Exchange Rates

If you don't change money at an ATM, you'll want to know how the exchange rate you're being offered compares.

For a quick check of exchange rates, visit Oanda. They also have a free e-mail newsletter you can sign up for. The same site allows you to create and print out a handy “cheat sheet” showing say what US$1, $5, $10, etc. are in Yen, Lira, Pounds, Pesos or one of dozens of other currencies today.

Other good on-line exchange rate calculators are available at XE.com. You might also check a large U.S. newspaper's financial section, or the Wall Street Journal at the library to see what the actual exchange rate. You'll never actually get this rate of course, because that's the rate the banks get in the host country and then they need to make some money off of you in the exchange process. Still, it gives you a benchmark.

Wait—What is the Exchange Rate?

Are you with me on this exchange business? Let's digress. If the Japanese Yen is Y110 to $1, then if you got that rate, you hand the counter person a dollar and she gives you Y110 back. If the exchange rate is Y120, then you get that much more for your one dollar. Cool, huh?

The exchange person likes to eat too and so if she can “buy” dollars at her bank for Y110 for one dollar, she then wants to sell you that dollar back at the end of your trip at a different rate, maybe Y115 for a dollar, so she makes Y5 for her troubles. She can also make money by selling you the dollar back at the same rate she paid for it, Y115, and then tack on a Y5 surcharge. It ends up costing you the same, but watch for this so you don't get confused about who has the better deal.

Sometimes the exchange places offer different rates if you change traveler's checks, so check it out before deciding to slap down greenbacks or some traveler's checks (called “TC's” in some places).

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