When you travel abroad, exchanging money is one of your main preoccupations. You will need to be able to pay in the local currency and it’s always better to be organised with travel money. Otherwise, it can get very expensive.
As convenient as using your normal debit or credit card might be, it’s also not always the best way to get money abroad. There are many options out there and it can get quite overwhelming to review them.
Which is why I put together a complete list explaining how to exchange money and what are, in my opinion, the best ways to exchange currency.
As an expat and a traveller, I need to use various currencies all the time. It can be quite annoying and the fees can be awfully high sometimes. I’ve tried every trick in the book to make this process easier and cheaper and I’m very excited to tell you all about it!
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through my links, at no extra cost for you!
Transferwise is particularly famous amongst expats for their international transfer services. They also offer a travel debit card that can be linked to several digital wallets.
Basically, you can open an account for free. You order your Mastercard which will be delivered a few days later and you can start using it.
You can open as many wallets as you want in any of the 50 currencies offered.
To add money, you need to indicate how much money you want to exchange in your original currency (or the other way round). It will tell you how much you are going to get and what the fees are.
Transferwise will then give you the bank details of the account you need to transfer the money to. Once you transfer the money, the equivalent in the other currency will be added to your wallet and you can start paying in this currency.
What is great about it?
– Transferwise offers exchange rates that are extremely good and the fees are fantastically low.
– The app is very easy to use and you get notifications every time your balance changes
– It’s very quick to use and add money, even on the go
– You can withdraw money and pay with card in the local currency
What’s not great about it?
– The first time you use it, it’s a bit overwhelming to understand the concept and you need to set up Transferwise as a new payee into your banking app. But once it’s done, you’re good to go.
If you want more information about Transferwise, you can check my full review here.
2. Get travel money
As much as I would recommend to use a prepaid card and withdraw money at an ATM when you get to the country, I appreciate that you might want some cash beforehand. Here again, I tried several options.
Here are my best recommendations:
- WeSwap travel money: as well as offering the travel prepaid card, WeSwap can also provide cash. It can be delivered at your house within a few days and the fees match pretty much what you would have on the card.
- Travelex: it gives you the possibility to change your money very easily. You can just go on their website, choose how much money you wish to change, pay with your card and the money will be sent either to your house or one of the Travelex agency. It is a very widely spread network which means that you shouldn’t be struggling to find one nearby. They generally have agencies at the airport too. I used them for a long time as I thought that they were the best but since TransferWise and WeSwap have been launched I never used them again. They also offer prepaid travel cards but they have a cost.
- Bureau de change: the good old bureau de change! Well this one is the typical one. They generally don’t have the best rates but if you need money you need money, I would advice to use them only when you can’t do otherwise. The good thing about them though is that you get your money straight away.
- Your bank: This is from far the worst option banks offer you terrible exchange rates and on top of that you have to order. Long story short they are the most expensive and slow. I really wouldn’t recommend it unless you are scared to use any other of the solutions above.
3. Use your normal debit and credit card
This is the easy option as you don’t have anything to think about or plan and you just use your card as you would do in your country. But this is also the most expensive way to get money. They generally charge you between 2 and 5% fees plus a flat fee. You could end up paying £7 fee all together to withdraw money. Also their exchange rate is absolutely horrendous.
Long story short, to get the most out of a currency exchange, you need a bit of organization, the easiest option will always be the most expensive. But the good news is, if you use something like WeSwap or TransferWise you’ll wrap your head around it very quickly.
To make my point I thought I would give you an example:
In March 2019, I got 100$ using Transferwise, WeSwap and withdrawing money with my HSBC. Here is what I paid for each:
- Transferwise: £77.16
- WeSwap: £77.51
- HSBC: £88
Needless to say that I’ve never used my HSBC card ever again after this one!
Exchanging currencies can be very expensive which is why you need to make sure to reduce your exchange fees as much as possible.
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