Remember the days of cashing travelers checks abroad at an American Express location? That entire experience may be a thing of the past, but today, there are more ways than ever to ensure you’ve always got some cash on-hand when travelling through Europe. But not all cash is created equal, so we’ve put together this brief guide to withdrawing currency for your river cruise.
Withdrawing a little “foldin’ money” from an ATM while abroad is a smart choice. We always hit an ATM in the airport during our European connections, or in the airport immediately after landing. Why the airport? It’s convenient and safe, particularly in the secure area of the airport. Unlike in a crowded square in a busy tourist area, your fellow travellers aren’t all that likely to rip you off while you withdraw some bank notes.
Of course, when aboard, pay attention to the ATM machine you’re withdrawing the cash from. In particular, make sure it’s attached (or better, inside) a major financial institution. Standalone ATM teller machines in convenience stores and busy tourist attractions are almost always a bad choice. At the very least, you’ll pay a much higher transaction fee than ATMS physically attached and branded to a financial institution. At the very worst, you could end up the victim of card skimming or pin-tampering.
Note also that ATM’s are rarely referred to as such in Europe. Most European cities call them bankomat, while the Netherlands calls them geldautomaat. In France, seek out a distributeur, while if you’re travelling in the UK, nearly all ATM machines will be called a cash point.
Your bank can be a great source for getting foreign currency before you ever leave home – but a lot of it depends on who you bank with. Not all financial institutions are created equal, and many (surprisingly) don’t have any Euros on-hand. This requires your bank to order in the desired amount of currency – and of course, there’s an additional fee for that service.
Currency Exchange Bureaus
These should always be your last resort. Currency Exchange Bureaus, particularly those branches located in airports or major tourist destinations, will almost always cost you more than simply withdrawing money from an ATM or getting notes from your own bank. The rate to buy foreign currency is substantially higher than either of the former, and you can expect to lose a great deal when converting one currency to another.
As much as we’re reluctant to ever give them any business, they are convenient for one thing: converting several different kinds of bills into a single currency. On a recent trip, we had Norwegian Kroner, British Pounds and U.S. Dollars that were all converted into Euros. Sure, we lost some money in the transfer, but for the sheer convenience of having a workable, useable currency in Europe, we bit the bullet.
Notes on Currency
Though we’ve never had the good fortune to encounter this particular problem, it’s worth noting that many countries will require you to declare any currency on your person with a worth of 10,000 or over. This includes all types of currencies; you can’t, for example, carry $10,000 USD and €2,000 – that puts your total currency at somewhere over 12,000.
If you plan to make major purchases while abroad, you’re almost always better off putting it on a credit card that can give you certain protections should the merchandise not be up to snuff. You’ll still have to declare your purchases to Customs, but it’s far less complex and more hassle-free than carrying a giant wad of cash around.
If you do choose to use your credit card, some retailers might ask you if you’d like to be charged in Euros, or in your own currency. Always make purchases in the local currency! By choosing to pay in “Dollars”, the retailer (or rather, the terminal merchant) is performing an expensive conversion from Euros to Dollars with an exchange rate that’s far from fair.
With a little planning and preparation, you can ensure your trip to Europe is as rewarding financially as it is personally.
Do you have any tips or tricks for using currency abroad? Let us know!