The Best Currency Exchange Options For Travellers

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Have you wondered what are the best currency exchange options for travellers? It depends on your situation. Some people will want to know about the cheapest way to get cash, while others want to minimize their fees when they need multiple currencies. Which option you choose depends on your personal situation.

The most important thing to understand is that there are different fees involved when exchanging money. If you limit those charges, then that’s more money in your pocket. Since travel restrictions are starting to lift around the world, now is the time to read about the best currency exchange options available to you.

best currency exchange

Understanding how foreign exchange works

All currencies have a different value compared to Canadian dollars. For example, as of July 1, 2021, the exchange rate between Canadian and US dollars is .80. That means $1 CAD is worth $.80 USD. On the flip side of things, $1 USD is worth $1.24 CAD. Some people don’t realize that the exchange rate listed on government and currency conversion websites isn’t what you get when you need to convert currency. That’s because those exchange rates don’t factor in any fees.

For example, just about every credit card charges a foreign transaction fee of 2.5%. That means when you make a purchase in any currency besides Canadian dollars; you pay the exchange rate, plus 2.5%. While the fee is reasonable, there’s no denying that it adds up. Generally speaking, you should try to minimize your fees, but sometimes you’ll need to pay more if you’re looking for convenience. The following are what I consider the best currency exchange options.

CIBC AC Conversion Prepaid Card

  • Load up to 10 currencies
  • 1% cash back on all purchases
  • No fees
  • $20 bonus when using my exclusive referral link

The CIBC AC Conversion Prepaid Card is a unique product since it allows you to hold 10 different currencies on a single card. Many travellers will find this appealing since they’ll be covered in 45 different countries. The following currencies are what’s available:

  • Canadian Dollars – CAD
  • United States Dollars – USD
  • Euros – EUR
  • Great British Pounds – GBP
  • Mexican Peso – MXN
  • Hong Kong Dollars – HKD
  • Australian Dollars – AUD
  • Japanese Yen – JPY
  • Turkish Lira – TRY
  • Swiss Franc – CHF

Since this is a prepaid card, you need to load funds in advance via the CIBC AC Conversion website or as a bill payment through your financial institution’s online portal. Some travellers find this incredibly useful since they’ll know what they’re paying to convert currencies in advance. Interestingly enough, the exchange rates used by the CIBC AC Conversion Prepaid Card are lower compared to exchanging funds in a branch. Because there are limited overhead costs for prepaid cards, CIBC passes on the savings to its users.

In addition, you’ll earn 1% cash back on all purchases, which is a huge perk considering this is a prepaid card. Plus, if you sign up with my exclusive referral link, you’ll get $10 for free.

No foreign transaction fee credit cards

  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Potentially no foreign transaction fees on ATM withdrawals
  • Some cards have no annual fee

As you know, most credit cards charge a foreign transaction fee of 2.5%. However, there are now at least a dozen cards in Canada that waive this fee altogether. This makes no foreign transaction fee credit cards one of the best currency exchange options for travellers.

I personally like the STACK Mastercard since I won’t pay foreign transaction fees on purchases or ATM withdrawals. That said, the operators of some ATMs do charge a one-time fee. STACK just doesn’t charge you when you use your card at an ATM. 

Check out my list of the best no foreign transaction fee credit cards in Canada for some other options. Some of the cards listed come with some great perks, such as travel insurance, lounge access, and more.

Use your debit card

  • Get local currency immediately
  • ATMs are located everywhere
  • Reasonable fee

Although credit cards are great, sometimes you’ll need cash when travelling. The easiest way to get the local currency is through an ATM when you arrive. Both VISA and MasterCard have ATM locators, so you can find the right ATM before you even take off.

Getting cash at an ATM is handy since the fee is typically 2.5%-3%, plus any ATM usage fees. If you want to keep your charges down, you could max out your daily limit and just withdraw more money whenever you need it. This isn’t the cheapest solution, but it can sometimes be the most convenient. 

Foreign exchange offices

  • Get local currency immediately
  • You can change multiple currencies
  • Exchange rates can be good

Foreign exchange offices are often located in popular tourist areas and airports, so they’re never hard to find. What makes them a good option is that they typically have just about every currency on hand.

If you’re looking to exchange money before you depart, foreign exchange offices can offer good value as long as you do your research. Look for an exchange office where the spread is less than 2.5%. Remember, foreign exchange offices often price their currency based on supply and demand. Just because the exchange rate is great for one currency, that doesn’t mean it’ll be good for another.

While the convenience factor is handy, you really need to pay attention to rates. I’ve seen a lot of people use foreign exchange offices in airports where the markup is close to 10%. That said, during my travels, I found exchange offices in Asian airports to be good. Either way, exchange offices are one of the best currency exchange options since you can swap your money on the spot.

