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Get the best exchange rates - avoid rip-off bank fees and exchange rates

edited August 2010 in World Wide
Get the best exchange rates - shop around to avoid rip-off bank fees and terrible exchange rates

Having just returned from a couple of weeks in Italy, I thought I’d see how badly I had been ripped off at the airport when buying Euros.

I used the Travelex kiosk at Heathrow, but the exchange rates were similar to other foreign exchange companies - £100 bought around €1.10, but when selling Euros the rate was about 1.30. This spread is basically their profit margin – the publish exchange rate is currently 1.20 – and this spread is much wider for less popular currencies such as Egyptian pounds, Thai Baht or South African Rands.

The guy at Travelex was kind enough to tell me give him cash rather than paying with my debit card – otherwise Lloyds bank would have charged another 3 percent on top. I was changing £300 into Euros, so I saved £9 simply by using the cash machine next to the kiosk. The Travelex fee was effectively £30, and I would have saved this if I had been prepared and shopped around before getting to the airport.

Lesson 1: Never exchange money at the airport – you are a captive customer at an airport or ferry terminal and pay for the convenience of exchanging cash there – to get the best exchange rates you simply need to book your currency online and either get it delivered or pick it up from a kiosk at the airport or at your bank, post office or other provider. The Travelex rate for pre-booked money is currently 1.18.

I have now been through my bank statement to see what rate I got at the cash machines in Italy – I have a Lloyds Mastercard, although I believe these rates are fairly typical. The exchange rate is not too bad – 1.16, but the bank also charges a “cash advance fee” of £3.76 – so on top of the 3-4% spread they made on the transaction they charged me the additional 3 percent fee. Apparently you can find these details in very small print on the bank charges paperwork.

Lesson 2: If you must use your card abroad, make sure you buy things directly with it; don’t use cash machines.

Another little-known rip-off is this: when making big purchases in overseas shops, and sometimes when taking cash out of machines in the wall, you may be asked if you’d like to pay in pounds or Euros. Usually the retailer’s exchange rate will be even worse than your own card.

Lesson 3: To get the best exchange rates, always reject offers to pay in the local currency with your debit or credit card.

Many companies are now offering travel currency cards – these are one of the best ways to exchange money at the best rates or take money abroad. They offer some of the best exchange rates and they don’t add a ‘cash advance fee’ or similar load which you can get on your standard credit or debit card and can be safer than cash. These cards shouldn’t be used in the UK as interest rates are higher than on normal cards, and they generally also charge an extra fee for using cash machines - so use them for direct purchases where possible. As with all credit cards, you should set up a direct debit to pay off the card every month, but note that some cards charge an extortionate interest rate on cash withdrawals even if paid off in full at the end of the month.

Final advice on getting the best exchange rates and avoiding rip-off bank charges: either pre-book your currency at least 4 hours before you arrive at the airport, or if you travel regularly get a currency card.

The following reputable companies offer pre-booked currency which can be delivered to your door in the United Kingdom: Crown Currency Exchange, Tesco, The Post Office, Marks and Spencer and Travelex.

The following providers offer currency cards: Halifax, Nationwide, Santander Zero, Post Office and Lloyds TSB.
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  • edited 5:08PM
    compare myr (malaysian) and TRY lira? RATE?
  • edited 5:08PM
    im from malaysia. I actually went to Antalya and Istanbul next week. how much money should I change? and what is the cost for dinner only during for 10days there.others are provided by the hotel.
    also,which is prefer to change MYR to USD, EURO or lira?
    please,need assist...
  • edited 5:08PM
    I went into Horley Post Office and asked to buy euros. I bought 430 euros and was charged £410!!! I complained to the post office afterwards but got a silly "apology" letter but said there was nothing they could do - each post office dealt with things differently! I am not happy!
  • edited October 2011
    I found a very good article about the oversea charges, Consumer Focus moans to OFT on card charges abroad: Further down the post, there's a table that breaks down the oversea charges of credit and debit cards for all the major high street banks
  • edited 5:08PM
    British banks are indeed a rip poff. I can use my Dutch card in the UK (or even India) and get the median exchange rate and only pay E2.25 costs. If I use my British catrd in the wall in Holland, I pay 2.75 percent plus about GBP 4.50! Even bank transfers cost about 3 percent.
  • edited 5:08PM
    Take care the ATM in Sousse shopping centre Tunisia will take your cash back into the machine if you don't take it quickly and you will not be credited with your loss.
  • edited 5:08PM
    I have just returned from Italy where I naively used FOREXCHANGE at the STAZIONE TERMINI in ROME to convert $500AUS and was slugged an enormous 19.7% commission fee, yes thats right 19.7%!
    Which added to the €4.90 fixed fee meant they "took" $100 out of my $500AUS. Be warned!
  • edited 5:08PM
    I wish I had read your advice about the daylight rubbery in Rome. I went to the 'Best and Fast Change Srl exchange shop in Via Nazionale Rome and was charged a service fee of 8.9% PLUS a commission of19.90% and when told the extremely rude man at the counter I did not want to proceed with the transition, he said it was too late. I asked him why he didn't tell me and my wife about the additional charges he said it was our responsibility to ask. I threatened to call the police but he said "call the Prime Minister of Italy if you wish- who cares"...
    We soon decided to bring forward our stay in Rome as what is the use of a beautiful city when the there is no law to protect tourists or even locals. What a shame. I don't think I will ever go back to Italy or let my children or family members to go there.
  • edited 5:08PM
    what ll the exchange charges for indian rupees to aud in india and visversa in australia?
    please help me to get it
  • edited 5:08PM
    Beware of Best and Fast Change in Rome, My wife went to get 600 Euro with her Mastercard. The receipt she was asked to sign showed 841.24. When she asked why it said 841.24 and not 600 she was told that was the amount in Canadian dollars, which made sense, so she signed. When the Mastercard bill came it showed and amount of 1110.77 Canadian dollars which was the amount on 841.24 Euros not 600. It's a great little scam they are playing to rip off tourists.
  • Thanks for letting us know this.... I've been a victim severally
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