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currency exchange for Italy

My wife and I are leaving in a week for Italy (following Rick's "Best three-week trip). What is the best way to exchange currency US for EUROS. Last month we went on a trip to China and I obtained Yuan at my local Chase Bank. The exchange rate was ~5.98 but when I used my Chase Debit card in an ATM in Beijing the ATM gave me an exchange rate of ~6.20 (plus a fee, of course). I will have the same CHASE ATM / Debit card as well as a "no foreign transactions fee" VISA card. But I know I will need some local money in Italy. A couple of the places we have booked to stay at require CASH payment, and I assume we will need cash as well for some food purchases at smaller places.

Posted by
2253 posts

The easiest and best way is to use an ATM card in Italy and skip the money changers. There are no-fee ATM cards but you don't have time to get one.

Posted by
19457 posts

As it has been stated many, many times --- The cheapest and most convenient way to obtain local currency is a debit card via a bank owned ATM even if you have to pay a currency conversion fee. It is still cheaper than any other method. Beware that you can encounter limits on the amount of money that be withdrawn at anyone time. Not uncommon in high tourist areas in Italy and especially on weekends for the limited to 250 Euro. If you need more, just do it again or find another ATM. Second, your card issuer (generally your bank) may put an upper limited on total withdraw in a 24 hour period. Call your bank and ask for an increase in that limit because there is no way around the limit. My limit is $1500. I think it is smart to carry two debit cards tied to two different accounts. Both as a back up and if needing a lot cash, then you can hit both.

Posted by
30150 posts

As the others have mentioned, using ATM's provides the most favourable exchange rate. It's a good idea to pack a second ATM card in case the primary card malfunctions (which can happen), along with at least one credit card. Having a second card on a different account also provides the ability to withdraw more cash each day, which is often useful for paying higher amounts (such as room rentals).

Also be sure to notify your bank that you'll be travelling so they don't "freeze" the card when they detect transaction activity in Europe.

Posted by
4368 posts

Some people do buy euro before their trip, either because of convenience, peace of mind having some cash in hand on arrival, or to pay for larger cash items (like a hotel). Check around with your local banks on their rates AND fees. AAA also sells euro. Wells Fargo is sometimes noted here as having decent exchange rates. Get what you might need initially, then just use your ATM/debit card once there. Be sure to notify your bank of your trip.

Hotels taking cash will often let you pay incrementally so that you can take your cash limit out each day from the ATM.

Whatever you do, don't exchange currency in Europe. Exchange agencies have huge mark-ups in either fees or more likely VERY poor rates (and then advertise "No fees!").

Posted by
1842 posts

"Currency exchange" is a complete misnomer. One is not "exchanging" currency. One is BUYING the local currency using their foreign currency, and as with any item being sold, this is done for a profit by the seller. This profit will be either a poor exchange rate, or a commission, or both.

When you use an ATM do withdraw funds from your own account, it is neither an exchange nor a purchase - it is simply getting your money, paid out in the equivalent local currency (less any network fees for using the service - which should never be more than 1%, and usually a lot less.)

Posted by
19457 posts

You can dance around with the words anyway you want but we all know what currency exchange means. At the end of the day I give up some of my money for some of your money. Exchange, buy, sell - it is all the same.

Posted by
16107 posts

I think that the difference you saw in Chinese exchange rates is attributable to the frequent fluctuations in the market. Historical info gives a sense of the movement.

Posted by
250 posts

Once my mom tried to buy Canadian dollars the day before our trip. The teller told her it was too late. How many days in advance do I need to order euros? My bank is Bank of America.

Posted by
11613 posts

TW, it takes about three business days. Go to your bank, there's a form to fill out, remember to state what denominations you want. The euro should arrive at you bank within three days via FedEx. Open the package and count the money at the teller's window, you will have no recourse if there's an error and you have opened the package after you leave the bank.

Posted by
19457 posts

I would order the Euro a couple of weeks in advance. American banks do not keep foreign currency on hand. The exception might be areas like New York and Miami that have high tourist activity but small banks in Florida - no. It is expensive but it is very convenient to use a currency exchange at the airport. I do it for small amounts. It will cost you at least 5% if not more from Bank of America. At the currency exchange maybe 10 to 12% so you talking about a difference of less than $10 for 100 Euro or so. You do not need more than a 100E to get started anyway.

Posted by
4368 posts

You have to check with your actual bank branch. Every one is different. Some don't sell currency at all, some have to order it and need time to get it and some may have it on hand for immediate exchange.

Posted by
235 posts

I am curious about the "exchange" rate. We have just bought some Euros from Citibank. When I checked all the currency converters, the rate was 1 Euro = $1.12. But when we bought them, the rate was $1.22. Speaking to a Citi foreign exchange rate, simply put, they don't charge a fee for gold account holders, but they do mark the rate up. So, one way or another, the banks will get some profit from the exchange.

Posted by
16107 posts

Yes, banks will mark up the inter-bank exchange rate, so any stated fee is only part of the equation. I would say that you'll not get the inter-bank rate if you're not a bank. At currency sites like Oanda, you can also choose to see the "typical ATM" (+2%), "typical credit card" (+3%), and "typical kiosk" (+5%) rates. This is on the Currency Convertor; I did not find it on the Historical page.

Posted by
13162 posts

I haven't actually done this yet, but I believe my local Capital One branch told me last year that they supply euros to account holders without fees at (more or less) the official rate. I'm not sure whether that includes those with Capital One credit cards or only those with Capital One bank accounts. I'm also not sure how widespread the Capital One storefronts are. There's one in downtown Washington, DC.

Posted by
63 posts

Who has "no fee" ATM cards? I just found out US Bank charges a 3% foreign currency fee when withdrawing cash from an ATM in Italy. thanks!

Posted by
915 posts

When using the ATM in Italy, be sure to take your cash and money out quickly. I was a little slow to take my ATM card out because I was counting my money and the ATM machine sucked the card back in. I was able to figure out how to get the card back out, but it sure gave me a scare.

Posted by
13162 posts

twg759, the Capital One bank ATM card has no fees, nor does my credit union card. Credit unions are always a good place to start. Others have mentioned Charles Schwab.

Posted by
235 posts

twg759....Citibank gold account debit cards have ne fees.

Posted by
125 posts

Better yet, use a debit card not affiliated with your bank account. If anything happens to the card you are not jeopardizing your entire account. We got ours at AAA several years ago and we load it just before each trip. I think you can get these at banks now, or buy a cash card and load it. Safer.

Posted by
19457 posts

Be very carefully with pre-load debit cards. Historically pre-load cards fees tended to be hidden so that the true fees are not disclosed. At one time AAA was one of the worse/most expensive. And it may still be but I haven't looked at the AAA card in about two years. Things could have changed recently. You have no more risk using a debit card than a bank credit card. But it is smart to carry two debit tied to two different accounts.