While some cities in the United States struggle to attract international tourists, Houston has charged ahead, attracting more visitors from overseas. Roughly one-third of the 1.25 million annual visitors to NASA’s famous Space Center Houston are international tourists who come to have lunch with the astronauts and tour the historic Mission Control Center. Houston has another big draw—megamalls that bring in droves of shoppers from neighboring Mexico. In Texas, some sales taxes are refunded to international visitors, so shopping is tax-free in many cases.
Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) services 185 destinations worldwide, offering more destinations in Mexico than any other airport in the United States. Regardless of where you travel from, you’ll probably need to exchange some of your home currency for U.S. dollars. Here are a few options of where you can go to get some Benjamins.
- You can find currency exchange kiosks at the airport—but remember, they don't offer the best rates.
- Currency exchange stores are located throughout the greater Houston area.
- One of the easiest ways to convert your cash is to use an ATM.
- Consider getting a currency exchange app on your phone.
At the Airport
Airport currency exchange kiosks typically don’t offer the best rates. But they are convenient, especially if you arrive in the country with no U.S. dollars and need to exchange your cash in a pinch. Unlike many airports that offer currency exchange services through only one company, Houston has only one primary currency exchange service provider—ICE or the International Currency Exchange. You can find ICE branches at the following locations in the airport:
- Terminal C—Hours are 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., daily. Contact: 281-233-3873
- Terminal D—Hours are 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., daily. Contact: 281-233-3585
- Terminal E—Hours are 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., daily. Contact: 281-233-3869
There's also one location at William P. Hobby Airport, 11 hours from downtown Houston. The kiosk's hours are 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday to Friday. Contact: 713-845-6780
Currency Exchange Stores
In addition to the ICE branches within the airport, there are a few other exchange stores located throughout the greater Houston area. Some options include the Texas Currency Exchange at 303 Memorial City Mall. The counter's hours of operation are 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., daily, and its contact number is 713-468-6800. You can also visit a number of Travelex exchange locations throughout the city including:
- 5085 Westheimer Road at the Houston Galleria Mall. Contact: 713-398-6130
- 10777 Westheimer Road at the One Westchase Center. Contact: 713-782-8092
Automated teller machines (ATMs) are considered one of the easiest ways to get cash while traveling. Exchange rates are generally better than what you’ll get at a currency exchange store and, depending on your bank’s policies—along with any agreements it may have with U.S. banks—you could pay little to no fees when you make a withdrawal. To avoid any surprises, it’s a good idea to contact your bank before you leave home to find out what, if any, charges you will have to pay in order to get cash at the machine. If your bank charges a per-transaction fee (which many do), you can limit fees by making larger and less frequent withdrawals.
ATMs are located throughout the airport in every terminal. There are also two Cardtronics ATMs at the airport. Once you leave the airport, you can find a wide selection of ATMs throughout Houston at shopping centers, grocery stores, gas stations, banks, and places close to tourist attractions. Houston has all the major financial institutions including Bank of America, Citibank, Chase, Wells Fargo, along with some smaller banks that you can use.
A Few Considerations
It may be worthwhile to invest in a currency converting app before you travel. An app can help you figure out rates and how much money you should get while you're abroad. You enter the type and amount of currency you want to exchange, and the app calculates how much of the new currency you get at the current exchange rate. Keep in mind, though, that an app will not take any additional fees or charges that you may have to pay.
Using your debit card is one of the easiest ways to get cash. If you pay a per-transaction fee, plan your withdrawals to limit the number of transactions you have to make during your trip. You may also be able to use your card to get cash back when you make purchases at participating retailers. As for credit cards, many banks charge fees for overseas purchases. If you are a frequent traveler or plan to use your credit card a lot, it might be worth getting a no foreign transaction fee card—especially one of the cards that also has no annual fee.
Getting a credit card with no foreign transaction fees can save you money while you're traveling.
The Bottom Line
Many travelers find it practical to use a combination of currency exchange, ATM withdrawals, and credit-card purchases to fund their trips. If you need to exchange only a small amount of money, the convenience of airport kiosks can be worth the small hit you take on the rate. If you plan on exchanging more, it may be worthwhile to shop around for a better rate. Keep in mind that many stores advertise no fees or no commissions, but you still might end up with a poor exchange rate—sometimes due to hidden fees. No matter where you exchange money, always ask how many U.S. dollars you will get in return for your currency before you hand over any cash.