So you ended up not spending all of your pesos, baht, yuan or euros. What’s the best way to get your money back?
As much as you love your foreign coin collection, you don’t want $100 US dollars in rubles just hanging around your apartment, right? I mean unless you love wasting money but I’m guessing that’s not the case.
Pst: you might love this guide about traveling on a budget if you're into saving money.
Whether you’re just taking a short trip to England or you’re volunteering in Ukraine and end up with extra cash at the end of your semester, here’s the best way for any world traveler to exchange your foreign money back into good ol’ American cash:
Sometimes it’s best to exchange it at home
For big, global currencies (like the Chinese yuan or the British Pound) you’ll be A-OK exchanging your yuan into dollars once you get home. You can go ahead and email your bank and see if they can do this for you or if you’ll need to go to another branch (or another bank completely).
Head's up — your bank might have a minimum amount you have to exchange (has to be at least 20 pesos or 10 Polish zloty, etc.) but just know most banks won’t exchange out your coins. Plan on spending your coins there or adding them to your foreign coin collection.
But sometimes it's better to exchange it abroad
You may get a better rate in-country. When I was traveling in Singapore, I emailed my bank and found out I’d lose a lot of money if I waited to exchange it at home (we’re talking $40-50 dollars because of the bad exchange rate!) That’s because people in America don’t really need Singapore dollars, which was a bummer for me.
But guess what? Lots of people in Singapore (expats, tourists and other travelers) need American dollars. I exchanged my extra Singapore Dollars to US Dollars before I left for home and only lost $1-2 in exchange fees.
Head's up — I was also traveling around Thailand when I was living in Singapore, which meant I had some leftover Thai Baht .... It also made more sense to change my Thai baht in Singapore than in the US because lots more people go to Thailand from Singapore than people in America do. Make sense?
Or, exchange it at the airport (Not a great option)
If you're getting ready to take your flight back home, you can also exchange at the airport before you board. You'll see little kiosks all over international airports that have a sign for "money exchange". It's not our favorite option because they often have a higher exchange fee, but it works.
Also know that there's typically a minimum amount that they'll exchange (just like banks) so this doesn't work for your leftover coins.
Treat yourself! (My favorite)
Spend your money! If you know you're leaving the country and have a pocketful of change, spend it on whatever you can. Hit up the 7-11 for snacks before you head to the airport or buy yourself some lunch before you head to the airport gate.
If you don't have that much cash on you, you likely won't be able to exchange it so you might as well get a treat before you take off on your long flight.
Trade It With A Friend
A friend of mine came home from a trip to Thailand and realized she had quite a bit of Thai baht hiding in her wallet. Bummer, right? She was able to get in touch with people who were leaving for Thailand with ILP in just a couple weeks and traded Baht for US dollars in person, without needing to fuss with a bank. Score, for no exchange fees!
If you're an ILP volunteer coming home from one of our countries, you'll be able to post on the Facebook page for your country and see if any future ILP volunteers want to trade you for US dollars. It'll be a win-win; you'll get rid of your foreign currency, and they'll be ready for life abroad.
Clear as mud? Basically, it just pays to do a little research. You can definitely figure out the local exchange rate at the ATM/Bank you use while abroad and you can email home to figure out what your bank will charge you. Sometimes the difference is about the same, but sometimes, it’s better to exchange it while you’re abroad. Just do some poking around so you can do the best deal.
And for anyone looking to make travel more affordable in the first place, we can help you out. Come volunteer with International Language Programs! ILP sends volunteers to countries all over the world for a whole semester and as always, your program fee includes your airfare, meals, housing, visa and culture classes!.
Learn more about our program here: