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Tuesday, November 20, 2007


We saw it all around us—the confusion over how to deal with money in a foreign land. Knowledge is power. If you know the options, you lose the confusion when you travel.

If you buy Traveler’s Checks in the US, be wary. There is a fee, and the fee varies widely. One bank I called charged 1.75%, and one charged 1%. That’s a big difference. You can also buy them through American Express and AAA, for instance, but check out those fees. Remember, too, that when you reach your destination, you have to convert the American money into local currency. You will be charged to convert, and if you have foreign money to be converted back to dollars, you will be charged again.

In terms of exchanging there are lots of options, but your best exchange rate will be found in a bank or, if available, a post office. But there is fluctuation among banks too. Rates are higher in airports and hotels. We did find that Marks & Spencer, a department store, had a bureau de change in house with no exchange fee and a good rate of exchange. Don’t have to wonder why they want shoppers to have local money at a good rate. Don’t be shy about asking around. Your concierge may be very helpful.

Do you use your credit card? If you do, there will be a transaction fee, so check out the fees on your different cards to see which is least expensive. Sometimes you will be given the option of charging in the local currency or in dollars. We found that it was slightly better to charge in the local currency. Your credit card statement will also give you a spending record, and that might be important. Try to avoid making a cash advance. Use your ATM card instead.

The easiest choice is your ATM card. You just enter the amount of money you want in that currency, and your statement will tell you the transaction rate and the dollar equivalent of your withdrawal. We withdrew $407.10 in Edinburgh. The money was presented in pounds. The total transaction fee was $1.00.

To sum it all up, despite the difference in rates, the real cost difference is not enough to have a hissy. You’re spending a lot on your trip. These fees are the cost of doing business. It’s when we’re not sure of our options that we tend to get upset, and that is something I can help you avoid.

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