Millions of travelers fly into or out of San Diego International Airport, also known as Lindbergh Field, every year. In the past, San Diego County (see Top 10 Most Developed Cities in the U.S.) hosted 34.9 million visitors, who spent $10.4 billion at thousands of businesses during their stay. If you’re visiting San Diego from overseas – or live there and are headed to a country outside the U.S. – you’ll probably need to exchange money at some point during or before your trip. Here are your options.

Currency Stores in the Airport

You won’t get the best rates at any airport currency exchange store, but they do offer convenience. Since you can do better elsewhere, it’s a good idea to exchange just what you need to get your trip started (i.e., cash to pay for a bus, train or taxi to your hotel) and exchange the bulk of your cash somewhere else.

Global foreign exchange company Travelex operates two currency exchange kiosks inside the San Diego airport:

  • The Terminal 2 Baggage Claim kiosk, across from carousel 3. Hours are 5 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week. Contact: 619-260-1921 or RFX7409@travelexamericas.com.
  • The Terminal 2 East Wing kiosk, located just past the checkpoint in Terminal 2 East near gate 22. Daily hours are 5:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Contact: 619-200-3530 or RFX7225@travelexamericas.com.

ATMs

One of the easiest and cheapest ways to get cash while traveling is by using your ATM card. All withdrawals, regardless of size, are exchanged based on the wholesale exchange rate – meaning you get a better rate than you can get in other places, including currency exchange stores. Plus, if your home bank has an agreement with a U.S. bank, you might be able to avoid paying any ATM fees. Check with your bank before traveling overseas to find out its policies on transactions (see Traveling Abroad? Get the Best Exchange Rates). Keep in mind, if you do pay a per-transaction fee, you’re better off taking fewer, larger withdrawals rather than frequent, smaller ones.

You don’t have to look far to find an ATM once you land in San Diego. There are 10 Bank of America ATMs located throughout the two terminals:

  • Terminal 1 – Food Court (pre-security) and gate concourse (post-security), near gates 1, 2, 5 and 13
  • Terminal 2 – In the first-level lobby near the escalator; past the checkpoint near Gate 23 and See’s Chocolates; near baggage claim carousel 4; near Gate 36; and near the Sunset Cove escalator. As in any large city, you’ll also find a wide variety of bank and standalone ATMs outside the airport – including Bank of America, Chase, and Wells Fargo ATMs – at banks, shopping centers and close to many tourist attractions.

Other Travelex Locations in San Diego

Travelex operates two other stores in San Diego. You might get slightly better rates than you would at the airport:

  • Fashion Valley Mall (lower level between the stores Williams-Sonoma and Neiman Marcus) at 7007 Friars Road, Suite 593. Open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sundays 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Contact: 619-542-1173 or RFX1464@travelexamiercas.com.
  • University Town Center at 4417 La Jolla Village Drive. Open Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturdays 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sundays 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Contact: 858-457-2412 or RFX1470@travelexamericas.com.

The Bottom Line

It's a good idea to use a credit card when you travel, so you don't have to carry around so much cash. One strategy is to use your credit card for large purchases (your hotel, expensive attractions, etc.) and pay cash for the smaller, day-to-day expenses. While many credit cards charge a 2% to 3% foreign transaction fee when used overseas, there are plenty of cards that waive these fees. If you are a frequent traveler, it's probably in your best interest to consider getting one of these zero-foreign-transaction-fee cards.

Many places advertise "no-fee" currency exchange, but keep in mind this doesn't necessarily mean you'll get a good exchange rate. If you are changing a small amount of currency, a poor rate won't make a big difference. It will, however, if you have lots of money to convert.

No matter where you go to exchange currency in San Diego, be sure to ask "if I hand you X amount of this currency, how much of that currency will you give me?" before you make a transaction. That way, you'll know exactly what you're getting after the exchange rate, stated fees and any hidden fees are taken into account. You can download a currency converting app (such as XE Currency or GlobeConvert) to help you figure out if you're getting a good deal. With these apps, you type in the amount you want to exchange, and the app calculates how much of the "new" currency you can buy at today's rates.