Of all the countries visited on this tour, only Slovenia uses the Euro for currency. How easy is credit card usage in the other countries and how is it best to deal with the need for different currencies?
The best way is to bring a Visa or MC debit card and withdraw local currencies from the ATMs. I'm sure the tour guides can give you an idea of about how much you would need to have on hand in each country based on amount of time spent there and how many meals you will be on your own for and what sights you might want to visit that aren't included with the tour.
On the RS tours I have been on where different currencies were required at different parts, the tour guide made sure to give recommendations of how much cash might be required as well as stopping near an ATM dispensing that currency for us to get the cash. It is probably better to stay at the low end of the recommendation, unless you have plans to do a lot of shopping or have expensive tastes. You can always find another ATM and get more cash if needed.
Credit card should be usable just like at home. Some smaller shops and restaurants may have a minimum purchase requirement to use a card or be cash only and will want only local currency, not the Euro if that is not what the country uses.
Just make sure you tell your credit and debit card issuers where and when you will be in those countries so they do not cut you off thinking the transactions coming from Europe are fraud.
I took the Eastern Europe tour last September. Credit cards were pretty widely accepted, sometimes even for fairly small amounts, but of course you do need some cash. Our guide told us before switching countries how much cash money we would probably need to withdraw from an ATM (it was even printed on our itinerary). Guides will suggest opportune times to use ATMs and recommend some, as well as the better currency exchange places should you need to change excess cash that you still have in the previous country's currency. Our guide also collected leftover money that wasn't worth exchanging for charity. The tour starts in Prague, and if you have the opportunity I would recommend using the ATM at The Legion Bank, and then taking the time to view it inside and out (no photos inside). Here is one website that gives a little history and a glimpse of the outstanding architecture: The Legion Bank
My question is vaguely related to the topic. I will be visiting Poland, Budapest and the Czech Republic. I am staying in airbnbs all of which are located relatively close to the main train stations. I will still require money to purchase public transport tickets or worst-case scenario pay for a taxi to get to my lodgings.
I have decided to have a small amount of the local currency (eg 50 euros) before entering the country which means I do not have to use an ATM at the train station and can wait until I can perhaps use the lobby of a bank where I can easily transfer money to a money belt etc.
So my question: will a bank offer me the best deal for changing euros into zloty, Czech koruna or forints?
We have few New Zealanders on this forum, and the situation may be different down there. In the US I think it would be difficult to find a bank willing to supply zloty, koruna and forints at any price.
I traveled through all three countries last year and simply used the ATMs. I was a bit concerned at my first stop, which was the Budapest airport, because there was no bank ATM in evidence. But I needed local currency, so I crossed my fingers and used the non-bank machine that was available. There was no extra charge. It probably asked me whether I wanted the withdrawal recorded in US dollars instead of forints (always a very bad idea), but I stuck with forints.
Do be careful about the number of zeroes in your withdrawal amount in Hungary, where $1 = about 280 forints. When I found a bank ATM later on my arrival day, I decided to make a second small withdrawal. I meant to request 10,000 HUF (about $40 at the time), but I was jetlagged and hadn't slept on the plane, and I asked for 10 times that much. I was spending three weeks in Hungary and knew I'd have no trouble spending that money, but the ATM gave me very large bills that might have been awkward to break. I ended up throwing myself on the mercy of a cashier inside the bank, who rolled her eyes but took pity on me and replaced the large bills with smaller ones.
Will U.S. banks give you the best exchange rate? Not in the least. My first trip to Europe, I went to Vienna, Budapest, Prague and Munich, so 3 different currencies. I got a fair amount of currency before I left and that was the last time, I ever got currency ahead of time. I use my credit card as much as possible, and withdraw from ATMs when needed and never have had a problem. If you do want to get currency ahead of time, try to get it where you do your banking and make sure to order anything but Euros, at least 4 days in advance since they need to acquire it. As much as possible, I try to make sure I spend currency besides euro before I leave the country. You can exchange paper currency back to USD when you get home, but again you will lose on the exchange rate.
One way in which the former Iron Curtain countries differ from those in western Europe is that you still see storefront currency exchanges (not banks). [What I meant to say here is that you will see people actually using storefront currency exchanges.] I know the conventional wisdom is that rates at places where you physically exchange currency are rather poor, and I haven't patronized any of those little shops. However, I did look at the posted buy/sell rates last year, and they were very, very good. What I do not know is whether there is also an exchange fee and how much it might be. Especially in Prague (the most touristy of the central European cities I visited) I often saw quite a line of people at a couple of the exchange booths. Either they are all fools or the rates are not as bad as some of us have been assuming.
Just based on that very limited information, I would not have a problem with saying that my back-up plan (if I had an ATM problem on arrival day) would be to stop at one of those booths and hand over one or a few US $20 bills. I'd bet (again, no actual information) that you'd do better to exchange leftover currency just before you leave each country at one of those exchange booths rather than taking it back home where it's unlikely any bank will want it. I would exchange Country 1 currency for Country 2 currency rather than for US [sorry--NZ!] dollars unless there was something really odd about the conversion rate. Better to pay for one conversion rather than two.
Thank you to all for your replies. This is the information I needed. I am really looking forward to this trip!
