Everything you need to know about travel money
Credit and debit cards have a modern twist, but hard cash remains international travelers’ best friend.
But how do you even get foreign currency these days? How much money do you need to take? And what happened to travelers’ checks? We spoke with currency expert Bruce Beattie, owner of Foreign Currency Exchange in Birmingham, who closely monitors travel money issues around the world.
QUESTION: Why would an international traveler need cash? Isn’t money old-fashioned?
REPLY: “Cash is always essential for emergencies and for small purchases where you can’t use a debit or credit card,” he says. “Have foreign currency, so if you arrive at an airport and can’t find an ATM, at least you have enough money for a taxi, train, or bottled water.”
Q: But can’t I just use my debit or credit card abroad? I have one with no overseas transaction fees.
A: American credit cards still don’t work all over the world or work in strange ways, he says. For example, “Germany is still largely a country with liquidity even though it is the largest euro area,” he says. “You can’t load a cup of coffee over there. They want money for anything under $ 30, basically.
Sometimes even a no-charge credit card will be registered overseas as a cash advance, incurring a fee. Sometimes your credit card just won’t work, even if it has chip and pin technology. Always take backup cards. And, of course, money.
Q: What happened to the traveller’s checks?
A: They still exist, but hardly anyone uses them. “It got to the point where the counterfeiters figured out how to make them,” says Beattie. “In a famous case in Milan, $ 40,000 in fake traveller’s checks was written. Then nobody wanted to take them anymore. We stopped selling them in 2007. People were telling us they couldn’t cash them anywhere.
“If you still have them, put them in your bank account. They’re still good.”
Q: If you don’t bring enough foreign currency, where can you get it from abroad?
A: “Currency exchange machines at airports, train stations, and hotels have the worst rates, and so do cruise ships, because you’re a captive audience,” he says. Instead, use an ATM or bank-owned machine, preferably one inside a bank for the best rates and the safest transaction. “If you use an independent ATM, you run the risk of skimming machines (which criminals set up to commit fraud). Additionally, private ATMs can charge up to 10% fees, plus the usual exchange fees. . “
Q: How about changing money on the street?
A: Not a good idea. “You could pay a little more at a bank, but it’s worth it. We had a travel agent take a group to Tanzania. They bought old Tanzanian dollars on the street which turned out to be worthless, ”he says. “They were taken.
Q: You are selling foreign currency. I’m sure a lot of people only take $ 500, but do some people have a lot of money like tens of thousands?
A: Yes, says Beattie, who sells to everyone from experienced business travelers to students studying abroad for the first time. “I always ask people, how comfortable are you with carrying cash? If it’s not high, don’t carry too much because you’ll worry about it. If you are carrying cash, separate it and keep most of it in the hotel safe. Make sure you know the rules for how much money can go in and out of the countries you plan to visit.
Q: Why is the exchange rate I get never as good as the one I see on currency news sites like www.xe.com?
A: These are the rates for large transactions in the currency market and the midpoint between the buy / sell rates, he says. However, the published rates give you a rough idea of the true retail exchange rate. “With the euro, we (sell it) about 3-4% above the XE rate,” says Beattie. “The rates for some more exotic (unusual) currencies may be different. “
Q: What if you find yourself without cash or a credit card?
A: “Someone can wire you money through Moneygram or Western Union. In our experience, transit time, depending on where you are, is 10 minutes to a week. Sometimes someone takes a part of it along the way, ”he says.
Q: What about a prepaid credit card where you can add value to it??
A: Be careful. “Some prepaid cards you buy are actually like gift cards and can only be used in the United States,” he says. However, a card like the prepaid card VISA Travel Money card or Travelex Cash Passport Prepaid Mastercard is rechargeable and usable in other countries, making it ideal for students studying abroad.
Q: If you buy too much foreign currency, can you change it to US dollars when you get home?
A: “Yes. But you will get less than what you paid for it.
Q: What about the old foreign currency? Can I still use it when traveling or trading?
A: “It depends on the currency itself. Some have a window in which you can render it. For example, Germany uses the euro. But the old German mark did not close the exchange window; it still has value. But the Italian lira and the French franc, these countries stopped honoring this currency a few years ago.
Q: So if I have old French francs are they worthless?
A: “Pretty much, except for the secondary collector market. Some people collect old foreign currency. It must be in perfect condition, ”he says. “But a lot of currencies have the same problem. In Switzerland, all currencies prior to the last two issues have been demonetized. It has no value. Sometimes people come in, maybe their father is dead and they open a safe and find this old change, maybe 4000 dollars old Swiss francs, and I have to tell them it doesn’t have any value.
Q: Which countries have money that never expires?
A: The United States and a few others. The euro (which the public started using in 2002) does not expire (at least for now). “Most currencies expire. Brazil, for example, has experienced three or four currency changes since the 1970s, ”he says.
Q: Some places around the world accept tips in US dollars, but they ask for new net bills. Why?
A: That way, invoices can more easily be verified as real and accepted for exchange at their banks, says Beattie. He once was traveling to Asia and tried to exchange a ticket that had a neat crease on the president’s face. After a long examination, the bank clerk finally took it.
Detroit area information
Where to find foreign currency on the Detroit metro: If you need it right away, try Foreign Currency Exchange, 251 Merrill St., Suite 238, Birmingham, which has 60 currencies in stock (www.fceservices.com) or Travelex cabins at the McNamara and North terminals of the Detroit Metro Airport. If you have a longer deadline, order foreign currency from your bank. “Your best bet is to talk to your banker, not the day before you leave,” says Christine Holevas, spokesperson for Chase Bank.
From January 2016, AAA stopped selling TipPaks, which were envelopes containing small amounts of euros and other common foreign currencies.
If you are visiting Canada, there is a bureau de change on the Canadian side of the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, The Ambassador Bridge and the Blue Water Bridge.
Where to donate foreign currency: The average American returns from a trip abroad with $ 32 worth of foreign currency in their possession. Some, like Fenton’s Lucille Bigelow, have more than that. “We must have $ 400 in foreign currency, and I don’t know what to do with it,” says Bigelow, who has just spent a month in Italy.
One place to donate is UNICEF Change for good. American Airlines is a partner or send your currency to UNICEF, US Fund for UNICEF, Attn .: Change for Good Program, 125 Maiden Lane, New York, NY 10038.
How to know the current exchange rates: Go to www.xe.com. These are not retail rates, but they do give you an idea of the trends and a rough idea of the dollar’s value around the world.
How to find ATMs around the world that don’t charge fees: If you are a Bank of America customer, you can withdraw money from ATMs owned by eight Global ATM Alliance toll-free partner banks around the world, such as Scotiabank in Canada, Barclays in Great Britain and Deutsche Bank in Germany. Citibank customers can find many ATMs all over the world. Other travelers will incur an ATM fee when traveling.
Where to learn more about world currencies: The foreign currency bible is the Houston-based MRI Bankers Guide to Foreign Currency. (www.mriguide.com). Just for fun, take a look at the “updates” section to see the latest news on the wild world of currency.
What US $ 1 buys in foreign currency:
- 65 russian rubles
- 7.55 Guatemalan quetzals
- $ 1.76 Bulgarian levs
- $ 1.33 Australian dollar
- 103 Japanese yen
- $ 1.31 in Canadian dollars
- 0.80 euros
- .75 pound sterling
Source: www.xe.com August 30