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Foreign currency

I'm going to Scotland. What's the best choice for exchanging currency? Take cash and exchange at a Scottish bank or get Scottish pounds before leaving.

Posted by
8889 posts

Scottish pounds are equivalent to English pounds. You can use either in Scotland, the Scottish ones just look prettier.

To answer your question, the consensus on this site is neither. Go to the first bank cash machine (ATM) you see after you get off the plane and get as much money as you need.
Some people, especially first time travellers, feel happier to have some cash in hand in case they can't find a cash machine and need money to get to their hotel or for the first night's meal. In that case change as much as will make you feel happy into English or Scottish pounds in your own bank before leaving home.

Taking foreign cash into a country and changing it at a bank is the most expansive option and not recommended. They just have to bundle it up and send it securely back to the country it came from, at your expense.

Posted by
795 posts

We always get money from the bank or its ATM on arrival. You get better rates and it is safer. Never change money at ATMs that do not belong to a local bank and never ever from anyone who comes up to you and offers to give you a great rate- they are scammers.

Posted by
8293 posts

Terri Lynn, do you not find it difficult to find a bank which will exchange your money? Most banks won't oblige unless you have an account. Which bank do you use? As for changing money at an ATM, how is this possible? How do you insert the US dollars for the exchange? Inquiring minds and all that.

Posted by
232 posts

Hi Norma,

You electronically exchange your money at the foreign ATM. You can use your debit/ATM card to take money out of your checking account, in local currency, at the ATM in the country you are visiting.

You need to let your bank know you will be traveling, the dates and countries you will be visiting.

The rate is usually better than you would get at your bank.

It's been my experience that Europen ATMs don't give you the option to withdraw from savings only checking so make sure you have transferred money to your checking account before you leave.

Posted by
333 posts

Norma, you don't exchange money or trade it in. Just use the ATM's just like you would in the States- but if it asks you if you want your money in US dollars, say "No". The money you withdrawal will be in local currency. The poster above is correct, you'll only be able to access your checking account, not savings, so make sure you're aware of that. Also, like stated above, notify your bank of where you'll be and when (just like you should with your credit cards) so your accounts don't get blocked for "strange activity".

Posted by
8293 posts

Hey, I'm not quite as dopey as all that. I use ATMs in Europe all the time, but I have never considered it "exchanging". I am withdrawing my own money, acquiring local currency, from an ATM. A total newbie could easily interpret Terri Lynn's post to mean you can exchange US dollars in some magical way at an ATM. The OP did, after all, mention taking cash to exchange in Scotland.

Posted by
5290 posts

I think you may still find automated forex machines that suck in various banknotes and spit out the local kind, although these were much more common a decade or more ago. The euro has taken out much of this kind of business.

Posted by
8293 posts

Yes, Marco, I remember seeing those a long time ago in Germany. I had forgotten that. We never worried about exchange rates much in those days.

Posted by
8889 posts

Rankster, you wrote "if it asks you if you want your money in US dollars, say "No".". I have never come across a cash machine in Europe that dispenses US dollars. I assume you are referring to DCC (Dynamic currency conversion), where the machine asks if you want your card charged for the currency you are getting, or converted to your "home" currency. The answer is always no.

And Norma is right, most banks will not exchange currency unless you are a customer.

Another interpretation of the OP's question is that she is thinking she will have to exchange English pounds into Scottish. Totally unnecessary, both are valid ins Scotland.

Posted by
1840 posts

Brenda, It probably goes without saying, but I will say it any how, you have to load up your checking account before you leave in order to use a debit cart at an ATM. Quite a few of us use credit unions or other financial institutions that charge little or nothing for a withdrawl. We use a credit union that charges one percent per withdrawl amount.

Before we leave we determine the amount of money we will need to sustain us on the trip and put that amount in our checking account. We already have a debit card from our credit union. We have to tell them when we are going to be gone, what countries we will be in, and boost the amount we can make on one withdrawl. That amount is usually seven or eight hundred dollars. We do not have any paranoia about carrying that much cash around as it is distributed to various pockets, purses, hidden and neck wallets and underwear. Kidding about the underwear. We do not spend time hunting for a certain ATM but rather use one that is available. The fees are negligeable as far as I'm concerned. Banks have to make a profit.

