Golden rules for not getting ripped off changing travel cash
No matter how experienced we all are at travelling the World, at some stage we always need to buy travel cash in far flung parts of the World (or M&S!) Here’s some extra advice from myself and 7 wise men I met on the worlds highways;
# 1. Never change large amounts of currency on borders and that includes definitely never never at airports!
If you’re travelling overland and you don’t have any local currency, it can be ok to swap just a small amount like $20-$50 at an official border exchange, or money changers. If you’re re-assured that their cash is genuine! exchange just enough to get you into town – and then go change cash for cash or withdraw at an ATM which get’s you the better rate.
# 2. Changing cash like $Dollars into local currency often gets you a fair rate, 1 top tip to be aware of when handing over Dollars to money changers, is watch out for the ‘switch trick’! whereby they pop your $100 note under the counter or in their pocket and switch it for a fake one, thus handing it back to you and refusing to accept it! end result – you loose 100dollars! Avoid getting ripped off by taking a quick photograph of your Dollar notes on your camera-phone, include the notes serial numbers. If you want to be extra cautious, include something local or time sensitive in the photograph. My experience is – just the knowledge that you’re aware of the scam will usually deter the scammers and they’ll look for easier pickings!
# 3. Keep notes in good condition, not too creased. Sounds daft, but in certain far flung places the money changers and banks can refuse to even accept torn or badly creased notes which make them suspicious that they may be fakes disguised as old notes, or they just can’t get them re-cashed themselves at larger banks. Fresh new bank notes smooth the process and save you time and hassle at certain money changers, you may even get a better rate for nice fresh Dollar bills.
# 4. Rarely do the big bank branches give the best rates, but often they do have the biggest queues! What’s the point waiting an hour to save $2 or loose on an exchange rate! Go for smaller branches which often have a quiet dedicated cash-change teller. Ask them to note down the amount of local currency you’ll get for your XYZ quantity of your own money.
Sub note of which currency cash to take: US$ Dollars are still the most popular international currency to travel with. UK pounds used to be popular, but nowadays – many far away places are actually suspicious of Pounds! or they just rarely see them, outside the typical touristy EU places etc Euros are OK second to Dollars, but if you’re British, you’ll probably be better of sticking to carrying UK pounds, for now!
Bottom line; Dollars are worth having – just for their international recognition and acceptance.
# 5. A debit card, issued by your own Country, which doesn’t have an international loading charge for obtaining foreign cash at ATM’s: This is my own favourite method and at time of writing I’ve personally been using Nationwides flex-plus account, which does include such a device. (check for yourself – which bank/issuer you prefer) I’ve also used other cards with do not have foreign usage charges, for overseas purchases (but be careful if they charge to withdraw cash) examples i’ve used ok for fair purchase rates; FairFX = preloaded Euro or Dollar card, especially useful when we used to get 1.6 US$ / £, I wish I’d pre-loaded more! Postoffice mastercard – tends to be a reasonable mid rate on purchases.
# 6. Real things – barter is still a great way to exchange services, when overlanding I always carry practical things like oils and spare parts but supplementary to that it’s a good idea to have smaller lightweight useful things or just nice gifts to give people or exchange for their goodwill, a gift, or gentle persuasion! ideas for barter or gifts to give included; cheap funky watches – I’ve used a few of these recently, costing just a few Dollars each – yet have saved me hundreds of Dollars on speeding fines, crooked cops, also useful for speeding up border processes, or just as a nice thank you.
Badges, small books, stationary, mini calculator (another personal favourite – they cost 50p in Kyrgyzstan – yet are always well received by locals)
I mention all above – real things, because in reality it’s really no different from exchanging money for currency, or money for services – it’s all an exchange of value.
# 7. Gold & Silver – real money, still highly sought after in Asia, but strangely less so in the West nowadays!
Almost never considered by modern travellers, yet it was THE international currency of commerce not so long ago! Still highly sought in many regions, plus it’s a fantastic solid store of monetary buying power – globally. Furthermore precious metals are the only form of money that are no one else’s liability which means that no-one else has a counter claim against them, like modern debt based currencies, nor do they rely on a third party to authenticate them.
An ounce of gold – can safely store and carry with you aprox $1200 of buying power, all in one neat solid unit – which negates the need for any form of electronic system to check, cash or exchange it for currency, goods or services – magical hey – gold & silver – solid money that’s performed it’s role for 4000 years!