I will be travelling to the US (JFK arrival) next month and trying to find out what the best option is for me to buy USD. I am planning to exchange around £400 worth of USD. Should I buy it outside the US or inside? I heard that buying it at the airport is a bit of rubbish because they cheat you!

Any advice?

2 Answers 2


I suspect that you'll get a better exchange rate in England, for the reason that currency exchange is much more common there than in the US (given its proximity to other nations with different currency). But changing physical currency is a bad idea anywhere, at least for more than say $50 to get you through the airport.

The reason is that you're dealing with a retail transaction. The exchange bureau sets its rates so that (1) it covers the costs of having a person present to physically exchange currency, and (2) it makes a profit even if the real exchange rates fluctuate (within reason).

You'll get the best rate when using a credit card, because the card transactions are cleared at the interbank rate. However, your card issuer may charge a foreign transaction fee (in the US, at least, you can find cards that do not charge this fee).

The second best rate is to use your ATM card to withdraw money from your personal bank account. Again, this is settled at the interbank rate, and again may incur a foreign transaction fee and/or bank fees. There are some international ATM agreements that reduce or eliminate these fees.

Bottom line: talk to your bank and credit card company. And change 50 pounds before getting on the plane.

  • I get what you are saying. The problem is the exchange rate and handling fee @ every transaction. Currently for my bank it's about £17/18 per transaction. This is why I was trying to save some money by exchanging cash currency at the airport/cambio before I travel. I guess I need to find another way.
    – ha9u63a7
    Feb 24, 2014 at 15:26
  • @hagubear, I pay about £0.50 handling fee per transaction with less than 2% loading on the exchange rate. Feb 24, 2014 at 16:02

As you wish to exchange £s, then moneysavingexpert is well worth reading, on it’s Cheap Travel Money page it explains the best credit and debit cards for getting cash outside of the UK.

I have not tried to summarize the information, as it keeps changing and the Money saving expert page has been kept updated for years.

I have found it is very hard to beat a debit card for exchange rates when getting cash.

We tend to exchange enough money for the first few days at the airport on the way out and pay a few pounds for the Buy Back option. Then on the last day get enough money out of an ATM that we can sell back all the money we got from the airport, hence benefiting from the better exchange rate at the ATM.

  • Debit card is good, but how about handling fee (non-sterling transactions) that your bank incurs for every non-sterling transactions. As a big picture, I am looking at things like shopping, food, transportation etc. Do I withdaw something like $200 USD worth of money every morning using my debit card then? P.S. I haven't looked at the MSE page on travel money yet :P
    – ha9u63a7
    Feb 24, 2014 at 15:29

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