Currency exchange help

Old Feb 11th, 2001, 09:21 PM
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Currency exchange help

Should I exchange for italian lire here, or when I arrive to italy? Where should I exchange it from to get the best rates?
Old Feb 11th, 2001, 09:53 PM
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If you have a MAC card, then the most convenient way to obtain lire is to use the card in ATM machines in Italy. The machines are everywhere including at the airport and are in a number of languages including english. Just make sure the machine has a "PLUS" or "CIRRUS" sign on it; whichever your MAC card is consistent with. Use the same PIN that you use in the US. You can withdraw 100,000 or 500,000 lire or however much you need consistent with your US daily maximum. The withdrawal will show up on your monthly statement converted at the exchange rate in effect when the withdrawal occurred. The exchange rate used will probably be better than that you could get elsewhere. There will probably be a transaction fee of a dollar or two just as in the US when you use a machine other than your bank's.
Old Feb 12th, 2001, 07:52 AM
Bob Brown
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Being something of a miser, I have tried to exchange where I pay the least in transaction fees. But, convenience is a factor, also.

Here is the stragegy I have followed so far, but I am always open to suggestions.

1. Before leaving, I buy a little of the currency of my first destination. I do not buy much because it costs me about 5% more than using ATM machines overseas. But, I have found it a convenience to have a little local currency to spend before hunting up an ATM machine.
2. I use my credit card everywhere I can because that seems to me to give the best rate of exchange. I have checked the newspaper and it looks like I get the bank wholesale rate on Visa and MC transactions. My wife and I each carry a different card just in case something happens to one of them. (Last year in a little restaurant in Paris, the waiter claimed one of our cards would not work. Happily, the other one did. Had it not, I was prepared to be the hostage while my wife went to the ATM.)
3. Use the ATMs for local currency.
(Debit card style; not cash advance.)
My card gives me 2 free foreign transactions per month before I pay a $1.50 fee per transaction. There is a balance here among getting what you need, not having to make repeated trips, and not having currency left over.
4. Carry a few $$ travelers checks as an emergency backup. (I cashed one, once, when the ATM was down, my train was leaving in a few minutes, and I wanted to buy something from a shop that did not take credit cards. Some of the checks have now made two trips to Europe.)

