Better to change pounds to USD in London or Los Angeles?
February 24, 2004 10:57 AM   Subscribe

Money changing. (More inside)

I'll be traveling from London to Los Angeles on Thursday, and I will have a goodly amount of cash in pounds. I don't have a UK bank account. Am I better off changing this into dollars while in London, or should I wait until I get to the U.S.? Either way, should I do it at the airport, or offsite?
posted by Optamystic to Work & Money (9 answers total)
The airport wanted to rape me when I got back (to the US) from Canada. I kept my 10$ Canadian to do God knows what with rather than take their rate.
posted by callmejay at 11:12 AM on February 24, 2004

Airports are not great places to change money. When I have travelled to Canada and Mexico I've found that if I do most of my money transactions with credit cards [or even ATM cards], the exchange rate that the bank will give me is generally competitive with what I could get if I went to a teller at a local bank or to one of those money changing places. You also don't have to carry a ton of cash with you which is often a relief. If you were going to Eastern Europe or someplace where there is a thriving money-changing market, I'd tell you to consider sticking with the airport, but in the US you're just as well off going to a local bank.
posted by jessamyn at 11:29 AM on February 24, 2004

Never change at airports.
You'll probably get a better rate for your pounds in the UK,than in the US, but IANAM(oney-changer)
posted by signal at 11:30 AM on February 24, 2004

The Post Office generally give something very close to the official rate, and will buy back at that same rate with no commission. I use them.
posted by bonaldi at 11:45 AM on February 24, 2004

Never change at airports.

Word. You don't say if you're going back to England or not; if you are, change only what you'll need for immediate petty-cash purposes and put everything else on credit cards. Which brings me to:

the exchange rate that the bank will give me is generally competitive with what I could get if I went to a teller at a local bank or to one of those money changing places

Competitive? You need to find another bank/issuer. The rate I get on my Visa is far better than I could get from changing money. A friend had told me this, but I didn't really believe it until I tried. They bundle your purchase with a bunch of others to get the best rate going.l
posted by languagehat at 12:49 PM on February 24, 2004

I was at LAX last week and in my wanderings came upon the currency exchange board. I don't pay very close attention to exchange rates, but even I could tell people were getting screwed. I thought at first that the numbers were just wrong--like the computer crashed or something. I don't remember the exact figures, but I'm pretty sure they were offering something like US$0.88 for a Euro (the current rate is closer to $1.25).
posted by jpoulos at 12:55 PM on February 24, 2004

slight detour: one airport where you can change money with confidence is when leaving Denmark from the international airport in Copenhagen. They will even change coins. They have a state run window and the phrase "honest as a Dane" might exist solely to describe that office. /detour
posted by Dick Paris at 1:16 PM on February 24, 2004

Ditto on the comments about airports. As for whether to change in the US or UK, I find the best approach is to think of which country would want the money you're changing more; in this case, the UK. Between major currencies, I'd generally change in the home country of the currency I was carrying; if I was taking US$, euros or pounds into a small country, I'd change in the small country; if I was carrying a small country's currency, I'd change in that country before leaving.

But if there's any chance of going back to the UK within the next few years, I'd just hang onto it. Inflation is low, so it probably won't lose as much value as you'd lose by changing it.
posted by rory at 3:37 AM on February 25, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks very much, all. I should have mentioned that I will be coming back to the UK in two weeks, to live for two years. So changing a little for petty cash, and hanging on to the balance seems the best bet.
posted by Optamystic at 5:12 AM on February 25, 2004

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