How to Change Foreign Currency

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Changing foreign currency into your home currency is usually simple but somewhat expensive. Dealers who exchange currencies charge a premium when you buy or sell foreign currencies. Most foreign currencies are denominated in American dollars, so the prices for foreign currencies are usually quoted in U.S. dollars. Find the closest bid and offer prices for the fairest deal.

Widely held currencies like the Euro usually have tighter markets.
(money money money image by Tribalstar from Fotolia.com)

Things You'll Need

  • Foreign currency
  • Calculator
Step 1

Convert from dollars to foreign currency. Use the exchange rate and a calculator to determine how to change from dollars to a foreign currency. Most currencies are quoted in dollars, for instance Swiss francs might be worth 85 cents or 0.85 dollars. Each dollar is worth 1 divided by 0.85 or about 1.18 Swiss francs. Take the price of a foreign item and multiply it by the value of the currency in dollars to determine how many dollars to pay. For instance, an item costing 25 Swiss francs should cost 25 times 0.85 cents, which equals $21.25.

Use a calculator to make exhange conversions.
Calculator image by Alhazm Salemi from Fotolia.com
Step 2

Don't over-convert. When you travel to a foreign country, it is a good idea to convert some dollars to the local currency for cabs, bus rides and tips, but many items and services can be purchased with a credit card that will convert the currency for you. Each time you convert between dollars and a foreign currency, the exchange will cost you money. Would you carry a thousand dollars in your purse for a trip to the local mall? Do you feel safer carrying a thousand dollars to a foreign destination?

The more you exchange, the more you pay.
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Step 3

Keep extra dollars on hand. Many foreign merchants will readily deal in American dollars and are keenly aware of exchange rates. Check the foreign exchange rate in dollars before you leave so you know if you are getting a good deal.

Most foreign merchants will accept U.S. dollars.
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Step 4

Spend the change. It is difficult or impossible to exchange coinage outside of the foreign country where it is used. Don't count on being able to get dollars back for foreign coins. Spend the coins or plan on keeping them for souvenirs.

Don't count on being able to exchange coins.
coins image by Maria Brzostowska from Fotolia.com
Step 5

Use a bank or foreign exchange service. You will be given two prices--one for buying the foreign currency and one for selling the foreign currency. The dealer will "sell high" and "buy low" to make a profit. The closer the bid and offer prices, the better the deal. For instance, a vendor who will buy and sell British pounds at $1.45 and $1.65 is not giving as good a deal as one who will buy and sell at $1.50 and $1.60. Larger currency transactions should be made with the tightest bid/offer available.

A typical foreign exchange sign
change image by rachid amrous-spleen from Fotolia.com

Tips & Warnings

  • Note if you simply bought and sold $100 from the first dealer in Step 5, you would lose about $12. You buy British pounds at 1.65 apiece, giving you 60.60 British pounds, but you sell them back at 1.45, leaving you with $87.87. Make sure you only exchange the amount of money you need to avoid excess transaction costs. For information on various foreign currency exchange rates, visit X-rates.com.
  • Thinly traded currencies in exotic small countries often have wild value fluctuations. It is usually safer to deal in American dollars in these locations--check with your travel agent to see if U.S. dollars are generally accepted in the foreign location. For example, if you kept 50 Argentinian australes from a trip to Buenos Aires years ago, for which you paid $50 US dollars--that Argentinian money is now worth less than a penny. There are laws governing how much cash you can travel with to different countries. It may also be necessary to change your currency at a state-run exchange facility. Check with the local consulate for rules concerning exchange in various foreign countries.
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