Many travelers returning from abroad have excess foreign currency they need to exchange back to U.S. dollars. There are several ways to go about converting your money, but many have fees and pitfalls that make them impractical. Understanding the difference in each exchange method can save you time and money.
Currency Exchange Booths
International airports, cruise terminals, rail stations and bus depots servicing international borders are well stocked with currency exchange booths and shops where foreign currency can be traded for U.S. dollars. These are very conveniently located, but they also tend to be costly. The businesses that convert currency in these locations charge commissions and sub prime exchange rates. Use these only if you don't mind trading a percentage of your cash for convenience.
Many large banks and online currency exchange services offer mail-in currency exchange services. You can mail in your foreign currency with a printed exchange request form. Your U.S. dollars will then be mailed back to you. There are limits to the amount of currency you can trade, and coins are not accepted. A one-time fee is taken, but no commission or special exchange rates are applied so the deal you get is more convenient and cheaper than most. Customers are responsible for insuring their own currency shipment to the exchange service . Most shipping companies offer some form of secured option as well. Once the currency is received, the service is responsible for its security and insurance until it is successfully returned to the customer.
If you bank with an institution that has a presence around the world, it can probably meet your currency exchange needs. Visit a bank branch and bring your foreign money with you. Only paper money is eligible for exchange, so spend all of your foreign coins before returning home, if possible, or save them for your next trip back. Not all bank branches perform currency exchange services. They are more common in large cities and transportation hubs. Call your bank first to find out if and where you should go to change your money.
Hotels and Post Offices
If you want to change your money before returning home, visit a local post office or hotel. Post offices are government operated entities around the world and offer lower rates than currency exchange businesses or privately owned banks. Large hotel chains also offer exchange services to guests as a courtesy, but their rates tend to have a built-in fee attached. Many hotels even have a currency exchange counter or office in the lobby for your convenience.
Robert Morello has an extensive travel, marketing and business background. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Columbia University in 2002 and has worked in travel as a guide, corporate senior marketing and product manager and travel consultant/expert. Morello is a professional writer and adjunct professor of travel and tourism.