Where to Exchange Currency Without Paying Huge Fees

Currency Exchange in the US

If you’re planning a trip overseas - for work or a vacation - you’ll need to plan ahead to make sure you choose the best possible way to get your travel spending organized. Picking a travel money option that’s convenient, safe, cheap and comes with the best available exchange rates will mean you have more to spend while you’re away from home.

In this guide, we’ll cover your key options including:

Quick summary: Best places to exchange currency

FeesExchange ratesOptions
Wise
Wise personal debit card green
No fee to buy or delivery travel money - just use an ATMMid-market exchange ratePay overseas with your Wise debit card, and make ATM withdrawals for cash
Go to Wise
Revolut
No fee to buy or delivery travel money - just use an ATMMid-market exchange rate to plan limitsPay overseas with your Revolut debit card, and make ATM withdrawals for cash
Go to Revolut
CXI
Fees may apply for delivery or collection, depending on the transaction detailsExchange rates include a variable markupOrder travel cash online for collection or delivery, or call into a branch to buy on the spot
Go to CXI

 

Best places to buy foreign currency in the US

The best way to buy foreign currency in the US will depend on your situation. It might be a bank, physical currency exchange bureau, online foreign exchange services, or a debit or credit card. Let’s walk through some of the most popular ways to buy foreign currency in the US to learn more.

Buy foreign currency online

If you’d prefer to arrange your travel money online for speed and convenience you’ve got a couple of options:

  • Open a multi-currency account to hold and exchange foreign currency, and spend with a linked debit card 
  • Order online and pick-up cash from a currency exchange office - or have your money delivered to home instead

Here is how each option works.

Currency exchange
The best place for currency exchange in the US

Online multi-currency accounts

Specialist providers operating in the US and internationally offer multi currency accounts with linked cards, which you can use for easy spending overseas, and to make international cash withdrawals to get your travel money.

With an online multi-currency account you’ll usually add money in USD and then either switch to the currency you need in your destination in advance or at the point of payment. If you’d prefer to leave your money in USD, the card will simply do the conversion for you when you tap to pay in a store or when you make a cash withdrawal.

Online multi-currency accounts are often offered by non-bank alternative providers - we’ll look at a couple, Wise and Revolut in a moment. They’re still safe to use, but because they’re specialists without a branch network to pay for, they can often offer great exchange rates and low overall costs. You’ll often also get some free or low fee ATM withdrawals for travel cash, too. Here’s a quick look at Wise and Revolut, two popular providers offering digital multi-currency accounts and cards to US citizens and residents.

Wise

  • Hold and exchange 40+ currencies in your account, spend and withdraw with your Wise card in 150+ countries
  • Get some free ATM withdrawals every month - Wise fees apply once your allowance is exhausted
  • Low, transparent transaction fees apply for the services you use
  • Currency conversion uses the mid-market exchange rate, with no ongoing charges or minimum balance to meet 
Wise personal debit card green

Revolut

  • Standard account has no monthly fees, or trade up for a fee of up to 16.99 USD/month for more features
  • Hold and exchange 25 currencies in your account and access handy budgeting, investing and saving tools
  • All accounts have some weekday no fee currency exchange and some no fee cash withdrawals when you’re overseas 

Online currency exchange services with delivery

If you’re planning on getting foreign currency in cash, you may also be interested in a provider like Currency Exchange International (CXI).

You can order your currency online with CXI, choosing from 80+ currencies, and either have it delivered to your home in cash, or left for collection at your local CXI branch. CXI has 35 locations in the US, and offers variable fees and exchange rates depending on the specific service you need.

Buy foreign currency at the bank

You may also be able to buy foreign currency at your bank or credit union. This can be convenient and easy if you’re already a customer with a bank which offers travel money. However, foreign exchange services are not usually extended to non-customers, and you may find you don’t get the most competitive exchange rate in the market. We’ll look at some US banks which offer travel money - and what they may cost you - in more detail next.

Best banks to exchange currencies

Some major US banks offer currency exchange for their customers, although the process can vary a lot depending on the bank you pick. You may be able to order currency online in advance, or call into your branch, for example. Bear in mind that not all branches will hold all currencies, so you may need to wait a day or two for your order to be ready.

