Don’t Buy And Exchange Currencies At Airports, Here’s Why

Kevin Mwanza
Written by Kevin Mwanza
exchange currencies
A Kenyan man exchanges currency at a foreign exchange bureau in Nairobi. (AP Photo – Khalil Senosi)

When preparing to travel to another country, it is important to keep in mind that the destination you are visiting may not use dollars and payment cards may not be accepted everywhere.

Failing to take preparations in advance or determine the most affordable way to get local currency when you reach your destination could be costly.

A taxi driver in Nairobi may be reluctant to accept your $20 note, for example, and he won’t be able to swipe your card if he does not have the required equipment.

The other option upon landing and remembering that you need some local currency is rushing to the nearest airport foreign exchange bureau. This is a bad decision.

Exchanging money at the airport is always expensive. It is like ordering room service in a five-star hotel. The price will always be steep and other service charges will be levied.

To avoid this you could withdraw money from a local ATM. Most banks will give you a relatively good spot rate but will also include some fees. To minimize this, it is advisable to withdraw large sums of money at a time rather than small amounts as you need them.

Just make sure you keep the money safe when traveling.

You could also exchange your money at your local bank before you travel, but the downside to this is that your bank might not carry the currencies you need. It is unlikely that a U.S. bank would have Kenyan shillings in stock, for example, and even if they do the exchange rate would likely be unfavorable.

Exchanging money at a foreign exchange agency or bank in your destination country is usually the best option. In most cities, exchange spots can be found at convenient places like malls and train stations.

You could also opt for a prepaid travel card that allows you to load foreign currency onto it. Such cards often come with an annual fee, a purchase fee and may not be accepted everywhere. Do some research to make sure your destination accepts these cards before choosing this option.

It is not possible to entirely avoid fees on your currency exchange transactions while traveling, but doing your homework could help you save a few bucks and may allow you to buy that lovely artifact you come across at the exotic curio market on your travels.