Use your regular bank

  • Good rates if exchanging for USD
  • Other currencies may have a high markup
  • Any currency besides USD may take a few days to arrive

This shouldn’t be a huge surprise, but your bank is one of the best currency exchange options for travellers. They’re easily accessible and have access to almost every currency. While the convenience factor is there, using your bank can sometimes be costly.

For example, when I went to Brazil, I planned to convert about $1,000 before my trip. However, when I went to my bank, they quoted me a rate that was 12% higher than the official rate. I knew this was a ripoff, so I just swapped $50 and took out more from an ATM when I landed.

Interestingly enough, banks and credit unions sometimes have some pretty good rates if you’re swapping for the currency of a neighbouring country. For example, the markup for changing Canadian dollars to USD is relatively low. Keep in mind that Canadian banks don’t typically carry any other currencies besides USD on site. If you need any other type of currency, you need to order it, which could take a few days.

Online exchange companies 

  • Best choice if you need to send money to another country
  • The more you exchange, the lower your fees
  • Can’t get cash

If you didn’t know, there are also online companies that offer cheap money exchange. Since they’re entirely digital, they offer some of the best currency exchange options compared to physical locations such as banks or foreign exchange offices. There’s only one “catch,” you usually need to have a bank account in the country you’re exchanging money to. For example, if you want to exchange Canadian dollars for U.S. Dollars, you would need a bank account in Canada and the U.S.

This foreign exchange option wouldn’t work for everyone, but it’s perfect for snowbirds or someone who works in one country and needs to send money to friends or family in another country. In most cases, the larger the sum of money you’re exchanging, the better the exchange rate you’ll get. If this is a fit for you, check out my OFX review and find out how you can exchange your money without paying insane fees.

Norbert’s Gambit

  • The cheapest way to convert USD to CAD
  • Mainly beneficial to people who need to convert huge amounts
  • Requires a discount brokerage account

Norbert’s Gambit is a trick where you can convert huge sums of USD to CAD or vice versa. The way it works may sound complicated, but it’s easy once you figure it out. Basically, you would buy a stock through your discount brokerage that’s available in both CAD and USD dollars. For example, DLR (Horizons U.S. Dollar Currency ETF). First, you buy your shares on the Canadian exchange. When your trade settles, you get your brokerage to journal the shares over to the US side. You’ve now converted your currency to USD at the exact exchange rate. The only thing you pay is the trading fees (if any).

This trick has become incredibly valuable for snowbirds who need a bunch of cash. It can also be a handy way to save on fees if you need to convert currencies for whatever reason. Generally speaking, I would only advise Norbert’s Gambit if you’re exchanging $5,000+. Check out my Norbert’s Gambit guide for more details.

Final thoughts

Picking the best currency exchange options for travellers depends on your situation. I like to keep my costs down, so I typically use a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. Some of my travel buddies like the CIBC AC Conversion Card since they prefer to have multiple currencies available to them. 

The Best Currency Exchange Options For Travellers

About Barry Choi

Barry Choi is a Toronto-based personal finance and travel expert who frequently makes media appearances. His blog Money We Have is one of Canada’s most trusted sources when it comes to money and travel. You can find him on Twitter:@barrychoi

77 Comments

  1. Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom on January 22, 2015 at 11:11 AM

    When we travel, we use our credit card whenever possible. We like it because we don’t encourage ourselves to spend all the money we’ve converted. We made it two weeks in Iceland without having to use cash once. We have a travel card, but I think we still got charged for the exchange. I’m interested in that Amazon card now…

    • Barry Choi on January 22, 2015 at 11:22 AM

      Emily, I also use credit a lot when travelling so as you can imagine having a forex free card has saved me quite a bit of money over the years. Definitely get the Amazon one for foreign currency purchases and use your regular travel card for benefits/rewards. Oddly enough I’m considering Iceland this year.

  2. Virna on January 22, 2015 at 12:28 PM

    Great post Barry. I will definitely check out Amazon card as those forex fees do add up.

    • Barry Choi on January 22, 2015 at 12:31 PM

      Virna, yes definitely pick it up!

  3. Tawcan on January 22, 2015 at 2:51 PM

    We typically use credit cards when we travel but also carry some foreign cash.

    • Barry Choi on January 22, 2015 at 3:23 PM

      Tawcan, having some cash is a must hence why I’ll use ATMs when i need it.

  4. DanaDavid Krzyszton on January 23, 2015 at 4:44 PM

    So technically speaking, the Amazon credit card with no foreign exchange fee is actually the cheapest method of payment while travelling, as you pay only the spot rate of the day. When you use your bank card at an ATM you still have to pay the 1-2% fee in addition to the spot rate.

