4 Ways to Exchange Money This Summer When You Travel Abroad

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After my plane landed in Hungary, I quickly learned three important lessons.

The first was that Uber is banned in Hungary, so I’d have to take a taxi into Budapest. The second was that I’d have to pay for the taxi in cash. And the third was that Hungary doesn’t use euros (which I had plenty of) but rather Hungarian forints (which I had none of).

Fortunately, I knew that airport currency exchange kiosks tend to have bad rates and high fees, so I withdrew forints from an ATM.

Using an ATM upon arrival is a good way to obtain foreign currency, but it’s not the only approach. Here are your best options for exchanging money before or during a trip abroad (so you never feel stranded in a Hungarian airport).

1. Take out cash from an ATM

Accessing an ATM can be one of the most cost-effective ways to get your hands on local money.

“It will cost you to change your money no matter how you do it, but the best way to do it is to withdraw cash from an ATM in your destination country,” said Peter Koch, financial blogger at Seller at Heart.

It’s a particularly savvy move if you have a bank with low or no foreign transaction fees. Charles Schwab, for instance, doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee, and Ally Bank charges a low foreign transaction fee of up to 1%.

Charles Schwab is an especially smart option for frequent travelers, as it has locations around the globe and reimburses you for ATM fees worldwide.

That said, not all banks have such friendly terms. Santander Bank, for instance, charges the following fees:

  • $6 for an international ATM cash withdrawal
  • 4% of any transaction you make outside the U.S using your debit card
  • 3% of any transaction you make in foreign currency using an ATM card

Plus, some ATM networks charge high fees, which can be hard to predict. You typically will be able to review the fee on screen before completing your transaction, though, so you can cancel if it’s outrageous.

It’s also a smart idea to take out cash at once instead of making lots of small withdrawals to prevent fees from adding up. On the other hand, don’t withdraw too much, as you’ll want to guard against the risks of pickpockets or lost handbags.

Finally, make sure to tell your bank you’ll be out of the country so you don’t get locked out of your account.

2. Buy foreign currency from your bank or credit union

Not everyone wants to wait until they arrive to get local currency. When traveling to a new country, you might feel more confident if you already have a few euros, pesos, or forints in your pocket.

If that’s the case, consider purchasing foreign currency from your bank or credit union before you depart. Banking institutions typically have decent exchange rates, but you might have to pay a fee for the transaction.

Bank of America, for instance, offered a British pound exchange rate of GBP 0.71 (meaning 71 pence — or 0.71 pounds — per U.S. dollar) on July 10, 2018. According to Google, the market rate that same day was only slightly higher at GBP 0.75, so Bank of America’s exchange rate wasn’t bad.

Note that the bank also charges a flat fee of $7.50 for all foreign currency orders under $1,000. But by getting cash in advance, you won’t have to worry about tracking down an ATM upon arrival.

“One of the best ways to exchange money into foreign currency is by exchanging money at your local bank or credit union before your trip,” said Danielle Desir, founder of travel and personal finance blog The Thought Card. “The only catch is that oftentimes your local bank might not carry foreign currency, so it may take a few days to order the currency. If this is the case, plan ahead.”

3. Order cash through a currency conversion website

Banks aren’t the only places to exchange money. You also can conduct this transaction online through a currency conversion website, such as Travelex or OFX.

That said, you might find worse rates at these websites. For example, Travelex offered an exchange rate of GBP 0.68 on July 10, 2018 — a less competitive rate than Bank of America’s.

Travelex also charges a delivery fee on orders under $1,000. For example, 100 euros will cost an extra $9.99 for standard delivery. You can, however, opt for in-store pickup.

Before you choose an exchange website, call your bank or credit union to compare offers. Then, you can choose the option with the lowest overall cost.

Whatever approach you take, make sure to start the process well in advance of your trip, as Desir suggested. You don’t want the money to arrive at your home address when you’re already halfway across the Atlantic.

4. Use an airport exchange kiosk (but only if you have to)

When you get to the airport, you’ll likely see one or more exchange kiosks offering a variety of foreign currency. Despite what their signs might advertise, these exchanges typically have the worst rates and the highest fees.

“Definitely avoid airport currency exchange because you’ll likely get an even lower exchange rate,” said Nick Brennan, world traveler and founder of My UK SIM Card. “They know that they have a captive audience who may have left it to the last minute [and] are in a rush (but also excited about their vacation), and so [they] can get away with offering an even lower rate.”

By planning in advance, you won’t be that worried traveler who’s susceptible to high fees because you didn’t get currency in advance. You also can arm yourself with knowledge by researching current exchange rates before you leave. That way, you’ll have a good sense of what’s a fair rate and what’s not.

Pro tip: Rely on a no-foreign-transaction-fee credit card when you can

Unless you belong to a traveler-friendly bank, chances are you’ll lose money during the exchange from U.S. dollars to another currency.

