What You Need to Know About Foreign Currency

foreign currency from multiple different countriesThere are a lot of factors to consider in the foreign currency exchange game. Where you’re going, how long you’ll be there, how much you think you’ll spend, your credit card’s foreign transaction fees, and which bank you use are just a few. However you’re traveling, a few simple tips will help you make the most of exchange rates and feel confident using a foreign currency.

What Foreign Currencies Are Out There?

Before we get into the details of obtaining and using foreign currency, you should probably know that there are 180 currencies recognized as legal tender around the world. If you plan to visit a country and pay for goods and services, you’ll need to know which foreign currency to get before you leave. For a list of these currencies and the countries they’re used in, see our list at the end of this article.

Tip #1: Know the Exchange Rate

It’s in your best interest to be an expert in the current exchange rate when traveling in foreign countries. You can use a website like X-rates or Travelex’s Foreign Currency Converter to track the fluctuations. This will not only save you from being ripped off by a bad exchange rate while changing money, it will also keep your spending in check. You may feel like a euro is basically the same as a dollar, but your credit card doesn’t. In some countries, their currency is worth more than the U.S. dollar and, in some countries, it’s worth less. It’s important to know how much that £25 souvenir from London, England, is actually costing you.  

Remember that the foreign exchange rates are constantly fluctuating as the world economy does its thing. Check the exchange rates right before you leave as it will most likely be different than it was when you initially booked your trip.  

Tip #2: Exchange Money Before You Leave

You’ll want some cash on hand as soon as you get to your destination, just in case. You may have to tip a taxi driver or buy a train ticket to reach your final destination. But, as convenient as the airport foreign currency exchanges may be, they should be your last resort. They really are that bad. They thrive on taking advantage of travelers by adding extra fees on top of the exchange rate to turn a profit. You’ll spend way more than you end up with at the end of the transaction.

Instead, visit your local bank or credit union to exchange some money before you leave. Your bank may charge you a small fee, but they’ll almost always offer the best deal for your foreign currency exchange. Make sure you do this at least a week before your trip, as the exchange can take up to three business days. Foreign currencies that are more commonly exchanged in the U.S. (like the euro) may be available right away, but less common currencies (like the Swedish krona) may have to be ordered by your bank. We recommend getting a few hundred dollars of local currency to have at the start of your trip. You can always get more during your trip if you run out.

Tip #3: It’s OK to Exchange Cash Once You Arrive

Like we said, the worst place to exchange your cash is the airport foreign currency exchange. Independent currency exchanges outside of the airport should also be avoided for the same reasons.

If you need local currency after you arrive, the best place to go is an ATM. You’ll want to make sure your bank knows that you’re traveling (a good idea regardless to avoid them shutting down your credit card), and of course, you’ll want to check the machine for signs of tampering or card skimmers (also always a good idea, in a foreign country or not). An ATM is likely to give you the best exchange rate and the lowest fee, and it’s the most convenient option for cash exchange as well.

Some banks will charge low or even no foreign transaction fees or offer reimbursements for fees incurred at foreign ATMs. Check your bank’s policy before you leave to see what kind of fees you may be up against. Also check to see if your bank has any international affiliates. If they do, you’ll most likely be able to bypass fees by choosing those ATMs. If your bank doesn’t have in-network ATMs in your location, out-of-network ATMs will do, but you’ll most likely pay surcharges to the ATM’s owner.

If for some reason you can’t find an ATM, many foreign banks are happy to exchange your U.S. dollars for their local currency at a good exchange rate. You’ll still have to pay a small fee just like at your bank back home.

Tip #4: Don’t Carry More Than $400

Taking a hit on an exchange rate is always better than risking theft or loss by exchanging a large sum of money at once. Depending on where and how long you’re traveling, you may be able to get by with only a few hundred dollars in cash, using a credit card for the rest. How much you feel comfortable carrying is up to you, but today it’s easy enough to get cash or pay with a card that you can prioritize feeling like your money is safe over worrying that you’ll run out. All that to say: Don’t feel like you must bring every cent you’ll spend during your trip in cash.

Tip #5: Use a Credit Card Whenever Possible

Your best bet while traveling is to use a credit card, but there are a few things you should know first.

