Currency exchange

Where in London are the best places with the best fees to exchange dollars for pounds? Is the Post Office a viable option?

Posted by Swan
Napa, CA
2855 posts

If you "shop around" at the money-exchange places you may find one that has decent rates. A couple of years ago I discovered two money-exchange shops across the street from Paddington Station. I had calculated what I considered a decent exchange rate for my Euros, so checked at both shops. One had terrible rates and the other quoted a rate that matched the one I had calculated. Just ask the teller "how much for X dollars?" before handing over any money. In my experience, it is useless to change your mind once they have their hands on your money. The rates quoted on the boards can be misleading and confusing.

Posted by Norma
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
3403 posts

Rather than take dollars to exchange,leave them in your account at home and use ATMs in London to get Brit. pounds.

Posted by Marco
Oxford, United Kingdom
770 posts

Just about every other shop outside Paddington in Praed Street excluding the fast food joints do exchange - as they continue to do all along the Edgware Road. Victoria station is another area. Check the small print though. Some specialists such as Thomas Exchange Global give better rates if you go to their website first. If you can't be bothered with all this, go to Marks and Spencer.

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
2373 posts

Withdrawing pounds from the local ATM is by far the best and least expensive option. But if you MUST exchange dollars for pounds, consider doing it before you leave the US. A large local bank, Wells Fargo or even AAA can do the exchange and usually doesn't charge more than 10% over the interbank rate. Any for-profit exchange office will charge in the neighborhood of 20%.

Posted by Marco
Oxford, United Kingdom
770 posts

As an example, the buy rate for USD at Thomas Exchange Global today is $1.5625 and the sell rate is $1.52. The Oanda rate at time of posting is $1.53729. (This was prompted by a message that has subsequently been deleted, but the illustration is I hope useful.)

Posted by sherrell
sarasota, fl, usa
43 posts

At AAA you can only get $50.00 in exchange. I tried Wells Fargo and they told me no. We have a exchange shop in a mall and I thought the rates weren't that bad-till-I got to the UK. I found the rates at the Postal Shop and banks great! Just get a little to tide you over till you get in, then go and exchange the money in town.
Just remember, everything closes earlier in the UK than the US, and it's hard to find a great exchange place in a small town(same goes for phone cards).

Posted by Bonnie
West Grove, PA
4 posts

Agree that ATM's are good for currency. Too, we have been pleasantly surprised that many Post Offices in the UK, and not just in the large cities, offer currency exchange. The Post Office in Olney, an English market town of about 6,000, changed our dollars into Pounds sterling with no problem.

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
2373 posts

At AAA you can only get $50.00 in exchange. I tried Wells Fargo and they told me no. ^^ AAA will exchange currency online in most any amount you desire. In fact, you are better off ordering large amounts since they have flat fees that drive up their total cost. Not all bank branches do currency exchanges. Major Wells Fargo branches typically have decent rates but not all will have the capabilities of currency exchange and I'm not sure if they do exchanges for non-customers.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7954 posts

Post Offices in the UK . . . . offer currency exchange You bet they do since it's a huge money-maker for them. Check the rate. Even if you get up to swapping out a couple of grand for a better rate, you'll still be stiffed six percent or so.

Posted by Karen
Camarillo, caCamarill, USA
4 posts

Guess my best bet is to get startup cash at Wells Fargo ( once a week availability ) and then find an ATM with Visa Plus logo once I get to London.
From other posts I'm led to believe you need a pin to use a Capital One Credit card in ticket machines, ie: Oyster cards etc. I'll be close to Kings Cross so it looks like there is a plethora of ATMs and. P.O. In the area.

Posted by david
washington
837 posts

Karen, you do not need startup cash. Just use your credit card to get oyster card at the airport. You could use cash machines there, but many previous posts state that they are not bank ATMs and thus charge higher exchange rates. Therefore, use the credit card for anything at the airport, including transportation into town. Then hit an ATM to get pounds.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7954 posts

Messing around with getting money before you leave just wastes time and doesn't save anything. The Heathrow machines and booths are all Travelex which give you the same crappy exchange rate you'd get at home. So what? Are you going to be comfortable without a spendable coin in your pocket for the first couple of hours until you find an atm? Probably not. Anything could pop up. Hand the Travelex dude a couple of twentys (or use your card). It'll cost you five bucks above optimum. Your mind will like you for eliminating the stress.

