May 15, 2024

Currency Exchange Study

Converting U.S. dollars into a foreign currency is necessary for most trips abroad, and we generally have two options for doing it: 1) automatically with a credit card and 2) by converting hard currency at a bank or airport kiosk. But which is the better deal?

You may not think this is worth worrying about, but there are actually hundreds of dollars at stake for most international travelers. So a strategic approach to currency exchange could be the difference between flying first class or coach, for example.

To help international travelers save as much as possible, WalletHub priced out the most popular currency exchange services. We collected the exchange rates and fees charged by the largest banks, credit unions, and card networks as well as Currency Exchange International, which is commonly found in airports. And we determined how many Euros a traveler would get from each service in return for $300, as of May 6, 2024. We chose the Euro because it is the most popular currency among Americans traveling abroad.

You can find the results below, followed by a breakdown of the best international credit cards and bank accounts.

Opinions and ratings are our own. This study is not provided, commissioned or endorsed by any issuer. WalletHub independently collected information for some of the cards on this page.

Main Findings

Best Option: A no foreign transaction fee credit card saves travelers around 6.5% relative to airport currency exchange services and banks.

Best Option
*Numbers are averages and use of a no-foreign-fee card is assumed.

Best Way to Exchange Currency in 2024

Best Way
Note: The Visa exchange rate is 1.06860 and the Mastercard exchange rate is 1.06880, as of May 6, 2024. The average card exchange rate is therefore 1.0687. The credit card and debit card exchange rates reflect this average, as Visa and Mastercard are the most widely accepted card networks internationally.

Expensive Alternatives: Exchanging hard currency remains far more expensive than using a credit card, but Currency Exchange International (airport kiosks) are catching up to banks and credit unions.

*Note: 2014 was the first year that credit union data was collected. From 2011 to 2019, we used Travelex as a benchmark for "Airport Currency Exchange," but it was replaced by Currency Exchange International in 2022. Due to Covid travel restrictions, data was not collected in 2020 and 2021.

Bank vs. Credit Union: Surprisingly, you won’t save much converting hard currency at a credit union rather than a bank.

Bank vs. Credit Union
*Note: Due to Covid travel restrictions, data was not collected in 2020 and 2021.

Best Banks/Credit Unions: Even the cheapest banks and credit unions (Service Credit Union, Capital One, and Wells Fargo) are more expensive than credit and debit cards.

Best & Worst Banks/Credit Unions for Exchanging Currency:

Banks/Credit Unions for Exchanging Currency

Best Credit Cards & Debit Cards for Currency Conversion

WalletHub’s editors selected the following accounts because they lack foreign transaction fees and excel in at least one other major category, such as rewards, fees or 0% intro APRs.

Best Credit Cards for Currency Conversion

Best International Debit Cards

Best International Debit Cards

Best International Debit Cards

You get your debit card when you open one of the checking accounts listed above. For more options, check out WalletHub’s complete selection of no foreign fee credit cards and no foreign fee debit cards.

5 Money-Saving Tips for International Travelers

  1. Use a credit card with no foreign transaction fee

    Why waste the time exchanging physical currency, not to mention risk carrying it around, when a credit card will handle everything automatically and give you the best exchange rates? Plus, plastic provides a $0 liability guarantee for unauthorized transactions should your card be lost or stolen.

    You’ll save money no matter what card you use, but a credit card with no foreign fees will reduce your costs even more. Just remember to get such a card before booking anything through a foreign-based company. If the transaction is processed outside of the U.S., it will trigger a foreign fee.

  2. Bring a debit card with low international ATM withdrawal fees as well

    You’re going to need cash at some point, whether it’s for a cab, tipping a bellboy or something else entirely. Bringing a low-cost Visa or Mastercard f debit card will enable you to get cash as needed and enjoy plastic’s favorable exchange rate. Unlike cash, a card is also replaceable if you get pickpocketed.

  3. Notify your bank of your travel plans

    Some credit and debit card companies may freeze your account if international purchases begin appearing without warning. That can be a clear sign of fraud, after all.

    It's especially important to let smaller credit card issuers know when you'll be leaving, where you're headed, and when you'll be back. Seven of the 10 largest issuers say they'll automatically detect when you're traveling and don't need a warning, according to WalletHub’s latest International Credit Card Report. Still, it doesn't hurt to let major issuers know as well, just to be safe.

  4. Get the phone number to call your bank collect

    If your card gets lost or stolen, being able to contact your bank will be helpful for two reasons. First, you’ll be able to nip any potential fraud in the bud. Second, you may be able to convince your bank to send you a replacement card.

    Seven of the 10 largest credit card issuers will send a free replacement card, according to WalletHub research, and some other issuers may offer the service for a small fee. In any case, remember to be persistent. Even if international replacement cards aren’t standard, they’re usually available to customers in need who push the issue.

  5. Steer clear of dynamic currency conversion

    If a merchant offers to convert your purchase total from the local currency to U.S. dollars, don’t accept. They might be trying to help you, sure. Or they could be looking for an excuse to apply a high exchange rate and squeeze a bit more money out of you.

    It’s best not to find out, especially when you can use your phone or a small pocket calculator to make quick conversions and see how much things cost.

    Copyright 2024 Evolution Finance, Inc. All rights reserved. From
    By Alina Comoreanu, WalletHub Senior Researcher.

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