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, you can exchange all currencies in the Big Apple, but like all currency exchange, there will most likely be fees involved.

8 Tips for Managing Your Currency Exchange

1# Research Your Home Country and Destination's Exchange Rate

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 over 220 million such websites. 

Enter your currency (the euro, say), and U.S. dollar, then press the enter key, and there it is. For example, on May 8, 2020, the exchange rate was 1€ = $1.10, according to Google Finance. 

2# Remember the Rates Can Change Every Day

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.  

3# Does Your Home Bank Have a U.S.-Based Branch?

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. 

4# Bring Some Currency With You

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. Also, note that in most parts of the U.S., tipping in cash for service is expected, so you will need cash.

Key Takeaways

  • Avoid changing currency at hotels and airports, as the exchange fees are usually very high. 
  • One of the best places to exchange currency in New York City (and elsewhere) is a bank. 
  • It may be wise to change some currency in your home country before you go on your trip. 
  • The more currency you exchange the less you may pay in fees. 

5# Check Out the Big Three Money Exchange Groups in NYC

No matter where you’re from, once you’re here you can change your currency at ChangeGroup New York or Travelex.

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. 

6# Avoid Exchanging Currency at Hotels and Airports

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. 

7# Vary Your U.S. Currency

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. 

8# Use Up All Your Coins Before Heading Home

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 U.S. cash in your pocket and skip exorbitant fees for your money exchange in New York when you first arrive at the airport.

At the end of your visit, use up your cash as much as possible so you have less to change back when you get home. It's an imperfect system but using the tips above may help you exchange and handle your currency in the best ways while on vacation in New York.