Best ways to exchange currency

Posted on Posted in Travel Tips

When traveling to Germany, you’ll definitely want to have some cash on hand. Credit cards aren’t nearly as ubiquitous as they are in the states, and many stores and vendors still don’t accept them. Exchanging currency can be a bit perplexing when doing it for the first time. The first time I went to Germany (which was the first time I had traveled abroad), I really had no idea what I was doing, and I definitely lost a bit of money because of it.

After countless overseas trips, though, my husband and I have gotten exchanging currency down to an art. I realize that everyone’s situation is different: different banks have different policies, and everyone has different amounts of time they can spend on preparing for trips. Therefore, I’ve listed several different ways to exchange currency with pros and cons of each.

  1. ATM: Our preferred way is to simply wait until we get there and get money from the ATM. Especially if your bank doesn’t charge ATM fees, this is probably one of the cheapest ways to get euros for spending. It’s possible you may still have to pay the fee that the ATM itself charges, but it’s usually not too expensive. When we withdraw euros from the ATM, we pay a $5.00 fee for using a foreign ATM and a negligible foreign currency conversion fee (usually under $2 or $3). Nowadays when we’re in Berlin, we wait until we get there to withdraw or exchange any money at all. We usually take some out of the ATM either at the airport or at a bank near our final destination. I believe you can buy a public transportation ticket with a credit card at the airport, so it’s okay to wait until you get where you’re going, too. Pros: You get the exchange rate as is without paying a higher rate like you would at the airport, and the fees that do exist are usually minimal. Cons: Some people would feel better about having money in-hand before landing in a foreign country, so if that would make you feel better, keep reading!
  2. Your bank: You can always exchange currency or buy it from your bank. Depending on your bank, this can be a pretty good option. However, I’d recommend looking up the exchange rate and comparing it to the rate that your bank will give you. I found that although our bank doesn’t charge any fees or commission to exchange currency, the exchange rate they offered us had us losing about 20 more cents on the dollar! Some banks might not do that, so it’s definitely worth checking into. Pros: You might be able to avoid fees, and you can have cash in-hand before you go. Great for sticking to your budget! Cons: You might pay more when all is said and done because of the exchange rate you get.
  3. Using your credit or debit card directly: This is a good option, but it’s not always possible. Some restaurants, especially in the tourist-heavy areas of Berlin, accept credit cards, and most clothing stores do, too. Your card will have to have the security chip on it to be compatible with their systems. Pros: You will avoid most fees, except maybe a negligible currency conversion fee at your bank. Cons: Most places (stores, restaurants, and street vendors) don’t accept credit cards, so having cash is still a must.
  4. Currency exchange stands at the airport and in the city: I would avoid this at all costs. They most certainly don’t give you the best exchange rate, and they typically charge fees and/or a commission. Pros: None, not even convenience. ATMs are equally easy to find in all cities. Cons: You’ll pay way too much.

One last tip, especially when traveling to Berlin: You may not need as much money as you thought because prices in Berlin generally seem low compared to other world capital cities. Several people who visited us in Berlin didn’t end up using all the money the exchanged or budgeted for the trip. It might be worth exchanging some of the money you budgeted at first, then making another trip to the ATM if you end up needing more.

Traveling abroad is expensive enough, and who wants to spend even an extra $20 if they don’t have to? If you have any other suggestions on how you’ve successfully (or unsuccessfully) exchanged your currency, please leave them in the comments below!

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