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Get Foreign Currency at AAA Before You Travel

Don’t leave home without local currency for the countries you’re visiting

Traveling overseas? If you’re soon heading off on that dream trip abroad, you’ll want to bring some foreign currency. 

Almost all countries use their own currency. Others have a shared or joint currency, like the Euro, which is the currency of 20 European Union countries. It’s handy to have some foreign money in hand before you step on a plane. And it’s not usually a good idea to pay with American dollars, if that’s offered, because the exchange rate is poor. 

But how much foreign currency does a person need to bring along on a trip? What are the best foreign currency exchange rates? And where should you go to get it? If you make the right choices, you can save some money and avoid both high transaction fees and poor exchange rates. 

Here are some tips that every traveler should know about currency exchange, plus how AAA Washington stores can help. 

A woman buys a mango while abroad to illustrate foreign currency exchange
It is a good idea to obtain foreign currency before you leave on your trip, so you can make small purchases. Banks and credit unions are the best option, and AAA Washington can help. Photo: AdobeStock

Where is the best place to exchange money? 

Banks and credit unions offer the best exchange rates, but you’ll often need to order the money about a week ahead because financial institutions don’t typically have foreign currencies available in every branch. AAA Washington can also help you to order foreign currency at one of our stores.

Tip: It’s usually a good idea to avoid airport kiosks and hotels, which often offer poor exchange rates and/or charge high fees. 

AAA Washington members and non-members can order foreign currency from Wells Fargo at any AAA Washington store. More than 90 different types of currency are available. Here’s how it works:

  • To order foreign currency from AAA, you must go to the store in person.
  • AAA only accepts cash or a debit card for foreign currency exchange purchases.
  • The fee is $5 for AAA members and $20 for nonmembers.
  • An additional $10 small-transaction fee is charged by Wells Fargo for orders less than $200 U.S. dollars.
  • Normally, orders will be delivered to the store within three business days. Expedited overnight shipping can be arranged for an additional fee of $15. 

Should I get foreign currency before I leave? 

Yes, it’s a good idea. Foreign exchange rates can be high while traveling abroad (and can go up and down depending on many factors), so it’s smart to obtain some foreign money from a bank or credit union before you leave the United States.

Find the AAA Washington store nearest you to order foreign currency from Wells Fargo.

A shot of the top of a blue taxicab in Paris to illustrate the need for foreign currency. Searching for foreign currency near me? Get help at your nearest AAA store.
You’ll want some local currency in hand almost immediately after landing in a foreign country, to take a taxi from the airport, buy snacks or tip the hotel staff. Photo: AdobeStock

Can’t I just use my credit card? 

Credit cards are useful for larger purchases, but it’s not a good idea (or even feasible sometimes) to use your credit card for every little purchase. Some credit cards add an international transaction fee as high as 3% when purchasing items abroad, and the exchange rate may not be favorable. So, it’s smart to carry around some foreign currency to pay for those innumerable small purchases that you are bound to make on every trip, like for tipping, meals, subway tickets, souvenirs, etc. 

Tip: Some credit cards are especially traveler friendly and won’t charge you foreign transaction fees on purchases in another country. Two great options are the AAA Travel Advantage and the AAA Daily Advantage Signature Visa cards. These cards don’t have annual fees. They also don’t charge foreign exchange rates. 

But, despite the type of credit card you carry, it’s always handy to have some foreign cash in your pocket. Plus, it’s not guaranteed that all your credit cards will be accepted in every place you visit. 

For example, here are some scenarios where you might need some cash almost immediately after arriving:  

  • Grabbing a coffee and some snacks while waiting for your transfer flight;
  • Paying for the taxi, the train or private shuttle to the hotel;
  • Tipping an airport porter, hotel concierge or the housekeeping staff. 

Warning: It’s wise to avoid offers to use American dollars for purchases in foreign countries. In tourist areas especially, some businesses may accept American dollars, but these offers usually factor in a poor exchange rate for the customer. 

At a AAA Washington travel store, you can order foreign currency and save on transaction fees.
An easy way to obtain foreign currency is by ordering it through AAA Washington at one of our travel stores in Washington and Northern Idaho. Photo: AAA Washington staff

How much foreign currency should I bring? 

This depends on the type of travel you’re planning, as well as if you expect to pre-pay for most expenses. For example, if you’re going on a cruise or to an all-inclusive resort, you probably won’t need a lot of cash because most expenses are already covered. However, one rough rule of thumb is to bring $50 to $100 per person for each day of a trip. 

Where can I get cash in a foreign country?

If you run out of cash and need more, it’s usually easy to obtain foreign currency in most cities while abroad. Using your ATM card is the most convenient way to obtain foreign cash. However, you will be charged a fee for using the ATM, plus a foreign transaction fee by your own bank, which can be up to 3%. These fees add up fast, so check with your bank before you leave. Another good option is to look for a foreign bank or U.S. bank to get foreign currency. 

It’s a good idea to get some foreign currency before you leave for your big trip abroad. You’ll find you’ll need some cash to cover small items immediately on arriving, and it may not be feasible to use your credit card all the time. Plus, you’ll save some money—and save yourself some headaches—if you obtain foreign currency at a bank, credit union or order the money at a AAA Washington store ahead of your trip. 

—Written by AAA Washington Staff 

—Top photo: Adobe Stock

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