There are a million things to plan and prepare when you’re taking an international trip, and the thing that most often gets left to the last minute is exchanging your Canadian cash for the foreign stuff you’ll need abroad. We’re always prepared to take a hit when it comes to the exchange — we’re Canadians, after all — but there are smart ways to soften the blow.
Follow these tips and maybe, just maybe, you won’t lose a small fortune on the exchange.
Exchange well in advance
We know it’s usually the last thing you think of, but you should really do your exchanging earlier than a few days before, especially if you’re travelling somewhere other than the U.S. Banks don’t keep a large stash of all types of currency on hand, so they might need to order it in. That means it could take up to five business days to get the cash you need. That’s not great if you’re leaving the country in three days.
Do your research and shop around
Banks aren’t the only places that’ll exchange your money — it’s possible that a currency exchange could have a better rate. Check the Bank of Canada website for the current exchange rate, then research what added fees different banks and exchanges will charge you. It pays to shop around and find the best deal possible.
Also try to accurately price out how much money you’re going to need for the entire trip. You really aren’t going to like the options that are available to you for exchanging money once you’re abroad.
Don’t exchange at the airport
This is always a bad idea. Security is more expensive in an airport and you’ll be paying for that through exchange fees. They also know that if you’re exchanging your money at an airport, you’re probably desperate and they are definitely going to take advantage of that. Just don’t do it.
Write down your credit card numbers
It seems like one of the most common travel stories is losing your wallet. To make things easier if that happens, write down the phone numbers of your bank and credit card company as well at your card numbers and keep them in a safe place (not your wallet!). That way, if you lose anything, you can call to deactivate the cards you lost and possibly get new ones.
If you need cash while abroad, an ATM is your best bet
It sounds fake, but in the wide range of bad and expensive options open to you for getting local currency abroad, this is the best. Your bank is going to charge you a 2.5% foreign interest fee as well as three to five dollars and the ATM itself will charge you at least two, but you gotta do what you gotta do. Just be smart when using foreign ATMs. Check the machine for the interact logo, that usually means that it can take your card (although older machines might not be able to process your fancy, foreign debit card). Only use ATMs that are in banks or commercial areas and do your exchange during business hours if you can, just in case something goes wrong.
Keep all your receipts (especially ones from ATMs) just in case something goes wrong. It’s a good idea to keep them for customs anyway, but you want to have proof in case you become the victim of theft or fraud while you’re away. Having those receipts can make disputing charges and proving fraud a whole lot easier. It may be a pain, but it could pay off big time.
Check your bank statements when you get home
Good thing you kept those receipts, eh? Check your bank statements for double or unfamiliar charges. If you don’t recognize something, address it right away. That’s not the kind of thing you want to dawdle on in case someone still has access to your card.