    • Barry Choi on January 23, 2015 at 4:54 PM

      DanaDavid, technically yes assuming the spot rate is indeed charged. With ATMs is usually near the spot rate but some do charge that extra 1-2%. Of course cash is needed sometimes but I do try to charge to credit when I can.

  5. No Nonsense Landlord on January 24, 2015 at 8:53 AM

    The Credit Card is typically the best. And do not under-estimate the ability to buy things with the good ol’ USD. Many merchants will take it, but often their exchange rate is a real rip-off.

    • Barry Choi on January 24, 2015 at 9:05 AM

      No Nonsense Landlord, yes generally speaking I prefer to charge most things since credit cards also give you price protection.

  6. B. Causeiknow on January 27, 2015 at 11:17 AM

    My advice (for what it’s worth) is to use a credit card for hotel and restaurant payments, i.e., large payments, but take cash as ‘pocket money’. Use a debit card at the ATM but, definitely, not a credit card. It’s just a matter of planning.

    It’s like someone who uses a credit card to buy groceries … if you don’t have it, don’t use it.

    Sorry to spoil your vacation.

    • Barry Choi on January 27, 2015 at 11:24 AM

      B. Causeiknow,

      That’s a fair point, many people can get carried away with using credit. Using cash to make payments will encourage us to spend less since we’ll physically see the money disappearing.

  7. David Robertson on January 27, 2015 at 1:01 PM

    I’ve been using Amazon Visa for the last 6 months as my go to foreign transaction credit card. Exchange fees do add up as I recently received a letter from other credit card indicating they were crediting my M/C 600 dollars as they had made an error on their pre-recorded call center messages indicating their was no conversion fees for foreign transactions, but going forward they would charge me 2.5 percent.

    • Barry Choi on January 28, 2015 at 9:29 AM

      David,

      Nice of them to honour their mistake. I’ve had bank employees tell me information in person that I knew was incorrect, had I been someone else I may have ended up paying a ton of extra charges and there would be no record to back up my claim.

  8. Brin on January 28, 2015 at 11:31 AM

    If you want to exchange a larger amount of money either use a discount broker or use some called Norbert’s gambit .I recently used Norbert’s gambit in my investment account to exchange $5,000 with a .5 % cost.

    • Barry Choi on January 28, 2015 at 11:32 AM

      Brin,

      Yes brokers are probably best if you need to change a massive amount. Norbert’s gambit is great for investing purposes but I suppose you could do the Gambit and then withdraw the money if you have the time.

  9. Smartwatch Rankings on January 28, 2015 at 12:12 PM

    Can’t emphasize not exchanging at a bank enough, some will charge a delivery fee in addition to the horrible exchange rate for any currency they don’t have in stock, the XE app is a very handy one to have at all times. I vote for the Amazon Visa as the most convenient way to pay when travelling as you’re not carrying around a large amount of cash. ATM’s are second but the drawback is carrying large amounts of cash,as every withdrawal will cost you so you may want to withdraw a large amount depending on your length of stay. That also means paying attention to your withdrawal limit as it can be low “for your protection” and that will mean multiple trips to the ATM depending on where you’re travelling. The best option would be to use the money exchangers that can be found in many countries in the market areas or on busy streets, I find them to have rates equal to or better than the xe.com exchange rates and this will add up to significant savings and knock on wood, I haven’t had a problem using so far.

    • Barry Choi on January 28, 2015 at 12:18 PM

      Smartwatch,

      Maxing out your ATM withdrawal limit is ideal but yes be sure to head back to your hotel to drop off your excess cash. I have also found some foreign exchange offices in some countries to be quite competitive but this was only in Jordan and Egypt.

  10. Local traveller on January 28, 2015 at 1:05 PM

    Great comments people. Maybe someone can answer my question. When I travel to the US I usually buy some US cash from a local , at home, exchange outlet ( leaves the banks in the dust ) and head south with my credit cards and debit card. When I need US cash I go to Walmart , or some other large retail chain , buy some small needed item , and on paying , us my debit card to get cash back. The cash back is a ” purchase ” and no fee is charged. The rate does not seem unreasonable and it’s very convenient.
    My question is , is it possible to do this type of transaction in other , say European countries ?

    • Barry Choi on January 28, 2015 at 3:31 PM

      Local traveller,

      In my own experience I’ve never seen cash back options in Europe and Asia. I suppose it would work but I wonder how much Wal-Mart or any merchant changes on their spreads.

