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Whether you’re making your way to Morocco or escaping everything in Thailand, successful globe-trotting requires a smart approach to avoiding extra fees when you make purchases. Make sure you have a credit card that does not charge foreign transaction fees, but know that your card can’t cover everything. Whether you find yourself in a hole-in-the-wall restaurant with no credit card payment terminal or you’re hoping to tip the service staff at your hotel, you’re going to need some cash. Here are four currency exchange tips to help you get the best deal on those dollars, yen, rand or whatever you’re putting in your wallet.

1. Avoid Those Airport Kiosks

While exchanging currency at the airport is convenient, it comes with an extra cost. For example, consider the fees involved in exchanging $500 US dollars to euros at Travelex, which has more than 200 locations around the US, including airports in Detroit, Minneapolis, Charlotte and elsewhere. That $500 translates to €405 at current exchange rates, yet there are plenty of better deals. That same $500 would get you €424 at Wells Fargo or Bank of America.

Travelex operates currency exchange locations in many US airports, but customers can find lower-priced services elsewhere.
Travelex operates currency exchange locations in many US airports, but customers can find lower-priced services elsewhere. (Photo via Getty Images)

2. Plan Ahead

While banks and credit unions offer more competitive exchange rates and lower fees than airport kiosks, taking advantage of those offers requires some extra time. For example, a Bank of America spokesperson told me that customers should place orders for foreign currency online or in person at least three business days prior to when they need the money.

If the order is more than $1,000, it must be picked up in person. So do your research on your bank’s turnaround times. And don’t bother checking on rates at banks where you don’t have an account, as most banks only offer currency exchange services to their own customers.

3. High-Value Customers Get Better Deals

We’ve previously covered BofA’s Preferred Rewards program, which is a tiered approach to valuing customers based on their cash balances at the bank. It can pay off with accelerated cash-back earning power. The bank recently added a currency exchange benefit, too. Preferred Rewards Gold clients get a 1% discount on the publicized exchange rate. Platinum clients get 1.5% off, and Platinum Honors clients get a 2% discount. To qualify, the order must be made online.

Citi also offers incentives for its Citigold Citi Priority Account clients, including free delivery (value varies based on shipping destination) and waived service fees on transactions under $1,000 (all other customers pay $5).

4. Know Your ATM Options

No matter how well you plan ahead, it’s easy to find yourself in a cash crunch. If you do, don’t just wander to the ATM on the next corner. Be prepared and know whether your bank has a network of partner institutions where you can save on costly ATM fees.

Some banks are much better than others in the international department. Bank of America has partners such as BNP Paribas in France and TEB in Turkey (find the entire list here). Citi, however, doesn’t rely on other institutions; the bank has more than 1,800 branch locations outside the US. If you’re a Capital One customer with a 360 Checking account, you’ll be able to bypass all ATM fees. It’s important to note, though, that no matter where you bank, you’ll likely still need to pay a foreign-transaction fee for converting US dollars into local currency.

The Schwab Investor Checking ATM card is also a solid option. There are no fees or markups on the exchange rate, and any ATM-imposed fees are reimbursed, both domestically and internationally.

Bank of America has partners such as BNP Paribas in France, which can help you avoid costly ATM fees. (Photo credit should read BORIS HORVAT/AFP/Getty Images)


Featured photo via Getty Images.

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