Best places to exchange currency in Cairns


Tropical Cairns is a dream destination for tourists who love the great outdoors. Whether you’re looking to visit the Great Barrier Reef, get back to nature with a rainforest trek, or simply kick back on a beautiful beach, Cairns makes a fabulous base.

If you’re a tourist headed to Cairns for a break, or you’re lucky enough to be considering a permanent relocation there, you’re going to need some money to pay your way. Here’s all you need to know about exchanging your currency to AUD in Cairns.

Things to know before exchanging currency

There are plenty of great ways to spend your hard earned cash in Cairns. The last thing you want is to spend more than you have to, buying your AUD once you arrive there. Here’s how to make sure you don’t get ripped off.

Understand the real exchange rate (and where to find it)

Understanding the real exchange rate is key to getting a good deal on currency exchange. Also known as the mid-market rate, or the interbank rate, the real exchange rate is the one used by banks when they’re trading currency between themselves, or on the global financial markets.

However, the real exchange rate can be hard to find for tourists and individuals looking to buy smaller amounts of currency for personal use. Banks and money exchange services often take the real exchange rate, and then add their own charges and fees. The end result is the tourist rate usually offered to individuals, which is significantly worse than the real exchange rate. This isn’t transparent, and it certainly isn’t cheap.

It’s easy to check if the rate your bank or exchange service is offering you is a good deal. Just google your currency pairing, or try an online currency converter to get the real exchange rate. The difference between the real rate, and the one your bank is offering, is part of the profit margin they’re pocketing on every trade.

Know that exchange rates change all the time

Keeping up with exchange rates can feel like a mammoth task, as they move up and down all the time and there are different factors that can influence the exchange rate. Big political or economic changes in a country can impact the cost of its currency, but smaller things, or general market sentiment can make a big difference too. An easy way to keep on top of the latest news is to sign up to a handy exchange rate alert service, so you can get an alert when there’s a significant movement in the rates.

Talk to your home bank before you travel

The exchange rate will make a difference to how many AUD you can buy for your dollar, pound, or euro. But it’s also really important to understand the fees which are charged by the exchange service you use, as this will significantly impact the true cost of your currency exchange.

A cost effective way to get your hands on AUD is to use a local ATM once you arrive in Cairns - and skip the exchange office entirely. It’s not likely to be free - you’ll need to read your account terms and conditions to understand what your home bank charges for this service. But using an ATM usually means you’ll get a fair exchange rate, as long as you avoid Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC).

DCC is where you’re offered the choice of being charged in your own currency or the local currency for a transaction. Local currency is always the best option.

It’s also smart to talk to your home bank before you travel, and ask if they have any branches or a partner bank in Australia. Many banks operate in networks which offer cheap or fee-free ATM usage to their customers when travelling. If your home bank has a partner in Australia, you could find that you can avoid some of the ATM fees while you’re there.

Avoid exchange desks at airports and hotels

If you’re going to use an exchange office or bank to change your home currency to AUD, it pays to shop around. Although airports and hotels often offer money exchange, they serve a captive market, and have little competition. That usually means that they won’t offer you a great deal.

Only change what you need

Spending your money on awesome experiences in Cairns is not going to be a problem. However, if you’re visiting for a short while, it’s worth making sure you only change what you need, and spend what you change. Changing AUD back to your home currency when you’re ready to head home just means you’ll be hit by fees and costs twice.

Where to exchange money

There are a few places in Cairns where you can change your money to AUD. However, don’t forget that money exchange isn’t free. These services will still need to make a profit from every transaction - even if they claim to have zero commission.

Often you’ll find that the profit of the exchange service is rolled up into the exchange rate used. However, as we mentioned above, exchange rates change all the time. So before you commit to a currency exchange shop, make sure to check the rate they’re offering you, and compare it to the real exchange rate, so you’ll know if they’re overcharging you:

Here are some handy foreign exchange services in Cairns:

CompanyContact informationExchange rate they use
Travel Money OzCairns Central Shopping Centre1-21 McLeod StreetCairnsOn their website Travel Money Oz says about their exchange rate: “TV programs show wholesale rates, which are only available to large financial institutions and organisations. Unless you’re buying and selling millions of dollars at a time, you’ll be purchasing your currency at retail rates, which are what we display in store and on our website¹.
TravelexCairns Central Shopping CentreCorner of Spence and McLeod StreetsCairnsThe Travelex website explains why it uses a tourist rate, rather than the real interbank rate for currency conversion: “The market (or spot) exchange rate is the rate banks exchange currencies at. A lot of extra processes and people go into providing you with currency. The cost of these is reflected in the price of the currency.²”
Currency Services Australia14 Spence StreetCairnsCurrency Services Australia does not publish any rates online - you’ll have to call the office, or head there in person to check out the deals on offer.
ANZ BankCairns Square42–58 Abbott StreetCairnsANZ Bank publishes exchange rates online, but notes the following important information: “These rates are intended only as a guide. While every effort is made to ensure the information is accurate, you should confirm the latest rates with ANZ prior to making any decisions or initiating any transactions. These rates are not applicable at ANZ Foreign Exchange Centres.³”

If you’re worried about the upfront and hidden fees applied by many banks and exchange services, you might find that a better option is to transfer money to a local bank account in Australia, and use then withdraw cash from fee-free ATMs one you arrive in Cairns.

If you, or the person you’re visiting, has a bank account in Australia, then you can use Wise to transfer your cash, using the real exchange rate, for only a small fee. Check out how much you could save with Wise, compared to some of the other options available.

Another option, if you’re an expat or travel regularly, is to grab yourself a Wise multi-currency borderless account. With this new account you can hold your cash in any one of dozens of currencies, including Australian dollars. You can get a linked Wise debit card so you can use your AUD balance to pay in stores directly, and beat ATM fees entirely. See if you can get a better deal with Wise, today. See if you can get a better deal with Wise, today.





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