Sometimes travelers face the situation where exchanging cash is a necessity to be able to get around and cover local expenses that can’t be paid by card or electronically.
Hotels and even bank branches (especially smaller ones) have largely stopped providing currency exchange services, and those Exchange booths often have a crazy commission or exchange rate where you lose up to 20%.
I can vividly remember the old days, actually not THAT distant, when any local bank branch would offer to exchange (buy/sell) most common foreign banknotes at a reasonable rate but this has now started to disappear in the Western world.
My local Commerzbank in Germany won’t even accept cash deposits at the counter anymore and instead tells customers to use the deposit machine in the lobby. As far as foreign currency is concerned, the told me I have to go to a larger city such as nearby Dortmund or Duesseldorf to get USD changed to Euro.
I got $700 in cash from Casino winnings on the recent cruise and it’s obviously not very advantageous to do anything with USD cash in Europe. There was nothing else to pay on my shipboard account so I left the cruise with the entire amount in cash.
I explored various options to change the money:
- On the ship: 16% loss (compared to daily interbank rate)
- In Bergen at the airport: 14% loss
- In Frankfurt at the Airport (Reisebank): 15% loss
- Hong Kong Airport (Travelex): 17% loss
- Bangkok, VALUE+ Exchange: Actual Interbank rate – no loss!
To exchange cash in Asia is actually the best value and the larger the notes, the better the exchange rate you can receive.
In Bangkok, usually going to Superrich or Value+ is the best option to get Baht at pretty much the current market rate.
You can check the currency rates in advance, for example with Value+, and then compare:
The BUY rate slightly dropped since I changed the money yesterday, I got a little bit more compared to what they offer today:
Always have the bank notes available in crisp or good-as-new condition as foreign notes are usually not accepted for exchange if they are damaged or defaced.
I also had good experiences changing money in Japan at the Airport. The rates there are very realistic compared to city options.
Always use the XE application to be aware of the real interbank rates to avoid being scammed.
Whatever you do, avoid using professional exchanges like Travelex, Reise Bank, or the blue Currency Exchange… they all take a substantial commission or use exchange rates that are wayyyy off.
We have covered another problem that travelers often face, namely the Dynamic Currency Conversion “scams” that ATM operators and businesses try to pull with customers who use their credit/debit card abroad.
Bank ATM Currency Conversion Offers
Sometimes the rates are really nuts:
Whine Wednesday: Crazy ATM Currency Conversion!
John has also covered the Dolar Blue situation in Argentina over the years:
Dollar Blues In Argentina (Bring $100 Notes & Don’t Use Cards)
If you have cards issued by banks that will reimburse you for the fee associated with overseas withdrawals (including the ATM fees levied by the operating bank), then it’s not that bad to use cards abroad but always decline the Dynamic Currency Conversion, always use local currency.
Especially if you visit different destinations frequently and for a short time only, it’s a good idea to only keep a little bit of local currency compared to a whole wad of cash. I would feel a bit hesitant to not have any cash on me at all, although these days, that’s definitely possible, depending on the destination.
If you have cash to exchange, it’s often hard to find the right place to do it. I found that the best way is in certain countries in Asia such as Thailand and Japan. Taiwan was ok as well. The situation in Argentina with the Dolar Blue black market rate is special but you should also be careful when changing cash that way.
I always have a couple hundred in emergency reserve cash with me and swap them against fresh notes from time to time just to make sure I won’t have any problems.
There are many who like that everything has gone cashless but I prefer to be able to do cash transactions when I want, especially for small things. I don’t feel comfortable swiping my card everywhere. Certainly not in some dingy taxi or back alley bar.