Where to Exchange Currency Without Paying Huge Fees

Your bank or credit union, not an airport kiosk, is likely the best place to exchange currency.
Melissa Lambarena
By Melissa Lambarena 
Edited by Yuliya Goldshteyn Reviewed by Kathleen Burns Kingsbury

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Nerdy takeaways
  • Before your trip, exchange money at your bank or credit union.

  • Once you're abroad, use your financial institution's ATMs, if possible.

  • After you're home, see if your bank or credit union will buy back the foreign currency.

Banks and credit unions are generally the best places to exchange currency, with reasonable exchange rates and the lowest fees. Here’s how financial institutions — and a few other places — can help travelers exchange currency.

» Looking to send money instead? Check out the best ways to send money internationally

Where to exchange currency in the U.S. before your trip

If you haven’t packed your bags, you may have the time to get the best currency exchange rates before you leave. Many banks offer currency exchange to their customers. Though there may be a small fee if you exchange less than a certain amount, your bank or credit union will almost always be the best place to exchange currency (and the cheapest).

You may be able to order currency at a branch location or by phone or online to have it delivered to you, or to pick up at a branch. Some currency providers allow you to pick up your funds as soon as the next day, have it delivered within one to three business days, or opt for overnight shipping.

» See our picks for the best banks for international travel

You can also order through an online currency converter, which will have the cash delivered to your home. But exchange rates are less favorable, and the delivery charges may eat into your funds. And airport kiosks or stores should be a last resort. Exchange rates are poor, and fees are high.

» Consider another option: Learn about multicurrency accounts and how they work

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Where to get foreign currency outside the U.S.

Once you’ve reached your destination, avoid airport kiosks or other exchange houses. Your bank's ATM network is likely the best option. You may be able to withdraw cash in the local currency with competitive exchange rates and low fees (1% to 3%).

Use your institution’s app to find an ATM near you. Try to withdraw larger amounts if your bank charges ATM fees. And avoid out-of-network ATMs — in addition to a possible foreign transaction fee, you could end up paying surcharges to your bank and the ATM owner.

» Withdraw cash from machines often? See our picks for the best banks to avoid ATM fees

The best place to exchange currency at the end of your trip

Again, your bank is probably the best place to exchange currency, but it may not buy back all types. If not, you can exchange your money at a currency exchange store or at an airport kiosk, even though you likely won’t get the best rate.

If you can’t sell your foreign currency, you may be able to donate it at the airport or in flight. Ten international airlines participate in UNICEF’s Change for Good program, which takes donations in foreign currency to help improve the lives of children worldwide. If you’re already back home, you can mail your unused foreign currency to the program’s office. Click for more information about Change for Good.

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Use a credit or debit card to avoid manually doing a currency exchange

Figure out whether your destination is plastic-friendly. If it is, you can avoid many of these extra travel fees with one of NerdWallet's favorite no foreign transaction fee credit cards or debit cards.

Consider applying for one of these credit cards or debit cards before you leave so you can use it instead of cash wherever possible. Avoid using the credit card at ATMs or you’ll be hit with fees and interest right away for taking a cash advance. When making purchases, at the point-of-sale, remember to choose to pay in the local currency rather than in U.S. dollars to avoid currency conversion fees.

Multicurrency accounts: Another option

If you live or work abroad, you might consider getting a multicurrency account. A multicurrency account is usually an account that lets you spend, receive and hold multiple currencies. Read more about how multicurrency accounts work.

Frequently asked questions

Though there may be a small fee if you exchange less than a certain amount, your bank or credit union will almost always be the best answer for where to exchange currency (and the cheapest).

Some banks exchange foreign currency. You might need to be a customer of the bank in order to exchange currency with it. Note that, unless you have a premium account, exchanging a smaller amount may cost you a fee.

Some banks offer free currency exchange to their customers. Note that some financial institutions may charge a fee for exchanging currency unless you’re a premium account holder or are exchanging at least $1,000.

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