Where to Exchange Currency Near Me Without Paying Huge Fees

It is best to exchange currency in the UK through a major bank, post office or online foreign exchange specialist, for example, before you embark on your journey and not last-minute at an airport.

Rhiannon Philps Published on 17 November 2020.
Where to Exchange Currency Near Me Without Paying Huge Fees

When you exchange your money for the local currency of your travel destination you should always look out for additional fees. You could be charged commission, service fees, delivery fees, ATM fees, and more, all of which would make your currency exchange even more expensive.

Sometimes these fees may be incorporated into the exchange rate, which determines the value of your money in another currency, while other times they will be charged separately. So it’s important to know the total cost of the transaction when deciding where to exchange your money.

As a rule, airports should be a last resort for exchanging your money. Their convenience comes at a cost as rates are normally poor and fees are often high, so they are one of the most expensive places to exchange currency. To avoid paying over the odds, it is usually better to find a currency exchange near you with more reasonable exchange rates and lower fees.

If you wait until you reach your destination before getting money in the local currency, then you risk paying foreign transaction fees and other charges which can make the exchange more expensive. Many prefer the certainty of getting their currency at a good rate before leaving, as exchange rates can fluctuate and there’s no guarantee that you could get a better deal abroad.

Read on to find out where you can exchange currency in the UK without incurring high fees, your options if you do need to get cash while you’re abroad, and where you can convert your money after your trip.

Where to save on currency exchange in the UK before your trip

There are a number of places where you can exchange your money, either in-person or online. The providers below will tend to offer more competitive exchange rates and won’t charge as much in fees as you may pay at an airport or your destination, so it is worth exploring their different currency exchange rates to find the most cost-effective and convenient option for you.

  • Major banks: Many offer currency exchange to their customers.
  • Post Office: Offers “Click and Collect,” delivery, or exchanges currency in-store.
  • Online foreign exchange specialists: These include sites such as Travel FX and eurochange. Some will also have high street branches where you can exchange in-person or collect your pre-ordered money.
  • Some travel agents: Usually available to all, whether you booked your trip through the agent or not.
  • Selected shops and supermarkets: Options may include Tesco, Sainsbury’s, John Lewis, M&S, Asda and more.

Individual providers will offer different exchange rates and will apply different charges, so take some time to check and compare the actual total costs before choosing where to exchange your currency.

Avoid hidden costs when exchanging currency

Exchange rates can vary depending on how much money you want to get. Typically, the more you exchange, the more competitive the exchange rate and so the more foreign currency you will get for your money.

If you choose to have your money delivered, make sure you’re aware of any delivery charges. Sometimes providers will offer free delivery, but check their exchange rate and any other fees as they may boost costs elsewhere to cover this. Also bear in mind that some providers offer free delivery if you order above a certain amount of money.

Using a credit card to buy your currency could incur extra fees if your card provider charges you for cash withdrawals. Exchanging money is classed as a cash withdrawal, so an easy way to avoid this potential charge is to use a debit card or cash to exchange currency where possible.

Of course, you don’t have to exchange your money for foreign cash. At several of the places listed above you can also request traveller’s cheques or prepaid travel cards if you prefer. But be aware that these may charge additional fees both at the time of purchase and when you use them abroad such as administration fees, transaction fees, and withdrawal fees.

Ways to minimise currency exchange fees abroad

Even if you exchanged your money in advance, you might still need to get your hands on some cash once you’ve arrived at your destination.

In most cases, it is likely to be cheaper to spend with your debit or credit card when abroad, rather than using your card to take out money. However, if you do want to have some cash in your pocket, there are ways you can try to minimise the fees you face when withdrawing from an ATM or local exchange bureau.

Again, you should try to avoid getting money from airport kiosks and airport ATMs as these are likely to charge higher fees than machines elsewhere.

Networks like Visa and Mastercard and some banks offer mobile apps that can help you find the nearest ATMs when you’re abroad. These will give you information about the ATMs that accept your card, including operating hours and who owns the ATM. ATMs owned by private providers (i.e. not banks) are more likely to charge additional usage fees, but before using any ATM it is worth double-checking if they impose any extra charges.

If you use your credit or debit card, or prepaid travel card, to withdraw cash in the local currency, you may get competitive exchange rates but you may also have to pay withdrawal and foreign usage fees to your bank (which you wouldn’t need to pay in the UK). If you find a local exchange bureau and use your card to get cash from here instead of an ATM, you are likely to still face foreign transaction fees and other charges.

Check with your card provider to see what charges would apply, and particularly watch out for cards from certain banks that apply extra charges when using them abroad.

Because of the fees that banks charge for withdrawals and overseas transactions, try to withdraw larger amounts of cash at once from an ATM or exchange bureau, to minimise the number of withdrawals you need to make and so the amount you pay in fees.

A select few debit cards and specialist travel credit cards will have smaller fees, or may not charge at all for transactions or ATM withdrawals made abroad.

The best place to exchange currency in the UK after your trip

If you don’t want to keep your foreign currency for a future trip abroad, you can convert it back to pounds sterling.

You will probably find you get more for your money when you convert your currency at an exchange bureau in the UK, whether online or in-person.

You don’t need to go to the same place that you first exchanged your currency either.

Each provider will have their own “buy back rates” which will be different to the standard exchange rate, so it is worth looking around to get the maximum value from your currency when you convert it back to pounds.

Rather than selling your foreign currency, you could choose to donate it to charity at the airport or during your flight, depending on the airline. Alternatively, some charities may also accept donations in foreign currency once you have arrived back in the UK.

Save more with plastic

Cash is not the only payment method available. Using your credit or debit card to pay for things abroad could potentially be a cheaper option than exchanging currency, but first check what your current card providers charge for foreign transactions and cash withdrawals. Some will apply significant fees, but you could avoid many of these by using a special travel friendly credit card or debit card.

In contrast to many standard debit and credit cards, which may apply hefty fees for foreign use, special travel cards will charge lower fees (if any) on the transactions and withdrawals you make abroad.

Tips for using a travel credit card abroad:

  • Try to avoid using a credit card to withdraw money from an ATM while you’re abroad, except in an emergency, otherwise you’ll be hit with interest charges straight away.
  • Always choose to pay in local currency rather than pound sterling. This means you will use your bank’s exchange rate instead of the usually more expensive conversion rate used by the retailer.
  • As with any credit card, you should aim to repay travel credit cards in full each month to avoid interest charges from accumulating.

Recap: Where to exchange money near me

Exchanging currency before you travel will almost always give you the most competitive rates, and will help you to avoid paying foreign transaction fees and other related charges when abroad.

  1. Before your trip, compare exchange rates of different providers and their fees to find the most cost-effective option.
  2. Once you're abroad, try to limit your use of ATMs. But, if you need to use one, use them wisely to incur as few charges as possible, such as taking larger amounts when withdrawing.
  3. If you plan to use a card to pay for things abroad, get a specialist travel card to avoid the highest fees. After you're home, find a provider that will buy back the foreign currency at the best rate.
About the author:

Rhiannon is a financial writer for NerdWallet, with a particular interest in personal finance and insurance guides for consumers. Read more

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