Fortunately, there are lots of travel destinations where you barely have to use cash at all. When I traveled in England a few years ago, for instance, I never had to take out pounds. Instead, I relied entirely on my credit card and racked up rewards points along the way.

Brennan has had similar experiences, and he advised against taking out a large sum of foreign currency, particularly if you’re traveling in Europe.

“My advice is to forget about exchanging money, other than for a small amount to start you off and have in your wallet,” he said. “In the U.K. and Europe, you can use your debit or credit card for purchasing almost anything.”

You’ll save the most if you use a credit card with no foreign transaction fee, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Capital One Venture Card, or Uber Visa Card. Some cards also have extra perks for travelers, such as rental car insurance or trip cancellation reimbursement. Terms may apply.

Note that certain credit cards charge an annual fee, so make sure the benefits outweigh the cost.

Plus, you have to be careful about staying within budget and not charging more than you can afford to pay off each month. Credit cards come with high interest rates, so carrying a revolving balance from a vacation could end up costing you more in interest than currency exchange fees would.

Track your spending while you travel

Although it’s easy to give in to the “treat yourself” mindset while you’re on vacation, be careful not to throw your budget out the window.

Travel often comes with unexpected costs, from foreign transaction fees to an expensive Hungarian taxi ride you didn’t see coming (whoops).

But there are ways to prepare for the unexpected and save more of your hard-earned money. Check out this guide for surprising ways you’re busting your budget when you travel — and advice on how to save instead.

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1 Includes AutoPay discount. Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Fixed rates from 5.99% APR to 18.82% APR (with AutoPay). SoFi rate ranges are current as of March 19, 2020 and are subject to change without notice. Not all rates and amounts available in all states. See Personal Loan eligibility details. Not all applicants qualify for the lowest rate. If approved for a loan, to qualify for the lowest rate, you must have a responsible financial history and meet other conditions. Your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on a variety of factors, including evaluation of your creditworthiness, years of professional experience, income and other factors. See APR examples and terms. The SoFi 0.25% AutoPay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account.
  2. To check the rates and terms you qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull.
    See Consumer Licenses.
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  4. If you lose your job through no fault of your own, you may apply for Unemployment Protection. SoFi will suspend your monthly SoFi loan payments and provide job placement assistance during your forbearance period. Interest will continue to accrue and will be added to your principal balance at the end of each forbearance period, to the extent permitted by applicable law. Benefits are offered in three month increments, and capped at 12 months, in aggregate, over the life of the loan. To be eligible for this assistance you must provide proof that you have applied for and are eligible for unemployment compensation, and you must actively work with our Career Advisory Group to look for new employment. If the loan is co-signed the unemployment protection applies where both the borrower and cosigner lose their job and meet conditions.
  5. Terms and Conditions Apply: SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet SoFi’s underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. To qualify for the lowest rate, you must have a responsible financial history and meet other conditions. If approved, your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, years of experience, income and other factors. Rates and Terms are subject to change at anytime without notice and are subject to state restrictions. SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. Licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp., NMLS # 1121636. (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org)

2 Includes AutoPay discount. Important Disclosures for Opploans.

Opploans Disclosures

Direct Deposit required for payroll.

Opploans currently operates in these states: . *Approval may take longer if additional verification documents are requested. Not all loan requests are approved. Approval and loan terms vary based on credit determination and state law. Applications processed and approved before 7:30 p.m. ET Monday-Friday are typically funded the next business day.

  1. To qualify, a borrower must (i) be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident; (ii) reside in a state where OppLoans operates; (iii) have direct deposit; (iv) meet income requirements; (v) be 18 years of age (19 in Alabama); and, (vi) meet verification standards.
  2. NV Residents: The use of high-interest loans services should be used for short-term financial needs only and not as a long-term financial solution. Customers with credit difficulties should seek credit counseling before entering into any loan transaction.

  3. OppLoans performs no credit checks through the three major credit bureaus Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion. Applicants’ credit scores are provided by Clarity Services, Inc., a credit reporting agency.

  4. Based on customer service ratings on Google and Facebook. Testimonials reflect the individual’s opinion and may not be illustrative of all individual experiences with OppLoans. Check loan reviews.


    Rates and terms vary by state.

3 Includes AutoPay discount. Important Disclosures for Payoff.

Payoff Disclosures

  1. All loans are subject to credit review and approval. Your actual rate depends upon credit score, loan amount, loan term, credit usage and history. Currently loans are not offered in: MA, MS, NE, NV, OH, and WV.

