Changing small amounts of foreign currency in NYC?
February 19, 2017 9:32 AM   Subscribe

I have accumulated a lot of random currency from my travels. The greatest amount I have is about 400 Chinese yuan. That's about $50. The least I have is about 110 Mexican pesos. That's about $6. I don’t expect to go to any of these countries soon.

The Yuan I have is about 10 years old and has lost value over time due to inflation.

What is the minimum amount of foreign currency worth changing, and how can I do it?

I know there’s a Travelex in Times Square, but changing money there seems like I’m asking to be ripped of. Are the airports any better? Or can you recommend a store in Chinatown? Thanks!
posted by Borborygmus to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Are the airports any better?

Not in the US. The only place I've heard of, where they give a decent exchange rate at the airport, is Japan.

I'd try first at one of the too-big-to-fail banks.
posted by Rash at 9:39 AM on February 19, 2017

If you know anybody personally who plans to travel to those countries (and since you're in NYC, this may be easier than if you were in other parts of the country)... you might just do an informal exchange with them. I've done this several times-- it's always handy to have small amounts of cash on hand when initially getting to a country (for cab fare, etc.) so most people seem to be amenable to small exchanges like that.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 9:42 AM on February 19, 2017 [7 favorites]

getmutlichkeit has it. Hell, I once just gave a foreign banknote to a restaurant I liked because they had a collection, I had a note they didn't, and I wanted to contribute.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:53 AM on February 19, 2017

You may be able to sell it on eBay for more than you would get at a bank. Either by itself or people are selling things called "junk drawer" where they will put together odd things like pocket knifes, currency, old photos and selling it as a lot.
posted by cda at 9:57 AM on February 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've done what gemutlichkeit suggests - we have a number of people at work who travel to the same places in irregular rotation and already know each other. I'm not sure how well that would work with strangers.

Can you just deposit it in your own bank account? Seems like they would do the conversion to USD at whatever the going rate is that day. The harder transaction is trying to GET the foreign currency, since they need to physically have the thing to give you. It's been several years since I tried this same thing, and Bank of America (where I have an account) didn't want to. Wells Fargo did, even without an account, but only for some of the most common currencies (JPY, which I had).

By "don't want to" I mean they told me no when I asked, but I always wondered what they would do if I just deposited it in the ATM. For a small amount I'd already written off, it could be a neat experiment/prank.
posted by ctmf at 10:02 AM on February 19, 2017

I recently found $35 Canadian dollars left over from a trip and exchanged them quite painlessly at A&S Foreign Exchange. Ignore the posted rates on that website, they don't seem to update it. The exchange booth itself is inside another store on 30th St and 7th Avenue. They paid me a couple of cents less than what Google said was the going exchange rate, so it felt pretty fair and they've got good Yelp reviews. If the rate or service had scared me away, I was going to check out Best Value Currency a few blocks north. It might be worth going to one, getting a quote, and then checking out the other.
posted by scottdavidsanders at 10:18 AM on February 19, 2017 [4 favorites]

I exchanged a few different currencies accumulated in my travels at my nearest Bank of America branch near Lincoln Center (63rd and Bway) about 5 years back. It don't recall the exact amounts, but I don't think I had more than $100 US in any given one. I was in the same boat: wanted to offload it, didn't care about the absolute best exchange rate.
posted by paradeofblimps at 10:56 AM on February 19, 2017

I had some spare coins from countries I'd visited, and my solution was to fling them into the grass in an elementary school playground (note- not the daycare or kindergarten playgrounds, where tiny kids might eat them- I deliberately chose a playground where all the kids are all at least 6 years old). I figured it'd be super cool for a kid to find some mystery money in the grass- I sure would have liked that when I was little.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 12:02 PM on February 19, 2017 [11 favorites]

> my solution was to fling [the coins] into the grass in an elementary school playground

This immediately made me think of Final Destination 4 - Samantha's Death! (I'm not saying that would or could happen, just that's what I thought of.)
posted by richb at 2:56 PM on February 19, 2017

I once solved this problem by offering to sell the currency at Google's current exchange rate in an email to my employer's for-sale email mailing list (at a large company). If you work for a big enough company with informal communication channels like this, its a win-win for both sides of the transaction to avoid hassle and fees.
posted by zachlipton at 4:30 PM on February 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

I know someone who uses foreign currency for her children's tooth fairy visits ... could you do that, or could you give it to someone who could do that?
posted by mccxxiii at 8:15 PM on February 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

The proper answer to this question is always: give them to children. (Nieces and nephews of a certain age will always appreciate this far more than the exchange rate will give you.)
posted by RedEmma at 7:22 AM on February 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

I was wrong with my earlier answer; RedEmma has it.
posted by infinitewindow at 3:43 PM on February 20, 2017

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