Tips For Currency Conversion
Written by: Kuki
The spring/summer cruise season has begun. Ships are or have been repositioning to where many will be sailing itineraries not usual to those they sailed during the winter months.
If you’re going to be amongst the millions preparing to cruise you’ve no doubt given some thought to your spending on that cruise, and with that, thoughts of currencies accepted in the countries you’re going to visit.
On itineraries through the Bahamas and the Caribbean currency concerns are somewhat simplified because U.S. dollars are widely accepted. However, it’s still going to be necessary to know the rates of conversion to the local currency, to know just how much you are paying for any item purchased.
The same is true through much of Europe, if you’re sailing a European or Mediterranean true, where rather than the U.S. dollar the Euro is the widely accepted currency. But, there as well as in countries which use their own currency, there’s a real need to understand the rates of conversion.
Prior to leaving for a cruise I used to research and write out a “cheat sheet” listing the current exchange rates of all of the countries I’d be visiting which used their own local currency, and I’d carry that with me. Then, I’d attempt to do quick mental calculations in an attempt to calculate exactly what I was paying.
Today smartphone technology makes that unnecessary. There are many choices of apps for your smartphones to choose from (many of them free) that give you the exchange rates and do the calculations for you. And, of course an added benefit is the exchange rates you get are current. One such app I like is http://www.xe.com/apps/iphone/ .
Wherever in the world you’re traveling that uses currencies different from your country of residence, you are faced with these issues. But, in the majority of cases you’re also most likely to find a need to use a combination of actual currencies, a credit card, and ATM/debt card. And this is when things can get tricky, and cost you money, if you don’t at least have a plan for dealing with those transactions.
In my view, it matters not where you are traveling – even if you’re only in port for a few hours – you are going to have a need for at least some of the local “hard currency”. The answer for that is somewhat simple, with a bit of advance planning; ATMs.
My best advice is to go to your bank and set up a separate “travel account”, with limited funds (not linked to your other accounts) and get an ATM/Debt card specific to that account. While setting up this account, ask about the cost of transaction fees. Most banks will offer free transactions if you use machines on their network, but you may want to do a bit of bank shopping to find the best deal.
If, for some reason that travel account card gets compromised, the only funds at risk will be those in the account.
Then, as you travel only use bank ATMs. ATM machines are very commonly available; some that are not a part of your banks network may charge a transaction fee, but if you use bank ATMs as opposed to ATMs located in retail merchants, hotels, etc. you’re going to save money. And under no circumstances (other than dire emergency) do you want to use commercial currency converters. If you do, you’re basically assured of paying the highest fees; even if their posted exchange rates might appear to be attractive, they will get you on the service charges.
You aren’t going to want to get extremely large amounts of hard currency wherever you visit. This just leads to another transaction fee when trying to convert that currency a second time.
Paying for a purchase with local currency, also leads to you receiving your change in local currency. If you can, limit the amount of currency you have after leaving a port of call to small amounts, one nice thing you can do with “left overs” is give it to some of your favorite staff onboard, as they are likely to be able to use it, as their ship is very likely to return to the ports of call on that itinerary.
Earlier in this piece I recommended using a credit card wherever possible. There are some pitfalls possible, but a credit card still has many consumer protections for you as well. One thing - you do want to make certain is you get a card that offers no foreign transaction fees! If your present preferred credit card does not offer free foreign transactions, get one that does.
Here’s a site that may be helpful in the search for such a credit card http://www.cardhub.com/credit-cards/foreign-transaction-fee/#searchid=2r0:11c1:v082101.
Of course, one should always verify the amenities and services a credit card offers, with the issuing bank. You also want to choose a card with no annual fee, as the savings of the free foreign fees may be lost on the annual charge for the card. Though I’m not one to advocate using a lot of credit, you may not be able to afford, as long as you’re prepared to pay off the complete balance when due, it’s not a bad idea to have a separate credit card specifically for travel, as I recommended for an ATM card.
It’s also wise to see if the credit card you’re going to use has the computer chip, with PIN number as opposed to those with just the magnetic strips. It once again offers more protection, and in many countries ATMs accept those more readily than they do those with magnetic strips.
Whichever credit card you intend to use during your travels be sure to advise the distributing bank of your travel plans, as otherwise they could flag and disallow charges you attempt to make because they are uncommon to your standard spending.
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Posted: May 6th, 2014 under Kuki.