If you’re headed to Miami for business or pleasure, or you’re just on a mission to worship the sun at some of the United States’s most famous beaches, you’re going to need cash. In a country known worldwide for its tip-crazy culture, Miami ranks as a city that offers innumerable occasions to tip: valet parking, cabana service, taxis, fruity cocktails at the beach bar, or that $20 bill you’ll slip to the bouncer to ensure that you can skip the line – or at least gain entrance – to South Beach’s latest celebrity-favored club.
With 55 foreign consulates and 18 foreign trade offices, Miami’s status as a tourist city with a high international population means that you’ll spot far more currency exchange offices than in the average metropolitan area. According to the Miami-Dade Aviation Department, Miami-Dade county sees nearly 14 million visitors each year. Of those, nearly half hail from foreign countries. When those visitors need U.S. dollars, where is the best place to go? While ATMs are often the smartest default option, there are some circumstances where a currency exchange may be a better bet.
ATMs Versus Currency Exchanges
First, a little history. Since the advent of the automated teller machine (ATM) – also widely called a cash point – the currency exchange business has faced challenging times. Just a few decades ago, ATMs were only found in the denser areas of major cities. For years, they were all but impossible to find in outer city neighborhoods or small villages, thus keeping currency exchanges in serious business for travelers who needed cash in the local currency.
After the first ATMS emerged in 1967 – nearly simultaneously implemented by Bankomat in Sweden and the UK’s Barclaycash and Chubb MD2 – it took more than a decade before the innovation spread widely. In contrast, the history of currency exchange stretches back at least to the thirteenth century, when the Medici family of Italy established banks in foreign countries to support the financial transactions of the textile trade.
If You’re Arriving in Miami
U.S. banks are not alone in charging ATM – also called "cash point" – fees for customers traveling abroad. Dutch operations of the multinational bank ING, for example, charge three euros for overseas withdrawals, while withdrawals in the European Union are free. However, retail banking customers can request an additional package – at the cost of nine euros semiannually – that allows unlimited, free-of-charge foreign transactions.
If you’re a foreigner planning a holiday or business trip to Miami, check with your bank beforehand to find out its policies on overseas withdrawals and transactions. Of course, even if you’re an account holder at a bank that offers favorable overseas transaction rates, you may find yourself in a situation – a lost banking card, a forgotten PIN code – that requires you to seek out a currency exchange. In these cases, you’ll be happy that you decided to carry the equivalent of a few hundred U.S. dollars in your home currency with you.
If You’re Departing From Miami
One benefit that currency exchanges have over ATMs is that many banks levy steep fees for foreign transactions. U.S. banks usually charge $2 to $5 for overseas withdrawals, and some also charge a transaction fee that amounts to 1% to 3% of the total withdrawal. That can mean that while you may be withdrawing 300 forints from a Budapest cash machine, you’re being charged for the equivalent price of dinner with wine in the nation’s capital. One solution? Seek out a bank that offers zero foreign transaction and ATM fees.
If your flight is leaving in 48 hours and you realize that your bank does indeed charge the steeper end of these fees, it might be a wise idea to hit up one of Miami’s recommended currency exchanges.
Exchange Your Money Here
Whether you are arriving or leaving, following are four places to go with your dollars or foreign currency.
1. Abbot Foreign Money Exchange, 230 NE 1st St., Miami, (305) 374-2336
Easily reached by the local MetroMover train – get off at the First Street Station – this storefront currency exchange near Bayfront Park wins positive customer reviews for favorable rates and friendly service. Like many businesses in Miami, a city sometimes called the “Capital of Latin America,” Spanish is spoken here. Though the range of currency it has on hand may be limited, this is a particularly good place to exchange dollars to euros.
2. Currency Exchange International, 7535 North Kendall Dr., Miami, (305) 662-7155
A trusted national chain that promises to match, or even beat, same-day exchange rates offered by local banks, this branch is located in the Dadeland Mall between Macy’s and JCPenney. If you’re just arriving in town, the website offers detailed directions from the Miami-Dade International Airport. It’s open until 9:30 p.m. every day except Sunday when it closes at 7 p.m.
3. Lincoln Currency Exchange, 1633 Washington Avenue, Miami Beach, (305) 672-1633
If you’ve escaped cold weather elsewhere and headed straight from the airport to the beach, the Lincoln Currency Exchange offers a convenient place to exchange foreign currency for dollars in the Miami Beach/South Beach area. With more than 80 types of foreign currency on hand, this is one of the best currency exchanges for travelers arriving from smaller countries whose currencies may not be carried by most banks and other currency exchanges. In addition to appreciating the favorable rates and friendly staff, customers commend the flat $5 fee for transactions under $500.
4. First Citizens Bank, 221 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables, (305) 639-7200
If you’re a local resident planning an overseas trip and you’d like the security of having some foreign currency on hand before your departure flight, the First Citizens Bank in Coral Gables is a solid bet. Offering helpful customer service for those new to currency exchange, their rates should be on par with market value.
The Bottom Line
It may be tempting, after you’ve finally dragged your carryon down the jetway, through the terminal and you have cleared customs, to hit the first currency exchange you see. Don’t give in to jet lag – keep walking. Airport currency exchanges offer notoriously low rates compared to market value. It’s a far better idea to hop in a taxi and head into town to a reputable currency exchange: You’ll happily get many more Cuban sandwiches and beachside daiquiris out of that stack of bills in your wallet.