    • Wells Fargo: Customers can order 70+ currencies for delivery to a branch within 2 - 7 days. On the spot purchase of currency is not available. Exchange rates include a markup
    • Bank of America: Customers with eligible accounts can order currency online, with discounted exchange rates available for some top tier accounts. Exchange rates include a markup
    • US Bank: Order currency online and pick it up in branch next day, or within 2 business days in some cases. Exchange rates include a markup 
    • Five Star Federal Credit Union: Currency exchange services offered through CXI - cash can be delivered to home or to a branch for collection. Exchange rates include a markup

 

Go to currency exchange offices near you

If you want to have foreign currency cash in your pocket before you leave you can visit a currency exchange branch in person. 

Bear in mind that you’ll need to research the options close to you, to find good exchange rates with low fees. Most exchange offices will include an exchange rate markup, which is a tricky to spot fee added to the exchange rate used to convert your USD to the currency you need. This can increase your overall costs even if the service does not charge a currency exchange fee. If you end up with a high markup it makes a big difference to the overall amount you pay - especially when you’re converting large amounts. Compare the rate available against other providers and the mid-market rate to see what markup is being used.

It’s also worth checking the payment options in your preferred location before you head out - some places may not accept card payments or they might have higher fees for payments with credit cards. 

How much does it cost to buy foreign currency?

The amount you pay for foreign currency can vary widely so it pays to do your homework before taking your well deserved break. To illustrate the pros and cons for each of your travel money options, we’ve compared the costs associated with various methods of converting 1,000 USD into EUR.We’ve highlighted the fees and rates - but more importantly, how much you’ll end up with in the end when you convert with this provider.
Fees & exchange ratesHow much you can get
WiseMid-market exchange rate, low fees from 0.43%909.11 EUR
RevolutMid-market exchange rate to plan limit, then a fair usage fee appliesEUR amount may depend on the account tier you select
CXIFees and exchange rates can vary depending on the service you pickEUR amount may depend on the service you select, including the branch location
Wells FargoExchange rates include a markup869.11 EUR
Bank of AmericaExchange rates include a markup869.79 EUR
*Correct at time of writing - 13th March 2024 
Go to WiseGo to RevolutGo to CXI

How to buy foreign currency online

Let’s look at the process involved in buying foreign currency online in a multi-currency account. This is an option with specialist digital account and card providers like Wise and Revolut. To give an example of how to buy currency online with a digital multi-currency account, we’ll look at the step by step process to open a Wise account, add money and start to spend:

  1. Head to the Wise website or download their app
  2. Hit 'Sign Up', add your personal details and create a password
  3. Get verified by uploading images of your ID document - you might also need a proof of address
  4. Once your account is active, tap on the currency you need to open a balance
  5. Tap add on the currency you want, and follow the prompts to pay in USD by ACH, wire or with a card (debit or credit)

When you’re ready to spend you’ll need to order your Wise card, by tapping the 'Cards' tab in the app and paying the one time fee. Your card will arrive in the mail, and you can then use it to spend seamlessly when you travel, and to make cash withdrawals at an ATM overseas. It’s free to spend any currency you hold in your account, and there’s a low fee to pay for conversion if you switch currencies in your account or at the point of paying. That means that by using your Wise card you’ll know you’re getting the mid-market rate and the lowest available fee whenever you spend or convert currencies. 

How to order foreign currency online for delivery

If you’d prefer to have your foreign currency in cash, and want to get your money delivered to your home or office, you might choose CXI. All you’ll need to do is to head to the CXI website and navigate to the traveler section to find the option to order currency online. Enter the amount and currency you need, and pay using your preferred payment method. You’ll need to be at the delivery address, with a government issued ID, when your money arrives. This ensures it’s only passed to you, for security and peace of mind.

Is it safe to buy foreign currency online?

Yes. As long as you use normal safety precautions, buying currency online is secure. 

If you choose a digital multi-currency account from a provider like Wise or Revolut, you’ll find lots of safety features built into the process and the provider app. Examples include 2 factor authentication, instant transaction notifications and options to freeze or unfreeze your card in the app whenever you need to. 

CXI is also focused on security - if you’re collecting your money or having it delivered, you’ll need a government issued ID in your name to make sure the only person who can get their hands on your travel money is you.

Go to WiseGo to RevolutGo to CXI

Need to buy a specific foreign currency in the US?

No matter where you’re going - if you’re headed abroad, you’ll need to have some foreign currency on you, or a plan for how to spend during your break. Different countries have their own official currencies, so you can’t rely on spending USD when you’re overseas.

