You won’t be getting the rate you see on the news.
Exchanging foreign currencies can often be a major headache. Keeping track of different currencies, exchange rates, and the various fees you’re bound to incur is the last thing anybody wants to do before they’re about to embark on an international trip. The question we’re all left asking is simple: how can I get the best foreign exchange rates?
Ultimately, it’s a matter of trying to hold on to as much of your money as possible. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of variables that seemingly conspire to make things very difficult.
Ideally, we’d simply go up to a counter, hand over our currency, and receive the exact same value in the currency we’re looking for, maybe minus a small fee for the counter person’s trouble.
Alas, global economics dictate one dollar in Australia is not the same as one dollar in the United States, nor is it even one dollar in New Zealand. Exchange rates are a fact of life, so getting a good deal is all about managing them.
How Do Exchange Rates Work?
Let’s start with the basics, so we understand what it is we’re actually talking about when we discuss exchange rates. This way we can better understand why exchange rates are necessary as well as figuring out why we seem to lose half our money every time we go to the currency exchange counter at the airport. Speaking of those counters, you may have noticed they always have glowing signs with columns of flags and numbers.
These light-up lunch menus are actually lists of exchange rates, laying out how much the currency of the country you’re in is worth in a foreign currency. Typically, these boards stick to the most commonly converted currencies, like the Australian Dollar (AUD), US Dollar (USD), Great Britain Pound Sterling (GBP), EU Euro (EUR), Indonesian Rupiah (IDR), Chinese Yuan (CNY), and Japanese Yen (JPY). You can find plenty of lists of different currencies and their respective acronyms online.
For example, an exchange list for the AUD might have one Australian dollar trading at 75 cents USD. In other words, $1 AUD will buy you $0.75 USD. At the moment, it costs $1.33 AUD to buy $1 USD.
News vs. Reality
Unfortunately, this ‘cost’ isn’t static, it changes all the time. This is largely thanks to foreign exchange traders, whose market is estimated as moving anywhere from $3-5 trillion per day, and the overall economies and government policies of individual countries.
You may have also noticed that the numbers you see on the boards at the currency exchange kiosk often differ from one another as well as from the numbers you see on the news during the financial report.
Simply put, don’t expect to get the currency exchange rate you saw on the news when you go to exchange your money before an international trip. The rates you see on the news are wholesale rates used by banks and institutions and expenses like insurance will all impact the exchange rate you receive in your hand when you visit a retail exchange kiosk.
We regular people must instead contend with the ‘retail buy and sell rate’, which is related to the wholesale rate, but factors in the retailer’s profit and any operating expenses. Currency exchange kiosks make a profit on the differences in various rates, having purchased their currency at a higher rate than they will sell it to you for when you come in to exchange your money.
These ‘hidden fees’ can often creep up on unsuspecting travellers or even those looking to transfer money overseas. One journalist was shocked when she exchanged $100 AUD for 384 Chinese yuan, which she didn’t end up spending during her trip, only to exchange it back for a mere $50 AUD when she returned home. She decided to try again at a currency exchange centre in the city, who offered her $56 instead.
This is the rub when it comes to foreign currency exchange—you want to keep as much of your money as you possibly can, but volatile rates and exorbitant commission and transaction fees seem to ensure that even if you do your research and time your trip perfectly, you’re always going to get stung.
Dodging the Fees
Let’s start by noting something very important: currency exchange doesn’t always work against you. Depending on where you’re travelling to, you may find that your native currency makes you quite wealthy in another country and can see your $1,000 turn into the shopping spree of your dreams. Of course, even in these cases, there will likely still be a transaction fee.
Currency exchange will always involve a fee of some kind, so you won’t be able to ‘dodge’ the fees entirely. Instead, smart travellers arm themselves with a wealth of knowledge and research and determine the best way to exchange their money ahead of their trip. Planning is key. If, for example, you know your trip will involve several exchanges, it’s a good idea to plan out when and where you plan on exchanging your money.
These days, most clued-in travellers use an online exchange like Exchange Now to skirt the banks and brokers and get the best possible rate and the lowest possible fees. But more on that in a moment. First, let’s take a look at the different ways we can exchange money. There’s more than one and they all come with their own sets of fees and rules of thumb.
Currency Exchange Methods
As we’ve previously mentioned, whilst banks get the privileged wholesale rate, this does not apply to the average customer. As consumer watchdog Choice writes, getting to the bottom of which rates and charges will be applied to your exchange is complicated even for someone well-versed in financial mathematics.
In fact, many banks no longer stock foreign currency. Instead, they operate on a pre-order system wherein customers must order their currency first and then exchange it. Many banks also offer a limited range of currencies, have limited flexibility on denominations, and transactions often incur high fees.
Currency exchange counters at airports and train stations have what you might call a ‘captive market’. They know people are about to leave for a trip or just landed in the country, so they bump up their fees and bolster their commissions accordingly. Those that don’t usually offer far more lacklustre exchange rates, so either way you’re likely not getting value for your dollar.
You can try your luck with currency brokers outside of airports and train terminals. Most Central Business Districts will have more than one currency converting kiosk, so finding one is usually pretty easy. However, as we noted in our journalist example, these businesses rarely offer a better exchange than what you’d get at the airport and even then it’s likely only a few dollars more in your pocket.
Travel money cards have soared in popularity in recent years, thanks in large part to the growing accessibility of international travel and a strong marketing push from credit card companies, who provide many of the most popular travel money cards.
These cards effectively act as temporary debit cards and have the benefit of allowing you to lock in your exchange rate. Whilst they incur their own fees and it can often be difficult to decipher which cards is the best option for your circumstances, travel money cards can be an excellent way to avoid bank-issued credit/debit card fees.
However, not all travel cards are created equal and it can indeed be difficult to figure out the best option, so it’s best to speak with an experienced currency specialist who can help you find the best deal. At Exchange Now, we offer travel cards alongside our vast currency options.
Whilst the rates may not always be optimal, Choice did find that under some circumstances it may pay to use an ATM. Namely, if you are going on a very short international trip, say a week or under.
Of course, it’s important to note that banks can charge a percentage of your withdrawal as a fee, so you’re better off withdrawing larger sums than suffering multiple fees on small withdrawals. You should also ask your bank if they charge fees for using ATMs abroad or whether they have preferred ATMs overseas.
The Best Foreign Exchange Rates
It doesn’t really get much better (or easier) than exchanging currency online. Using a trusted online currency exchange portal like Exchange Now will not only ensure you get the best possible rate, you won’t have to contend with the exorbitant fees of banks and third-party currency brokers like those you’ll find at hotels and airports.
We guarantee rates better than the banks on a vast range of currency exchanges, with our rates available to view online 24/7. You can order online, call us, or come visit us at our in-store location, where we offer the exact same rates we do online—no extra fees or depreciated exchange rates.
We’re proud of our reputation as Perth’s Number 1 currency exchange provider, a reputation we built by not only offering the most competitive rates, but by honouring a commitment to travellers. We want to make sure your trip is stress-free by assisting you with everything you need when it comes to spending money overseas.
We provide currency exchange, as well as travel cards and even travel insurance from Bali to Brazil. We offer ongoing customer support and loads of resources to arm you with as much information as possible before you embark on your next trip. Get in touch with us today to find out how we can beat the banks and the brokers.