  11. David on January 28, 2015 at 5:17 PM

    As an emergency protection, as well as using some foreign cash for arrival and ATMs and credit cards, I usually take some cdn travellers cheques. At my bank there is no charge (there is for US, plus exchange), and I don’t usually use them, and can cash them back on return at zero cost.

    • Barry Choi on January 28, 2015 at 6:08 PM

      David,

      If you can cash them back at zero cost that’s a pretty solid idea.

  12. Laurie on January 29, 2015 at 12:02 AM

    It’s worth noting that you can’t be sure your ATM card will work in foreign countries. Our CIBC cards worked consistently in Guatemala in 2013 but our friends TD cards didn’t so we gave them money and they paid us back later. Many places didn’t take Visa and some of the banks were for customers only and would not allow cash advances against a Visa card so it would have been a hassle if we had not been successful. Most of the ATMs there had a really small daily max withdrawal limit so our bank fees really added up. Maybe it’s better now.

    In Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca Mexico the HSBC has many times, over a number of years, taken the funds from the Cdn bank account but not advanced the funds at the machine. It happened twice to me and several times to another CIBC card user. It takes at least two months to get the CIBC to put the money back -a big problem if you don’t have a decent cash reserve and expensive if on overdraft. In 2012 the Bancomer ATM would not accept a CIBC card but it had for the several previous years and went back to accepting them in 2013. Bancomer said it had been an agreement issue between the banks and the CIBC said it was a problem with the foreign bank, not them. This month I tried to help someone with a Credit Union card from Winnipeg and another with a TD card and Bancomer would not accept either but minutes later the HSBC ATM on the next steeet did. If you’re in an area with poor phone / Internet connectivity the ATMs may not accept your foreign card as the transaction won’t go through so patience is required.

    Thanks for the tip about the Chase Amazon card.

    • Barry Choi on January 29, 2015 at 12:35 AM

      Laurie,

      Excellent points, odd that your friends TD cards didn’t work. Assuming they had a 4 digit pin and they used an ATM on the Plus network it should have worked. Oddly enough I have always found HSBC to be the most reliable ATM. I tend to carry some emergency Canadian cash with me. If I get into a jam I just change it at a foreign exchange office.

      • traveller on February 3, 2015 at 2:26 PM

        Barrie, that isn’t odd.
        Happens REALLY often.

        • Barry Choi on February 3, 2015 at 2:29 PM

          Yikes that’s unfortunate. I’ve only come across minor issues when using partner ATMs. I did lose my debit card in Buenos Aires, that was a huge pain.

      • Deborah on July 6, 2021 at 7:18 AM

        I agree about HSBC. I bank with TD and my banking plan allows for withdrawals without an ATM surcharge. I use the Visa ATM locator in advance to find out if there are ATMs in the Plus network in the airport and near where I will be. I also figure out how I am getting from the airport to determine if I will need cash immediately or not. Eg. metro or train tickets can be bought with credit card. Depending on the country, if credit cards are widely accepted I take out only $50 or $100. Watch out for ATM surcharges from the local bank though, they should be stated on the machine before you finalize the transaction. In Euro zone I take out more and keep it from trip to trip, but in countries with their own currency I use it up or donate to charity in the airport. For credit card I use the Scotia Passport Visa which doesn’t charge the 2.5%.

        • Barry Choi on July 6, 2021 at 3:07 PM

          Hey Deborah,

          Yes, I also took advantage of the no foreign ATM fees with my TD all-inclusive account. Before no foreign transaction credit cards were a thing, I almost always used debit. The Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite card is excellent since it has so many great perks.

  13. John Di on January 29, 2015 at 8:35 PM

    When going to a country regularly worth setting up an account with a local bank in that country.

    In parts of I convert $cdn to Euro for a Euro1.50 fee regardless of amount. Plus local merchants offer amazing discounts when paying with cash.

    The trade off is the monthly acct fees but all in it is worth it. I have heard of similar options for snow birds that go to Florida – just keep the transaction under the mandatory reporting amount.

    For credit card lovers get one in the local currency (US$ or Euro) and keep an acct in those currency and top up when currency exchange is more favorable – there are many no fee cards for this.

    • Barry Choi on January 29, 2015 at 9:16 PM

      John,

      Yes if you’re making regular visits it might be totally worth setting up an account that holds the foreign currency.

  14. Our Big Fat Wallet on January 30, 2015 at 11:58 PM

    I recently converted some cash at foreign currency shop called Calforex. Funny thing is that I originally went to the bank and they were the ones that told me Id be able to get a better rate by going there. I’m all for saving money so I went there and got a slightly better rate

    • Barry Choi on January 31, 2015 at 1:02 AM

      Dan,

      Yeah banks charge some crazy spreads and they usually need to order the currency. ATMs and credit are my preferred choices.

