Gone are the days of American Express Traveler's Cheques, and having to find a convenient place to cash them when you run out of money in a foreign country!
Today, there are more ways than ever to make sure you always have that foreign
cash handy when exploring Europe. But...not all Euros are created equal! Here is a
short guide to obtaining and dealing with foreign currency on your next vacation.
1. ATMs – By far the easiest and smartest way to access cash while abroad is to
use an Automated Teller Machine (or ATM). The conversion rate is usually the
best available...just proceed with reasonable caution. Be sure that the ATM is
located in a well-lit secure area (preferably inside the front door of a bank) and
be sure no one can see you type in your PIN number. There are “stand alone”
ATMs in many touristy areas that are NOT related to a banking institution, but
these tend to charge higher transaction fees, have lower exchange rates and
be less secure. Always stick with a well-known name. Check with your home
bank before you leave to see if they have any agreements with foreign banks
in the country you are visiting to minimize transaction fees and be sure to let
them know that you are going to be using your ATM card in foreign
countries so they won’t put a security “Hold” on your card when you withdraw
cash in Prague. Just put in your card and choose “English” as the language option. Then
proceed as you usually do here in America, only realize that you are
withdrawing EURO and not US Dollars...If you withdraw 100 Euro, the
equivalent in USD will be debited from your account. Most Europeans don’t
call them ATM’s; by the way...look for “Bankomat” or “Cash Point” or
sometimes a “Distributeur”. Don’t worry; you’ll know it when you see it!
2. Your Home Bank – Your local US bank can order you some foreign currency
before you ever leave home. I usually keep a stash of unused Euro from
previous trips in my home safe, but if I find that I don’t have enough to
comfortably arrive in my destination, I always order a small amount from my
bank. The exchange rate is usually not as good as using ATMs in Europe, so I
limit it to just the amount I think I need to get started with; Enough to cover a
taxi and some food until I can find a local bankomat. Be sure to give your bank
a few days to order the foreign currency!
3. Currency Exchange bureaus – These should always be your last resort,
especially the ones located in airports, train stations and highly touristy areas.
Rates and fees are very unfavorable. The only time I recommend a change
bureau is if you have several different kinds of currency that you want to
combine into one (for example, you have British Pounds, US Dollars and
Norwegian Kroner that you want to convert all into Euro at once). Just be
prepared to be hit with a substantial fee.
4. Credit Cards – If you plan to make major purchases while abroad, you’re
almost always better off putting it on a credit card that can give you certain
protections – especially if the merchant is going to ship the item to you back
home in the US. If possible, find a credit card that has the “chip” embedded,
instead of just the magnetic stripe on the back. These are more common today and more widely used in Europe and you might have trouble using a non-chipped card for some
purchases...especially gas stations and restaurants.
And be sure to let your credit card company know that you will be using the card abroad during your trip so they don’t place a security “Hold” on your account when a
charge comes in from Poland!
Also, sometimes the merchant will ask if you
want your purchase to be in local currency or US Dollars...ALWAYS CHOOSE
LOCAL CURRENCY! If you ask for the charge to be made in US Dollars, you will
usually be hit with an extremely unfavorable exchange rate. There are lots of
credit cards out there that don’t charge International transaction fees, so do
your homework before you travel.
And remember, Europe is much more of a cash society than we are....do not
use your debit or credit card for a 2 Euro cup of coffee or simple meal in a
sidewalk cafe...I always save my credit card for hotel stays, the rare “fine
dining” restaurant experience or large souvenir purchases that I am shipping
home. Using cash just makes more sense....and you don’t have those huge
credit card bills waiting for you at home when you return!
So, you see? With just a little planning and knowledge, you can ensure that your trip
to Europe is as rewarding financially as it is personally! When you're ready and travel returns, let’s get packing! We' re here to help create your next adventure amazing.