Hello there, We are venturing to Europe for the first time, London specifically and then Paris. Where is the best place to exchange money? Thank you!
The best place is nowhere. Use your ATM card to obtain cash in each country.
Exactly what Tom said. You let your bank and Credit card company know you will be out of the country. You then use your ATM card to obtain local currency while there.
You can purchase some Pound Sterling and Euro before leaving, just so you have a little cash on hand on arrival. Most banks can sell you those currencies, though you may have to order them from smaller branches. AAA also sells currency. Expect to pay about 10% premium to buy currency in the US. Plan on taking about $200 worth of each. Otherwise, as the others have said, just withdraw cash from ATM's during your visit. Inform your bank of your trip so they don't put a hold on your card. It can be wise to have a backup card available, in rare cases an ATM might "eat" a card. Depending on your bank's fees, expect to pay 1-5% premium for using an ATM (the cheapest method by far). European bank ATM's do not generally charge fees. In an emergency, have your bank's phone number so you can contact them. And know your credit card PIN just in case you have to get cash that way (at the very expensive cash advance rate). If you have leftover currency, there are exchange offices in train stations that will change your money for about a 20% premium.
And if you bring cash to exchange, then do so only if absolutely necessary. Some people here (including RS)advise bringing a couple hundred USD "just in case". I don't do that, but won't argue with anyone who does.
Like the last person. NEVER exchange money. That's old school and go broke school. Get an ATM card and take $ from your bank account. You must inform your ATM/Banker that you will be in Europe in London & Paris on specific dates. Plan withdrawals ahead. You may be limited by your bank ad foreign bank as to the number of transactions per day and dollar amount of each withdrawal. For credit card purchases - get a CapitalOne VISA. Otherwise you will pay a percentage of EACH transaction you will make with your credit card.
Just take a few bucks if you want to eat at the US airports or use your credit card. Use the first ATM in Europe you can and draw as much money as you can, or draw as much as you feel your going to need, so you can skip too many fees. If you ever run out or are getting ready to run out of cash use a credit card. Yes you'll probably get a transaction fee, but you can get out of tight situation. Come on what do you do at home? They have the same needs we have, they just speak a different language, drive like maniacs, and wear their clothes tighter, but they have the same money issues. Do the same there, but remember there will be a conversion and a transaction fee. Don't forget to call your bank and let them know when your going to be using your ATM and credit card in Europe. Please don't take traveler's checks, you'll never find anyone to cash them.
Agree with all the above. To use an ATM in Europe you will need to know your 4 digit pin by the #'s not by letters. ATMs in Europe only have #'s, no letters, unlike here. Also, you can ask your bank to raise the amount of your daily limit.
Thank you all so much for your suggestions. They are much appreciated!
Elizabeth, I'd like to strongly recommend that you read Rick Steve's "Europe Through the Back Door". In it, he explains the basics of European travel - the how-to's. I think you'll get a very good return-on-investment from it! (and please return to your other thread about voltage converters and tell us exactly what electronics you want to take on your trip)
Just in case you do look to exchange cash - some places won't accept $100 bills - to much forgery. I've always wanted a few bucks worth of the currency where I land in my pocket before I get there - around where I am less and less local banks handle it - but at the airport - either before you leave the US or on arrival in the country you'll beable to exchange.
Great answers...the atms were surprisingly easy! I did take money with me loaded on a card from the airport. I liked having the cash already when i get off the plane and notnworry. I know people may cringe but my home atm card has alot of direct withdraws on it for my utilities, etc. So i kept it at home. I didnt want to risk that account tampered with or losing the card. Too many accounts to change! Just a thought. I also went to my bank and opened a separate account to use to withdraw money from.
Elizabeth, it's certainly not a reason to close a bank account, but note that some banks have correspondent banks in Europe where you don't have to pay one or two ATM fees on each transaction-as happens here in the US. (Even with the fees, you're doing better to get foreign currency with the ATM card than any other way. Of course, you always pay a small currency exchange cost on the volume of dollars.) For example, I use Bank of America (a corporation I don't care for at all ... ) which gives me fee-free ATM transactions at Barclays in England and at BNP Paribas in France. This means that there is no penalty for making smaller withdrawals, if that were your preference. Warning: Just because BofA has a deal with Deutsche Bank in Germany doesn't mean that it applies in countries other than Germany!