Posted by
162 posts

That's exactly the way I do it, Monte. I figure any nominal fee I may be charged at a bank ATM is worth the ease of putting a card in a machine and getting local cash spit into your hand, wherever you are in the world.
Chris F, I HAVE seen ATMs in European airports that give US Dollars, btw. I assume they are for European travelers headed to the USA. I also assume they give you a real lousy rate, much like the ATMs and kiosks Ive seen n American airports dispensing foreign currency.

Whatever you do, avoid the red Travelex machines like plague!

Posted by
8 posts

I'm definitely not saying this is the best way to approach currency exchange, but what I like to do is bring my change jug into my local Wells Fargo Bank before my trip, and exchange the USD value of the coins for the foreign currency for the country (ies) I am headed to (it's never a ton, maybe $250 max depending on the time between trips). Once I land, I don't have to worry about exchanging money immediately and I can head straight to the train ticket both into the city of my destination. From there, I simply use my ATM to pull out local currency.

Posted by
9363 posts

The idea of having a little local currency in your pocket when you arrive is a good one, but not everyone has a local bank that can exchange currency when you just walk in. I would have to order currency, at a 10% or so markup. I have done that on the rare occasion, but I usually have some left over from another trip to get me started.

Posted by
37 posts

No need to take a lot of cash in any currency with you. Take enough dollars that are only used for emergencies. The best method I have found is to obtain a credit card and an ATM card that charges no foreign transaction fees. I use Capital One High Yeild Money Market Account solely for accessing currency out of country. They charge no foreign transaction fees or ATM withdrawal fees when used at a bank ATM in Europe. Most other banks charge up to 3% plus a transaction fee of up to $5. Shwabb also has an account like this. I also have a credit card that does the same (Barclaycard Arrival Plus Credit Card). This card now comes with chip and pin technology that is important in Europe. Most toll booths and unattended fuel stations won't take the magnetic OR chip and sign cards available in the States. This card also gives you 2 points per dollar charged which can be redeemed against your travel charges. Capital One also has accounts like this. Be warned that the private ATMs will soak you for exchanging money and that they are getting airports to put their machines in place of the bank ATMs. Wait til you get to town to exchange money. Whatever ATM card you use make sure it has a four digit number access code. That is the only way they will work in Europe.

Posted by
5678 posts

I usually take about $100 in the local currency with me when I go to Europe. This will cover an emergency cab ride and some extra, usually. When I arrive after a long flight, it's fine if a bank ATM is right there, but if it is broken or it is non-bank machine, I don't want to go traipsing about the airport. I just want to find my transport to the hotel! :)

If you live in a very small town, then you may find it pricier and decide to traipse if necessary. But, I had no trouble getting Pounds in Madison WI. And you don't need Scottish Pounds as already mentioned. The referendum failed and even if it had passed there was still some debate about keeping the pound. :)


Posted by
824 posts


I'm a little lucky and travel to Europe occasionally for business. Therefore, I always have a little GBP and EUR on hand... However, it's not essential. There are plenty of ATMs in the airports. Whether you fly through London or directly into Scotland, you'll have plenty of opportunity to get GBP from a machine.

I recommend having a special checking account for travel purposes. This way, I can load some or most of my travel budget into the travel account and keep my primary checking account separate. If I need additional money in my travel account, I can transfer it online.

Take BOTH debit/ATM cards with you in case something happens to the card associated with travel travel card. (Stuff happens...)

Be sure you call the issuing bank(s) and provide them with an "overseas travel notification." Debit cards, be default, block transactions from overseas locations for fraud prevention purposes. This also applies to any credit cards you anticipate using. Also, ensure you have non-toll free contact numbers for the banks in case the you run into problems with the cards.

DON'T use a credit card for cash advances unless its an emergency. The fees can be CRAZY.

Finally, British Pounds are British Pounds whether they are issued in England or Scotland.

Good luck ad have fun. Scotland is INCREDIBLE!