Help me turn some British Pounds into US Dollars.
January 24, 2013 4:19 AM   Subscribe

Last March, I went to London and returned without spending all of the Pounds I'd withdrawn from an ATM machine. Believing that the money changers in the airports are major ripoffs, I decided to hang onto the Pounds. "Surely I will run into a friend with plans to visit London soon!" Hasn't happened. Anyone have any creative ideas on how to exchange the Pounds for Dollars now? Without paying someone a ghastly percentage?
posted by starkraven to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total)
What bank do you use? Last I checked (which is admittedly a few years ago) banks had the best exchange rates.
posted by Grither at 4:23 AM on January 24, 2013

Response by poster: Grither, I contacted my local Chase Bank branch, and they don't buy foreign currency. Other banks may, but I'm hoping to avoid paying bank exchange rates even.
posted by starkraven at 4:28 AM on January 24, 2013

How many pounds are we talking?

With this kind of thing it makes a difference to your options if we're talking £5 or £500 or £5000.
posted by chrispy108 at 4:35 AM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

What makes you think bank exchange rates are bad? They are fairly large customers, so should have good deals with currency brokers. (Of course, they may charge you a fee -- but that's a separate question.)

You can check the mid-market exchange rate USD/GBP by Googling it or by looking on
posted by katrielalex at 5:02 AM on January 24, 2013

If this is a larger sum, I would still try talking to a local bank; I know Citibank routinely handles foreign currency, and they may buy from non-bank account holders. Their rates are really pretty good as an account holder and if you really want to get rid of it, it's worth a shot. If it's not really that much money (like under a couple hundred quid,) you could maybe try checking in with your local college's study abroad program to see if any of their students are doing JYA in the UK. I don't know how they would handle such a request, but it's a very popular location and even if they can't help you, they may know how their students handle getting funds or exchanging money locally. Do any charities near you accept foreign currency?
posted by jetlagaddict at 5:15 AM on January 24, 2013

Going through any service will incur a transaction fee, particularly for what I assume is a relatively small amount of money given that you withdrew it from an ATM.

My suggestion is to post something on Craigslist that you want to do a USD-GBP transaction at whatever the day's exchange rate is, and find someone who is headed to the UK soon.
posted by olinerd at 5:28 AM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Ask your network if anyone is going to London and wants to buy them off you. Calculate a rate that is favorable to you both. When you account for friends of friends in the city where you live, someone will be going to the UK.

However, when you factor in your time, fuel etc, you may decide just to take it on the chin and use a bank or keep the cash for a future trip.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:36 AM on January 24, 2013

At the moment, Bank of America is buying the pound at 1.49 to the dollar for cash. The notional exchange rate is 1.59 today, so they are charging about 6% as their fee, which is fairly typical for US-based exchange. Credit card and ATM cards normally have a 2-3% implied fee. The airport currency exchange guys at LHR today are buying at 1.54, which is about a 3% fee. In my experience, you will get the best price buying dollars in the country that issued the foreign currency, so I'm going to say that a 3% load is the best deal you can realistically get for paper money.

Obviously, if you can find someone to conduct a private exchange, you can both save the fee and trade at exactly the current exchange rate. I'd note that the exchange rate can easily move around 10% or more in the time you are taking to perform the swap, so you might be being penny-wise and pound-foolish.
posted by Lame_username at 5:42 AM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Anyone passing through an international airport in the rest of the world should be able to spend these for airport concessions. For some reason in the USA even international airports won't let you spend euros or pounds, but if you have a friend going almost anywhere else? No problemo. Sell 'em on for overpriced coffee and biscuits in Terminal B.
posted by 1adam12 at 6:07 AM on January 24, 2013

I had a similar situation with a few hundred dollars worth of mexican pesos, and just walked into banks randomly all Saturday until somebody agreed to take the currency off my hands. The winner was a credit union but the exchange rate was still awful.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 6:18 AM on January 24, 2013

This is not really different from any kind of sale transaction. You can sell the money directly to the end user (someone who is about to travel to the UK) for the best price, or sell it to a middleman (bank/currency exchange) but get a lower price.

To find the end user, put up a sign at your office, a sign at local businesses (grocery stores/coffee shops), and an ad on Craigslist. This may be a bit more hassle, but you should be able to find someone who wants pounds as much as you want dollars.
posted by payoto at 6:44 AM on January 24, 2013

What you're really paying here isn't a bad exchange rate per se. What you're paying is a fee for someone to provide you the service of taking pounds in a place where they aren't legal tender.

You will never actually get the nominal exchange rate as a consumer, because the service of the service charge. To avoid paying a service charge, you either need to not use cash at all, or to exchange ridiculous amounts of it on a regular basis.

Suck it up and find some place that will take your pounds for a minimum of hassle on your part, and resign yourself to paying for the privilege.
posted by valkyryn at 7:37 AM on January 24, 2013

Best answer: Or just save them for your next trip to the UK.
posted by Rash at 8:36 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm hoping to avoid paying bank exchange rates even.

This is sort of like saying you want to go grocery shopping, but you're hoping to avoid paying for the food. Or you want new shoes, but they have to be free.

Services like this cost money. Just bring your damn pounds to the bank and change them like a sane person. Or don't, and have a bunch of fake money you can't use because you're stubborn.

I do not understand why people get so het up about exchange fees. This is something that it costs money to do. That's life. Either do it understanding that's how it works, or don't.
posted by Sara C. at 11:38 AM on January 24, 2013

Best answer: It occurs to me (many hours after my first response) that I'm actually headed to London in April, so I considered making the swap with you directly. However, when I look more closely at the numbers, it makes no sense.

Putting things in perspective (leaving out currency flux risk and pretending I was headed over today), if you are seeking to exchange say 300 GBP, official rate at this moment would yield you $473.64 in an even swap. If you sold them to BoA today, you would get $448.44 costing you $25.20 total. If I bought them at BoA today it would cost me $501.21, so conducting the transaction privately would save me $27.57 total. However, I would never buy 300 pounds at an American bank. I'd get the money from an ATM when I landed and the current ATM rate for 300 GBP is $481.47. So I'd save a net of $7.83 via purchasing them from you.

Personally, my willingness to save $7.83 would require you making the transaction extremely easy for me as the hassle factor would very quickly overcome the savings. Even if we pooled our savings of roughly $33 and split the difference you'd still be talking about $16.50 which wouldn't really be worth more than a really minor inconvenience.
posted by Lame_username at 1:28 PM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the ideas, mefites. I think I'll hang onto them for a later visit or when a friend or family member goes.
posted by starkraven at 4:00 PM on January 25, 2013

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