I disagree with much of the advice being given here. Credit card and ATM cards are nice, but there can be terrible problems. For example, my wife's ATM card was eaten by a machine on a Friday afternoon in Italy. If it had been our only source of money we simply would have had to stop and ruin our vacation until the bank opened on Monday. Fortunately I had plenty of cash and another credit card. ATM fraud is very, very common. My wife has been a victim. A cousin has been a victim. It is very common in Europe for fraudsters to place portable ATM machines in various locations in order to get back account information. This money isn't always reimbursed and even if it is it takes weeks and hundreds or thousands of dollars in time and effort and aggravation. Before my last cruise I exchanged perhaps $2,000 at a Wells Fargo. The rate was every bit as good or better than what I've received in the various banks overseas and head and shoulders better than what I would receive at a change booth. As a result I didn't have to spend hour upon hour walking around trying to find a bank to change money. I didn't have money raided out of my checking account. I just had good old cash to spend, plus my credit card. Cash is a wonderful thing. Yes, there is a risk of loss and one must be careful, but the risk from using cash is a small fraction of the risk of using dangerous and risky ATM cards.
I've been using ATM cards to get cash in Europe, mostly France, for over 25 years, and have never had a bad experience. I carry as little cash as I can get away with, since credit cards are accepted pretty much everywhere and ATMs are so available. The risk of fraud is very low when you stick to actual bank machines. And while getting the card eaten by the machine at an inconvenient time can happen (although it's never happened to me), I keep multiple cards for that kind of situation.
Frank's experience and advise is little extreme if not over the top. As a good precaution you should carry two debit cards tied to two different accounts. Second we always use an ATM attached to a bank during open hours so if something goes wrong - in theory, never been tested -nnone can go into the bank and the other one guards the machine. Also, always use an ATM just after someone has used it. If it works for them it should work for me. We avoid stand-along machine in non-banking locations since these are the ones than sometimes can be compromised. In 15 years of being solely dependent on a debit card we have never had a problem. W Fargo has the best rates in our area but still 5% which is far worst than the 0% from my credit union. I have never seen or heard of a US bank selling Euro for less than what you would get at an ATM in Europe even with standard fees.
I agree with Frank (Colorado), but I've been using ATM cards even longer. Honestly, I won't even use a gas station or 7-11 ATM machine in the US, let alone a free-standing (you're kidding, right Frank (MS)?) cash machine in the US. That's partly because I'll walk a mile to get to a machine where I don't have to pay an extra fee! But I also won't take a chance like Frank (MS) did. It is unwise to take $2,000 in currency in your pocket. (or in your Rick Steves Money Belt!) The only thing like a problem I ever had was that after years of never bothering to tell Bank of America that I was traveling (even though I knuckled under and told my credit card companies I was traveling), Deutsche Bank (that is, B of A) finally, declined in 2012 to issue my cash. And it may have been because I accidentally asked for more than my daily limit, which is suspicious in itself. But my card wasn't eaten - I got it back, called B of A on Skype, and got it taken care of for the next day.
Frank, I agree with you that not having cash when you arrive or are at your destination is awful. We had that same experience when we went to London. For some strange reason at the time we arrived the banks ATM were down and we had no way of getting any money. We had to live with credit cards for a whole day. It was tough, but we made it. Elizabeth asked where the best place to exchange, in my opinion there no best place to exchange money and as most answers show they agree. And specially at the airport. Where I have witnessed Europeans walk away with their money after they were told the rate exchange. We have tried to exchange money after we arrived and there were no banks that would. We have tried to exchange money at our hometown banks before leaving and they never have Euros. In a pinch you can try the EU post offices, your hotel,cash advance with a credit card or even Western Union; if someone can send you the money from the USA, but you will get a poor exchange. It's a pain in the but. Your right, so that's why we carry our bank ATM's.
