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currency exchange: when/where to do it?

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currency exchange: when/where to do it?

What is the best way to obtain British pounds with US dollars? My bank here is now offering only .61 pounds on the dollar.

What about buying pounds online and picking them up at Heathrow? Or, using an ATM card in a machine at the airport?

We are leaving for the UK on Friday.

United States
Level Contributor
1,976 posts
1. Re: currency exchange: when/where to do it?

The best way for me to obtain foreign currency, is from an ATM machine in that country, after having first notified my bank at home that I will use my ATM/debit card to do so, of course.

Others like to obtain some amount of currency before their trip, from a bank local to where they live.

I would advise against transporting large amounts of any currency to another country, to exchange it.

Cornwall, United...
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2. Re: currency exchange: when/where to do it?

Do you not have other places where you can change money? We can order foreign currency and get it delivered to our door before we leave, we can also use our Post Office, don't you have anything like that? We shop around for the best rate... If you use an ATM don't forget there is a daily limit and you will be charged for each withdrawal and whatever the exchange rate is that day - it's probably not the most economic way of getting sterling overall.

United States
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1,976 posts
3. Re: currency exchange: when/where to do it?

Actually, I think ATMs generally are the most economic way to get foreign currency, as they offer good exchange rates. Of course, this depends on the fees imposed compared to the amount of money you withdraw, as noted above. Most of the ATMs I have used in London (the high street bank sort) do not charge a fee, so there is only the fee imposed by my bank at home, which is very small. Of course the OP's bank may be different. I do tend to avoid ATMs that are not attached to, or branded with, a big-name bank, but that's just my comfort level.

Here in the States we cannot do financial transactions at our post offices.

We do have exchange bureaus, but unless you live in a larger city, they tend to only be at airports and offer a poor exchange rate and/or high fee (and often the fee isn't obvious before you begin the transaction).

You can generally order currency from, or through, your bank here in the States. I've not done this and of course expect each bank would have its own policy and fee structure for doing so.

If you want to keep an eye on the current exchange rate, both xe.com and oanda.com are good websites to use. As of right now, 1 USD is 0.694730 GBP.

Hope that is helpful.

Toronto, Canada
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4. Re: currency exchange: when/where to do it?

Be careful not to overestimate the amount of hard currency you'll need. I get a very good exchange rate with my credit card and use it for as many transactions as possible. If you can wait until you get to London, using your debit card in an ATM attached to a bank (not at the airport) is generally the most economical way to get GBPs. If you'd like to have some in your pocket when you arrive, I wouldn't focus too much energy on finding the absolute best exchange rate. With such small amounts, the savings might not be worth your time. Get £100 or so from your bank and wait until you've arrived in London to assess the rest of your needs.

New Mexico
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15,130 posts
111 reviews
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5. Re: currency exchange: when/where to do it?

<>If you use an ATM don't forget there is a daily limit and you will be charged for each withdrawal<>

London banks do not charge for withdrawing £- indeed, many have a sign "free cash"

The only fee/charge will be what your bank charges.

ATMs are the best way to get cash.

Consider using a credit card that does not charge a foreign currency exchange fee for most of your expenses (I do for anything over £10). You will get a very competitive exchange rate this way.

Los Angeles
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183 posts
95 reviews
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6. Re: currency exchange: when/where to do it?

For Americans traveling internationally, using your ATM card is by far your best option. Any fees that you are charged by your bank are more than made up for by getting a much better exchange rate than other options.

At the airport, or any place for that matter, use an ATM from a major bank. In some places there are private ATM's that have high fees and bad exchange rates.

It is worth checking if any of your credit cards have offer zero foreign transaction fees. However, even if they do have fees, they are still a better deal than exchanging money any other way and more convenient that making a lot if ATM withdrawals and carrying large amounts of cash.

London, United...
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7. Re: currency exchange: when/where to do it?

If you want to exchange some cash in London, don't do it at the airport or in banks or the Post Office. Find a Thomas Exchange Global booth, of which there are many around London, as they offer the best rates.


Los Angeles
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183 posts
95 reviews
39 helpful votes
8. Re: currency exchange: when/where to do it?

You are going to get a better rate at an ATM machine. You will get very close to the interbank rate plus a small fee. Your bank makes money off that fee. Thomas Exchange makes money on the spread of the buy vs. sell rates. Right now the interbank rate 1.44076 pounds per dollar. Thomas Exchange is buying dollars at 1.46843 and selling dollars at 1.42250 for internet pre-orders only. Per their site "otherwise the rates advertised at the branches may differ, which may be adverse to you."

More importantly, you would need dollars to exchange at these places. With your ATM card you have direct access to your bank account. There are also a lot fewer of their booths than there are ATM machines.

Find an HSBC or Barclays or any other big bank ATM at Heathrow and take out enough cash to last a few days. Repeat as necessary at any of the hundreds of ATM's you see on your travels in the UK.

Grovetown, Georgia
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25 reviews
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9. Re: currency exchange: when/where to do it?

I'm in American stationed in the UK and the ATM has been the best route for us. All te big cities take swipe cards. You might have to tell a younger person it's a swipe, but most get it. We have USAA and have no fees for using the ATM. The British banks still give us better rates through the ATM than we get from Bank of America or Keesler Bank on base. Just remember your daily limits or call your bank and get it temporary raised.

Wales, United...
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10. Re: currency exchange: when/where to do it?

Speak to your bank before you leave. Ask about card products they may have that will help you on your travels by levying lower fees on international transactions, or better still, no fees at all. You should tell them you are travelling abroad anyway.

Using cards and ATM's is far better than lugging around a lot of paper currency, and trying to change it somewhere. It's definitely a lot safer.