  • Make sure your card doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. If it does, it might be time to get another card that is designated for travel. There are plenty of options that don’t have annual fees and don’t have foreign transaction fees. To get you started, there’s a list here. If you want a credit card that does double duty with no foreign transaction fees and earns you points toward flights and hotel stays, here are some more great options.
  • Make sure your credit card is widely accepted internationally. Even if it’s labeled as an “international card,” American Express and Discover are rarely accepted in some countries. It’s safest to go with MasterCard or Visa for your international card—they are generally taken anywhere that credit cards are accepted.
  • Make sure your credit card company knows you’re traveling. Whether you have to give them a call or mark yourself traveling in their app or on their website, make sure you do this before your trip. Even if you have an internet connection when you’re abroad, you might not be able to call them if they put a stop on your card, and it could be out of service your whole trip.

Once you have that in order, you can put down your credit card with confidence! Who wants to miss out on racking up points during their entire vacation?

Tip #6: Pay in the Local Currency

When paying with a card, the business will sometimes give you an option to pay in U.S. dollars or in the local currency. U.S. dollars makes sense, right? Wrong. If you are given the option, always choose the local currency. Your bank will automatically exchange foreign currency at the best rate. If you pay in U.S. dollars, you’re at the mercy of that business’s exchange rate, which will likely not land in your favor.

You should use the same caution if a store accepts dollars in cash. You’re likely making up for the convenience with a premium.

Tip #7: You Probably Don’t Need Traveler’s Checks, Unless You Do

For the vast majority of travel destinations, there’s no need to use traveler’s checks anymore. They were traditionally used to keep your money safe while traveling, so you had access to all the cash you needed without risking theft or loss. Today, credit cards and ATMs fill that role. But if you’re traveling to a place where credit cards and ATMs aren’t widely used, traveler’s checks might be a compelling option. There’s a full guide to how and why to use travelers’ checks on The Balance, a personal finance website.

Tip #8: Our Ideal Scenario

In our ideal scenario, a scenario in which you have a credit card that has no fees on foreign transactions, you’d exchange a few hundred dollars at your bank before your trip. You’d use cash only as needed throughout your trip and to tip (if that’s culturally accepted in the country), and you’d use your card everywhere else (get those points!). You’d know the exact exchange rate and feel comfortable reading prices and pulling out foreign money.

You’d let your bank and credit card company know you were traveling before you left and stop at your bank-affiliated ATM if you run out of cash. You’d have the best vacation ever.

One other way to ensure you’ll have the best vacation ever? Skip the third-party travel sites that bias your search results and offer sub-par customer service and book through Roomkey instead. When you visit Roomkey.com, you’ll find unbiased search results that are easy to understand so that you can find the perfect hotel for your trip. When you find the room and price you’re comfortable with, we’ll take you to the hotel’s website, so you can finish your booking directly with them to lock in your rate and ensure you receive the best customer service possible. 