The advice from Frank in Oxford, borders on the bizarre. ATM fraud is very, very common. My wife has been a victim. A cousin has been a victim. It is very common in Europe for fraudsters to place portable ATM machines in various locations in order to get back account information. This money isn't always reimbursed and even if it is it takes weeks and hundreds or thousands of dollars in time and effort and aggravation.
Where have you read that fraudsters are setting up portable ATM machines? How would that even work? What is a portable ATM even look like? I have never, ever heard of such a thing. Every airport has ATM's and you don't have to walk for hours to find one.
I have never, NEVER seen anything that I would describe as a "portable ATM" in Europe. Off the top of my head, I can only think of one ATM that isn't directly attached to a bank.
I have seen portable ATMs in Britain. There were several mounted on a truck which was at a hot-air balloon fiesta. I imagine that such a vehicle would also attend music festivals, agricultural shows, etc. It would also not surprise me if the banks also had such vehicles touring rural areas or attending large outdoor events. The people I saw using the machines appear to have had no problems. What you need to watch is that privately-owned machines will charge you, while bank-owned machines generally will not. Of course, your home bank may charge you, but that is not something that worries British account holders. None of our banks charges for use of ATMs, and we can use the machine of any other bank without charge. It is also common to find ATMs in larger supermarkets. These are just the same as bank ATMs and make no charge. They are also more secure than an ATM on a street corner at night.
Maybe what Frank from Oxford is refering to are skimmers that thieves can add on to ATM machine slots where your card feeds into. The skimmer reads the card info as you use the machine and then can steal your money later. Those do exist and have been used on occasion in both Europe and the U.S. But the risk is very low, can be avoided by using ATM's in bank lobbies and your account is ultimately protected from theft (though can be temporarily unavailable). If that Frank is more comfortable taking all his cash, then fine. But despite his claims, buying cash in the U.S. does cost more than using the ATM though it is cheaper than exchanging money in Europe. Most of us also strongly advise against using debit cards for purchases since that can be a more common source for theft. And if they drain your bank account, it can take time and be a huge hassle to deal with it on a foreign vacation and many people have automatic withdrawls and payments tied to the checking accounts. But ultimatley your account is protected against theft. Credit cards are very safe since any account theft is protected.
So... ways to not end up with an ATM card disaster: 1. Problem: Old cards can be eaten by a machine. The card might be bent slightly, from spending time in your wallet. You might not even notice it but, if you put it in the wrong machine, the bend can keep the card from coming back out the slot you put it in. When that happens, you're lucky if you can talk the bank into giving it back to you - normally they mail it back to your bank. Solution: Order new cards before your trip and always have a backup plan in case one card is lost or stolen. 2. Problem: ATM cards can become demagnetized, making them worthless. Solution: Order a new card before your trip, don't put it with electronic devices (like cell phones) and always have a backup plan in case one card is lost or stolen - or stops working. 3. Problem: There are multiple scams involving ATM machines that copy your card and expose you to fraud. Solution: They still need your pin number or the information from the physical card to do any damage. Ideally, use ATM's inside stores or banks, they aren't as likely to be affected as one on the street. Shield your hand when you type in your pin (if there's a scam, there could be a person watching/filming or even a tiny camera directly above the keypad). Have your bank's phone number handy. If your card is lost or stolen, call the bank immediately so your account isn't affected. Have a backup plan in case a card is lost, stolen, or your account is closed due to fraud. 4. Problem: The bank can shut down your card if they see unexpected activity. Solution: Notify your bank before your trip, check twice to see they know your itinerary. Have the bank's number in case they put a hold on the card anyway - it usually takes overnight to be working again. Have a backup plan in case a card isn't working.
