When it comes to international travel, getting the most for your money is a big deal. While we usually recommend withdrawing local currency from an ATM as soon as you arrive, there are certain times when it makes sense to purchase currency in advance.
Mark Rowlands, sales director at currency provider Covent Garden FX, explains that buying in advance allows travelers to shop around for the best rate and hedge against exchange rate fluctuations that might affect their buying power. Buying in advance can also give you peace of mind if you’re traveling to a place where ATMs might not be prevalent, or if you’re concerned about your card being declined.
Below are Rowlands’ tips for getting the best deal when buying foreign currency.
1. Shop around — and shop online. This might sound obvious, but it’s amazing how many people assume their friendly travel agent or supermarket will look after them. Think about it: They are in business to make money, and you are a captive audience. Politely decline and go and surf the net. You can cover the whole marketplace from the comfort of your home.
2. Plan ahead. Don’t leave buying your currency until the last minute. When buying online, you need to allow enough time for your payment to go through, your identity to be confirmed and your currency to be delivered.
3. Beware of “free delivery” offers. What really matters is how much currency arrives on your doorstep. What’s the point saving five bucks on delivery if it costs you $15 worth of currency? Look out for extra hidden charges, and try to find out how much you are paying in total and exactly how much currency you will receive. The benefits of a great exchange rate can be totally negated by commissions and handling fees.
4. Avoid Saturday delivery. There is often an extra charge to get money delivered on weekends. Some companies will deliver to your work address during the week, but make sure you have a secure place to keep your travel money safe.
5. Get together with friends. If you order your currency in bulk, you will have greater buying power. Even online bureaus are happy to negotiate for larger amounts. Call or send an e-mail asking for their best deal.
6. Ask for a price match. If you’ve found a better deal elsewhere, ask a company to match it.
7. Check the money market. Compare the deal you are offered to the market rate. Visit XE.com and look at how much profit margin has been added. You can’t buy from a wholesaler, but knowledge is power. If your supplier is adding 5 percent — which is not unusual — walk away.
8. Beware of the credit/debit card trap. The bureau will probably inform you it has a small charge for debit cards. This is quite reasonable with such tight margins. But very often that’s not the end of the story; most credit cards and many debit card providers will treat your transaction as a cash advance. Check the small print or call your provider. If someone tells you there is no additional charge, get that person’s name. Sign up for Internet banking and pay using a bank transfer to avoid hidden charges. The last thing you want is a 3 percent charge plus interest on your statement when you return from your vacation.
9. Don’t be fooled by buy-back “guarantees.” Read the small print: Is what you are getting really worth paying for? You might be better off shopping around for the best deal for unwanted currency when you get back home. Never assume you have to take your unwanted currency back to where you got it from. Take it home, cash it in and shop around for the best buy-back rates available.
— written by Mark Rowlands and Sarah Schlichter