Thanks for the info. I should have been more specific. I'm not planning to purchase central European currency from my local bank. They may be able to order in the currencies but as there are few Poles, Czechs and Hungarians living in NZ I suspect they are not currencies handled very often. I was thinking in terms of European banks ie in Dresden, Berlin and Vienna, the three cities that I will be leaving from to visit Poland, the CR and Budapest respectively. For a small currency exchange, I would probably consider using a bureau de change or Geldwechsel, just for the sake of convenience.
I have no idea whether that will work out. Except in the countries where they are used or, perhaps, border towns, those are rather minor currencies. I don't know how many banks you'll have to visit before you find one that can sell you what you want, or how much extra that bank will charge. If you decide to do this, please come back after your trip and report how it panned out.
" I was thinking in terms of European banks ie in Dresden, Berlin and Vienna, the three cities that I will be leaving from to visit Poland, the CR and Budapest respectively. For a small currency exchange, I would probably consider using a bureau de change or Geldwechsel, just for the sake of convenience."
The best places to change money are not banks, but foreign exchange shops. It's easier to use them than banks(less queuing) and tend to have better rates, but you must watch out for scams. Don't rely only on the posted exchange rates, but always ask specifically, for example: "I want to change 100€, how much zloty do you give for that?" Compare the comission charges. I tend to look for places with no comission, but it may be better to change at a place which has a small comission, but a better rate. It's always worth to walk around the city with open eyes having a look at the exchange rates posted outside of the exchange offices. Once in Prague I walked around Wenceslas square(the city centre) hopelessly for 10 minutes comparing the exchange rates which ranged from bad to worse until I discovered a cardboard sign showing the way to an exchange shop located off the square in a passage and voila there was a totally honest shop with correct rates and no comission.
I'm not sure how well NZ dollars are accepted. Even where they change them the rate may not be so good. It may be better to change euros which you have left over from the Eurozone countries like Germany, Austria.
You can change PLN, CZK and HUF in Germany and Austria, but it's better to wait with the exchange until you get these countries. Exchange offices are more ubiquitous than in D or A and the rates are better.
Just be wary of changing at airports and railway station as these usually have rip off rates. Best to use only plastic until you get into the town or in case your really need something change only the tiniest amount.
The best way to get rid of leftover currency is to spend it all, but in case you can't do that it's not difficult to change directly the currencies of countries close to each other. Just make sure not to take home any amount(other than for a souvenir) to New Zealand! :-)
European banks will not do anything for you unless you have an account with them. There may be a rare exception to this, but you will spend all of your time trying to find that exception instead of enjoying your visit. This has changed drastically since I have started travelling to Europe 20 years ago. So, no, exchanging currency is not something they will do for tourists.
Euros are a good back up currency in Poland, Czechia, Hungary. They are often accepted for payment, you get change back in the local currency. It is maybe not a great exchange rate, but in a pinch, it works. So no need to panic over not having the local currency when you first hit town.
In fact, in Budapest, prices everywhere we're quoted in EUR, even public toilets.
"For the sake of convenience"
What can be more convenient than withdrawing your own money from your own bank account at an ATM at the interbank exchange rate, rather than buying currency from some exchange where you will be paying a fee, be it commissions or an inflated rate.
This keeps appearing here, the answers are always the same -withdraw your own money. I cannot understand how in this current day and age the concept that you must exchange your money for a fee for the local currency is so prevalent.
"Euros are a good back up currency in Poland, Czechia, Hungary. They are often accepted for payment, you get change back in the local currency. It is maybe not a great exchange rate, but in a pinch, it works. So no need to panic over not having the local currency when you first hit town."
Euro is a good back up currency pretty much all over Europe, except Britain and Scandinavia. It's true that euros are widely accepted, but not nearly everywhere and often at a very bad exchange rate. Once I arrived to Hungary from abroad and I had no forints on me as I got off the bus and wanted to grab some street food(don't remember what) at this small kiosk at the bus station, but the lady refused to serve me when she heard I have only euros.
"What can be more convenient than withdrawing your own money from your own bank account at an ATM at the interbank exchange rate, rather than buying currency from some exchange where you will be paying a fee, be it commissions or an inflated rate....I cannot understand how in this current day and age the concept that you must exchange your money for a fee for the local currency is so prevalent."
If you walk around Central/Eastern Europe and the Balkans or many other parts of the world you'll notice foreign exchange booths all over the towns. There wouldn't be so many of them if people wouldn't use them. Most of the customers are locals or people from a nearby country and they pretty much all have debit cards and could use ATM to get the foreign currency if they wanted. So many people are not stupid and I'm sure they would use ATM if that would be a better option. The thing is that many banks charge not an insignificant amount for withdrawing money abroad. Changing cash often works out better. Most exchange offices charge only a very small commission or no commission at all and they offer a very good exchange rate. There are of course the scammers and the mafia who live from milking naive tourists extra fees(like a "free "city map for 10 euros) and rip off rates, but this is the minority.
Even if you use ATMs to withdraw local currrency you may find yourself in a situation where you end up with more local cash than you need and are off to the next country. What are you doing with this leftover currency than? You can't push it back into an ATM, can you! :-) But you can simply exchnage it the old school way.