Foreign Currency Break Down

  • Abkhazian apsar – Abkhazia
  • Afghan afghani (AFN) – Afghanistan
  • Albanian lek (ALL) – Albania
  • Alderney pound – Alderney
  • Algerian dinar (DZD) – Algeria, Sahrawi Republic
  • Angolan kwanza (AOA) – Algeria
  • Argentine peso (ARS) – Argentina
  • Armenian dram (AMD) – Armenia, Artsakh
  • Artsakh dram – Artsakh
  • Aruban florin (AWG) – Aruba
  • Ascension pound – Ascnsion Island
  • Australian dollar (AUD) – Australia, Cocos/Keeling Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Tuvalu
  • Azerbaijani manat (AZN) – Azerbaijan
  • Bahamian dollar (BSD) – Bahamas
  • Bahraini dinar (BHD) – Bahrain
  • Bangladeshi taka (BDT) – Bangladesh
  • Barbadian dollar (BBD) – Barbados
  • Belarusian ruble (BYN) – Belarus
  • Belize dollar (BZD) – Belize
  • Bermudian dollar (BMD) – Bermuda
  • Bhutanese ngultrum (BTN) – Bhutan
  • Bolivian boliviano (BOB) – Bolivia
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina convertible mark (BAM) – Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Botswanan pula (BWP) – Botswana, Zimbabwe
  • Brazilian real (BRL) – Brazil
  • Brunei dollar (BND) – Brunei
  • British pound (GBP) – Alderney, Guernsey, Isle of Man, Jersey, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, United Kingdom, Zimbabwe
  • British Virgin Islands dollar – British Vergin Islands
  • Brunei dollar (BND) – Brunei, Singapore
  • Bulgarian lev (BGN) – Bulgaria
  • Burmese kyat (MMK) – Myanmar/Burma
  • Burundian franc (BIF) – Burundi
  • Cambodian riel (KHR) – Cambodia
  • Canadian dollar (CAD) – Canada
  • Cape Verdean escudo (CVE) – Cape Verde
  • Cayman Islands dollar (KYD) – Cayman Islands
  • Central African CFA franc (XAF) – Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon
  • CFP franc (XPF) – French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna Islands
  • Chilean peso (CLP) – Chile
  • Chinese yuan (CNY) – China, Zimbabwe
  • Colombian peso (COP) – Colombia
  • Comorian franc (KMF) – Comoros
  • Congolese franc (CDF) – Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Cook Islands dollar – Cook Islands
  • Costa Rican colón (CRC) – Costa Rica
  • Croatian kuna (HRK) – Croatia/Hrvatska
  • Cuban convertible peso (CUC) – Cuba
  • Cuban peso (CUP) – Cuba
  • Czech koruna (CZK) – Czech Republic
  • Danish krone (DKK) – Denmark, Faroe Islands, Greenland
  • Djiboutian franc (DJF) – Djibouti
  • Dominican peso (DOP) – Dominican Republic
  • Eastern Caribbean dollar (XCD) – Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Egyptian pound (EGP) – Egypt
  • Eritrean nakfa (ERN) – Eritrea
  • Ethiopian birr (ETB) – Ethiopia
  • Euro (EUR) – Akrotiri and Dhekelia, Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, Portugal, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Vatican City, Zimbabwe
  • Falkland Islands pound (FKP) – Falkland Islands
  • Faroese króna – Faroe Islands
  • Fijian dollar (FJD) – Fiji
  • Gambian dalasi (GMD) – Republic of The Gambia
  • Georgian lari (GEL) – Georgia
  • Ghanaian cedi (GHS) – Ghana
  • Gibraltar pound (GIP) – Gibraltar
  • Guatemalan quetzal (GTQ) – Guatemala
  • Guernsey pound (GGP) – Alderney, Guernsey
  • Guinean franc (GNF) – Guinea
  • Guyanese dollar (GYD) – Guyana
  • Haitian gourde (HTG) – Haiti
  • Honduran lempira (HNL) – Honduras
  • Hong Kong dollar (HKD) – Hong Kong
  • Hungarian forint (HUF) – Hungary
  • Icelandic króna (ISK) – Iceland
  • Indian rupee (INR) – Bhutan, India, Nepal, Zimbabwe
  • Indonesian rupiah (IDR) – Indonesia
  • Iranian rial (IRR) – Iran
  • Iraqi dinar (IQD) – Iraq
  • Israeli new shekel (ILS) – Israel, State of Palestine
  • Jamaican dollar (JMD) – Jamaica
  • Japanese yen (JPY) – Japan, Zimbabwe
  • Jordanian dinar (JOD) – Jordan, State of Palestine
  • Jersey pound (JEP) – Jersey
  • Kazakhstani tenge (KZT) – Kazakhstan
  • Kenyan shilling (KES) – Kenya
  • Kiribati dollar (KID) – Kiribati
  • Kuwaiti dinar (KWD) – Kuwait
  • Kyrgyzstani som (KGS) – Kyrgyzstan
  • Lao kip (LAK) – Laos
  • Lebanese pound (LBP) – Lebanon
  • Lesotho loti (LSL) – Lesotho