5. Problem: Finding an ATM. Solution: ATM's are everywhere in Europe, even in stone walls in medieval centers, and none charge fees. Finding a bank to change cash or travelers checks would be a waste of valuable time. An ATM card is better. 6. Problem: Large costs to use an ATM. Solution: The fees you pay are set by your bank. If your bank is charging you a lot for international withdrawals, find another bank (or at least open a travel account elsewhere) with reasonable fees. 7. Problem: Need more than the daily limit. If you need a lot of cash to pay for lodging (up front) right when you arrive, your daily limit on your card may not allow you to get that much cash. Solution: If you have time, plan ahead to get multiple daily withdrawals so you have the large amount of cash you need. If you need it right away, you can set up multiple accounts (with a card for each) and use the combined daily total to cover the expense or, the only time I think it's an okay idea, order currency from your bank ahead of time. Bottom Line: Have a backup plan. Keep your card safe, use it carefully, but be capable of continuing your vacation if your card is lost or stolen.
"....Problem: ATM cards can become demagnetized, making them worthless.
Solution: Order a new card before your trip, don't put it with electronic devices (like cell phones) and always have a backup plan in case one card is lost or stolen...." Not sure how a newer card would be of any help. A brand new card can just as easily be demagnetized as an older card.
Yes, a new card can be demagnetized quickly in the wrong circumstances. Old cards can become demagnetized over time without making any major mistake like putting it with your cell phone. Starting with a new, fully-magnetized, card is your best bet - but won't keep you from ruining your own card if you're not careful.
For my last trip, I tried to do as Douglas recommended. My local AAA office had no idea what I was talking about even though their literature mentions it.
Last couple of trips, we boarded the plane with maybe $35 between us. No other currencies. We arrived at the airport, used the ATM to get a couple hundred euro,and went on our way. We used the credit cards for bigger expenses, cash for the little ones. When we'd run out of cash, we hit up the ATM for more. Very easy. Now if you want to get one or two days' worth of currency ahead of time, then I won't argue. But two thousand? I'd feel partially responsible for giving horrible advice should it be lost or stolen!
Just to follow up: As I mentioned, both my wife and my cousin have been victims of debit card fraud. This is a far bigger headache than credit card fraud. My cousin had $22,000 drained out of his checking account by thieves who stole something like $1.5 million from customers in a single restaurant. They did get their money back, but it was a big hassle, and I've read that British banks are no longer automatically indemnifying their customers against debit card losses. So really, which is riskier, carrying $2,000, or carrying all of the money in your checking account? As I've mentioned, my wife's ATM card got eaten. But in addition, we've found that it was not a matter of just waltzing up to a random ATM machine and getting money. Many would not accept her card, it apparently not being part of their "network." So it would often take two or three tries. This eats up valuable time. All ATM cards are not created equal. Some have virtually no fees abroad. Others do hit the customer with both ATM fees and foreign transaction fees. I see little advantage in opening a new account in a new bank just for a trip to Europe. I guess everyone has their own comfort level. I always have a few hundred dollars with me in the U.S., and it just doesn't cross my mind to go on a trip abroad penniless. These days it is very difficult to find banks abroad willing to change money; you can spend an hour or hours finding one. I found it convenient to buy my Euros at a Wells Fargo branch in Memphis, Tenn. As I recall, I paid $1.33 per Euro when it was trading at 1.30, plus a five dollar fee. This is substantially better than any change rates I've been given abroad, at banks or otherwise. Cash has risks too. But it's nice to have.
"I see little advantage in opening a new account in a new bank just for a trip to Europe." The best reason for doing so is exactly what you mentioned - it keeps your travel funds separate from your other money and accounts. I keep part of my funds in my regular account and part of my funds in a specially opened account at another bank just so that my two cards can back each other up. If need be, I can transfer money between the two via the internet, but otherwise they are not connected. My cards charge 0% and 1%, with no charge for using a foreign ATM. Your wife's problem of not finding a network could have been avoided by carrying a Mastercard or Visa-branded card. And the fraud problem you mentioned can be avoided by not using a debit card for purchases, only for drawing money from an ATM.