To help you, we have lots of useful guides on buying currencies for the most popular vacation destinations for travelers from the USA:

How to buy foreign currency in person

Prefer to buy your travel money in person? That’s also an option - while different services have their own processes for travel money purchases, you’ll usually have to take the following steps:

  1. Choose where you’ll buy from - like your bank or credit union
  2. Call ahead to confirm the provider’s processes and if they have the currency you need in stock
  3. Visit a convenient branch with a valid government issued ID document
  4. Choose your preferred payment method from the options available - often cash, debit or credit card
  5. Make your payment in USD and get your foreign currency in cash

Where can I exchange currency for free?

You’ll often find that currency exchange services state that they’re free, or offer zero commission. However, it’s important to look at both the fee and the exchange rate being used, as it’s common to find that the provider’s fees are just added to the exchange rate instead of being split out for transparency.

Banks may offer currency exchange with no explicit exchange fee - but check the rate available against the mid-market rate before you decide to use one. Banks offer ‘all in’ exchange rates which means that the fee you pay is included in the rate, which is not always the cheapest way to go.

You can also consider providers which transparently split out the costs of currency exchange, like Wise and Revolut. It’s easier to see what you’re paying, and might be cheaper in the end.

Best exchange rates for currency conversion

Exchange rates matter. If you get a bad rate the costs can really rack up - particularly if you’re exchanging a high amount. It’s worth keeping an eye on the exchange rate for the currency you need, comparing different providers and doing a bit of research to find the best available deal on your travel money.

If you’re interested in specific currencies, check out our handy exchange rate comparison tables to calculate the cheapest way to convert currencies, no matter what currency you need in your wallet.


 

Is it better to get foreign currency in the US or abroad?

There’s no single best way to get your foreign currency. It’ll usually come down to availability, fees and exchange rates, so shopping around before you buy your travel money is essential to make sure you get the best available deal.

Both at home and abroad, providers and banks set their own exchange rates, so you’ll need to compare a few. If you’re buying in the US, consider ordering a debit card from a provider like Wise or Revolut to get low cost conversions and easy foreign currency withdrawals  when you’re away. Or, check out CXI if you want to have cash in your pocket before you leave the US.

Other options include picking up your travel money at the airport on departure or landing, but this can often mean high overall costs. Getting organized in advance - or waiting until you arrive and making a cash withdrawal - might be cheaper in the end.

Where is the best place to get foreign currency before a trip?

If time is on your side, you have different options to get foreign currency before your trip. You could get foreign currency in cash from a provider like CXI, or order a travel money card like Wise and Revolut for easy spending and some no-fee international ATM withdrawals. If you prefer, you can also use a travel credit card but it’s worth weighing up the costs of things like  foreign transaction fees, cash advance charges and interest before you do.

If you’d prefer to pay with card when you’re away, you might want to take a look at these cards without foreign transaction fees and with good exchange rates:

  • Wise travel card: Currency exchange uses the mid-market exchange rate, with low, transparent fees and no foreign transaction fee. You’ll get some free ATM withdrawals monthly. No ongoing costs or minimum balance
  • Revolut travel card: Currency exchange uses the mid-market exchange rate to plan limits, with fair usage fees after that. All accounts have some no fee withdrawals monthly. Ongoing costs apply to the most feature packed accounts
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred: Currency exchange uses the network rate with no foreign transaction fee. Earn rewards as you spend. Annual fee, interest and penalties can apply

We also have these guides you may want to take a look at if you’re curious about your card’s international fees:

Chase Card Foreign Transaction Fees | American Express Foreign Transaction Fees | Discover Card Foreign Transaction Fees | Capital One Foreign Transaction Fees | Wells Fargo Card Foreign Transaction Fees

4 tips on how to exchange currency without paying high fees

  • Look out for fees, including exchange costs: Bear in mind that the costs you pay can include specific conversion fees and extra costs added to the exchange rate. If ordering in person ask the cashier about fees, if doing so online read the fee structure. Compare the rate available to the mid-market rate to see if there’s a markup.
  • Request a better rate: If you’re using an in-person currency exchange - particularly if you’re exchanging a lot of money - it’s foolish not to ask for a better rate. Providers may offer price match deals or discounted rates for volume purchases.
  • Call ahead: Once you’ve figured out which currency changer you want to use, give them a quick call. Why? This is just to save you the time of visiting and then realizing they don’t have the currency or amount you require. Another thing you’ll want to remember to ask is about denominations. You don’t want to turn up at the retail location for your money only to find out all they have is $50 bills.
  • Don’t put all your money in one spot: Before you embark on your trip be sure to consider how you’re going to carry your money. The following routine has been successful in our experience:
    • Take some small currency for taxis, meals, and tips.
    • Get some cash on a prepaid travel card for big purchases like hotels.
    • Remember to take your debit card as it’s handy as a backup plan.

