It can, however, be intimidating to exchange, organize, count and use foreign currency when traveling. To get the most value from your money and to keep your currency safe when you travel, follow these tips.
1. Know the currency of the country to which you are traveling
Do some research before your trip so you are aware of the coins and bills that will be accepted in the country you’re traveling to. Don't assume, for instance, that the Euro is used in every European country (it isn't—you'll need the Pound Sterling in the UK, the Krona in Sweden, the Swiss Franc in Switzerland, and the Krone in Denmark and Norway). Also, it will be helpful to know if the American dollar can be used in some locations. In certain Canadian cities (mostly those along the border), U.S. dollars are widely accepted, so there is no need to exchange currency (and lose money in the process through an exchange fee) if you are making small purchases.
2. Get some money before you leave
You'll feel a lot more comfortable landing in a foreign country if you have some of its currency in your pocket, so get enough to get you through at least one day before you leave. Many banks, like my Wells Fargo, will allow you to order currency online or through a branch. In doing so, request smaller bills so that you can have money for tipping or buying snacks without having to ask for change. To learn how to get the best exchange rate for the duration of your trip, follow these tips.
3. Practice making and receiving change
The helpless feeling of not being in charge of your money when paying for items and receiving change is something that can quickly cripple your overseas trip. I've even seen quick-change artists try to give foreigners the wrong coins so they can keep more of their money in a transaction. Unfortunately, many tourists unfamiliar with the local currency and too preoccupied to count their money at the end of a transaction become prime targets for such an easy scam. So before you leave home, practice making and receiving change in the local currency so you are more comfortable with the process of transaction and can be on the lookout for incorrect or short change offered to you.
4. Make a commitment to count your money daily
On one trip abroad, I had a suspicion that coins I was leaving in my hotel room (for souvenir purposes and to simply have as small change for the airport later) were disappearing while I was going out for the day, but I had no proof—until I started counting them. I then realized exactly how much of my money was disappearing into the sticky fingers of the hotel staff and brought it to the attention of management (and my own tour guide from my organized travel group). I quickly received a resolution, and the theft stopped. So be aware of what you have when you travel abroad, and also try to minimize theft by dividing and protecting your money using the tips in this article.
5. Never let your credit card out of your sight
Debit and credit cards are popular travel companions abroad, especially those with no international transaction fees like the cashback Discover card. These cards should be kept with you at all times when traveling internationally. When you need to make a purchase using one, be sure the card stays within your line of sight. Many restaurants, for instance, will bring a portable card reader to your table so that you retain possession of your card, swipe it yourself, and it never has to go into the hands of a staff member. If they do not automatically offer this, ask about it. If your card leaves your possession, you never know who might try to swipe the information to do big damage that you won’t find out about until later. You're not being skeptical, you're just being smart and staying in control of your money.
6. Try alternate exchange sites
You can certainly exchange money at banks and airports, but did you know you can get exchange rates that are just as good—or better—at some alternate locations? In Peru, for instance, it's completely legal to exchange money on the street with licensed individuals; these individuals, identified with a colored vest and their own identification number, will exchange at a higher rate. Airport rates this summer were around 2.65 Sols per Dollar, bank rates were around 2.70 Sols per Dollar, and individual exchangers were offering as high as 2.77 Sols per Dollar. In Europe, some street kiosks offer similarly higher rates than larger sites, so inquire about rates at several locations before you commit to an exchange so you can choose the highest one.
With a bit of research and some practice before you travel abroad, you can be more confident in your currency skills and use your KCL smarts to get the most value for your hard-earned money.