Traveling to a different country involves navigating how to get local currency. Since most countries don’t use credit cards as frequently as the US, cash will be essential.  My preferred option is to use an ATM when I arrive and during the trip. Using ATMs will ensure you receive the exact exchange rate, and info below is posted on debit card accounts you can open, for free, that waive all ATM fees no matter where you are in the world.

Local ATM

  • If you make a withdrawal from a local ATM when you arrive, you’ll receive local currency at the exact exchange rate. ATM fees will apply, but even with the fee, it will often be a better deal than going to a bank or currency exchange. See below for various debit cards that waive all ATM fees.

Home Bank

If you’d like to have local currency on hand before you start your trip, most local banks can help you exchange money.

  • Depending on the size of the bank, location, and the currency it may take a few days. It is best to start to process at least two weeks before you trip starts if you do want to leave with currency in hand.
  • The bank will charge you an exchange rate that is different from the actual rate, selling you currency for higher that it is worth and buying it back from you for lower than the actual rate. This is how they make a profit on exchanging currency.

Currency Exchange Agencies

  • These are readily available in most airports and cities. They will also charge you more than the actual rate to buy, and will buy back at lower than the actual rate.

Debit Cards That Waive ATM Fees:

The two best options for checking accounts/debit card accounts that I’ve found are the Fidelity Cash Management Account and the Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking Account. Both of these accounts do not charge an ATM fee and actually reimburse you for the fee that you are charged at the ATM.

Most other banks that issue debit cards will charge you an ATM fee, unless your use one of their ATMs. Also, the ATM you use will also charge you a fee.  These fees can quickly add up cutting into your trip’s budget.

  • The Fidelity Cash Management Account is free to open, no minimum balance, no ATM fees, and waives all fees charged by the ATM you use to withdraw money. The ATM fees are instantly reimbursed to your account.
  • The Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking Account offers much of the same benefit; Free to open, no minimum balance, no fees, and waives ATM fees.
  • Also, ask your current bank if they have any accounts that will waive the ATM fee, or if you could qualify for waived ATM fees. Some banks will waive fees if you have a minimum amount deposited.

General Advice/Tips

  • Don’t carry a large amount of cash with you, if you have a debit card that waives ATM fees, withdraw money as you need it to avoid having a large amount with you. In case you lose it, or get pick-pocketed, it’s best to have as little as possible. This will also prevent you from having a large amount of money left at the end of your trip; if you need to sell it back you’ll receive a much lower rate in the exchange, essentially devaluing your money.
  • To find the exchange rate, you can often just Google what you want to know, and Google will populate a reply. For example, just type: Euro to Dollar, or Dollar to Euro
  • Download an app, like XE Currency Exchange if you’d like to have currency calculation on the go.
  • To make converting easy, pick a couple of amounts to memorize and work from those points of reference. This makes it so you don’t have to constantly convert amounts. In Laos for example, it is about 8,000 Kip to one US Dollar. Set the five dollar amount at 40,000, and ten dollar amount at 80,000, and use those easy to remember points to figure out other prices.