  15. traveller on February 3, 2015 at 2:35 PM

    I find this article is full of misleading information. Way too simplistic.
    Everything discussed MIGHT be correct, or could easily be wrong, it all depends.

    For instance, please tell me one Canadian bank that only takes a 1 percent spread off the interbank rate for foreign currency withdrawals. And exchange houses I have checked charge way more for converting currency than one of my banks does. Traveller’s cheques can be commission free, depending. ATMs can have major problems from running out of cash, not working with your card (very common) and fraud.

    The only thing I agree is correct, is about the amazon ca credit card!

    • Barry Choi on February 3, 2015 at 3:11 PM

      Everyone’s personal experience is different so it’s important to do your due diligence to figure out what the best option is for you.

      Sure ATMs can give you problems but they also offer incredible convenience. There’s no way to predict in advance. Some traveller’s cheques may offer no fees but they still aren’t widely accepted.

      In the end travellers should just pick the option that they are most comfortable with.

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  17. judy on August 13, 2017 at 1:28 PM

    I am interested in getting money back when I make a purchase at Wal-Mart
    is there any chagprg for this
    how well does work

    • Barry Choi on August 13, 2017 at 2:27 PM

      Hi Judy,

      Any cash-back credit card will allow you to earn money back while shopping at Wal-Mart. Some cards have annual fees while others don’t.

  18. David Chou on February 23, 2018 at 4:15 PM

    Thanks for this post! Picked up the Fido MasterCard after reviewing your other post featuring the credit card options!

  19. Bev Florio on March 12, 2018 at 3:42 PM

    I am having trouble cashing my Visa travellers cheques which were bought 13 years ago, in Euros, from CAA. The CIBC will not cash them and CAA says they are no longer with Visa, and they are too old to cash.

  20. Lisa on March 22, 2018 at 9:07 AM

    I’m leaving for the UK soon and I was struggling with whether to change money in Canada or take it out of the ATM. The Canadian dollar has dropped so much that it’s tougher now to spend in the UK! Every bit helps. I’ve decided to withdraw once I arrive as I don’t believe I am charged an ATM fee due to the card I have presently (TD Inclusive Chequings Account)!

    • Barry Choi on March 22, 2018 at 9:25 AM

      Hi Lisa,

      With the TD All-inclusive account, you won’t be charged the one time fee from TD when using one of their partner banks.

      https://www.visa.com/atmlocator/

      That being said, as of May 1st, the foreign exchange fee when using ATMs abroad are going up to 3.5% (was 2.5%)

  21. Ran on April 5, 2018 at 2:19 AM

    Hi Barry, I also have the TD all inclusive account andTD first class travel visa and will be traveling to Chile this month, I wonder if you think it’s best to use visa in foreign country, or get cash from ATM in foreign country, or get cash in home country and bring abroad? thanks

    • Barry Choi on April 5, 2018 at 7:25 AM

      Hi Ran,

      TD Has announced that they’re upping their fee to 3.5% (up from 2.5%) when using an ATM in a foreign country as of May 1st. Technically speaking, the best deal is to use a credit card with no foreign transaction fees.

      https://www.moneywehave.com/canadian-credit-cards-without-foreign-transaction-fees/

      That being said, of course you’ll still need cash. In this case, I would still use local ATMs as that 3.5% fee is likely still lower than using an exchange office at home.

  22. […] currency to buy before you leave, I would have told you not to bother. Fact is, when it comes to currency exchange, withdrawing from a local ATM in the country you are travelling to will give you a better rate than […]

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  24. Guillaume Roy on August 2, 2018 at 1:12 PM

    Hello Barry,
    (1) How much is the typical spread from the midmaket rate for ATM withdrawals? You indicate 2.5% to 3.5% from the “spot rate” in this article but 1% to 2% in your Huff Post article. (2) Also, does the spot rate mean the interbank rate, the midmarket rate or something else? (3) How is the exchange rate actually determined for a withdrawal at a foreign ATM using a typical Canadian debit card such as Tangerine (NOT branded Visa or Mastercard/Maestro)? Does Cirrus or Plus provide a reference exchange rate for the card issuing bank to use? Let’s assume the cardholder does not use dynamic currency conversion (DCC).

    • Barry Choi on August 2, 2018 at 1:24 PM

      Hi Guillaume,

      WIth ATMs it depends on the network. Mastercard (Cirrus) typically has a better rate compared to Visa (PLUS), but both are very close to the midmarket rate. The reason why I list 2.5% – 3.5% in my article is because fees have slowly crept up over the years. TD now charges 3% while some other banks (not in Canada) charge 3.5%.

