My number one pet peeve about traveling is when I get ripped off as a tourist. I take great pride in researching my destination before I go and forgoing the usual tourist rookie mistakes. Sometimes that is unavoidable, but let me share with you one hard and fast rule I’ve found that applies to every country I’ve ever been to: do NOT change money at airports or in tourist heavy areas.
When you change money right after getting to an airport, after getting off your cruise ship, or at any major tourist attraction, you are literally throwing money away when you didn’t have to. That ticks me off to no end, and it should make you mad as well, especially when you see just how MUCH money you probably just flushed away.
I’ll give you an example from our recent trip to Buenos Aires. In the airport I could have changed my money at 3.28 Argentinian Pesos to the dollar. The same day at a bank in downtown I changed my dollars instead at the rate of 3.76 pesos to the dollar. That’s a 15% difference in exchange rate. If you changed $500 that day, you would have thrown away $75 if you changed money at the airport instead of at a bank.
What’s the moral of the story here? Always change your money at local banks that change currency. You’ll get WAY better rates that will save you a lot of money. You’ll need to bring cash with you, as well as your passport. If you absolutely need some local currency to get into the city from wherever you are, then change only enough for the taxi cab or public transport.
I’ve heard plenty of advice from people who say to use local ATM’s to withdraw your cash. This is probably a close second best method to use in my experience. The rate of exchange you’ll get will be good, but the combination of banks I’ve used have always charged me so many fees as to make it a net worse rate than changing cash in country. If you know your bank and the bank in the country you’re traveling to don’t charge fees for international transactions, then have at it!
One important caveat that will apply to some of our readers: if your currency is something other than USD or the Euro, there is a high likelihood the local bank may not make the trade. In this case, inquire about changing currencies at your local bank before leaving. They will still likely offer you way better currency changing rates than at the airport. Remember that competition here is your friend, so don’t necessarily jump at the first opportunity that presents itself.