Thanks for following up Frank, you clarify a few things from your earlier post. The debit card fraud you describe sounds like it happened from using the debit card for purchases. And that is exactly why most of us strongly recommend against using your debit card that way while out of the country, especially in restaurants. The risk of someone stealing your card number is much, much higher than the high tech versions of skimming and fraud from using an ATM. And as you point out, it can be a much bigger hassle than if the same thing happens to your credit card. But I will add that in the U.S., the law protects your account no matter what as long as your report it in a timely manner. I too sometimes find an ATM machine won't work with my card. I just move along to another and don't think it's a big deal. If you were able to exchange currency at that rate, then great. Although I suspect that the actual interbank rate (rate that banks charge each other) was lower and the rate you got was closer to a 5% premium. But that is still a pretty good deal since the ATM can cost as much as 4% for some people. And I fully agree with you about the common advice here that people should open new checking and credit card accounts. For a long trip or those that travel frequently that makes sense. But for most people asking questions here, they are planning a once in a lifetime 2 week trip. It's kind of silly advice that will save them a whopping $50
Frank, I've gotten excellent advice from Nancy and Douglas (thanks) and hope you do too.
Douglas, You may be right about my having paid a five percent premium. Wells Fargo is currently offering to sell Euros on its website for a five percent markup. They ship them to you, but you have to be an account holder with them. I know that based on my past experiences I was very happy with the exchange rate (my wife's ATM card is not fee-less). To purchase at branch banks you don't have to be a customer, you just pay a $5 fee. You are also correct that the biggest ATM risk comes from using the card for retail, hotel or restaurant purchases abroad. But the ATM machines are not completely risk free. I just don't like ATM cards and don't have one. I do use a credit card at restaurants and for purchases. What I would say is that if one can easily get foreign currency at a good exchange rate prior to arrival in a country, it is foolish not to get at least a little foreign money. Whether one gets a big wad of cash is a personal decision.
Frank, most of us also believe it's a good idea to have at least a little foreign currency before you leave, but you originally suggested exchanging all of your money and carrying only cash. Since you now are telling us it is because you just don't like ATM cards that explains your position (and you are entitled to your own travel preferences)`. ATMs are still, in the opinion of most here, the way to go in most cases.
I rather not carry another piece of plastic. I don't use an ATM card either, prefer to carry the wad of cash in 4-5 separate places. The credit card is used for certain accomodations but I find myself using cash more often but depends. Luckily, no US credit card I had in Europe was retained by the ATM.
I would never put a credit card in an ATM in the first place, unless it was an extreme emergency. The finance charge begins to accrue immediately.
I travel to the UK every year and Europe every other year. I have found the Best Place to exchange money is the Royal Post Office in England and TESSCO stores. No commision at the post office and none at TESSCO if changing over 300 hundred pounds or dollars. Unlike some of you I prefer to carry cash. Only use Credit Cards for hotel's. Note on credit cards. All of England and Europe require the card has a computer chip enbeded in the card. You can get these here in the states by calling your card company. Most Master Charge cards will not offer these cards. I have also noticed most vendors will not except American Express cards. Airport money changer charge the highest rates and a commission on amounts under 500 pounds or dollars. Loading up a card at one of the airport vendors is not worth the effort, while exchange rate is low a fee is charged each time the card is used, and then try to redeem any unused funds when you get back home is a nightmare. I have also found getting Pounds or Euros and Bank of America the rate is not bad (if you are a preferred customer) and no service fee. Now if we could only use our gasoline cards at gas stations. I keep a car in England and use it for Club endurance driving events.
Bill, welcome to the Helpline. Here's some contrary thoughts: 'No commision at the post office and none at TESSCO if changing over 300 hundred pounds or dollars.' Correct, but the exchange rate at both really stinks, so absence of a commission is a moot point. What you see at Tesco is an outlet of Tesco Bank, a regular commercial bank owned by the same crowd. Its ATMs give the same excellent deal as any other bank-owned ATM. 'All of England and Europe require the card has a computer chip enbeded in the card.' Not so. I have both kinds of cards and prefer to use the mag stripe. The C&P gets about a tenth of my charges and that's usually for automated gas pumps. 'Most Master Charge cards will not offer these cards.' My C&P is a Master Card. 'vendors will not except American Express cards' My AmEx gets most of my charges and I travel cheaper than anybody I know.
