Tours en l'air organizes ballet-themed escorted holidays to see the best companies perform great ballets in beautiful places. You can join a trip from anywhere. A highly knowledgeable balletomane who has enjoyed 100s of performances in over 20 cities around the world,I speak English, French, and German, and am a Travel Industry Council of Ontario certified Travel Counsellor. I also teach ballet appreciation courses.
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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Travel tip: The best way to obtain foreign currency

Usually my blog posts are about ballet, but since Tours en l'air is about ballet AND travel, occasionally I like to share my travel tips, so this post  is about the thorny question of how to get the best deal on foreign exchange.  

All of us have probably had the experience of thinking that there are currency gods sitting up there in heaven who look down and say "Hey, Katherine's about to go on a trip; let's make the Canadian dollar go into a nosedive!" and then, just after we get back from a trip, they make the OTHER currency go into a nosedive.

But my advice is: 

1) you usually get a better exchange rate when buying currency abroad by taking it out of a bank machine there than by buying it here. Make sure you are using your bank card (debit card) rather than your credit card in the machine, because otherwise the bank will treat it as a cash advance on your credit card, and not only will you have to pay interest on the advance, but all your previous purchases that month will become interest-bearing until you pay off the whole amount of the bill. 

Speaking of credit cards, don't forget to notify your credit card issuer before you leave that you are going to be in a foreign country, so that their computers don't think your card has been stolen and cancel it on you. This happened to me in Vienna after I used my credit card to pay the ONE EURO registration fee for the free bicycle rental service!

Canadian banks will charge you $5 per international withdrawal, so take out as much money as you feel comfortable carrying around in cash each time, rather than making several small withdrawals. However, when you think about it, $5 is not much for the convenience of being able to access your bank account from anywhere in the world. Remember when we had to buy traveller's cheques?

2) You probably don't want to arrive at a foreign destination with absolutely no foreign currency in your wallet (although you can find bank machines at most airports). Buying foreign currency at home, you will get a better exchange rate at the currency exchanges than at your bank, and they will have foreign currency in stock whereas at your bank you will have to order anything other than the major currencies (US $, euros, UK pounds) at least 24 hours in advance. A classic example of banks charging more for inferior service!  If you're only getting a relatively small amount of foreign currency, it's probably worth the convenience of getting it at your local bank branch rather than taking a trip downtown to your currency exchange, as the difference won't amount to that much.

3) However you choose to buy foreign currency, just buy it at whatever it costs and don't torment yourself by looking at the exchange rate afterwards. In the big scheme of things, unless you're spending tens of thousands of dollars, it's not going to make that much difference.

The Bank of Canada has a handy page where you can check the current exchange rate between any currency and any other:
Just bear in mind that the exchange rate you will get will be a few cents different than this because of bank charges.

You can also look at what the currencies have been doing over time so that you can see whether one seems to be sliding or gaining against the other. This page shows you the US$, UK pound, and euro against the Canadian dollar:
but you can find out this information for any combination of currencies on this page:

Most European bank machines accept Canadian bank cards (I have heard that Americans have more difficulty). Also, important to know, make sure your cards are chip-enabled, as European businesses (and ticket vending machines) don't accept credit cards without chips as a general rule, and bank machines don't accept debit cards without chips. All Canadian debit cards and credit cards are now chip-enabled but most American ones are not. However, an American client of mine told me she was able to obtain a chip-enabled card by insisting her bank provide her with one.

In Japan, it's harder to find a bank machine that accepts Canadian cards. Do not panic. In my experience, the bank machines that are compatible in Japan are found at:
1) post offices
2) 7-11 convenience stores
3) Citibanks

Bon voyage, and don't forget: Enjoy your trip without obsessing about a few cents difference in the exchange rate.

For other travel tips, see this page.
If you love ballet, please check out my season of outstanding ballet trips by clicking here.


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