Money & Power

Banks, ATMs, or Money Changers? Where to Best Exchange Foreign Currencies Before Flying

Traveling soon? The best time to exchange currencies is well before you take off.
IMAGE WIKIMEDIA COMMONS, UNSPLASH
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In the Philippines, the value of the peso is constantly changing. The earlier you exchange currencies, the more time you have to catch the trend when you can get a better rate for your travel money. Anything done at the last minute will likely cost you. You could also end up paying unwanted fees or getting less for your local cash.

Some countries enjoy a fairly stable currency value, so no urgency there but even then, there are some universal rules to currency exchanges that apply to everyone. Let’s check out the usual suspects one by one.

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1. Currency exchange traders

Photo by UNSPLASH.

You must monitor the boards of currency exchange traders to compare their buying and selling rates against other options. You can do this at home and even overseas if you are in no hurry. You’ll be surprised to discover that you get more in certain countries—those that enjoy brisk trade and demand for Philippine peso—such as in Hong Kong and Singapore. With fluctuating rates, always check before you make the exchange.

Admittedly, this is a personal favorite of the author’s because one can haggle for friendlier rates depending on the volume of the transaction, plus no fees and no paperwork required. But counterfeit money in any currency abounds, so be careful when choosing your traders. Then, of course, always count your money before you leave the counter.

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2. Banks

Photo by PEXELS.

Your bank will likely accommodate you and possibly not charge any fees but always ask to confirm. Banks also post their buying and selling rates so you can call in, but note that these days, many banks exchange currencies in real-time. That means the currency value changes by the minute. 

This means that the rates you were given in the morning will no longer be the same come afternoon. The amount might not be large, but all these extras can add up quickly.

Also, it does not hurt to ask if you can trade back leftover foreign currencies after the trip. If you are a frequent flyer, you could be collecting all these currencies that come to a tidy sum of money. Unless you plan to make a return visit soon, convert what you don’t use when you’re back home.

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3. ATMs

Photo by UNSPLASH.

If your bank has a global footprint, this could be a great option for you. Make sure that your bank will not charge withdrawal fees or any other fees, and that you will be getting a decent exchange rate. 

Local banks also have partner banks or network, which you can check too. Using partner banks or networks can mean paying a flat fee or a percentage rate such as one percent or three percent of what you take out. 

Fees or none, this is a convenient way to access the foreign currency you need at any destination, and safe so you do not carry large sums of cash. 

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4. Online exchange

Photo by UNSPLASH.

Yes, you read that right. The World Wide Web now also allows you to order foreign currency online. You can collect it from a partner branch or have it delivered or pick it up at the airport. A cursory look at one of such websites, travelmoneymax.com, showed the currency rates are pretty competitive.

The coverage is still limited but this could be a welcome option for the Internet savvy.  With the growing number of banking clients who do all their transactions via mobile apps or online, this means they can exchange money too without ever visiting a brick and mortar branch.

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5. Airport counters 

Photo by WIKIMEDIA COMMONS.

Let's lump airport kiosks with hotels, train stations, and all money exchange counters in the usual tourist spots. Avoid them all as they are usually the most expensive places to exchange money.

Their convenience comes at a price, sometimes too steep for you to ignore. Maybe you’ll find one airport counter with good rates, but that is likely a unicorn. 

If we count commissions, ATM fees, debit and credit card surcharges, and other expenses, you’ll almost always have to pay a little bit more when exchanging one currency for another. But the smarter you play the game, the less you pay for the privilege.

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About The Author
Aneth Ng-Lim
After working in a corporate setting for 25 years, Aneth decided to focus her efforts on her other true passion—writing. A writer by training and profession, Aneth says she finds inspiration in her family and her many personal advocacies. During her free time, this voracious reader can often be found in a bookstore or library.
View Other Articles From Aneth Ng-Lim
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