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 buy foreign currency in advance.
Mark Rowlands, the sales director at currency provider Covent Garden FX, explains that buying foreign currency in advance allows travelers to shop around for the best rate and hedge against exchange rate fluctuations that might affect their buying power. Buying foreign currency 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.
Shop Online for Foreign Currency
This might sound obvious, but it’s amazing how many people assume that 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 for foreign currency. You can cover the whole marketplace, and get the best exchange rates, from the comfort of your home.
Don’t leave buying foreign currency until the last minute. When buying currency online, you need to allow enough time for your payment to go through, for your identity to be confirmed, and for your currency to be delivered.
Beware of ‘Free Delivery’ Offers for Foreign Currency
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.
Avoid Saturday Delivery
There is often an extra charge to get foreign currency delivered on weekends. Some companies will deliver to your work address during the week, but if you’re opting for that method, make sure you’ll have a secure place to keep your travel money safe.
Get Together with Friends
When buying foreign currency in bulk, you have greater power. Even online bureaus are happy to negotiate better exchange rates, and lower fees, for larger amounts of currency. Get an interested group together, then call or email to ask for their best deal.
Ask for a Price Match
If you’ve found a better deal on foreign currency elsewhere, ask a company to match it.
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.
Beware of the Credit/Debit Card Trap
The bureau will probably inform you it applies a small charge for debit cards. This is quite reasonable with such tight margins on buying foreign currency. 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. You might want to 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.
Don’t Be Fooled by Buy-Back ‘Guarantees’
Read the fine print: Is what you are getting really worth paying for? You might be better off shopping around for the best deal for unwanted foreign currency when you get back home. Never assume that 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 currency exchange rates available.
More from SmarterTravel:
- 11 RFID-Blocking Travel Items That Won’t Make You Look Like a Tourist
- 7 Ways to Protect Your Valuables While Traveling
- 10 Travel Money Mistakes to Avoid
—written by Mark Rowlands and Sarah Schlichter
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.