4 Important Disclosures for FreedomPlus.

FreedomPlus Disclosures

  1. The loan terms presented are not guaranteed and APRs presented are estimates only. To obtain a loan you must submit additional information and documentation and all loans are subject to credit review and our approval process. The range of APRs is 7.99% to 29.99% and your actual APR will depend upon factors including your credit score, usage and history, the requested loan amount, the stated loan purpose, and the term of the requested loan. To qualify for a 7.99% APR loan, a borrower will need excellent credit on a loan for an amount less than $12,000.00, and with a term equal to 24 months. Adding a co-borrower with sufficient income; using at least eighty-five percent (85%) of the loan proceeds to directly pay off qualifying existing debt; or showing proof of sufficient retirement savings, could help you also qualify for the lowest rate available. All loans are made by Cross River Bank and MetaBank®, N.A., Members FDIC.

5 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

  1. Rates and offer subject to change. All accounts, loans and services subject to individual approval.
  2. Loyalty Discount: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower has submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, student loans or other personal loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI and VT. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate and Annual Percentage Rate (APR) disclosed in the Truth-In-Lending Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan, and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.
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6 Important Disclosures for LendingPoint.

LendingPoint Disclosures

  • Loan approval is not guaranteed. Actual loan offers and loan amounts, terms and annual percentage rates (“APR”) may vary based upon LendingPoint’s proprietary scoring and underwriting system’s review of your credit, financial condition, other factors, and supporting documents or information you provide. Origination or other fees from 0% to 6% may apply depending upon your state of residence. Upon LendingPoint’s final underwriting approval to fund a loan, said funds are often sent via ACH the next non-holiday business day. LendingPoint makes loan offers from $2,000 to $25,000, at rates ranging from a low of 9.99% APR to a high of 35.99% APR, with terms from 24 to 48 months. The loan offer(s) shown reflect a 28 day payment cycle which is being offered as a courtesy as many of our customers are paid on a biweekly schedule and thus this may better align the loan payment dates with your actual income receipt schedule.

7 Important Disclosures for LendingClub.

LendingClub Disclosures

All loans made by WebBank, Member FDIC. Your actual rate depends upon credit score, loan amount, loan term, and credit usage and history. The APR ranges from 10.68% to 35.89%. For example, you could receive a loan of $6,000 with an interest rate of 9.56% and a 5.00% origination fee of $300 for an APR of 13.11%. In this example, you will receive $5,700 and will make 36 monthly payments of $192.37. The total amount repayable will be $6,925.32. Your APR will be determined based on your credit at time of application. The origination fee ranges from 2% to 6% (average is 4.86% as of 7/1/2019 – 9/30/2019). In Georgia, the minimum loan amount is $3,025. In Massachusetts, the minimum loan amount is $6,001 if your APR is greater than 12%. There is no down payment and there is never a prepayment penalty. Closing of your loan is contingent upon your agreement of all the required agreements and disclosures on the www.lendingclub.com website. All loans via LendingClub have a minimum repayment term of 36 months or longer.

8 Important Disclosures for Avant.

Avant Disclosures

*If approved, the actual loan terms that a customer qualifies for may vary based on credit determination, state law, and other factors. Minimum loan amounts vary by state.

**Example: A $5,900 loan with an administration fee of 4.75% and an amount financed of $5,619.75, repayable in 36 monthly installments, with an APR of 29.95% would have monthly payments of $250.30.

Based on the responses from 11,574 customers in a survey of 210,584 newly funded customers, conducted from 1 Feb 2018 – 1 Aug 2019 95.05% of customers stated that they were either extremely satisfied or satisfied with Avant. 4/5 Customers would recommend us. Avant branded credit products are issued by WebBank, member FDIC.

* Important Disclosures for Upgrade Bank.

Upgrade Bank Disclosures

Personal loans made through Upgrade feature APRs of 7.99%-35.97%. All personal loans have a 2.9% to 8% origination fee, which is deducted from the loan proceeds. Lowest rates require Autopay and paying off a portion of existing debt directly. For example, if you receive a $10,000 loan with a 36-month term and a 17.98% APR (which includes a 14.32% yearly interest rate and a 5% one-time origination fee), you would receive $9,500 in your account and would have a required monthly payment of $343.33. Over the life of the loan, your payments would total $12,359.97. The APR on your loan may be higher or lower and your loan offers may not have multiple term lengths available. Actual rate depends on credit score, credit usage history, loan term, and other factors. Late payments or subsequent charges and fees may increase the cost of your fixed rate loan. There is no fee or penalty for repaying a loan early. Accept your loan offer and your funds will be sent to your bank or designated account within one (1) business day of clearing necessary verifications. Availability of the funds is dependent on how quickly your bank processes the transaction. From the time of approval, funds should be available within four (4) business days. Funds sent directly to pay off your creditors may take up to 2 weeks to clear, depending on the creditor. Personal loans issued by Upgrade’s lending partners. Information on Upgrade’s lending partners can be found at https://www.upgrade.com/lending-partners/.

Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print to help you understand what you are buying. Be sure to consult with a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time.