Along with the certainty of death and taxes, if you require a passport to travel to New York City, and you intend to purchase anything from bottled water to a night on the town, you will have to change your currency to U.S. dollars. Fortunately, name almost any currency, from euros to Rai stones (the ancient heavy stone disks up to 8 feet high once used by Pacific Islanders), and you can exchange it in the Big Apple – though you might need a museum to take those Rai stones off your hands. Unfortunately, you will be charged for changing currency (nothing’s free in NYC, or most other places, for that matter), so be prepared to pay fees for the transaction or be willing to part with your firstborn child. Well, it’s actually not quite that bad – so long as you’re emotionally prepared.
ABC's of Managing Your Currency Exchange
A.) Before you leave home, learn the exchange rate between your currency and America’s. The internet has that information on currency-exchange sites – and there appear to be roughly 220 million such websites. Enter your currency (the euro, say), and U.S. dollar, then press Enter, and there it is. For June 20, 2019, the exchange rate was 1€ = $1.13, according to Google Finance.
B.) Depending on politics, news, economics, and other events you can’t control, that rate changes every day. There’s nothing you can do about it, so just accept it. While you’re in the city, you can get daily updates on the internet.
C.) Your home bank could have a relationship or an agreement with a U.S. bank, such as Bank of America, Chase, or Citibank, which usually means that the U.S. banks will waive ATM fees. Check before you leave home. Another item to check: some credit cards, such as American Express, Capital One, MasterCard, and Visa, charge little for purchases made in another currency.
D.) Though you’ll get a good rate of exchange in New York, before you leave home, always get some U.S. currency to bring with you – even if you forget until the last minute and must pay an exorbitant exchange fee at the airport kiosk. Emergencies can happen before you land in New York City – an unscheduled 3:00 a.m. landing somewhere in Maine, perhaps – and you might need to pay for a taxi to a hotel. In fact, you’ll probably want to take a taxi after landing in New York without stopping to exchange money or want to tip the bellhop at your hotel in cash (tipping is a thing they do in America).
E.) No matter where you’re from, once you’re here you can change your currency at ChangeGroup New York (212-391-7258) or Travelex (516-300-1622). And more is less (or less is more). That is, if you convert more of your currency, you’ll have to pay less in transaction fees. At a place like the Uno Foreign Exchange, an unpretentious-looking midtown storefront (43 West 33rd Street), you may pay no fee if you exchange more than $300.
F.) Unless it’s absolutely necessary, avoid exchanging at hotels or airport kiosks. Their transaction fees are always highest, because they have higher handling costs, and they offer convenient service.
G.) Carry your U.S. currency in several forms. Cash (a mixture of bills in denominations of $1, $5, $10, and $20), a debit card to use at an ATM machine, credit cards, and traveler’s checks for extra security. However, because the exchange rate always fluctuates, you may not learn what it until you’re home, and you receive your credit or debit card bill.
H.) It costs to convert your currency to dollars, but it also costs to convert dollars back to your currency. And while your home bank may convert dollars back without the transaction fee, they won’t exchange coins. So use them up as much as possible. Then, as you leave, set aside enough money to pay for the cab back to the airport. Use the rest to pay the hotel bill, and pay off the remainder with a credit card.
The Bottom Line
Arrive with some American cash in your pocket. At the end of your visit, use up your cash as much as possible. After all, you’ve already paid the transaction fee. If you can't make the system work perfectly, don’t castigate yourself. Instead, learn from your mistakes. Besides, maybe you can make a great story of it once you’re back home.