      So the rate would be whatever the rate is for Visa or Mastercard + what your bank charges you to withdraw cash from a foreign ATM + any one time fees that ATM charges.

      https://www.mastercard.us/en-us/consumers/get-support/convert-currency.html
      https://usa.visa.com/support/consumer/travel-support/exchange-rate-calculator.html/

      • Guillaume Roy on August 2, 2018 at 1:46 PM

        Thank you for your quick reply. Based on your answer, I infer that banks issuing debit cards NOT branded Visa or Mastercard/Maestro still use Visa and Mastercard exchange rates as base rates for their clients’ withdrawals at foreign ATMs because such transactions are processed through Plus or Cirrus. The banks then add their own undisclosed spread. Did I understand correctly?

  25. Sandra on September 30, 2018 at 8:16 PM

    What is the best way to exchange $86.00 Canadian money back to US money before leaving Canada? or wait until I get to the states?

    • Barry Choi on October 1, 2018 at 9:57 AM

      Hi Sandra,

      For such a small amount, you’re better off changing whatever you have left when you get back home at your regular bank.

  26. NANCY FIGUEROA on October 2, 2018 at 6:52 PM

    Hi,

    My Canadian fiance wants to send me money to purchase a house, in Florida USA. what would be the least expensive way, I know of bank wires, PayPal as options, Also, for a smaller amount like $5000 in USA funds. thanks and God bless!

  27. Claudia Wood on December 14, 2018 at 6:05 PM

    Just a point of interest…and this is from a Canadian perspective so may be of interest to Canadians reading this…most banks’ ATM rates are competitive, however there things people should be aware of. For example, CIBC charges a premium on top of their “competitive” exchange rate. They call it an “admin fee” and it amounts to 2.5% of the amount withdrawn. So you pay exchange, based on the rate that day as well as a service fee. Plus, virtually all Canadian banks charge an international ATM fee, BMO is $3, one of the lowest. CIBC is $5. Plus I have yet to travel to a country (except Thailand, I think) where you didn’t also pay a local ATM fee as well. We are travelling this year and the exchange rate to purchase currency from my bank turns out to be considerably less than what it would cost me to WD the same amount at ATMs in that country using my CIBC debit card. So…as you mention. buyer beware…do your research. ATMs aren’t always the best choice.

    Second point and not really mentioned above regards credit cards and another good way to use them while you travel, particularly if you are going to countries where credit cards are not widely accepted. If you have a credit balance on your credit card and withdraw cash from that credit, there are no fees or charges (as long as you keep a credit balance). This holds true for two I researched…CIBC and Hometrust, a no FX fee card. (Home Trust will charge you a few cents interest based on the time it takes them to process, I am told it is 24-48 hours.) So, another viable option you might want to include.

    • Guillaume Roy on December 15, 2018 at 4:59 AM

      Thank you for your tips Claudia.
      Indeed, credit cards with no forex markup (Brim Mastercard, HSBC World Elite Mastercard, Home Trust Preferred Visa, etc.) above the Visa, Mastercard or Amex rate can be a good option for ATM withdrawals abroad. Do you mean that the cash advance fee is not charged if there is a credit balance on the credit card account? It almost sounds too good to be true.
      As for non-credit card options, I recommend the Global ATM Alliance to avoid fees. Tangerine and Scotiabank are the participating Canadian financial institutions. In countries without a participating bank, Tangerine only charges 2.00 CAD per withdrawal. The TransferWise debit Mastercard (not yet available in Canada) is great for withdrawing up to 200 GBP (or equivalent) per month without fess. The AC Conversion Visa has horrible exchange rates but loading the prepaid card with a high rewards credit card can compensate for the poor exchange rates. It offers one free international ATM withdrawal per month.
      The worst option for ATM withdrawals abroad is probably TD Canada Trust Visa Debit at 5.00 CAD (fixed TD charge) + variable foreign ATM charge + 0.95% (average Visa forex markup) + 3.50% (TD forex surcharge).

  28. Claudia on December 15, 2018 at 10:22 AM

    I thought it sounded too good to be true also! So I called both credit card companies: VISA, (mine is through CIBC but I dealt direct with VISA) and Home Trust, which is one of those places with no actual banking place but you can call them. It took some talking to get what I was looking for and eventually I made each of them walk through a scenario of taking out cash when I had a credit balance. Home Trust kept saying they charge interest from Day 1 and I kept saying interest on WHAT specifically? Finally the lightbulb went on and she told me there would be interest charged but only for the 24-48 hours it took for the computer to process my withdrawal and realize I still had a credit balance, and that would amount to pennies. So still a decent option. VISA guy said, “No fees, No charges.” I do suspect they might still charge an ATM fee and there would definitely be a local ATM fee. I will check on this and report back. Either way, it is still a decent option if you have the cash to front load your card.