All of England and Europe require the card has a computer chip enbeded in the card False. I rarely have a problem with any of my magnetic strip credit or debit cards. I'd estimate it has an acceptance rate of about 95%.
Hi All: First I did not mean to stir up a Hornet's nest. Only relating to my experience as to the type of travel I do. Europe, only long distance driving events with Club Triumph. 10 country's 3,500 miles in 4 days.(86 cars) We buy a lot of gas, at times overnight. Many stations are self service and only take a card with chip. Our few hotel's are prepaid. If we stop for a drink or snack, most small shops don't want a credit card. If by chance you get stopped, some country's demand you pay fine on the spot. France picks on cars with UK plates! (we have never been stopped). Nice to have extra Euro's on hand. England, again a club run, London, John O Grots, Lands End, London in 48 hours, 2,500 miles.(110 cars) After each trip I spend a week or two in England. Mostly stay with friends and eat in pubs. gas is my biggest expense. When I do stay in a motel most don't take or ask you not to use a AE card. Drucker Roo's in Meltham (Huttersfield York) will not take any AE card. Hilton's at Heathrow & Luton will give a better rate if you don't use the AE card. After all is said and done,since I prefer using cash instead of a credit card, for me the best rates are still the Post Office and Tessco overtheir. Bank Of America buy before you leave rates is not too bad. About 6 cents/Euro & 7 cents/Pound. No Fees. BOA's Master Charge-no chips but can get with Visa? I did not mean to say only chip cars can be used,however I believe that is day coming. Chip cards are free. If you know where I can get a better rate for Pounds/Euros in Cash only, Please let me know. Thank You: Bill
France picks on cars with UK plates! (we have never been stopped). That statement bothers me. You say - as a statement of fact - how British motorists are discriminated at by French police. Then that you have never been stopped. The only thing I have ever heard of is that the French police are hot on (from many many sources) are law breakers. It sounds like some of your rides may be a little close to that edge? Otherwise, why would you need to carry all that extra money, in case you are stopped. I've driven many hundreds of km every year for many years in France (and many other European countries) and I've never been stopped. Or had any sort of ticket. Not in France - or anywhere else. My car has quite definitely UK number plates, and a steering wheel on the right hand side. Only one "s" in Tesco, BTW.
Nigel: the car I own and Keep in England Is also a English car.(Triumph Dolomite) UK plates and steering on the right with a UK sticker on the boot lid. Our club runs are not any kind of a race and bad driving will get you kicked off the run. I got my info about the French form the BBC, and their has been some post's on the club site about this. Of course if one obeys the law, but mistakes happen. You never know if you come upon a over zealot Barny Fife. Many of my English friends have told me the same. My Point, Be Careful Driving In A Foreign Country. I do not think I carry a overly large amount of cash. Driving a 50 year old car that many miles and over the Alps brake downs can happen. Just as I am careful when driving in England and Ireland. I think you would agree, what You or I think is a large amount, might not be the same. As for paying on the spot, you are part of the EU Zone, as a American I am not. Sorry for the Tesco mistake.
We leave for England Sept,1st. Will be in Yorkshire around the 17th, If you see a Red Dolomite, flag me down and we can share a Pint. Bill
I know everyone is eager to talk about cars but hardy relates to the original questions. Elizabeth probably has done away bored. Still to the subject.
Had a couple US dollars and my bank/cc card on me all the way to Heathrow. At Heathrow I used my card at the airport ATM to get some pounds. Had purchased a couple-day tube pass while still home in the states. On my way to Paris from London at the St Pancreas Station I exchanged some of my 'leftover' pounds for Euros (just a small amount). While in Paris I used my card for most purchases and the euros here and there. When I arrived by train in Paris I was glad I had some euros to purchase a carnet of Metro tickets especially since I didn't notice an ATM or a automated kiosk to my train tickets and I purchased my metro tickets at a counter "un carnet, si vous plait?" Overall, money was no worry anywhere at any time.