SAVE A DOLLAR
A guide to getting the most euros/pesos/yen for your bucks. — By Bryan Reesman (www.bryanreesman.com)
Cash, debit cards, traveler’s checks — which is the best to take with you? Cash always works for currency exchange, but it’s not wise to take a lot. Using a debit card gives you the going exchange rate, and oftentimes, you’re hit only with your bank’s withdrawal fee, as many overseas banks won’t charge you for the transaction (some do, though, so be sure to inquire first). Plus, these days, ATMs are available everywhere from Germany to Ghana. Traveler’s checks, on the other hand, while having the advantage of being insured and replaceable, are redeemable in fewer and fewer places today, making them inconvenient. So we recommend you take some cash and your cards.
To charge or not to charge? This is the eternal question. Using credit cards helps you spare your cash for essential items and traditionally gives you the best exchange rate — so you incur no fees and get the rate of the day. Some cards, though, are reportedly charging small transaction fees now. Also, hotels require credit cards, but when you’re shopping, you may run into snags such as purchase minimums and acceptability issues in different countries. Visa, for example, is widely accepted in England and Belgium, but you’ll have a harder time charging in many German stores, which prefer Euro MasterCard. Check with each store about what it accepts before standing in a long line, especially if you’re cash poor at that moment. Beware — many foreign restaurants take only cash.
Online know-how: Check XE.com for the latest exchange rates. If you know you should get 39 Indian rupees or six Norwegian kroner to the dollar but an exchange booth offers you substantially less, you can go elsewhere. The best strategy is to determine how much foreign currency you can obtain for $100 with each rate. A few cents per dollar can make a difference once multiplied. Oftentimes, hotels and airports charge unnecessary and costly fees, but check their rates, just in case. Once at your hotel, find out which local banks exchange currency, and then compare prices. Knowledge is power!
Exceptions to the rule: While the above guidelines generally hold true, there are occasional anomalies that could blindside you. A small village might have only one or two banks that exchange currency, leaving you stuck with their rates. Seoul has few machines from which you can get cash, but credit cards are widely accepted. And we found a truly interesting rule breaker outside Brussels, where a Best Western hotel recently charged $1.41 per euro, two cents less than the actual exchange rate at the time, resulting in our saving $2 for every 100 euros we bought.
11 Countries Where You Can Really Stretch Your Dollar
Vietnam, $1 = 15,985 dong
Indonesia, $1 = 9,434 rupiahs
Zambia, $1 = 3,750 kwacha
Colombia, $1 = 2,008 pesos
Lebanon, $1 = 1,512 pounds
South Korea, $1 = 939 won
Costa Rica, $1 = 497 colones
Chile, $1 = 492 pesos
Hungary, $1 = 173 forints
Japan, $1 = 109 yen
Sri Lanka, $1 = 108 rupees