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We will be in Italy this November. Should I get some "walking around money" before I go? I think my bank has reasonable rates.

I know I take the risk of the Euro dropping or the dollar rising. Maybe I should wait until a closer time?

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Or you just take an ATM card with you and withdraw the money as you need it. – Karlson Apr 20 '12 at 17:41
Last time I visited the US, I was able to survive on plastic "cash" (Mastercard/Maestro) only, no US cash with me. Would be nice to know if that works the other way around as well. Plastic always seems to have the better exchange rate – user141 Apr 20 '12 at 20:19

I personally recommend just getting money out at your destination with an ATM. Quite often you can get debit cards or travel cards that let you pre-load from your home country, and then withdraw over there, fee free. However, I suspect they'll make their money other ways (ie worse rates).

My tactic - on arrival, get cash out at the airport ATM or bus / train station when you get there. This works in 95% of cases.

Possible risks:

  • the airport ATM is broken. This happened to me in Buenos Aires. Solution - bring some of your USD as emergency - there's always a currency exchange place, so you can get money if you absolutely have to, even if their rate sucks.

  • the town you go to doesn't accept your form of card, and has no ATMs. This happened to me in Nukus, Uzbekistan. It's rare. I suspect that in Italy, you won't EVER run into such a problem, unless you're really going to back-country Italy. Solution - have more than one network of card - ie Cirrus/Maestro, Mastercard, Visa, Visa Debit etc.

  • your ATM card gets swallowed. Happened to me in Novosibirsk, Siberia and Tashken, Uzbekistan (see a trend with Uzbekistan yet?). Solution - carry more than one card.

I don't bother with travellers' cheques any more - they're getting harder to cash, and changing money I generally only do when I leave - although with Euros, you can probably keep if you're ever considering returning to Europe again, and are prepared to accept the risk of their value dropping...

On that note, most economic forecasters seem to be betting against the Euro, so there doesn't seem to be much risk of it becoming more expensive before you get there...

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There is always a risk that the exchange rate will become better after you have exchanged a considerable amount of money. Therefore I would wait and change it just a few day before, unless probably if the Euro is on an all-time low. If you check the exchange rate, you can see that it is quite stable in 2012.

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Additionally, I wouldn't take a lot of cash with me. Just exchange enough money to buy something to drink and eat when you arrive or to pay your transport (train, taxi, bus) from the airport to your accommodation. After that I would pay with your credit card whenever possible (that's very common in Italy), or withdraw some money from an ATM (there are plenty of them in Italy, even though not in the remote Alpine areas).

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Problem is that credit cards charge transaction fees (unless you have one that explicitly doesn't) – Suresh Jun 11 '12 at 16:45

In general, no transfer you do beforehand is going to give you a better rate than the ATM in the airport at the destination, unless you're only planning to convert a small amount (<

Exchange rates are a gamble either way, and really shouldn't play into your decision of when to convert money. Sure, you might look back on the day you're travelling and see that if you'd changed your money today you'd be better off - but there's a roughly equal chance you would have been worse off.

Using local ATMs, and taking a small amount of US$ with you "just in case" (eg, in case every ATM in the airport is out-of-order on the day you get there!) and almost always going to be the best option.

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What are these 'reasonable rates' your bank quoted you?

Did you ask them what sort of additional fees and charges they will add on for this service?

A lot of places have great rates but then they add extra fees to make them into horribly bad transactions.

Best rates are almost always like this (from worst to best):

  • your US bank
  • local US place that specializes in currency exchange
  • foreign airport exchange booth
  • foreign airport ATM
  • foreign bank
  • tourist area exchange booth
  • private street operators

It really depends on you and how much money you're willing to pay for currency exchange service. Suffice to say that if you are holding US dollars, finding a place to exchange money is fairly easy even in the most remote parts of the world. Italy - one of the most touristy destinations in the world - will be very easy to navigate.

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