    I live in a town that has only CIBC and BMO but a visit to a nearby town plus electronic banking might make Scotiabank an option if they are VISA based. Thanks for the suggestion.

    I am travelling to Guatemala where MC based cards generally don’t work so my BMO debit and credit cards are useless and CIBC debit fees are almost as bad as TD VISA…as I mentioned above. Plus the daily max withdrawal is only about $350 so more withdrawals required and more ATM fees. I checked the cost of buying Quetzales through my bank and while the exchange rate looked high, it worked out to less than using ATMs…and likey safer considering their problems with rampant ATM cloning.

    • Guillaume Roy on December 15, 2018 at 10:12 PM

      Cash advance fees (typically 5.00 CAD per withdrawal abroad) are normally charged by the credit card issuer (not Visa or Mastercard) so the issuing financial institution should answer this question.
      Global ATM Alliance Canadian members Scotiabank and Tangerine are part of the Cirrus network for international ATM withdrawals using one’s bank card (not credit card). It should work at all ATMs on the Cirrus network.
      Please let us know if you are charged a cash advance fee after testing. Thank you.

  29. Claudia on December 15, 2018 at 10:22 PM

    When I asked the question of the bank that issued my VISA, they told me that I would have to contact VISA to answer that question, that they had nothing to do with it.The woman in the bank told me this is how she travels and has never been charged. I will test this with Home Trust this week and let you know. Have to wait until I get a zero balance on my VISA!

    Is Tangerine VISA or MC based?

    • Guillaume Roy on December 15, 2018 at 11:06 PM

      Tangerine offers Mastercard credit cards only. Scotiabank has Visa, Mastercard and Amex credit cards. Based on my understanding, Scotiabank and Tangerine credit cards are not covered by the Global ATM Alliance, only bank cards (aka client cards) are.
      The Home Trust Preferred Visa disclosure statement (https://www.hometrust.ca/documents/PreferredDisclosureStatement1999.pdf) indicates cash advance fees between 2.50 CAD and a 45.00 CAD (yes, forty five) depending on location and amount. I can’t find any information about a fee waiver in case of a credit balance. You should be able to look up the cash advance fee for your other credit card in the disclore statement on the issuing financial institution’s website.
      The information I provided about the Tangerine bank card is correct but Scotiabank now issues 4 different Visa debit cards (no ordinary bank card shown on website) so the Scotiabank offering is actually a lot more complicated. I suggest Tangerine if minimizing fees is the objective.

      • Caudia on January 9, 2019 at 8:10 PM

        Follow up…So I ended up talking to a second person at Home Trust who explained cash advances and was very clear about it. If you WD in Canada, you are charged whatever the local ATM fee is plus 1% of what you WD, minimum charge $2.50, maximum $15. International fee is 1.5% with a minimum fee of $5 and a max of $45…yes $45!! There is no other charge, ie no interesting you WD from a credit balance. I tried it out. Put on a balance of $30 and took out $20. Total withdrawal showing is $23, including the ATM fee. No sign of the $2.50 Home Trust fee…yet…but I expect it will show up at months end.

        So far I have been unable to try the same process for my CIBC VISA…darn Christmas and pretrip charges…maybe tomorrow! I will let you know.

        And no sign of my $50 from Tangerine. Did you get yours? Haven’t been able to try that card out that card yet either. Seems they put a LONG hold on EFTs. Despite a substantial balance that has been there for a week it tells me I have insufficient funds to WD anything…impossible to chat with anyone there. Calls are so backed up you can even get on HOLD! No impressed with their lack of customer support.

        • Guillaume Roy on January 9, 2019 at 11:04 PM

          Hello Claudia,
          Thank you for sharing the information about Home Trust.
          I believe holds on incoming EFTs normally depend on encoding. For example, payroll and pension ETFs are released immediately but personal ETFs aren’t. However, you might have access to a certain amount of any deposit based on your credit score and overdraft limit (even if you don’t actually go into overdraft).
          No, I haven’t received the $50 from Tangerine yet. You have to be sure to use the Orange Key (42198592S1) when registering and deposit at least $100 within 60 days of registration. You also need a regular (not TFSA or RRSP) chequing or savings account with Tangerine to receive the $50 bonus. The terms and conditions stipulate the $50 bonus is deposited within 30 days after fulfilling the aforementioned requirements.
          If you forgot to enter the Orange Key or if it has been more than 30 days, you should contact Tangerine (+1 888 826-4374) as soon as possible to seek a rectification. Maybe try calling very late or very early and have your client number on hand.
          If you email me at zdaic5oxt55k [at sign] opayq.com, I can inform you when I receive the $50. You should receive it around the same time.