Posted by sherrell
sarasota, fl, usa
43 posts

The AAA Tour Director I spoke with told me they only had enough for $50. I called the Wells Fargo in town and they were no help either. Just stating a fact. Maybe they are different were you live. When I was there a month ago, I thought about all the things I learned or would do different.
Money-yes you need some to start out with. Who wants to fumble with a ATM card getting a coffee or tipping? Yes I found places to exchange, sometimes it took us another hour of searching malls for a Post Office. Who wants to spend precious vacation time in a mini mall like at home.

Posted by John
Tampa, FL, USA
67 posts

I checked the exchange rate at JFK and they charged $1.72 per pound vs $1.51 my ATM converted so you get gouged pretty badly. I didn't have any cash but USD the first 36 hours and had no problems. Just me and my swipe credit card.

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
2373 posts

"The AAA Tour Director I spoke with told me they only had enough for $50. I called the Wells Fargo in town and they were no help either. Just stating a fact.
Maybe they are different were you live." Please reread my post in response to yours. AAA offers exchange ONLINE for large amounts. NOT all bank branches offer currency exchanges. Usually you have to go to a major bank branch in a major city, but sometimes individual branches might order the amount you need from the main branch as a service for their customers. For the OP Karen - there is NOTHING wrong with having some local cash in hand on your arrival. If that gives you more peace - then absolutely do it. About $200 worth is all you need.

Posted by Nancy
Bloomington, IL, USA
7671 posts

I think the person Sherrell spoke with at AAA might have thought they were asking about TipPaks. These are small quantities of euros that they sell by the package. I checked into these a year ago, and at that time, my local AAA was selling packs of 60 euro for $95 (which was, and is, a horrible rate). They told me that the rate would stay the same until those particular packs were sold, then their next supply could be a different price. AAA does not do in-office currency exchange; you can only buy TipPaks there.

Posted by Chip
Tipton, Iowa
329 posts

Using Marco's figures from http://thomasexchangeglobal.co.uk/ shows a 1.7% markup on pounds, typical for this exchange bureau. This is better than the 2% or 3% markup plus up to $5 that some debit card issuers charge for overseas ATM withdrawals. ATM's are not always the cheapest route.

Posted by Karen
Camarillo, caCamarill, USA
4 posts

John: Where were you able to use US currency? Could you use USD to buy tube, bus tickets, etc? Were you able to use your credit card in unmanned ticket dispensers? 1.51 is a pretty good rate according to Oanda. Good to know NOT to use change booths at airports.

Posted by Charlie
Honolulu/Seattle, HI/WA, USA
1835 posts

This type of question get asked on this web site weekly if not more often.
To get additional information either use the "Search" feature in the upper right hand corner of the web page - or - go to "Graffiti Wall > Money/Communications > ATMs: Minimizing Fees". I go to Europe every summer for a month for the last 11 years and have always used a DEBIT CARD tied to a CHECKING ACCOUNT at a local credit union that only charges a 1% transaction fee to get local currency from ATMs once I land in my destination airport in Europe. I do not use ATMs owned by any of the exchange companies nor do I use any of those exchange company booths. I have never had a problem with this method and any money I can save is better spend on a "treat" during my trip. I carry a back-up debit card from another financial institution as well as two credit cards from different financial institutions also. I rarely use a credit card in Europe preferring to pay cash as I go which often leads to discounts. Too many folks on this web site seem to be afraid that they will get to Europe and have no local currency to spend - not so. All they have to do is use an appropriate ATM. I do carry two $100 US bills tucked away in my money belt for "just in case" situations. I have never had to use them. Happy travels and don't let yourself get stressed out. aloha charlie

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
2373 posts

Karen - John didn't use US dollars in the UK - he used his credit card until he was able to access an ATM. And the rate you get from the ATM (if using a bank-affiliated machine - Heathrow has non-bank Travelex machines) is the interbank exchange rate. You can't get a better rate. But for many people, their bank adds an out-of-network fee and often a foreign transaction fee. The total is usually 3-4% above the interbank rate but some banks and credit unions offer checking accounts with low or no fees. Almost all exchange services have rates and/or fees of at least 10% above the interbank rate. Exchange is their business and that's how they make profit. That's why we strongly encourage you to just get cash from an ATM and only bring a little starter money if you feel more comfortable with that on arrival. Honestly, it's not complicated.

Posted by Swan
Napa, CA
2855 posts

For last-minute purchase of £ or €, international US airports often have Travelex offices. Rather than wait and hope for a good exchange rate at Heathrow, I would get money at SFO before leaving. Once in London, banks are available. I use my ATM card at Barclay's banks for no-fee withdrawals. Barclay's and my bank (Bank of America) have an agreement on this.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7954 posts

Heathrow is all Travelex. Wouldn't San Francisco have the same rate, then? It'd seem that if there were a line at SFO, you could take the chance on there not being one at LHR.