Dynamic Currency Conversion | How to avoid it

**This post may contain affiliate links. I may be compensated if you use them.

When it comes to travelling, dynamic currency conversion is something you need to know about since it’s one of the biggest travel fees you can avoid. In case you’re not familiar with dynamic currency conversion, it’s when you get the option to pay for your purchases in your home currency when using credit cards abroad.

This is a convenient practice since you’ll be able to see exactly how much you’ll pay for your purchases, but you actually end up paying more for the convenience. The reason this happens is that an additional fee is added on top of the exchange rate.

While seeing your own currency is convenient since you’ll know how much you’re paying, why would you pay more than you have to? Keep reading to learn more about how exchange rates work when you make purchases in a foreign currency and how you can avoid dynamic currency conversion fees.

dynamic currency conversion

Understanding exchange rates

First off, you need to understand that the exchange rate you see on the news or online at xe.com isn’t the exchange rate that’s available to everyone. That’s known as the ‘interbank’ or ‘mid-market’ rate which you would never get since banks will always add fees or a margin so they can make money. The exchange rate you get when paying with your credit card is set by your credit card processor. For example, here were the exchange rates of 1 U.S. dollar to Canadian on June 14, 2021..

  • Official rate: 1.2144
  • Visa rate: 1.2076
  • Mastercard rate: 1.2103

As you can see, the official rate will always be the lowest. The rate listed from Visa and Mastercard is what you would pay, plus any foreign currency fees that your credit card charges.

Foreign transaction fees on credit cards

That markup that your credit card processor charges isn’t the only fee you’ll pay since the majority of credit card providers also charge an additional 2.5% when you make a purchase in a foreign currency. This isn’t a huge amount, but it can obviously add up pretty quickly.

The good news is that there are quite a few credit cards that don’t charge you foreign currency fees. That means when you use a card as the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite card or the Home Trust Preferred Visa, you would just pay whatever the Visa exchange rate is on the date that you make purchases in a foreign currency.

Always pick the local currency when paying

With this information in mind, you should now understand why picking the local currency will always give you the best exchange rate. In case you’re confused, it’s because your credit card processor sets the exchange rate. If you were to choose your local currency, the transaction provider charges an additional fee for dynamic currency conversions. For example, Moneris is one of the major companies in Canada that facilitate transactions. They don’t control the exchange rate, but they can add a fee for services that they have such as dynamic currency conversion.

Picking the local currency is always better, but you can completely cut out the fees you’re paying by using credit card that doesn’t charge you foreign transaction fees. It’s important to note that this fee is only waived when you’re actually paying a foreign currency. Remember, this applies to any foreign currency transaction. So if you’re at home in Canada and making a purchase in USD on a website, your credit card with no foreign transaction fees will save you big.

What about cash?

Oddly enough, dynamic currency conversion also applies when you pay cash. Some countries accept different currencies, but the best deal is to always pay in the local currency. For example, many countries in the Caribbean accept USD and CAD but you may not get the best rate. The exchange can also vary depending on where you’re spending your cash.

When I was in Barbados, the official currency exchange was 1 USD = 2 Bajan dollars. The majority of places accept this rate, however, I saw a few places where 1 USD was only worth 1.90 or 1.95 Bajan dollars. The same could apply to countries in Europe who don’t use the Euro as their official currency. The odds are that if you use the local currency instead of Euros, you’ll get the best price.

Many people opt to use local ATMs to get cash, but in recent years, some banks have upped their foreign exchange fees to 3.5% when using a foreign ATM. You also need to consider any fees your debit card provider charges to access a foreign ATM, plus any fees that the local ATM charges. As you can imagine, those fees also add up fast.

One solution to get foreign cash cheap is to try the STACK Mastercard. STACK is a prepaid card that doesn’t charge any exchange or foreign ATM fees. That being said, the ATM you use may charge you a one time use. STACK is the cheapest way to get foreign currencies. Sign up to STACK with my referral link and you’ll get $5 when you activate your card. Keep in mind that you must click this link via your mobile device for it to work.

Final thoughts

When making purchases in a foreign currency with a credit card, always choose the local currency over your home currency if you’re given the choice. Combine that with one of the best credit cards without foreign exchange fees and you’ll pay next to no fees when making purchases.

Dynamic Currency Conversion | How to avoid it

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

8 Comments

  1. Jon on July 2, 2019 at 9:13 AM

    Just a note, that some CC’s convert the originating currency to USD before converting to CDN. Not sure it this adds to the conversion fees?

    • Barry Choi on July 2, 2019 at 10:24 AM

      Jon,

      I’ve been told but credit card companies that it doesn’t affect what you pay in the end, but I’ve never personally verified that.

  2. Paul Eudore on July 9, 2019 at 11:01 PM

    Does it make any sense to load up your credit card so as it in a credit or surplus position and then to withdraw your own money rather than a cash advance of the bank s money
    Paul Eudore

    • Barry Choi on July 10, 2019 at 6:38 AM

      Paul,

      Yes that works too, you just want to double check with your credit card provider to ensure it doesn’t count as a cash advance.

  3. Kevin on July 10, 2019 at 8:39 AM

    What burns me is that Canadians pay the 2.5% fee while all the US credit card issuers scrapped that few a few years ago. There’s no reason for this fee, it’s pure profit for the banks.

    PS. Good article.

    • Barry Choi on July 10, 2019 at 11:19 AM

      Kevin,

      Yes, the foreign exchange fees are incredibly valuable to credit card companies.

  4. Paul Eudore on July 10, 2019 at 1:03 PM

    Speaking of different credit cards
    As a Canadian I have one visa credit card IN CDN$ and an another in US$
    When travelling to let’s say Europe or Asia which one would you suggest for the best deal

    • Barry Choi on July 10, 2019 at 2:14 PM

      Paul,

      You’d have to check the fine print of your U.S. credit card to see what they charge for forex fees. I suspect it’s also 2.5% so you’d be better off using your Canadian card. That said, your best bet is getting a no fee card with no forex fees.

Leave a Comment





Get a FREE copy of The Cost of Travel

Subscribe now to get your FREE eBook and learn how to see the world without spending a fortune