"Travelmad's Travel Tips: Money" Personal Page by travelmad478
It's been many, many years since I used travelers' checks, fretted over how much cash to take on a trip, or got shafted by commissions while getting local currency overseas. These days, the ubiquity of bank ATMs makes these concerns effectively obsolete. Complain all you like about globalization, but there can be no debate on the vast improvements and efficiencies introduced by the interconnectedness of banks worldwide.
The very best way to get cash is to have a bank account with an ATM card that allows access to the common bank money transfer systems such as Plus, Cirrus, Star, etc. (Outside the US, your bank's system might have a different name, but it will usually often connect with these major programs.) In the last seven years, I have traveled to more than 30 countries--from Argentina to Zimbabwe--and I have NEVER had a problem getting cash from a local bank's ATM. You can usually find a working machine right in the airport when you arrive, so that you'll have taxi fare to your hotel. This method of getting cash will give you the best exchange rate, and you can withdraw just the amount of cash you'll need. The only thing to watch out for is that your home bank, or the ATM you're using, might charge a fee for withdrawals (non-US ATMs generally do not charge a fee).
Major cities in just about every country will have ATMs available, but if you're not in a major city, you might have to resort to other methods. I usually bring around USD 200 with me on trips in case I get stuck in a non-ATM location. Travelers' checks are usually OK, but if you're in a place that is so small it doesn't have a bank, it's unlikely that you'll be able to exchange them. Cash--specifically, US cash--is king. No offense to the euro, but outside western and eastern Europe, the US dollar is the money that people want. The most cost-effective place to change money is at a bank; a bureau de change (especially in an airport) gives a worse rate, and the cash desk at your hotel will be the worst of all.
If you live in the US, absolutely resist the temptation to get currency while still in the US for the country you're traveling to. Trust me--you'll be able to get local currency the minute you arrive, by exchanging US cash or using your bank card. You will always get a better rate "on the ground" than in a country where the currency you're buying is not used. If you buy foreign currency in the US, you're going to be paying an exorbitant commission to the bank or exchange bureau. The cost to them of buying and holding physical foreign currency is very high, since there's very little demand for it in the US. You'll pay that cost in your commission.
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