I see a lot of really bad advice going around on the internet about the best way to exchange currency and get money for your travels. There’s a lot of confusion if you should order money before going from your bank, get a debit card, or wait for the airport. So how do you get the most money for your buck, literally? This is “The Best Way to Exchange Currency!”

Don’t Exchange at the Airport

This is a great way to lose a lot of money. I’ve only done it once when I lost 60 Swiss Franks (I still have no idea where they went to be honest, they just…vanished. Maybe I’ll find them in a book someday) and I thought I needed some cash (I didn’t). Sometimes there is a fee to exchange this money, plus their rates are normally terrible. For instance, while most exchange rate websites will put 1 US Dollar as buying around 1,127 Korean Won, your average airport conversion might say each dollar is only worth 800 Korean won. I wound up with about 30 euros for my 40 US dollars which is a pretty terrible rate, but definitely not the worst I’ve ever seen.

Traveler’s Checks?

I actually really don’t understand the point of these in the modern age. Some people will say that they’re good for younger travelers – but those travelers should just have a debit card (I’ll talk more about that in a moment). While traveler’s checks still exist they are outdated, and many places no longer issue them or accept them. You generally get terrible rates both for purchasing traveler’s checks and for exchanging them. People will say they are the safest way to protect your money as you need your passport to cash them. I think this is actually dangerous. If your passport is stolen, you have no money. On the other hand, if a credit card is stolen, it’s on the bank to get your money back and issue you another card. I’d avoid traveler’s checks.

Debit Cards 

I did this in Korea and France and it worked out pretty great. Now, with debit cards you have to be a little careful. Check into whether there are any foreign transaction fees (any time you make a purchase in a different currency it can either charge a flat fee or a percentage) or ATM Fees (these can’t always be avoided, but the card itself shouldn’t charge fees, then it’s on you to track down ATMs that don’t charge).

Don’t forget cash though…

In countries like the UK and Korea, there will often be minimums if you want to pay by card (such as 5,000 won or 5 pounds) – this is very inconvenient and expensive. Not to mention, in all of these countries there are often street artists and street vendors who won’t take card. You don’t want to limit your travel experience, get a debit card so you can take out cash. I personally have used Capital One to great success. They don’t work on every ATM, but normally there’s one within walking distance. In the Incheon Airport in Korea I simply had to move two feet to get to the ATM that would take my card and every other ATM out and about worked great.

People will talk about debit cards being less secure but I’d say that’s something of the past for the average company. Most banks want to keep you happy (not all of them, read reviews). If your card is stolen/lost you can normally cancel it within minutes. The majority of banks will even help to get your money back and you won’t be out – however, always protect a debit card as it is your money, not your bank’s.

It’s also a good idea to look for a debit card for children in the US that offers to build credit for them. I found one through a local bank in Florida and was able to build credit since I was 16. Now, I have a great credit score, and am one of few friends who has built any credit at all.

Credit Cards 

I recommend, if you’re old enough and an American citizen, to get a credit card. This is because Americans are often far more privy to excellent deals and options. I also usually recommend having two cards, one that is a no-fee standard card (I like using Discover because I like their rewards system, it’s also nice for students as you get money for getting good grades) and a fee card that gets much better rewards for travel-related activities. I’m considering getting the Capital One Venture Card because it looks like they have contactless cards (I’ll discuss below) and great sign-up bonus. I’m very interested in their “free Global entry” perk. I now have around 80,000 American Airlines points, over half of which are from sign-up/card perks. This is worth at least two round trip tickets to almost anywhere in the world.


General Advice

Carry a Combination

Always have some cash with your card – you never know when a place will only take cash.

Set Up ApplePay/Equivalent Contactless Pay

This will save you so much hassle in countries besides America. Almost the entire rest of the world has moved on to contactless cards, and it can be very difficult to get things out of vending machines if you don’t have exact cash or contactless pay. In many of these countries you will have to sign every. single. time if you don’t pay by contactless. This can sometimes irritate people. Also, if the back of your card isn’t signed (as I had an issue with since NONE OF MY PENS would sign this stupid card, I had to resort to eyeliner nearly every time) you’ll have to present ID. Not that big of a deal but it holds up the process.


I hope “The Best Way to Exchange Currency ”  has been helpful to some of you starting your travels! Check out my other posts:

The Oxford Experience

Three Idyllic Days in Rome

Tourist Traps: My Opinion 



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