Odds are, if you’re traveling abroad, you’re going to get your hands on at least one different currency – and in some countries more than one. Working with another kind of money can be thrilling and may get you interested in starting coin and currency collections.  Understanding a new currency does take some work ahead of time to learn its value and the regulations around it.  

Check out these tips to help you handle your international money well when traveling.

Find out what the coins and currency denominations are for your destination country, what they look like and what they’re called.  

When you watch a movie set in England, have you ever wondered what a “quid”, “fiver”, “tenner”, “bob”, “shilling”, “pence” were?  You knew each was a coin or piece of currency, and it had a value. Do you know their relative relationship and can you identify each in a handful of English money?  You can use the Internet to see many pictures of the currency in your destination country.

Get a good idea of the exchange rate

Did you know one U.S. dollar is worth almost seven Chinese renminbi? Or 20 Mexican pesos? Or 1,104 South Korean won? The exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and your destination’s currency could make a big difference in how you spend overseas. You can use the Federal Reserve’s up-to-date exchange rate chart for a quick reference. Or download an app, there are many.

Once you know how much currency you’ll need where you are going, you need to think about actually getting it into your wallet.

Changing your currency

There are a number of services to exchange money for you. The United States Department of State recommends your local bank and travel agency as good sources to get money in the currency you’ll need.  Remember to keep some of your cash in your own currency to use while traveling inside your country.  (You may want to get a snack at the airport while you’re waiting to board your plane.)

Get your currency swapped out sooner rather than later. With many banks, you can ask for next-day shipping of another currency.  Some banks can take up to a week to order money for you; others have commonly used currency in stock.  Contact your bank early and find out their process and timeframe.  Don’t wait until the flight is only a day or two away before getting the money you need.

There are limits

Depending on your destination country, there may be rules on how much you can take out of the country or bring back in. If you are traveling alone or with a partner, when you leave and return to the U.S., you must declare anything over $10,000 in U.S. currency.  You will be asked to fill out a “Report of International Transportation of Currency or Monetary Instruments” form by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

There may also be limits to how much you can take into your destination country. Check out the United States Department of State’s country-specific information pages to find out about any limitations.  

Cultural notes

Different companies and cultures handle money differently.  Examples:

  • In India, torn rupees are often not accepted. You can exchange these notes for fresh ones according to the Reserve Bank of India’s guidelines.  Keep your money crisp to save yourself the hassle.
  • There are quite a few fake banknotes in circulation in China, bamboozling foreigners.  Make sure your renminbi is authentic by looking for the following signs:
    • A clear, unblurred image of Mao Zedong
    • Denomination numbers that are sharply white when held up to the light
    • A round symbol with the square in the middle, aligned perfectly with the reverse image when held up to the light
  • The euro was supposed to be a simple currency to unite member nations of the European Union. Even before Brexit, England has mostly used pounds sterling. Brush up on the countries on your European tour that accept euros, and those more easily navigable with the currency of the realm.

Know the value of your money

You need to know exactly how much each denomination of currency is worth when you shop in a foreign country. If you hold out a handful of cash to a shopkeeper and expect them to take exactly the right amount, you’re asking for confusion at best or theft at the worst.

Study up on your currency and practice before you go abroad. In China, you should also learn the characters for numbers and the different currency denominations. A travel insurance concierge can also be a lifesaver when trying to determine price value or purchases.

Coming Home

It’s fun to keep a few coins and a bill or two from your destinations as souvenirs.  Depending on how much you have left, you’ll typically want to exchange any leftover cash into your country’s currency when your trip is done.  Some banks will take back paper currency to exchange, but not coins.  You might want to exchange foreign currency at the airport before you leave your destination country or use it up by paying for things in cash on the last days in the country. No matter where you exchange your money, fees for service vary greatly. It pays to shop around.