Newark Airport currency exchange: Watch out for high fees


Newark Liberty International Airport — sometimes known as EWR — is New Jersey’s major airport, and the US’s 15th busiest overall. It’s a stone’s throw away from the New Jersey cities of Newark and Elizabeth, as well as Philadelphia and New York City. You can’t miss it.

It’s not a surprise then, that you can exchange foreign currency while you’re there. Whether you’re beginning or ending your journey at Newark, or even if you’re just there briefly between flights. But is that really the best way to get money for your trip abroad? Read on for some more information on how best to handle foreign currency when you travel — as well as how to exchange currency at Newark Airport.

Where to exchange money at Newark Airport?

In terms of locations, at Newark Airport you’re spoilt for choice. There are at least 10 places operated by Travelex where you can get foreign currency.¹ So whichever terminal you’ll be at and whether you’re arriving or departing, you shouldn’t be too far away from a Travelex.

Travelex advises you to order your money online at least a day before you get to the airport — then, when you get there, you can simply collect the order you’ve placed. This is good advice, because online you’ll be able to take advantage of what they call their “best rate of the day.”

Which means, of course, that if you don’t book online, you won’t get their best exchange rate. The exchange rate you get depends on how you choose to make the order. Good to know — but kind of irritating if you’re already at the airport, on the verge of making an unnecessarily expensive currency exchange.

That said, is Travelex’s online exchange rate really the “best”? It’s kind of a relative term. The real “best” exchange rate could be considered the mid-market exchange rate… But how do you get that?

Should I exchange money in Newark Airport?

First, try a comparison. If you look on Travelex’s website, you’ll be able to see its exchange rate and discover how much the currency exchange will cost. But now compare that to the mid-market exchange rate, which you can find on online currency converters like Google, XE or Wise.

You can find a significant difference between Travelex’s exchange rate and the mid-market rate. Which means you might well be losing out if you get your currency at the airport.

Once you’re at Newark Airport, after all, you’re a captive market: it’s your last chance to get hold of foreign cash before you step out of the airport and into a new country. So the traditional logic goes that people are willing to pay more for a simple service like currency exchange, when they’re under that sort of pressure.

This isn’t a way of thinking that’s really moved with the times. There are more ways than ever before to finance your trip abroad. And they don’t all involve getting cash at the airport. In the next section, you’ll be able to look over a few of the best methods.

But before that, here’s a better explanation of why you so often end up with sub-par exchange rates when you get foreign currency.

Watch out for hidden fees in the exchange rate

“Zero fees!” “0% commission!”

We’ve all been tempted by signs like that. But it’s not actually much of a deal.

When companies offer foreign currency with “zero fees,” they can generally afford to do this because they mark up the exchange rate. That means they look at the mid-market rate — the rate banks use between themselves —and then skew it a little, so that they keep more of your money when you pay them. By doing that, it’s easily possible for them to make just as much money as if they’d charged a “fee.”

Because really, a marked-up exchange rate is a type of fee — it’s just hidden from view, so you might not even know you’re paying it.

That’s why an online currency converter can be so useful: check one to find out how good the deal you’re being offered really is.

Especially if you’re at an airport, where truly good value exchange rates are as rare as hens’ teeth.

What is the best place to exchange money?

As we’ve established, the best place to exchange money probably isn’t going to be the airport. Here are a few other options for you.

  • In your home or destination city. Get out of Newark Airport, and venture into your destination before stocking up on cash. You might well be able to find better exchange rates in a city, rather than at the airport. Of course, you could do this in your home city before you go, too.
  • Online. As Travelex shows, it’s often possible to find very different exchange rates online, as compared to in person. It may require a bit more planning, but look online to hunt down the best deals.
  • At an ATM. Simple is beautiful. Check what you’ll have to pay your home bank, but do consider simply using foreign ATMs to withdraw money when you’re abroad. The exchange rates are often preferable - you could save a lot just by doing this. And of course, this way, you won’t have to travel with much cash.
  • Send money to a local bank account using Wise. Are you visiting family or friends? If there’s someone you can trust, another option is to send them some money using a foreign exchange specialist like Wise: then they can give it to you when you get there. Wise always offers the real mid-market exchange rate, so this is a great way to be 100% clear about how good a deal you’re actually getting.
  • Open a bank account. If you’re staying there a while - or if you often travel abroad - it could be easier to get a bank account there. Or, easier still, a Wise borderless multi-currency account, which offers 40+ currencies and gives you the mid-market rate on every conversion you make. There’s no monthly fee, either.

One extra thing to remember about ATMs. A foreign ATM might ask you if you want to pay in the local currency, or in US dollars. If it asks you this, you should always choose the local currency. Otherwise, your money will be converted via dynamic currency conversion, or DCC — a system that gives you a very bad exchange rate indeed.

How to avoid paying high fees on your money exchange in Newark

Whatever method you decide to use to get your foreign currency, try and remember the following tips:

  • Prepare in advance. Worst case scenario: you’re at Newark Airport, need to get a taxi to your hotel, and have no idea how much it should cost you. That’s a recipe for ending up with a bad deal. Avoid this problem by making a plan before your trip begins, so that nobody can rip you off.
  • Get a good deal on the exchange rate. Don’t just look for flat fees. Check the exchange rate against an online currency converter to see how it compares to the mid-market rate. Don’t settle for a rate you don’t think is fair.
  • Don’t get out more than you need. It can be hard to predict, but of course, if you get out excess cash, you’ll just have to convert it back again at the end, and lose out on the exchange rate all over again. So it’s worth trying to exchange as little foreign cash as possible.

Good luck with your trip, and enjoy your time, however brief, at Newark Airport. Just make sure you don’t end up with a bad deal on your currency exchange.


  1. (3 January 2019 )

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