Newbie Business Travel Tip: Exchanging money

I guess since I have traveled internationally so much I just thought everyone knew how to get local currency, but it seems many do not.

Use an ATM.  I do not like to carry large sums of cash with me because I tend to spend it so if I am going to a first world country I may only bring US$20 if  I remember to bring cash at all.  This means that I never have cash with me to exchange.  What do I do?  I just use the local ATM.  In many countries the ATM doesn’t charge a fee like we are used to in the US.  I also have an ATM card with a bank that does not charge fees on its end either (Capital One 360).  This means at the ATM I can withdraw at very close to the interbank rate.  No money changer at the airport or bank branch can do that.


On my last couple trips to Canada my coworkers would use USD (or credit card) at most places, but occasionally we encounter parking lots that require Canadian currency only.  Since I hit up the ATM when I land and pull out CAD40 I am able to get us through.  They asked me how the fees were at the exchanger and I said I just use the ATM and pay no fees.  They had no clue they just needed to use the ATM.

Now, remember I said first world country.  In Jamaica I made sure to bring a lot of small denomination USD since I knew that would be accepted as much as Jamaican currency.  In Brazil I brought about $200 in $20s and exchanged at the airport since it was darn near impossible to find an ATM that would take my card (and at the time I had ING Direct and Wachovia) there and there were no ATMs I could find at the airport.

So, no need to bring wads of cash, no need to pay high fees and commissions at the airport or local money changers.  Just bring an ATM card on a couple networks.

I highly recommend Capital One 360 (formerly ING Direct) since it has no foreign exchange fees, no ATM fees on their end (they do not reimburse other ATM fees though).  Plus the account can have up to $1000 overdraft line of credit.

And…never assume a foreign country with their own currency will gladly accept US greenbacks.  I prefer to use local currency (aside from the many countries in the Caribbean and Central America who use USD as much as local) because it doesn’t flag me as a tourist and it saves me from the business making up their own exchange rate that is usually not in my favor.


  1. Any recommendations for exchanging money in Colombia? I’ve got CapitalOne 360 as well as Schwab, so I’m tempted to just use ATMs as well. Thanks!

    1. @Kurt Schwab checking was without FOREX charges back when I had the card and they were pretty good about refunding other ATM fees, although they waited until the end of the cycle which annoyed me. As far as Colombia goes, I have never been there so I’m not sure.

  2. I didn’t have trouble with ATMs in either Rio nor Sao Paulo. They are on the top floor of the Rio airport outside customs, near the food court up there, but they worked just fine.

    As for ATM cards, they can cost far more than a money changer, depending on the bank. Chase charges $5+3% last I looked. That’s a pretty horrendous rate.

  3. I have a Capitol One account as well but in Western Europe I have had good luck using my Bank of America ATM at their partner banks. Between Scotia Bank in the Caribean and Barclays/BNP in Western Europe I am able to use my BoA card fee free for 80% of my travels.

  4. I just discovered foreign ATMs just a year ago. It seems too easy to be true, but it is. I bring along about $250 in currency with me on a trip, but thats only an emergency stash. I do day-to-day expenses with ATM withdrawls. Its a much better deal than using one of the currency exchange kiosks at the airport.

    Also, you want to call you ATM card issuer a few days before you leave the country so that they know what countries you will be in- otherwise they might block the transaction.

    1. @Gizmodad – most of my accounts actually have a special “international travel” notification in my account center.
      I have heard CapitalOne is pretty aggressive at shutting down credit cards even when they are notified, but I haven’t experienced this with CapitalOne 360 yet. I rarely withdraw cash more than once a trip though and I’m not a big debit card person.

  5. Depends on the ATM card. I never use my Chase ATM card when travelling abroad because of the rates you mentioned, Seth. However, when I have to use it in the past, I normally call Chase when I get back to the USA, act surprised at the $5 fee, and almost always the call agent will reimburse me back that fee. 🙂
    Just like you, Grace, I use the CapitalOne 360 ATM card when travelling abroad.

  6. Capitol One will absolutely block ATM card usage abroad without a prior travel notification. Withdrawing money via ATM is better than using exchange kiosks but I don’t think it is fee free. Instead of the forex fee being shown separately, it is just baked into the rate. Hard to compare, even harder to trace.

    1. @Yana: Periodically (read: when I have a new card or use a card I haven’t used internationally in a while) I compare the forex rate to the daily interbank rate. This is easy for me since I have to convert my cash transactions from local to USD for reimbursement so I just compare the entire transaction. Since the other month was my first withdrawl since ING Direct changed to CapitalOne 360. I withdrew CAD40 and the ATM had a CAD1 fee. says on that day CAD41 should be USD40.08 and CapitalOne withdrew USD40.09 from my account. That is a penny off, yes. I paid a penny more than interbank. Even a 1% fee would have been ~USD40.49

  7. I believe ATM’s are the biggest scams being touted for foreign exchange…. service charges and poor exchange rates lead you to pay too much.

    The last time I took out 100 euros from a European bank the exchange rate was .15 Euros over what the actual rate difference was and there was a $5 euro fee plus a $2.95 fee from my bank….. grand total of an effective exchange rate of $1.75 to the euro. Published rate at the time was 1.27.

    1. @Holiday Baker Man Could you provide more information to be helpful such as what bank this was with? Also, what rates were the money changers advertising and what were their fees?
      There are many checking accounts that do not charge fees. CapitalOne 360 doesn’t charge on their end, but would not have refunded the 5Euro fee on their end. Schwab bank does not charge fees and refunds fees from other banks (at the end of the month). It sounds like your bank may have added a %age as well. Back when it was still ING Direct they added 1% to the interbank rate. Read the fine print of rates. Unless you have a credit card without FOREX fees you probably would pay 3% in fees for that. I prefer credit cards when possible, but I still like to have a bit of cash just in case. It is rare to find a place to park in Canada that doesn’t charge and although many are migrating to credit cards, not all have so I need to have cash for that.

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