms is a bit of a pain and takes 15 minutes or so but it saves you money in the long run. You will receive a debit card for your checking account that you can use at ATM's to withdraw cash directly from your checking account. If there is a transaction fee for the use of the machine Schwab will refund that cash, usually a small amount, back into your checking account. The debit card is thru VISA so it is very widely accepted. I have used my debit card at airports, banks, grocery stores, and gas stations. I used my Schwab debit card in the airport in Pisa for I believe $700 worth of Euros. I also later used it at a grocery store in Ireland that had a $50 limit. I needed $150 so I just got in line three times and got 50 each time, not a problem. It does sort of go against why they have a limit (dont want to run the machine out of cash) but it was a one time deal so I don't abuse that opportunity. I have had the Schwab account for 6 years and have only ever used it to use the debit card for ATM's out of the US, never have paid a fee. If you are curious about the actual exchange rates this site is very helpful. https://www.xe.com/ Just traveled from Indiana to Cajun Fest in Lafayette, LA what a blast it was.

Posted by
46 posts

How awesome! Welcome to Cajunland! I'm from Lafayette. The culture is very rich and we love to share it with others. We are a very welcoming people.

Thanks for the advice everyone. It looks like I might open a checking account with Capital One for the debit card. I already have their credit card and I like the no foreign fees. From everyone's advice I guess the ATM route is the best economically and most widely utilized. I just don't ever use my debit card so I was a little nervous about using one in Europe. But apparently, it's a common practice.

I'm going to have to look into the Charles Schwab account and do more investigating so I can compare.

Thanks so much!

Posted by
11153 posts

The Italian occupancy tax is only a few euros per night, so that's easy.

There's nothing wrong with getting €100-200 euros from your bank before you go. Yes, you will pay more than you will by using an ATM in Italy, but for that amount, it can be worth it for convenience.

But, don't discount the idea mentioned above - buying direct from another traveler. Do you know anyone who has been to Europe? If so, they probably have some "leftover" euros that they'd be willing to sell to you, with no markup. That amount should be enough to get you started.

Yes, using an ATM card at an Italian machine really is the cheapest and easiest way to get euros for Italy. As someone said in another forum, there isn't even a second-best way - all the others are either more expensive, more complicated, or both.

Posted by
4943 posts

So, if you don't ever use your debit card, how do you get cash at home?

Posted by
46 posts

I think I've used a debit card twice in all these years. I usually get cash when I make a deposit or cash the checks from business. I'm just weary of a debit card.

Posted by
134 posts

You have three month before departure to "practice" using your ATM around your home area. That way you'll be more comfortable using it while on your vacation.
ATM is BEST was to go. You get the best rate (if you have a $0 transaction fee) and you can get cash as you need it. You cannot misplace/have stolen (miniscule chance of that, anyway) that which is still in the bank.

Posted by
3223 posts

how do you get cash at home?

Most people still write checks, apparently. At the grocery stores around me you can write a check to pay for your purchase and add on up to $50 and get that as cash back.

Some people go out to lunch or dinner with a group and put the bill on their credit card and collect cash from the others in the group.

Or, like me, just don't use cash at home for anything. I got $100 from the bank in December when making a deposit. All of it is still in my pants pocket today.

Posted by
3246 posts

All this is great info. I'm always surprised that people don't link to the very useful Travel Tips right here on this RS website. Embedded in them are further links for greater detail.

So if you haven't gone there yet, here's the link to Travel Tips.

And here's the one specifically for Money.

Personally, I'm an avid debit card person. I use it most often to buy groceries, and sometimes add cash to the transaction. But in Europe, I only use it to withdraw local currency from an ATM, never to buy anything. I buy stuff with my credit card.

I haven't written a check in years, but I have recently done eChecks to pay the balances on RS tours and quarterly estimated state tax payments. I love that!

Posted by
5486 posts

Interesting that some American states have or are proposing legislation mandating that businesses accept cash. California SB 926 http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201920200SB926

SB 926, as introduced, Hill. Business: retail stores: cash payments.

This bill would require a retail store in this state to accept cash
payment when offered as payment by a consumer for any transaction
involving the sale or lease of goods or services, or both, unless a
specified exception applies.

Discussion as to cash only:
https://capitolweekly.net/following-the-money-in-cash/

Proponents say that going cashless helps fight financial crimes like
bribery, tax evasion, money laundering, and counterfeiting. Stores
with no cash on hand are much less likely to be targets for armed
robbery, making the workplace safer for both workers and customers.
And nobody can skim off a till that doesn’t exist.

It is a legitimate concern. A 2017 FDIC survey found that 8.4 million
Americans are completely unbanked – without any checking or savings
account at an accredited financial institution – and another 24
million are underbanked, meaning they have some kind of bank account
but regularly must go outside the bank to make financial transactions.

