A little money, that's what I want
June 6, 2011 2:18 PM   Subscribe

I need to buy some foreign currency before I travel. Where can I buy euros or CAD that will have the best exchange rate in NYC? I've tried my bank, they have to order it (!) and it wouldn't get here in time for me to leave. Please don't suggest using an ATM or credit cards once abroad, as neither of these are an option. Ordering from an online source would be an option, so if you've had a good experience with a website, I would be open to that. Thanks.
posted by newpotato to Work & Money (18 answers total)
Drop by the airport, they have currency exchange kiosks.
posted by nomisxid at 2:23 PM on June 6, 2011

Best answer: American Express Travel Services on Park. I used to get all my foreign currencies there. (Now, I just use my ATM card.)
posted by Admiral Haddock at 2:25 PM on June 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

You could stop by a Travelex or similar exchange kiosk.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:26 PM on June 6, 2011

Can you get an ATM card from your bank before you leave so that it is an option? It almost always is both simpler, and much, much cheaper to get cash from an ATM abroad rather than visiting a currency exchange locally. Another option would be purchasing a Visa TravelMoney card. Or traveler's cheques.
posted by grouse at 2:38 PM on June 6, 2011

I'm not sure where you are going, but many places in Europe and Asia will exchange dollar-denominated traveller's checks for the local currency. Try hotel front desks or banks, or even post offices. I know for sure that in Japan you will sometimes get a better exchange rate for traveller's checks than for dollar bills, and the same might be true elsewhere.
posted by twblalock at 2:43 PM on June 6, 2011

As credit and debit cards have taken over, banks keep less on hand, but do try another branch (or several) of your existing bank until you find one with the cash you wish on hand. For that matter, try any bank, whether you're a customer or not... I have successfully purchased cash from banks that didn't know me from Washington. Add a bit of charm and this also works at any hotel, guest or not.

Or, as nomisxid said, any airport on earth. Unless you're talking about many thousands of dollars, differences in rates/fees won't matter much.
posted by rokusan at 2:45 PM on June 6, 2011

Response by poster: Is travelex more reasonable here in the city than at the airports? I avoid them because of their very bad rates (at least from what I've seen of them in Australia and Asia).

I guess I should refine my question; Where in NYC (or online) has the most reasonable exchange rates for buying foreign currency?

On preview: As I mentioned, getting cash from an ATM abroad is NOT an option. Nor is using any of my credit cards. I'm looking for a place to buy foreign currency, euros, or CAD most likely.

On further preview: travelers checks are also not an option, and yeah, it's in the thousands of dollars, which is why I'm trying to find a good exchange rate.
posted by newpotato at 2:50 PM on June 6, 2011

Response by poster: ...but not many thousands of dollars
posted by newpotato at 2:52 PM on June 6, 2011

Best answer: All the bureaus de change at the airport are ripoffs. That said, it's hard to tell how bad a deal you're getting since it's difficult to find consistent f/x spot rates online. The Amex travel place I mentioned has been reliable for me--both in terms of rate and in terms of currency on hand.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 2:57 PM on June 6, 2011

If you do go the easy route and go to the airport, compare the various kiosks against one another. On a recent trip to Mexico we discovered the exchange rates definitely differed from place to place, sometimes within 2 minutes (walking) of each other.
posted by cgg at 3:01 PM on June 6, 2011

Best answer: I've used ezforex.com a couple of times before and thought the rates were decent. The money is overnighted.
posted by brilliantine at 3:37 PM on June 6, 2011

If you're looking to get foreign currency from a non-ATM source and not your bank, you're going to pay for it. Sorry.

New York being an international city with tourists from all over the world (and the strength of the Euro against the dollar being a major sustaining factor in the local economy during the recession), I know there have to be tourist-geared money exchange places. I just can't think of where I've seen them. Around Times Square would by my first guess.

I'm not sure you'll get better rates than an airport at those places, though. But as I said, you're going to pay for it. I'd be curious to know the reason an ATM is not an option for any destination where you'd need Euros, though. Every international airport I've ever been in has had an ATM right there at international arrivals.
posted by Sara C. at 3:42 PM on June 6, 2011

Contact the bank again and ask where you should go instead of having them order it. For the major banks, most branches won't have large stores of foreign currency, but one or more of the larger branches in major cities will stock common denominations of Euros, CAD, and other common currencies. Ask your bank to direct you to this location and you should be able to get the cash immediately.

fwiw, being able to get cash from an ATM abroad is a useful thing to be able to do in the event of an emergency, even if you plan to carry enough cash for your trip. If you keep your ATM card separate from your cash, you have an easy backup plan even if you get mugged in a foreign country in the middle of the night.
posted by zachlipton at 3:43 PM on June 6, 2011

Also, I'm not sure what your situation is, but I wouldn't necessarily change thousands of dollars at once before a trip. If something should happen before you go and your trip is cancelled or your trip is cut short, you'll be left with a bucketload of unused foreign currency. I would exchange half of what you plan to use now, and exchange more money later upon arrival (where your rates will probably be better anyway).
posted by HeyAllie at 4:01 PM on June 6, 2011

If you have AAA, they may be able to help as well. If not, American Express.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:40 PM on June 6, 2011

nthing Amex. That's where we change our money before we travel.
posted by bedhead at 4:49 PM on June 6, 2011

This may sound like a slightly hipster answer. But in London, I used to use a small independent guy for dollars and always got a rate several points better than the banks and bureaus de change and he never charged those infuriating fees on top of the spread. Of course, you'll have to weigh up whether you want to go off-major-brand. But the dollars he sold me always worked and were typically at least 5% "cheaper" than banks and probably 10% cheaper than BDCs, which are frankly, thieves. In my experience you tend to find these places in ethnic neighbourhoods, esp those where mainstream banking isn't all that well established.
posted by rhymer at 1:18 AM on June 7, 2011

Not sure which bank is yours, but maybe try another branch and/or another bank entirely? Even if you're not a customer, they might do the exchange for you anyway. And FYI, the current FX rates as of 7:18am 6/7/2011:
SEK 6.1413
NOK 5.3500
HKD 7.7791
NZD 1.2173
AUD .93462
CAD .97517
CHF .83482
GBP .60913
JPY 80.204
EUR .68206
posted by Grither at 4:20 AM on June 7, 2011

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