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Ask Kim

Get the Best Exchange Rate When Traveling Overseas

The best way to get cash abroad is from an ATM, using a debit card that doesn't charge any fees.

I’m about to travel to Europe. How can I get the best exchange rate? Should I get foreign currency ahead of time, at the airport or from an ATM after I arrive? --J.H., Amherst, Virginia

See Also: 10 International Travel Bargains

You’ll usually get the best exchange rate when you charge purchases to your credit card, and many cards have dropped foreign-transaction fees, which run up to 3% (see the list at You’ll generally get the worst rate by exchanging money before you leave home or in an airport outside your destination country, says Tim Leffel, author of The World’s Cheapest Destinations.

The best way to get cash abroad is from an ATM at your destination, using a debit card that doesn’t charge any fees, says Leffel. You’ll avoid foreign-transaction fees with debit cards from Schwab Bank checking accounts and some credit unions, which also reimburse you for the fees you pay for using the foreign bank’s ATM. Fidelity charges a 1% foreign-transaction fee but reimburses you for at least five ATM withdrawals each month.

If you don’t have one of those cards, see whether your bank has international partners so that you’ll at least avoid ATM fees on debit transactions.

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