Where to exchange foreign currency for low fees

Gabriela Peratello

Going on an overseas trip? You’ll probably be wondering how to exchange foreign currency in the US, so you can sort out your travel money before you leave home.

Having a travel money plan is essential to avoid unnecessary costs and to make sure you don’t waste time on your vacation hunting out exchange options.

Read on for our full guide to foreign currency exchange in the US - including where to go, how to buy your travel money, and which services are worth avoiding.


Tips for foreign currency exchange for beginners

You can organize currency exchange in the US before you leave, or get your travel money sorted out when you arrive at your destination.

Before we get into how to exchange foreign currency in the US step by step, let’s look at a few top tips to make sure you get the best possible deal:

  • Do some research to find the best places to exchange currency in the US for your specific location and destination - banks and currency exchange services have variable exchange rates and fees, so shopping around is essential

  • Get to know the exchange rates for the currency you need to buy - you can get an easy currency conversion tool or app so you can watch the rate and buy when it looks good

  • Always pay in the local currency wherever you are. If you’re asked if you’d rather pay in dollars, it’s best to decline to avoid extra fees and a bad exchange rate

  • Avoid airport and hotel currency exchange options which usually have inflated fees

  • Get a multi-currency account and card from a non-bank provider like Wise and you’ll be able to hold, send and spend foreign currencies easily, and often with low overall costs, too¹

Foreign currency exchange in the US: where to start

You’ll have a few different options when it comes to exchanging currency for your trip.

You could pick from one of the following:
  • Call into a branch of a bank like Bank of America®² or Wells Fargo®³ to buy foreign currency

  • Get your travel money at the airport or at your hotel

  • Rely on your bank credit or debit card for spending and withdrawals

  • Get a specialist travel card from a service like Wise to pay in foreign currencies and make cash withdrawals on arrival

  • Order your travel money online with a service like CXI®⁴ for home delivery

Each of these options has their own features and fees. Getting travel cash in advance from a bank or non-bank provider is reassuring, as you’ll have your travel money in your pocket before you leave home.

However, you might pay fairly high fees, and carrying too much travel money isn’t usually advisable for security reasons. Converting your cash at the airport or at your hotel is convenient but likely to mean you pay higher fees overall, while using your normal bank credit or debit card can also be handy but might mean paying foreign transaction fees.

Often one of the most cost effective options available is to get a specialist travel card from a provider like Wise which is optimized for international use, and which comes with easy ways to convert, hold and spend foreign currencies. More on that later.

Skip cash exchange: take a Wise card with you

Say goodbye to overcomplicated currency exchange.

Wise can help you get a better deal on currency conversion in over 40 currencies, with the mid-market exchange rate and low fees.

Open a personal Wise account online or in the Wise app, and order a linked debit card for a one-time fee to spend and withdraw money in 150+ countries.

There’s no fee to spend any currency you hold, and no foreign transaction fee to worry about.

Use your account when you travel or shop online in foreign currencies, send payments in 70+ currencies, and get your own local bank details in 9 currencies.

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Please see the Terms of Use for your region or visit Wise fees & pricing for the most up-to-date information on pricing and fees

How to exchange foreign currency in the US: step by step

Each bank or service provider may have a slightly different range of travel money solutions, so you’ll have to check the details of their process with the one you pick before you get started.

Often your options will include ordering currency online, calling into a physical branch or store in person, or getting a flexible travel money card you can use to make payments internationally conveniently.

Let’s walk through an example looking at how to order currency online to have it delivered, or to collect in a branch location if that’s convenient. You’ll need to take the following steps:

Step 1. Choose the currency exchange service you want to use, based on availability and cost

Step 2. Click on the option to either have money delivered or to collect, depending on your preference

Step 3. Enter the currency you want to buy and the amount

Step 4. Check over the quote you’re given for fees and exchange rate

Step 5. If you’re ordering for home delivery you’ll pay online with a bank card

Step 6. Once your payment is cleared you’ll get a confirmation

Step 7. You’ll need to show some ID when your money is delivered for security reasons

In some cases, if you want to collect your money in a branch location in person you’ll also have the option of paying in cash on arrival.

If you’d prefer to skip the hassle of waiting home for a cash travel money delivery, or heading out to a store to order and collect your money, consider using a travel money card from a service like Wise instead.

You’ll be able to open an account and order your Wise card online or with your phone, and then add money from your bank or card, to make convenient and instant cash withdrawals in local currency when you travel.


Best places to exchange currency in the US

There’s no single best place to exchange currency in the US - it’ll really come down to your personal preference, the options that are convenient for you, and the currency you need. Usually starting with your bank or credit union is a good idea as you’ll be able to easily view their exchange rates and fees online for comparison. Check the costs against specialist providers, and non-bank alternatives like Wise, to see which offers the best balance of cost and convenience for your specific needs.

Where to exchange foreign currency outside of the US?

Currency exchange offices are usually found in towns and cities, and close to major tourist areas. You can carry USD in cash - in clean and unmarked bills - to exchange on arrival if you’d like to. However, be mindful of security, as carrying a lot of cash can make you a target for thieves.

Often if you’ve not sorted out your foreign currency before you travel, your best bet will be to simply make ATM withdrawals when you arrive. Double check if your card charges a fee for this service, but ATMs are pretty widely available in most destinations, and making withdrawals as and when you need to means you don’t have to carry too much cash all at once, too.

Where to avoid exchanging currency

Usually exchanging currency anywhere where there’s no competition will mean you pay a higher overall cost. That means avoiding airport currency exchanges, where all of the providers are likely to be from the same company, and your hotel, for example. Choosing to head into the city center will usually mean a much better deal in the end.

Currency exchange FAQ:

Where is the best place to exchange foreign currency in the US?

There’s no single best place to exchange foreign currency in the US - but if you want travel cash, starting with your bank can be a fairly safe bet. Or ditch cash altogether and pick up a specialist travel card from a non-bank service like Wise, to hold, exchange and spend in foreign currencies more conveniently.

Can you exchange foreign currency at any bank in the US?

Not all banks offer foreign currency services - and some which do will only extend this option to people who already have an account with them. For that reason it’s important to check in advance if you’re thinking of getting travel money through your bank or credit union, so you’ll be sure of the process you need to follow.

How can you avoid fees when exchanging foreign currency?

You may not be able to avoid fees entirely when arranging your travel money, but comparing a few providers based on both fees and exchange rates is a good way to make sure you get a fair deal.

Look for a service which uses the mid-market exchange rate or as close to it as possible, to make sure the fees are transparent and easy to understand.

Is it better to exchange currency before you leave the US?

Exchanging currency before you leave the US is reassuring - but not actually necessary thanks to the widespread availability of ATMs globally.

If you don’t want to spend time sorting your travel money in advance you can get a specialist travel card from a service like Wise instead, to spend and make cash withdrawals conveniently all over the world.

Arranging your foreign currency in the US shouldn’t be too tricky, but it is important to review the full fee schedule for any provider you pick, and to watch out for costs added into the exchange rates offered.

These exchange rate markups can be hard to spot, and push up the overall cost of your travel money without you realizing. Use this guide to start your research - and remember to check out Wise as well, as a non-bank alternative with the mid-market exchange rate and low fees.


  1. Please see Terms of Use for your region or visit Wise Fees & Pricing for the most up to date pricing and fee information
  2. Bank of America currency exchange
  3. Wells Fargo currency exchange
  4. CXI

Sources checked on 12.04.2023

*Please see terms of use and product availability for your region or visit Wise fees and pricing for the most up to date pricing and fee information.

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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