Posted by
46 posts

This actually happened to me when I purchased my first mobile phone years ago. I wanted to pay cash and they wouldn't accept it. I was stunned.

Posted by
2 posts

Another thing to be aware of - if you're going to use a credit card in Europe, you need the PIN number. Your credit card company can mail it to you. And make sure they document when you're going to be out of the country, or you may be stuck dealing with all sorts of fraud alerts, and a frozen credit card. AMEX always freezes my mom's card, even though she calls them and it's all on file, so you may want to have more than one card available. Also, AMEX often has really good setups for foreign transactions, but a lot of smaller businesses in Europe won't accept it.

Posted by
2021 posts

The above post is simply completely incorrect, and this has been addressed here before. One generally DOES NOT need a PIN for their credit card in Europe. Possibly for automated toll machines and gas pumps., I don't know this since I never drive in Europe (and did not need it for a gas pump in Iceland). Been taking one or two trips a year since 2009, with extensive credit card use, 16 countries both in and out of the EU,and this has NEVER come up (nor do we even have PINS, noting that we did get one card PIN'd in advance of our Iceland car rental, but it was not necessary). awagers, you are new to the board, please reference what is here before posting misinformation, this information is easy enough to find both here and on the internet.

Incidentally, AMEX cards are not accepted everywhere, and those AMEX cards without that 3% foreign transaction fee come with huge annual fees.

Posted by
20597 posts

I agree with Larry. Chip and pin cards, typical of European cards, are NOT the same as our US chip and signature card -- even with pin. The pin number will get you a cash advance (not recommended unless an emergency) at an ATM but will not work where a chip and pin card is require. The technology is different. You do not need a pin number to use a US chip and signature card in Europe. And AMEX cards are rarely accepted except at some high end places.

Posted by
4943 posts

It doesn't hurt to have the PIN for your credit card in case you do need a emergency cash advance on your cc. Emergencies do happen.

Posted by
2021 posts

Of course you don’t (p.s. we have Cap One also, you mentioned this earlier. No, no, no!)

Posted by
458 posts

PIN- yes you do! For withdrawing CASH from an ATM with a credit card in an emergency you must have a Pin assigned to that card.

Purchases- no Pin
Cash from ATM- Pin

Posted by
19 posts

My husband is an old fashioned guy so we pay a lot of stuff with cash even In Europe. I checked Wells Fargo exchange rate and some other independent currency exchange shops in downtown Los Angeles. I found that getting 4500 euros from currency exchange shop in downtown saved us approximately $150 last year. So we will be doing the same thing soon though euro is more expensive this week than a week ago. We are flying out in early June so I will be watching the exchange rate. $150 is good enough for me to spend a couple of hours driving out to LA.

Posted by
2021 posts

PIN for your bank's ATM card to also use for purchases - yes.

PIN for a credit card to use to get cash form an ATM - an absolute NO unless you like paying exorbitant interest fees to your bank for the cash advance.

As for the above post, 4500€ from a local US currency exchange shop saved $150? Can we please see the math? There is no possible way that buying 4500€ of can save $150 vs withdrawing these euros from an ATM machine from a bank account from one of the many banks mentioned here that the bank converts at network rates and does not charge a foreign transaction fee. It might have saved $150 against Wells Fargo's high fees. But not against a withdrawal from the ATM. I will bet my house that transaction cost a few hundred dollars more than withdrawing at rate from an ATM abroad.

Posted by
16757 posts

I'm certain aimeesoo means that she found a place (apparently an independent exchange spot) in downtown Los Angeles that was $150 cheaper than Wells Fargo (a cost avoidance of 3.33%). She is not comparing that cost to a European ATM because her husband insists on using cash. It sounds as if the independent exchange place in LA was the best option for her under the circumstances.

I doubt that any of us would recommend that technique to the typical tourist, because traveling with $4500 in cash is risky. ATMs are just about everywhere, easy to use and a cheaper option.

Posted by
6144 posts

Being "old fashioned" comes at a cost.

PS. As some have said, please don't use a credit card to withdraw cash, or you will pay through the roof.

Posted by
46 posts

So I decided to open a non-fee checking account with Capital One in order to use a debit card. My small town bank would charge horrendous fees for foreign transactions. Not going that route. Anyway, this account will cost me absolutely nothing to have. I'll just get euros from the ATMs once I get there.

Thanks for all of your wisdom. I appreciate it. I learned a lot through this forum.

Posted by
2021 posts

Good move. I have had nothing but good experiences with Cap One and their customer service. Check with them as to whether you need to give a travel alert.

Posted by
3223 posts

Be careful about which account you open with Capital One. Not all of them have fee free debit cards!

The best one for European travel is called the 360 account. This one is what I have and it has always been totally fee free.

Posted by
298 posts

Aimeesoo,
Try Bretton Woods 11659 San Vicente Blvd., (310) 447-6234 in West LA. They have good rates and they validate your parking when you go in and get your Euros.