  • Liberian dollar (LRD) – Liberia
  • Libyan dinar (LYD) – Libya
  • Macanese pataca (MOP) – Macau
  • Macedonian denar (MKD) – Republic of North Macedonia
  • Malagasy ariary (MGA) – Madagascar
  • Malawian kwacha (MWK) – Malawi
  • Malaysian ringgit (MYR) – Malaysia
  • Maldivian rufiyaa (MVR) – Maldives
  • Manx pound (IMP) – Isle of Man
  • Mauritanian ouguiya (MRO) – Mauritania, Sahrawi Republic
  • Mauritian rupee (MUR) – Mauritius
  • Mexican peso (MXN) – Mexico
  • Micronesian dollar – Micronesia
  • Moldovan leu (MDL) – Republic of Moldova
  • Mongolian tögrög (MNT) – Mongolia
  • Moroccan dirham (MAD) – Morocco, Sahrawi Republic
  • Mozambican metical (MZM) – Mozambique
  • Namibian dollar (NAD) – Namibia
  • Nauruan dollar – Nauru
  • Nepalese rupee (NPR) – Nepal
  • Netherlands Antillean guilder (ANG) – Curaçao, Sint Maarten
  • New Taiwan dollar (TWD) – Republic of China/Taiwan
  • New Zealand dollar (NZD) – Cook Islands, New Zealand, Niue, Pitcairn Island
  • Nicaraguan córdoba (NIO) – Nicaragua
  • Nigerian naira (NGN) – Nigeria
  • Niue dollar – Niue
  • North Korean won (KPW) – North Korea
  • Norwegian krone (NOK) – Norway
  • Omani rial (OMR) – Oman
  • Pakistani rupee (PKR) – Pakistan
  • Palauan dollar – Palau
  • Panamanian balboa (PAB) – Panama
  • Papua New Guinean kina (PGK) – Papua New Guinea
  • Paraguayan guarani (PYG) – Paraguay
  • Peruvian sol (PEN) – Peru
  • Philippine peso (PHP) – Philippines
  • Polish złoty (PLN) – Poland
  • Qatari riyal (QAR) – Qatar
  • Romanian leu (RON) – Romania
  • Russian ruble (RUB) – Abkhazia, Russian Federation, South Ossetia, Ukraine
  • Rwandan franc (RWF) – Rwanda
  • Sahrawi peseta – Sahrawi Republic
  • Saint Helena pound (SHP) – Ascension Island, Saint Helena, Tristan da Cunha
  • Samoan tālā (WST) – Samoa
  • São Tomé and Príncipe dobra (STN) – São Tomé and Príncipe
  • Saudi riyal (SAR) – Saudi Arabia
  • Serbian dinar (RSD) – Serbia
  • Seychellois rupee (SCR) – Seychelles
  • Sierra Leonean leone (SLL) – Sierra Leone
  • Singapore dollar (SGD) – Brunei, Singapore
  • Solomon Islands dollar (SBD) – Solomon Islands
  • Somali shilling (SOS) – Somalia
  • Somaliland shilling (SLS) – Somaliland
  • South African rand (ZAR) – Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe
  • South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands pound – South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands
  • South Korean won (KWD) – South Korea
  • South Sudanese pound (SSP) – South Sudan
  • Sri Lankan rupee (LKR) – Sri Lanka
  • Sudanese pound (SDG) – Sudan
  • Surinamese dollar (SRD) – Suriname
  • Swazi lilangeni (SZL) – Eswatini
  • Swedish krona (SEK) – Sweden
  • Swiss franc (CHF) – Liechtenstein, Switzerland
  • Syrian pound (SYP) – Syrian Arab Republic
  • Tajikistani somoni (TJS) – Tajikistan
  • Tanzanian shilling (TZS) – Tanzania
  • Thai baht (THB) – Thailand
  • Tongan pa’anga (TOP) – Tonga
  • Transnistrian ruble (PRB) – Transnistria
  • Trinidad and Tobago dollar (TTD) – Trinidad and Tobago
  • Tristan da Cunha pound – Tristan da Cunha
  • Tunisian dinar (TND) – Tunisia
  • Turkish lira (TRY) – Northern Cyprus, Turkey
  • Turkmenistan manat (TMT) – Turkmenistan
  • Tuvaluan dollar (TVD) – Tuvalu
  • Ugandan shilling (UGX) – Uganda
  • Ukrainian hryvnia (UAH) – Ukraine
  • United Arab Emirates dirham (AED) – United Arab Emirates
  • United States dollar (USD) – Bonaire, British Indian Ocean Territory, British Virgin Islands, Cambodia, East Timor, Ecuador, El Salvador, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau, Panama, Saba, Sint Eustatius, Timor Leste, Turks and Caicos Islands, United States, Zimbabwe
  • Uruguayan peso (UYU) – Uruguay
  • Uzbekistani so’m (UZS) – Uzbekistan
  • Vanuatu vatu (VUV) – Vanuatu
  • Venezuelan bolivar soberano (VES) – Venezuela
  • Vietnamese đồng (VND) – Vietnam
  • West African CFA franc (XOF) – Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Togo
  • Yemeni rial (YER) – Yemen
  • Zambian kwacha (ZMW) – Zambia
  • Zimbabwean bonds (ZWB) – Zimbabwe