No matter where you travel, you will be expected to pay for goods and services. It’s not as easy as pulling coin and paper from your pocket. While the US Dollar is the standard for global commerce, that doesn’t mean it’s accepted everywhere. You’ll find it much easier to do business abroad using local currencies. The locals will probably think better of you, and you’re less likely to get gypped, too.
The Euro has made travel easier in the 17 countries that now use it as their base currency. Banks and credit card companies have gotten hip to the fact that more people are travelling internationally and seeking more exotic destinations, so they are making exchanges easier and less expensive—if you know where to look and what to ask for.
Follow these guidelines to minimize the risk of overpaying when exchanging and when buying:
Think about where you’ll be and plan ahead. You may be based out of Euro-friendly Paris or Rome, but what if you take a side trip to Hungary? Make sure to have a few forints in your wallet in case you wander into a local business that doesn’t take Euros. The Swiss still prefer their francs.
Want to know how many soms you can get for your dollar in Uzbekistan? It’s there (about 2,100, by the way). Exchange rates fluctuate on a daily basis, but if you have Internet access or are dealing with a reputable exchange, you shouldn’t have any surprises.
Don’t Count on Travelers’ Checks
Travelers’ checks are things of the past. While they can handy for emergencies and were once a nearly universal currency, a growing number of merchants won’t accept them anymore.
Spend Globally—Act Locally
Chances are you’ll get the best exchange rates at your destination. While it might be convenient to have a little local currency on you when you arrive (so you don’t have to go to an exchange just to get a cup of coffee), you’ll generally find that US banks charge a higher premium than foreign ones do.
That’s not to say you can’t get decent exchange rates at home. Your local bank may have a reasonable rate. Companies including www.eZforex.com, www.ThomasCook.com and www.Travelex.com will mail foreign currency to your home, saving you some shoe leather. Check the rates first. Include any shipping or handling costs when comparison shopping.
Keep Cash Exchanges to a Minimum
Everyone gets a piece of your money when you exchange cash. Every time you do it. If you’ll be travelling through countries with different currencies, your bank card is your best friend. The less currency you have, the less likely you’ll get stuck with it or have to trade it for a premium.
Don’t be Tempted by Airport Exchange Booths—Use ATMs Instead
It may seem nice to swap money with a pleasant clerk who speaks your language, but you might pay dearly for the privilege. Look before you leap. Some exchange booths charge way more than ATMs, sometimes as much as 15%. Use your debit card. Airports are full of them. They may not smile at you, but they won’t rip you off, either.
Inquire what your particular card issuer charges for their piece of the action. A big difference in the cost of getting money with a debit card vs. using credit cards that may regard your transaction as a cash advance and charge interest and extra fees. Let your issuer know you’re travelling, too, so they don’t shut your card down thinking it’s been stolen.
Bankrate.com offers information on foreign exchange costs for major credit cards on their web site.
Use the Local Cash Whenever Possible—And Count Your Change
Just because a merchant accepts Yankee Dollars doesn’t mean you’re getting a good deal. Local businesses can have their own self-determined exchange rates, often 20% or more. Be sure to pay attention to the change you get back, too. Hard as it may be to believe, there are actually a few folks out there who shortchange tourists presuming they won’t know enough about the local currency to notice.
Familiarize Yourself with the Local Currency
Just because Croatians call it a Kuna doesn’t mean it’s not real money. Look up its worth compared to the dollar (or whatever your home currency is) and learn how it’s subdivided. Nearly every country divides its currency decimally, so figure out what a half-franc coin looks like or a quarter-kroner.
Know what the symbol is for the currency, too. Did you know that most countries in the Western Hemisphere and many others scattered around the world use the “dollar sign” ($) to denote money? It’s a holdover from the days of the Spanish conquistadors and can denote anything from pesos to pa’angas. So when you’re shopping in Mexico and see a price tag of $100, ask if it’s dollars or pesos.
Take Some Dollars Along
Even if you won’t use U.S. dollar bills on your trip, they’re good insurance to have in case of emergencies. Bank employees go on strike, governments declare bank holidays, and ATMs stop working. Most people abroad know roughly what a dollar’s worth and they can come in handy when trouble strikes. By the way, 20s and 50s are better than 100s because Benjamins are widely counterfeited, causing merchants to be leery about accepting them.
