Visiting the United States and heading to Las Vegas? There’s plenty to do in one of the largest vacation spots in the country. But to do it, you will need U.S. dollars – or at least some way to pay in the local currency.
How do you make the exchange? Here are some options.
At the Airport
When you arrive at McCarran International Airport, or whichever airport you fly into, there will be currency exchange desks that will gladly help. Try not to let them: This is probably the worst way to exchange your money. You might pay more than 25% in fees. Don’t be fooled by the enticing “no fee” advertisements. The exchange rate will be less than favorable or the fees may be called something else.
At Your Hotel
If you’re staying at a larger hotel, there’s a good chance that it has a currency exchange desk. The problem: Once you figure in the exchange rate and the fees, it could be as costly as the airport. As a general rule, avoid exchanging currency at your hotel.
At the Casino
Now we’re talking! If you plan to wait until you get to Las Vegas to exchange your currency, a casino can be a good choice. Most large casinos will gladly exchange your money for a fee. Vegas insiders say that often, the exchange rate casinos offer is a great deal and may well be your best option. Why are the exchange rates better, you ask? Because the casino fully expects you to dump your dollars into slot machines and at blackjack tables.
At Your Local Bank
It’s a good idea to have some cash in hand before you leave your home country. You won’t need a lot, but having some emergency money to cover situations when you can't use a credit card is a good idea.
Your local bank is probably the place to go. You will probably pay a delivery fee along with the foreign exchange rate but it’s probably the better value.
At an ATM
If you need spending money while in Vegas, your debit card will probably work at an ATM. The only problem is the fees, but some banks have partner ATMs around the world where the out-of-bank user fees are waived. You will only pay the fee your bank charges. Look on your bank’s website for a list of partner ATMs. If you can find one close to you, the fee will likely be 3% or lower.
When You're Buying Something
Most people agree that credit cards are the best way to pay when traveling abroad. There’s no lack of 0% foreign transaction fee credit cards. Check the terms of your card to see if your card charges a fee.
If it does, and you will be gone for an extended period or plan to travel abroad frequently in the future, consider finding a 0% foreign transaction fee card. (See Top Credit Cards With No Foreign Transaction Fee – these are U.S. cards, but these issuers may have similar deals in other countries and you'll see what kind of offers are available.)
If your card does charge a fee, it’s probably not higher than 3%. (If it is, get rid of it.) Even with the fee, your card is probably the best way to pay.
The Bottom Line
If you have to exchange your money for U.S. dollars in Las Vegas, stay away from options clearly geared towards tourists. You will pay hefty fees for the exchange. Check the casinos for actual cash exchanges, but your best strategy is to pay with your credit card. If you have the right card, you may avoid transaction fees. The next best choice is an ATM that is part of your home bank's network. For more information, see 5 Money-Saving Travel Tips For Las Vegas.