    • Guillaume Roy on December 18, 2018 at 9:05 AM

      Hello Claudia, In case you’re interested in Tangerine, I have received a promotional offer whereby we both get a 50.00 CAD reward when you (the new account holder) open a Tangerine bank account and deposit at least 100.00 CAD by 2019-01-31. It may be possible to open an account online within minutes but it can take several days if they need to check your ID or signature so I suggest you give yourself plenty of time. The Orange Key to enter for the promotion is 42198592S1. It must be entered when applying for your first bank account with Tangerine. There is no obligation but this promotion is better than the usual 25.00 CAD reward so if you plan to open a Tangerine account, it pays to do it before the end of January 2019.

  30. Claudia on December 18, 2018 at 10:22 AM

    Thanks. Unfortunate I already opened it…and I didn’t get ANY special offer! This account likely won’t work in Guatemala as apparently only VISA based cards work n most machines.

  31. Claudia Wood on December 18, 2018 at 10:28 AM

    Hi Roy. Unfortunately I already applied for my Tangerins card (and didn’t get ANY special!) I doubt this card will work n Guatemala as most machines won’t accept MC based cards. But I should be able to use it in the rest of our travels.

  32. Claudia on December 18, 2018 at 12:33 PM

    Just contacted them again and they said they would add your number.

    • Barry Choi on January 30, 2019 at 2:23 PM

      Hi Claudia,

      I’ve just discovered an even cheaper way to get cash while abroad now. STACK is a prepaid Mastercard that doesn’t charge any fees. I’ve updated the post if you want to read more about it.

      • Claudia on February 3, 2019 at 12:30 AM

        Thanks! I will keep it in mind for next trip!

  33. Michelle Klein on January 2, 2019 at 1:46 AM

    Hi there…im leaving for the Philippines on Sunday and still have not exchanged.my money to Pesos. I read many of the comments about using a credit.card however thats an problem in itself as #1 I domt have a credit.card and #2 where.im staying, im sure they take.cash only. I deal with RBC….do you suggest exchanging the full amt im planning to being or exchange half and use ATM for the other half if needed? Your advice would be greatly appreciated

    • Barry Choi on January 2, 2019 at 7:56 AM

      Hi Michelle,

      Since you’re leaving so soon, it may make sense to just exchange money at the bank. If you have an exchange office near where you live, just check if they have better rates. If you need money while abroad, use local ATMs and withdraw the maximum amount every time to reduce the amount of fees you pay.

  34. Slim on January 11, 2020 at 10:33 AM

    My issue is where in Canada is it best to Buy US dollars ,or Mexican Pesos in Cash?
    The discussion is about ATM machines and use abroad.
    Rogers Mastercard reduces charges when used abroad but how doe it affect to withdraw Cash on it.

    • Barry Choi on January 11, 2020 at 11:03 AM

      Hi Slim,

      When it comes to US dollars, most banks have a pretty decent rate. If you want Mexican Pesos, you’d likely have to go to an exchange office.

      For getting cash abroad use your bank’s debit card or the STACK mastercard. Don’t use the Rogers Mastercard at ATMs as that would be considered a cash advance and you’d pay 22%+ interest

    • Cindy Wright on May 1, 2020 at 7:34 PM

      Hi Slim, if you are looking for US Dollars and Mexican Pesos, I recommend you a company doing currency exchange called Currency Mart, they offer very good rates, and if you are buying from their Toronto branch there is no service fee. I usually buy Euro and Pounds from them for my business trips.

  35. Mike on July 6, 2021 at 12:45 PM

    We have a Scotia Passport Visa Infinite card (no forex fees) and it works everywhere we’ve taken it. I also recently used OFX (best rates, better than Knightsbridge) to convert USD cash back to CAD and transfer the funds from my CIBC USD account to my CIBC CAD account, both of which are set up at Canadian CIBC branches. I’m pretty sure it would work in reverse. So you don’t need to move the money across the border in the case of USD.

    • Barry Choi on July 6, 2021 at 3:08 PM

      Mike,

      The Scotiabank card is definitely reliable.

  36. Cristian on July 9, 2021 at 2:10 PM

    The best forex rate I know, especially for large amounts, is with Interactive Brokers. It costs about 18 CAD to convert 1 million CAD into Euros. So that a rate of, what? 0.0018% instead of the 2.5% a bank charges. Even the online exchange companies pale in comparison, their rate is around 0.5%.

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