Before You Leave, Cash Your Coins and Convert Your Bills
It’s possible you will accumulate a fair number of foreign coins during your travels. You have three choices: spend them while at your destination, take them home as souvenirs or convert them to U.S. Dollars. Many foreign currencies are high value coins, so consider the advantage of converting your foreign change back to U.S. money before returning to U.S. soil.
Currencies in Europe
In 1999, 17 European nations formed the Eurozone (or the Euro Area, officially) as an economic and monetary union. They created the Euro, the symbol for which is €. However, eleven nations are not members of the Eurozone and do not use the Euro as their currency. TheUnited Kingdom(England,Scotland,Wales, andNorthern Ireland) is the most notable, keeping the British Pound (£), but other popular European destinations are also outside the Eurozone.
Conditions and alliances can change, but as of the moment, here’s howEuropelines up:
Nations Using the Euro as Their Official Currency
Other Nations Using the Euro
- San Marino
- Vatican City
European Union Nations with Independent Currencies
- Bulgaria - lev
- Croatia - kuna
- CzechRepublic - koruna
- Denmark - krone
- Hungary - forint
- Latvia - lats
- Lithuania - litas
- Norway - krone
- Poland - zloty
- Romania - leu
- Sweden - krona
- Switzerland - franc
- United Kingdom - pound
Spending in Asia
The rules for the Asia-Pacific area are generally the same asEuropeand the West, but there are a few exceptions you need to know.
ATMs with connections to major networks are common at most destinations. They are often the best places to get local currency at the best rates. Fees can vary widely, so check first. Airport machines can have poor exchange rates. Stick to ATMs in banks or busy places to avoid ID-theft.
Stick to banks if you can. Street kiosks may dispense counterfeit money. Counterfeiting is common, so never exchange money with an individual you don’t know. Don’t accept faded or torn bills as they’re often not accepted.
Using Credit Cards
The majority of small shops and vendors in Asia will not accept credit cards. Those that do may add fees of 10% or more. Upscale businesses accept payment by credit card.
You can use Travelers’ Checks to exchange for local currency at banks and exchange services, but businesses, including hotels, rarely accept them. Even at banks and businesses that take them, the exchange rates may not be good.
Don’t Discount the Dollar
Crisp greenbacks can come in handy in a pinch, and in places likeVietnam,CambodiaandLaos, they can even be preferred to the local currency. Check your country guides for local information. Be careful, though. Some merchants will quote prices in dollars that are higher than in the local currency. Make sure you know your exchange rates!
When You’re in China
Larger cities have ATMs that accept foreign bank cards. Some may have signs that say they only accept foreign cards and others take both foreign and local. They dispense money in renminbi (RMB), the official Chinese currency, commonly known as Yuan. NOTE: if you want to change your RMB back to another currency inChina, you’ll need your ATM or bank receipt or you won’t be able to.
Travelers’ checks are safe but inconvenient. It may take several hours for a transaction to be completed, if you can find a Bank of China branch to do it.
When You’re in Japan
Even though Japan is very westernized and modern, most merchants accept only Japanese yen. Exceptions are large hotels and duty-free shops. Credit cards are widely accepted.Japanhas foreign exchange banks that can convert yen back to your home currency.
Keep Your Money Safe
Most people around the world are honest and pleasant. But there are a few rotten apples out there. Magellan’s not only makes your travel convenient and comfortable, we make it safe, too, with a variety of travel accessories that include radio-frequency blocking slots for credit cards and slash-resistant materials to guard against loss from all sorts of thieves, from pickpockets and slash-and-grab thugs to sophisticated electronic burglars.
Magellan’s Leather Money Belt is a stylish way to keep cash safe from pickpockets, while our Aluminum Wallet is exclusively made for Magellan’s in a sleek, techno-look design in six fashionable colors. It holds a combination of cash and up to ten credit cards with RFID-blocking technology and durable protection for your cards’ magnetic strips.
Many credit cards and even USpassports issued after 2006 have radio-frequency (RFID) chips in them to prevent counterfeiting, and clever thieves have figured ways to steal the personal information stored on them. Magellan’s offers a wide choice of RFID-protected wallets, purses, and bags to stop identity theft in its tracks. The RFID Blocking Passport/Ticket Wallet is an exclusive Magellan’s design with multiple compartments to keep your documents and other valuables organized, secure and handy.