If you are planning on doing some International travel, you’ll be faced with converting dollars to the local currency. I’m going to show you some traps and pitfalls you may encounter, and then I’ll give you a few helpful tips that could make your travel go very smoothly.
When I first started traveling, it was always a hassle to go to my bank a month or so before departure and get a bundle of cash converted to my destination’s local currency. The alternative was to convert a few hundred dollars at the airport “Foreign Exchange” booths. I came to find out that it was not only dangerous to carry large blocks of cash, it was also unnecessary.
Along the way I discovered that Las Vegas didn’t have a lock on “One-Armed Bandits”!
I can not emphasize too much that the world out there is ready, willing, and able to scam you ferociously. Money scams abound. Some are right there in plain sight.
Let’s talk first about the “uncommon scams”.
You’re traveling through, say, a park near the Louvre in Paris, when someone comes up to you with a sob story in broken English and a bundle of local cash. He/she needs dollars for ‘something’ and he/she’s willing to give you a fantastic exchange rate to get it. You bite. Money changes hands. They leave. You open the bundle and Surprise!!! It’s a stack of newsprint with a real bill on the top and bottom.
The second ‘legitimate scam’ is waiting on the corner for you: it’s a stand-alone ATM machine. It might even say “Friendly Bank-O-Mat”. Believe me, friends, it’s anything but. The hidden fees that little darlin’ will extract will make Bonnie and Clyde proud! Don’t do it!!!
The third, which is more of a rip-off than a scam, in my book, is the “Foreign Currency Exchanges” places. They’re legitimate businesses, but since they are businesses, the have to charge a fee for their services. Even though they say “No commission,” They are still pulling money from your pocket.
My suggestion? Go to a bank ATM. It will cost you about 3% to take money from the bank ATM. The good news is that the ATM operates at the current official exchange rate, and since it’s a bank, its fees are regulated. Check with your home bank to find out which banking symbol to look for. In my case, my bank is a member of Interbank, so I use ATMs that display the Interbank symbol. I know the fees are fixed, fair, and the exchange rate is the best I can get.
How to Find Banks
Before I travel, I use Google Maps to look at my destination city. I locate my hotel, and then I use Google’s “Bank” filter to locate and make a list of all banks close to my hotel. On the day I arrive, I ask the desk clerk where the nearest bank is. If it matches one my list, we’re off to the bank!
I have found that no matter where I travel, I can always buy a taxi ride from the airport to my hotel with dollars. So I carry a minimal amount of dollars. (I’ll need a few dollars when we get back to the States to pay for taxis and other transportation).