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Travel Tips

The Bank of Bender: 5 Top Tips on Money Exchange

Ever wondered how much those foreign coins are really worth? You know, the ones that you can’t get rid of after a holiday in another country?

During our travels we have managed to accumulate quite a motley collection of currencies. Notes are always easy to exchange at airports, but we find the coins are not so much. And before you know it, you have a mountain that’s weighing your bags down and all you want to do is toss it.

Well, we kept ours. The day before we were due to leave Australia we deposited all our unused Aussie dollars into the bank and decided to go through all our other currencies to figure out what would be useful to take with us for our upcoming destinations, and what should be left behind.

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It turns out we had nearly 15 different currencies. Here’s the breakdown along with exchanges to Aussie dollars and US dollars (at the current rate at the time of writing): 

Currency

Amount

  AUD

 exchange   

  USD

exchange

 British pounds

 0.73

 1.30

 1.22

 US dollars

 100.08

 106.49

 100.08

 Euros

 0.38

 0.56

 0.53

 Singapore dollars

 19.00

 16.16

 15.19

 Indonesian rupiah

 514,300

 47.87

 45.00

 Malaysian ringgit

 21.70

 7.13

 6.70

 Denmark krone

 1.00

 0.20

 0.18

 UAE dirham

 10.50

 3.04

 2.96

 Czech koruna

 7.70

 0.41

 0.39

 Thai baht

 13.00

 0.43

 0.40

 Philippine pesos

 28.75

 0.69

 0.65

 Hong Kong dollars

 26.70

 3.66

 3.44

 Israeli shekel

 15.10

 4.63

 4.35

 Swiss francs

 0.50

 0.61

 0.57

We’ve never even been to Denmark, so not sure how we got that one.

The total? AUD$193.19 or USD$181.56.

Now that’s a fair chunk of change. I mean I flew my family from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur for less than that! In certain cities, like Penang, that would be 5 nights accommodation! 

The drawback is that most of it is in the form of coins, so unless we plan on going back they really are quite useless – maybe some good as a scrapbook item. But they still have some intrinsic value so I couldn’t bring myself to throwing them out! Over our travels we have learnt some handy tips on money exchange that I’d love to share with you so that on your next family vacation you will be able to stretch your dollar further (or whatever currency you use):

1.  Don’t leave with coins.

Once you leave a country the coins become pretty much invaluable. Most currency exchangers will only accept notes – not coins. So make sure you get rid of them before you go.

At Perth airport, on the way to security, there is a charity money collection box where you can deposit all the money you didn’t spend, and it goes to a good cause. We loved this idea and personally think this would be awesome in any airport.

In other airports we have hit the McDonalds to spend every last cent we could or add it to the Ronald McDonald charity box.  

2.  Depending on your bank, ATM withdrawal can be better value than money exchangers… but not always!

We soon found out that exchanging money is a lose-lose situation. You pay to get the money out of the ATM and lose on conversion, and then when you exchange it back you lose again on conversion. You’ll be better to cut one out step and just get money out of the ATM at your destination in local currency.

For multiple currency trips you want to avoid converting the same cash from one currency to another over and over again.

If you’re like the typical Australian visiting Bali, then taking out your money in Australia (with not ATM fees) and converting to Rupiah in Indonesia in a exchange stall may work out better, specially since maximum withdrawal in Bali is approximately AUD$200. Plus Aussie banks will often charge a couple dollars for the privilege of using an overseas ATM.  So check your bank’s fees and terms so there are no surprises later.

Withdrawing from a debit card usually works out better than credit cards (as interest is incurred immediately and ATM fees can be higher).

I use a handy app on my mobile so I can easily check the “live” market exchange rate wherever we go. I then compare this against what currency exchangers are offering so I quickly know what is the better option.

3.  ATM limits.

Each country and bank has different withdrawal limits. Bali slaughtered us with $150 to $200 maximum withdrawals. Each time costing at least AUD$5 on fees PLUS the exchange conversion. In Hong Kong you could get out AUD$1500 in local currency, which was fabulous. That’s a saving of over $30 when compared with multiple ATM withdrawals in Bali.

Plan how much you need and if applicable, always get out your maximum ATM cash withdrawal.

4.  Split your money and cards.

So you got out $1500 in Hong Kong. Are you going to carry that everywhere? Heck no! Take what you need for the day and use your hotel room safe or another safe spot for the rest. Similarly separate your cards. We were in a hard spot when my wallet was stolen during our travels and every time I wanted to hire a car a credit card (in the name of the driver) was needed. And what would have happen if my husband’s wallet were stolen? We would have been stuffed.

This time for our trip we will bring along extra credit cards that we won’t actually use. They will stay with our passports in a safe place as a backup should our everyday cards go missing.

5.  Will you be back?

We have been to Bali 8 times so when we leave Bali we rarely worry about making sure all our money is gone. Same for Malaysia. That extra cash we have for the next time we visit is always a pleasant little surprise or a helpful hand to get out of the airport.

6.  BONUS TIP: Don’t get stuck without cash on the way out!

A couple times we have been stuck in the airport when we are leaving a country (such as Indonesia) only to find out an “exit tax” is levied, so we are forced to hit an ATM and make a relatively small withdrawal.

If you’re catching a taxi from your hotel back to the airport, also ensure you have enough cash left for that so you don’t resort to a small ATM withdrawal to cover that. All this can be avoided with a little planning and research.

As we keep learning we will keep sharing, but right now those are the top tips you need to make the most of your money exchange while on holidays.

We hope you enjoyed a glimpse into the Bank of Bender. Won’t it be interesting to see what we collect after this next adventure

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"I respond to every comment by private email. So please leave me comments, I love chatting to you" -
Posted by Nomadic Boys on
As a coin collecting geek I strongly disagree! Those coins can be a great souvenir from your travels. I really like how you've organised your collection and made me want to think about doing the same.

But must keep those coins - at the very least they are fun to show off for great posts like this :)
Posted by Michael Orobona on
Do you have any of those $1,000,000,000,000 Zimbabwean dollar bills?

Coins aren't always invaluable. Canada doesn't make pennies anymore, but they look so much like American pennies in size and shape you can purge yourself of a few holdover coins across the border.
Posted by Linda Bibb on
We try to use up our coins for a cup of coffee at the airport but don't worry about the bills too much since we never know when or if we're going to return to a country. (That said, we try not to withdraw too much in the first place!)

We found a plastic business card album and keep our different currencies in separate pockets. It's the handiest way we've found to keep everything organized.
Posted by Deia @ Nomad Wallet on
I have a little cousin who collects foreign coins, so I can easily unload all my coins after every trip. :D

It's tough to come up with universal rules for money exchange because every location is different. The best thing to do is to always do research on ATMs and fees beforehand, I guess.
Posted by Karin on
Great read erin
Posted by Sarah (Jetsetting Fools) on
ATM/conversion fees are my nemesis...and double exchange fees are my worst nightmare! We try to calculate how much we think we will spend in advance. At first, we were horrible at this. The more we travel, the closer we get.
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