Currency Exchange at Ottawa Airport: Fees To Watch Out for

Diane Rekker

Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier Airport is one of Canada’s busiest, with over 5 million passengers passing through annually.

If you’re headed abroad via Ottawa Airport, you might be planning on getting your foreign currency as you wait for your flight. This can make life easier, but you may find you pay a premium for the convenience. This guide covers all you need to know about buying your travel money at Ottawa Airport, to help you weigh up the pros and cons.

Even if you’re short on time, you do have alternatives when it comes to setting up your holiday money. We’ll also take a look at these, including low cost international payments with Wise and the Wise multi-currency account.

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What should you be aware of when you exchange money at Ottawa airport?

So how do you know if you’re getting a good deal or not when you buy foreign currency? Here are a few things to look out for.

Is there an upfront fee or commission?

Different service providers have different pricing structures for foreign currency. This can be confusing and means you’ll have to look at several factors when comparing one to another. To get started, check if your chosen provider lists upfront fees or commission charges, which may be flat fees or a percentage cost.

It’s worth noting that many currency services don’t charge an upfront fee to change your money. They market themselves as offering zero percent commission or fee free foreign exchange. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you can get a bargain.

If an exchange service doesn’t charge an upfront fee, there may well still be a charge, which is often added to the exchange rate used. After all, the provider has to make a profit somewhere to cover their own costs. A common way to do this is to add a margin to the exchange rate, which the provider can then keep for themselves. More on that coming right up.

What is the exchange rate you get?

After checking for upfront fees, you’ll need to take a look at the exchange rate being used for your currency conversion. As we have noted, this is especially important if the provider doesn’t charge a listed fee for commission, as there may well be an exchange rate markup to consider.

Exchange rates move up and down all the time, so getting an online currency converter or app is a good way to keep track of the rate for your particular currency pairing, you can also find the mid-market rate by Googling your currency pair. This way you’ll get the mid-market exchange rate, which you can compare to the rate your chosen provider is offering for your travel money.

The mid-market rate is important because it’s the rate banks and currency exchange services get when they buy foreign currency themselves. By using this as a benchmark, you can see whether a provider has added a margin to the rate they pass on to their customer. If there’s a markup, you might find you pay more than you need to for your currency exchange.

Not all currency services add a markup to the exchange rate offered. Wise, for example, uses the mid-market rate and only charges an upfront fee. This is more transparent and can wind up much cheaper than using your bank or an alternative currency provider. More on that later.

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Where in Ottawa airport can you exchange currency?

You can exchange your Canadian dollars in the airport in a few different places. Here are your options¹.

International Currency Exchange (ICE)

ICE has 3 locations in Ottawa Airport¹⁺²:

  • Pre-security on Level 1 - open daily 9am to 12am
  • Post-security, US, on Level 2 - open daily 5am to 7pm, or 5pm on weekends
  • Post-security, Canada and International, near Gate 15 - open daily 5am to 9pm, or 7pm on weekends

You can order your foreign currency through the Click and Collect service - which means you order and pay online, and then collect your money from the ICE desk as you pass through the airport. This may mean you get a better exchange rate compared to the rate on offer if you just show up at the airport.

Ready Card Kiosk

Ottawa Airport also has a Ready Station Cash Conversion kiosk, which allows you to buy or top up a Ready Card¹. You can find the kiosk on level 3, pre-security.

The Ready Card is a prepaid card which you can use like a regular debit card as you travel³. However, it’s important to note that there are fees and restrictions which apply with the cards on offer. Make sure you check out the details in the cardholder agreement⁴ in full before you choose to use one, as you may need to pay a monthly fee, as well as charges to upload cash, use an ATM, and foreign transaction fees.


Are there alternatives to exchanging money at Ottawa airport?

Even if you’re about to head out to the airport, you’re not too late to choose an alternative way to get your foreign currency.

Use an ATM

One option is to simply wait until you arrive at your destination and use an ATM there.

The advantage of this option is that ATM exchange rates are usually set by your card provider, and tend to be relatively close to the mid-market rate. You will, however, need to check you won’t have to pay excessive fees to your own bank, or the ATM operator, as these can push up the costs significantly.

Exchange upon arrival

Carrying cash for exchange? Depending on where you’re headed you might find that the exchange rates are better once you arrive in your destination.

It pays to avoid the exchange desk at your hotel, and head into the city centre to find the best deal available.

Try Wise for convenient, low cost international payments

A final smart way to get the best exchange rates available is to use Wise.

If your trip involves meeting up with friends or family, you could use Wise to make a low cost money transfer to someone you trust with a local bank account wherever you’re headed. Then withdraw the money from fee free ATMs when you arrive, to get currency conversion with the mid-market exchange rate, and beat ATM charges and foreign transaction fees.

Travelling could be even easier with a Wise multi-currency account. You’ll be able to hold 50+ currencies, and switch between them using the mid-market exchange rate. There’s no markup, and no hidden fees to worry about, so you can get on with enjoying your trip.

Check out Wise today, and start saving on your travel money.

Sources used for this article:
1.Financial services on Ottawa Airport
2.ICE - Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport (YOW)
3.Ready Card - homepage
4.Ready Card - Cardholder agreements
*All sources checked on July 20, 2020

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This publication is provided for general information purposes and does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its subsidiaries and its affiliates, and it is not intended as a substitute for obtaining advice from a financial advisor or any other professional.

We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether expressed or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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