Key takeaways: Where to buy foreign currency for travel

Wise

  • Hold and exchange 40+ currencies in your Wise account
  • Spend with Wise card or make ATM withdrawals in 150+ countries
  • Mid-market exchange rate for currency conversion 

Wise personal debit card green

Revolut

  • Different account types with varying monthly fees from $0 - $16.99
  • Pay with Revolut card or make ATM withdrawals overseas
  • All accounts offer some no fee currency conversion on weekdays

CXI

  • Travel cash available for pick up at one of 35 US branch locations, or for home delivery
  • 80+ currencies supported for home delivery, order online in advance
  • Option to sell back unwanted currency after your trip

Conclusion: What is the cheapest way to get foreign currency?

You’ve got plenty of options to get your foreign currency in the US, including multi-currency accounts, cash home delivery, heading to your bank or exchanging at the airport. There’s no perfect solution here - so which works best for you will depend on your personal preferences. Avoiding the airport usually makes good sense though, as airport exchanges tend to crank up the overall costs as they have a captive market. Instead, why not:

  • Use a multi-currency account and card from a service like Wise or Revolut: If you have time to wait for your card to be delivered, using a travel card can unlock mid-market exchange rates, low fees and secure spending overseas
  • Order online for delivery or collection in cash, from a service like CXI: If you’re comfortable carrying foreign currency cash with you, make life easy by getting it brought right to your door. Bear in mind that tourists are often targeted by petty thieves, so you’ll need to be carefully about carrying a lot of cash
  • Use your bank: Your own bank might offer foreign exchange services, often with online advance ordering required. Check out the fees and rates involved as bank rates aren’t always that good

For many travelers, using a multi-currency account and card from services like Wise and Revolut is a great balance of convenience and cost - with easy cash access via an overseas ATM, too. Check out options from Wise and Revolut today to see if you can save.

 

Go to WiseGo to RevolutGo to CXI

Best ways to buy foreign currency FAQs

Which bank has the lowest fees for currency exchange?

You’ll likely only be able to exchange currency at a bank you already hold an account with. In our comparison, Wells Fargo was slightly cheaper than Bank of America - but there’s not much in it. Choosing a non-bank alternative like Wise or Revolut may end up cheaper, more flexible and more convenient in the end.

Is it cheaper to get foreign currency at the airport?

Airport foreign exchange services are usually very expensive - even if the costs aren’t immediately obvious. You’ll often find a large exchange rate markup which pushes up costs compared to other providers - making this one to avoid if you can.

Is it possible to exchange foreign currency at a post office?

At the time of writing you can not usually exchange currency at a USPS post office. This option is available in some other countries, though - so you may find that post offices in your destination can help.

 

Can I go to my local bank to exchange currency?

Usually you can only exchange currency at a bank if you have an account with them already. Reach out to your normal bank to ask if they have a foreign exchange service - or check out a non-bank alternative like Wise or Revolut instead.

How do I find a currency exchange near me?

Use our handy tools to find currency exchange. You can also use Google tools online and on your phone to generate ideas. To get you started, check out our guides to Currency exchange in LAX and Currency exchange in New York

Where to exchange foreign currency for US dollars?

If you bought foreign currency at a bank or physical exchange office, they may buy back unwanted travel money after your trip. However, you’re unlikely to get as good an exchange rate as when you bought it - so you may get back less than you spent in the first place. Try not to come back with extra travel cash - or use a service like Wise or Revolut which lets you add money in dollars and convert at the point of payment, with no leftover foreign currency to worry about in the end.

Claire Millard
Fintech Content Writer
Claire Millard is a content and copywriter with a specialty in international finance. Her work has featured in The Times and The Telegraph, as well as industry magazines and leading personal finance blogs.
Read more
Seyma Mektepli
Editor-in-chief
Seyma is an experienced content writer and editor-in-chief at Exiap, delivering informative articles on personal finance, and money transfers.
Read more
Last updated
May 6th, 2024