Where can I get the best rate for converting dollars into pounds? We cannot do the ATM route, because we have to pay for an apartment that we are renting in either cash in pounds or travelers checks in pounds, which we have ruled out due to everyone saying that these are outdated now. So we are going to carry $3,000 in cash and need to convert $800 in London for an apartment for 3 days and $1800 in Paris for an apartment for 5 days. Thanks for any recommendations - we have spend 20 hours researching this and still are confused and frustrated.
This is just a suggestion, but if it was me and I was going to carry it in cash I would get the pounds/euros here before I left and carry that cash - rather than worry about changing $$ when I get there. Carrying cash is carrying cash, doesn't matter what currency it's in.
In the UK I always get all my cash out of ATMs - if I have a large hotel bill to pay I ask my credit union to up my daily withdrawal limit and if necessary, I pull out money a couple days in a row to allow for a larger amount.
Rates vary constantly, not just daily. So, it's almost impossible to nominate any place with the best rate. I would guess -- and it is only a guess -- the London banks might be your best bet. I do not know how important it is to you to save a few dollars, but you could always phone around in London and Paris to look for rates. Before this becomes stressful, though, consider if you really want to sweat the best possible rate. After all, how could you know? By the way, if you would rather use travelers check, and if the folks on the other side will accept them, or you know you can exchange them for cash, why not use them? Yes, they've fallen out of favor. But, if they work for you, why not? Remember, if you travel with cash and lose it, it is gone. You have no recourse.
I am going to London next month and am in a similar situation. I can get a better rate at the hotel by paying cash. If I use the ATM, there are fees, so I've decided to "order" the pounds from my bank before I go. There is no charge this way. Then if I need more pounds while I'm there, I'll use the ATM. But since it will be a smaller amount, the fees won't be unreasonable.
There's no free lunch. The people who make money out of foreign exchange are the banks and other middlemen. They pay less for what they are selling than what they sell it at - that's called profit. Different organizations will find different ways to make that profit, and advertise their wares. Some will make the difference in the exchange rate: X £UKP costs Y $US or $CDN. The buy rate will be several points different from the sell rate. Others give a rate closer to the interbank rate but make the profit with fees. Still others do both. Any way you slice it, they make a profit and you pay for the privilege of buying from them.
http://www.thomasexchangeglobal.co.uk/ Thomas Exchange Global regularly sells pounds at less than 2% markup and beats what many people get from an ATM. Thomas Exchange Global has a current rate of $1.56432/£. That is just 1.5% over the current interbank rate of $1.56432 as shown at Oanda.com. You would receive £504 pounds for $800 at the moment. $800 would buy about £484 at Wells Fargo and £450 at a US Travelex booth.
Foreign exchange is very competitive in London; much more so at the retail level than the USA. You'll get more for large amounts, but $800 or so is small beer to them. At $1800 for France it is starting to get into bank transfer territory.
I have an alternative suggestion that has worked well for me. If your landlords will accept bank drafts, open an account with XE Trade. Money will be taken from your checking account by electronic transfer and bank drafts in the currency of your choice will be made payable to the persons of your choice. You can have the drafts mailed to each landlord. Or, if they will give you their bank account numbers, you can have the drafts deposited directly into their accounts. (This is not a wire transfer so there is no fee.) Or you can have the drafts mailed to you and you can hand them over when you get to London and Paris. The exchange rate is only slightly higher than the international rate on the day the transactions are initiated. There are no fees. For security reasons it takes a little time to set up an account, but everything goes swiftly and smoothly after that.