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Exchanging Cash Abroad: What You Need To Know

Posted by Cherish Germaine on 6/14/16 8:00 AM

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When you're traveling abroad, learn from my mistake ... don't bring tons of US cash to exchange abroad! Here's what I learned from my semester.

It's always a good idea to travel with a little bit of cash when you're going abroad ... but should you bring enough US cash to last your whole trip? You don't want to make the same mistakes I did on my semester abroad, that's for sure.


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I tend to carry about $50-$100 in US cash with me when I'm traveling, just to make sure I have some money in case my credit or debit card shuts down on me. That's totally fine, but here's a little heads up on exchanging cash instead of visiting an ATM to get your local currency.   

Exchanging Cash Is Inconvenient 

Watch For Fees

It is often really hard to find places to exchange your cash for a decent price. Nope, you don't just give them $100 and then get $100 worth of their currency. There is a fee to exchange.

Sometimes that fee is small, similar to an ATM fee. Sometimes, that fee is HUGE.  When I exchanged $200 US cash for the local currency in Asia, I ended up getting only about $150 worth in the new currency. I lost $50.

This might be an extreme example and I'm sure others will find better exchange rates but don't risk it, every dollar counts! If you do need to exchange cash, the most reliable places are typically banks. The most expensive exchange rates are typically at airports.

Watch Your Bills 

Some countries are extremely picky about the bills they will accept. They have to be new — absolutely pristine with no rips, tears, or folds. I've had money denied because it was a little worn around the edges or was too old. Huge bummer, and a total hassle. 

For these reasons, it's just best to go with an ATM if you're looking to get local currency. 

Instead Use An ATM 

There is no need to carry around hundreds of dollars to swap over when you can easily use an ATM to pull out the foreign currency. There are generally ATM fees (and they differ depending on your bank) but they are often cheaper than exchanging cash. Do you research and find out if there are ATMs easily located around your travel destination. If you're an ILP volunteer, yep, there are ATMs in just about every location you will travel to and vacation in.

Some countries may be better suited for paying with your card, so you might not need hardly any cash at all. If you're heading to Europe, this is typically the case. Don't worry, ILP volunteers will get a little more info about whether it's best to use cash or card during  your semester. 

Save Money And Check For Fees 

I was shocked when I went abroad and had ridiculous ATM fees at my bank — . (Click here to see if your bank makes the list for some of the highest International ATM fees).  Having low ATM fees or maybe even getting reimbursed for the fees, is so worth it.

No matter what you choose, don't forget to tell your bank/credit union that you will be traveling! 

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Topics: All The Travel Tips, All About ILP + Volunteering

Hey friends!

We are ILP, a Utah-based non-profit org that has service abroad opportunities for college-age volunteers. We love travel so we're sharing all our tips for making the most of your time living abroad + seeing the world, and how to do it all on the tiniest budget.

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