Where to exchange currency without paying huge fees?

Adam Rozsa

etting off abroad? If you’re planning a trip outside the US, you’re going to need some travel money.

There are lots of ways to spend overseas, including debit and credit cards.

But if you definitely want cash for your trip, read on. Below, we’ll look at where to exchange foreign currency without paying huge fees.

But first, we’ll show you a convenient, potentially cheaper alternative - the Wise card.

Rather avoid the need to carry cash around, or the hassle of converting currency? Check out the Wise card.

It’s the perfect travel companion, as it lets you spend and withdraw cash in 150+ countries. The Wise card:

  • Automatically converts your dollars to the local currency whenever you spend, using the mid-market exchange rate. There’s just a small conversion fee, or it’s fee-free if you already have the currency in your account.
  • Lets you withdraw up to $100 USD for free from international ATMs (although ATM providers may charge their own fees).
  • Comes with the Wise Account, which lets you manage your money in 40+ countries and make fast, secure and low-fee international transfers online. You’ll also get your own local account details, so you can receive payments from overseas.

Open a Wise Account online and you can get your own Wise card for a one-time fee of just $9.

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Option 1: Exchange currency at your bank before you travel

Banks aren’t always the best option for transactions involving currency, especially when it comes to international transfers (where the fees can be eye-watering).

But surprisingly, banks and credit unions can be pretty good for exchanging currency. Or at least, some of them can, and usually only for existing customers.

Here are a few of the best US banks for currency exchange, include some info on fees:

Bank of America

If you’re a Bank of America customer, you can order foreign currency for no fees. However, there is a $7.50 fee for delivery if your order is less than $1,000 (or the currency equivalent).¹


If you have a Citigold account or Citi Priority Account Package, there’s no service fee to order foreign currency. If you’re still a Citibank customer with a different account type, there’s a $5 service fee for orders under $1,000.²

Delivery to a local Citibank branch is free, or you can have currency delivered to your home. This costs between $10 and $20 in delivery fees depending how quickly you need the money. For Citigold and Citi Priority customers, this delivery fee is waived.²

PNC Bank

If you bank with PNC, you can buy foreign currency for delivery to your local branch with no transaction fees.³

And if you’re looking for where to exchange foreign currency for US dollars, it’s useful to know that PNC Bank also buys back unused currency.

U.S. Bank

U.S. Bank also offers a foreign currency service to existing customers. It’s best to use it for larger amounts though, as there’s a $10 exchange fee for orders under $250.⁴

Option 2 - Order travel money online from a foreign currency exchange website

Another option is to use a foreign currency exchange website, such as Currency Exchange International (CXI) or US First Exchange.

These services have user-friendly platforms where you can order foreign currency for delivery. It tends to be pretty quick and easy.

However, ordering currency online is likely to include delivery charges. Plus, the exchange rate won’t be as good as with your bank or another provider like Wise that uses mid-market exchange rates. There might also be an upfront fee.

Option 3: Use an ATM when you’re away

The options above are for exchanging currency before you go, which some travelers may prefer. But if you’re fine to wait until you arrive at your destination, there’s another decent option for getting your hands on some local currency.

If you have the right card, you can simply withdraw cash at an overseas ATM. But to avoid high fees, there are a few crucial things to remember:

  • Always choose to get the money in the local currency rather than USD - you should get a better exchange rate that way
  • Check whether your debit or credit card provider charges foreign transaction fees. Credit cards in particular tend to have high fees for cash transactions both home and overseas.
  • If possible, find an ATM owned by your bank. Some internationally-operating banks like Citibank have ATMs in other countries and don’t charge their own customers for withdrawing cash.
  • Otherwise, check whether the ATM operator charges a fee. You should be shown this before you confirm the transaction.

What to avoid - exchanging currency at airports and hotels

It’s up to you which method you use to buy your travel money. But one option you should definitely avoid is exchanging currency at airports, hotels and in foreign exchange stores in tourist areas overseas.

These places are all convenient places to get your hands on euros, pounds, or whatever the local currency is. However, 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

So, what's the best place to exchange currency? Ultimately, it depends on who you bank with, and how you prefer to manage your travel money.

But after reading this, you should have a handle on where to exchange foreign currency without being stung by high fees. Your bank could be a good option, although it depends on the bank.

Or you can get a card with no foreign transaction fees like the Wise card, then there’s no need to convert currency at all. You can simply spend wherever card payments are accepted, and withdraw at overseas ATMs when you need some cash.

Learn more about Wise

Frequently asked questions

Is it better to get euros in a US bank or in Europe?

It’s usually better to get your euros at your bank, provided it offers foreign currency for low or no fees. However, you can also withdraw EUR at overseas ATMs, as long as your card doesn’t have foreign transaction fees.

Do US post offices exchange currency?

No, you can send international money orders at a US Post Office, but you can’t exchange currency over the counter.

Do banks still exchange foreign currency?

Yes, but it depends on the bank. All of the options we’ve listed here still exchange foreign currency, including Bank of America, Citibank, PNC Bank and U.S. Bank.

Sources used:

  1. Bank of America - Placing A Foreign Currency Order FAQs
  2. Citi - World Wallet® Foreign Currency Exchange Services
  3. PNC - PNC Foreign Currency Services for Travel
  4. U.S. Bank - Knowledge Base - Is there a fee to order foreign currency?

Sources last checked on date: 22-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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