One thing I find to be essential is to keep an eye on the amount of "foreign metal" you are accumulating. In my experience paper money can be exchanged in another country, but coins cannot be. Particularly in Germany, France and Switzerland, some of the common coins are worth more than a dollar. In fact, the Swiss 5 franc coin is about $3.00
If the members of your party accumulate about a dozen of those, you can easily have $30 to $40 in your collection. After our second night in Paris, my wife and I did a "French metal count" and found that we had accumulated in 48 hours twenty five 10 franc coins.
A trip or two to La Brioche Doree and a carnet of Metro tickets took care of that accumulation.
Old Feb 12th, 2001, 07:56 AM
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Bob, can you tell me where you buy a little of the foreign currency before leaving? Can I go to any major bank?
Old Feb 12th, 2001, 08:12 AM
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WH, if you live in a major city there should be foreign exchange places that sell it, look in the phone book. If not, there are at international airports. A major bank should be able to get it for you, just call them up and ask them, but they will prob charge you a lot from what I've heard. There are online currency delivery services now that do this that aren't too bad,prob. no worse than your bank, altho make sure you don't wait until the last minute--Chase has one as I recall ( I think Amex does to, but am not sure. AAA Travel stores sell "tip packets" but I don't think they are very good deals (bad exchange rate) or very useful as they won't just sell you whatever money you want (ie, $100 of lire), they determine the amt. I don't think there's any reason to consider them over Chase.
Old Feb 12th, 2001, 08:14 AM
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not all major banks have currency exchanges. check with bank first. Also American Express has offices that can do it. Compare exchange rates if you have the time. they do vary from bacnk to bank to amex.
Old Feb 12th, 2001, 08:23 AM
Bob Brown
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For WH. Where I live, the Bank of America took over from Nationsbank. So all of the Bank of America services are available.
One year, I got foreign currency through
American Express. I think I had to pay postage (certified) on that one, so it was a little more costly than using B of A.
For a while, we also had a "money store" here in Athens that dealt in foreign exchange. But after sampling its rates, I quickly said "Thanks but no thanks." I would have been ahead to cash checks overseas.
Another ploy is to have a reliable friend bring back a little for you from Europe. Just agree on a price before hand. Easy to lose friends that way.
Old Feb 12th, 2001, 10:26 AM
Marilyn Ham
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I think using your credit card for cash in the ATM the card may charge you a cash advance fee, too. Thomas Cook also has foreign currency. If you are leaving from a major airport, or going through one, most have currency exchange counters where you can buy a little to take with you. In Rome we like to exchange travelers checks at the Banca de Sicily. Also, in the smaller towns many of the Post Offices exchange and the rate is sometimes good. Marilyn
Old Feb 12th, 2001, 10:47 AM
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Large banks have foreign exchange departments, but each BRANCH may not; you may also have to order the money ahead. Amex has a foreign currency desk that's a walk-up window (they handle all the major currencies, but if you want a huge amount, or a less common currency like Maltese lire, you'll need to order ahead). I always get about $100 of local currency before I leave the U.S., then use credit cards and ATM cards for the rest of my monetary needs.
Best rule of thumb: anything that requires human contact or physical storage costs more, so if a human has to count out YOUR money or travelers' checks, then count back to you the currency you've purchased, then YOUR currency now has to be banded and stored and then shipped back to your country, it's going to cost you more than a machine spitting out 10000L notes.
Old Feb 19th, 2001, 06:44 AM
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I totally agree with Bob. As an AMerican living and working from London I travel most weeks. The only place I get cash anymore is at the airport ATM -- best rates, fast, easy, no commissions. If I need more in town, same thing. Just take the usual ATM precautions, as you would in the US.

Have a good trip!
Old Feb 19th, 2001, 11:57 AM
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I've found that buying Lire in America is far costlier that than buying them abroad. I too travel with my ATM card for cash (debit, not cash advance). Be sure to check with your bank and find out how much (if any) they charge for a withdrawal overseas - my former bank used to charge me $5 each time I hit the ATM ("Bancomat" in Italian), one reason I left them.

I've noticed that there's usually an ATM machine in the airports in Italy, so you could simply wait until you arrive, then withdraw some Lire. You'll get a much better rate.
Old Feb 19th, 2001, 12:07 PM
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One note about buying foreign currency at your bank before you leave--it has to be your bank--you have to have an account there---I believe this is always the case but not certain

Old Feb 19th, 2001, 04:03 PM
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I can't say if my hometown (Columbus, Ohio) is representative of EVERY "mid-size" city in American or not, but here, the best place to buy a small amount of foreign currency - - by far - - is the American Express office.

You can call ahead if you need to confirm, but they usually carry modest amounts (i.e., if you want to buy $100 USD or less) in stock, replenished as needed, daily, in any of a dozen or major currencies.
Old Feb 19th, 2001, 04:16 PM
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You will generally pay a higher percentage fee purchasing foreign currency in the US than even at the staffed airport exchanges in Europe. These exist, BTW, in every airport with transatlantic services - the banks aren't stupid, you know.
It's worth getting PINs for your regular (non-ATM) credit cards just in case some hungry machine consumes your ATM card, although you will be charged the cash advance fees and rates if you use them. But the ATM is still the only way to go.
Old Feb 20th, 2001, 05:04 AM
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I can't imagine for the life of me why anyone would go to the trouble and expense, definitely EXPENSE, of buying foreign currency at home, as I have never seen an airport in Europe that didn't have an ATM machine conveniently located within the terminal. And, as has been pointed out, that is the best rate of exchange that you are going to get anywhere.

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