Should I exchange money before I travel to Europe?

Adam Rozsa

Going to Europe? You’ll need to get your spending sorted.

If you plan to spend in cash, the big question is - should you exchange money before traveling to Europe, or when you arrive?

To help you decide, we’ll give you some useful information on euros, currency exchange and cash alternatives below.

And if you’d prefer to travel cash-free, check out the Wise card for low-cost spending across Europe.


Should you bring cash when traveling to Europe?

Before you start looking into your options for exchanging money, it’s worth thinking about whether cash is actually the best choice for spending in Europe.

If you prefer dealing in cash, then by all means get some euros out before your trip. But there are alternatives available, such as debit and credit cards.

Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted in most European cities. American Express is too, but perhaps less widely.

Paying by card can be easier and more convenient. You don’t need to worry about changing money at a foreign exchange counter, or worry about security when carrying cash around with you.

The only thing to check is whether your card provider charges any fees for spending abroad.

Safe, convenient and low-cost travel spending in Europe with the Wise card

Cash can be a hassle, whether it’s the inconvenience of converting currency or the safety risks of carrying it around.

So it could be a better idea to use a travel card instead. The Wise card is a great alternative to cover your needs when traveling to Europe. It’s contactless and works in 150+ countries, including the UK and across the EU.

Order your Wise card for a one-time fee of $9 and you’ll get:

  • Your dollars automatically converted to EUR at the mid-market exchange rate whenever you spend. There’s just a small conversion fee, or there’s no charge if you already have the currency in your Wise Account.
  • Fee-free foreign ATM withdrawals up to $100 a month (ATM operators may charge their own fee).
  • A Wise Account which lets you send money to and from Europe for low, transparent fees
  • EUR bank details, so you can receive euro payments for free while in the US.

Wise is a money service business, offering a multi-currency account, international money transfer services and a debit card.

Get a Wise Account today

Please see Terms of Use for your region or visit Wise Fees & Pricing: Only Pay for What You Use for the most up-to-date pricing and fee information.

So, should you exchange money before traveling to Europe?

If you’d like to get some EUR ready for your trip, it could be an idea to buy your travel money in advance - before you fly.

This is because you have more time to compare commission fees and exchange rates. You could even be super organized and set a rate alert, so you can buy at the very best time.

You’ll have the choice of the whole market, made up of lots of different foreign exchange providers. With time at your disposal, you’ll be able to see exactly what the fee and rate is, and how many euros you’ll get for your dollars.

It’s possible of course that you might get a better deal when you land in Europe. It may well be the case that fees are lower and exchange rates better. But this leaves you with uncertainty, which is never good when you’re dealing with money.

You’ll also have to spend the first few hours or days of your trip trying to find the best place to exchange money. This is dead time when you could be out sightseeing.

Why you should avoid exchanging money at the airport or your hotel

If you do want to wait until you arrive in Europe to get your euros, a word of caution. It’s not usually a good idea to exchange currency at the airport, or even at your hotel.

These places are definitely convenient, but you’re likely to pay a premium for it. Commission fees can be high and exchange rates unfavorable. So, it’s worth avoiding it unless you’re really stuck.

Bottom line

It’s completely up to you whether you exchange money before you travel to Europe, or get your euros when you arrive. The only thing to bear in mind is that you have more control and more choice if you do it in advance.

Or for a hassle-free option, why not take the Wise card with you on your trip? No cash required, although you can use it for ATM withdrawals if you need to.

Learn more about Wise

Frequently asked questions

How much cash should I take for Europe?

It all depends on where you’re going and what you plan to do during your trip. Some European cities are cheaper than others.

As a general rule though, it’s a good idea to budget at least $100 a day for your vacation. This is just spending money, as hotel costs are likely to have been either paid in advance or settled by card when you check out.

You should budget for food and drink, travel (including the cost of airport transfers) and entry fees for any attractions you want to visit.

How much cash do I need to bring to a 3-week trip in Europe?

If you’re flying to Europe all the way from the US, it’s unlikely that you’ll be staying just a couple of nights. If you’re planning a 3-week break, a good starting point to calculate how much spending money you need is the $100-per-day rule of thumb.

So for a three-week trip, you’ll be needing over $2,000. But it really does depend on where you’re traveling to and what you plan to do, eat and drink while you’re there.

How much cash can I take on a trip to Europe?

You might be focused on how much money you actually need to cover your spending on a European vacation.

But there’s another factor to consider - how much cash you’re actually allowed to take out of the US and into Europe.

You can legally take up to $10,000 out of the US without having to declare it.¹ Similarly, you can bring up to €10,000 into the EU without notifying customs authorities.²

If you need to take anywhere near this much cash with you, security will be a concern. A card could be a safer bet.

If you need this much money because you’re staying in Europe for a while, you might want to consider opening a European bank account instead.

Sources used for this article:

  1. U.S. Customs and Borders Protection - How much currency/monetary instruments can I bring into the United States?
  2. Eurostar - Customs Information

Sources checked on 15-Aug-2023.

This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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