For those in Perth always looking for a better, faster, cheaper way

Monday, March 7, 2011

How to get better exchange rates (part 2)

We received a very helpful comment from a reader recently who shared how they have 

I have recently been to Japan and did quite a bit of research over where to exchange money, and also the more general question of whether cash is even best. Note that this is my experience and your mileage may vary. Further, I would expect that much of this would apply around the world, but I've most recently confirmed this for Japan.

Note also that when I talk about "market rates", I am generally referring to the interbank rate, which is approx what you see when you ask Google e.g.

Some information I gathered: (1) CBA, NAB, Bankwest, and so I assume also the other retail banks, will not change cash for cash apparently due to the money laundering act. (I think this is ridiculous but don't get me started). They also charge ~1% commission
(2) My 2 weeks of monitoring fx confirms that Bankwest has the best rates; if they have the currency! e.g. I went there once to discover (1) but they didn't even have any money at the main branch
(3) The highest rates for cash I have found from "holes in the wall" fx places belongs to the one inside the Flight Centre on the corner of William/Barrack. They were just over 1% worse than Bankwest, but at least they had currency and Bankwest were going to charge 1% commission anyway
(4) It appears credit cards (at least Visa, MasterCard, and Amex) give approx market rates for purchases, minus 2-3% commission. This almost always turns out to be better than cash for cash which is about 4% worse than market rate - however you are able to lock in fx rate with cash
(5) It is possible to withdraw local currency from foreign ATMs, mainly those with the Maestro and Cirrus labels, and get market rates. With CBA, I got approx market rate, minus 3% commission, minus fixed AU$5 fee. For JPY, this was favourable for >AU$1000 or >JPY80k
(6) Cash for cash rates in Japan were terrible. About 10-15% worse than market rates. It seemed USD to JPY was the only one that was ok

Recommendations (generally applicable to countries with 'westernised' banking systems):
(A) Work out how much money you need, so that you can work out if the difference is even worth considering. If it is then...
(B) Check that you can take out local currency from ATMs in your destination country.
(C) Change a minimal amount of foreign currency when you leave, enough to cover say 1-2 days, basically until you can find a local ATM. If you've worked out that the fixed fee from the ATM makes it better that you get cash beforehand, just get enough cash to cover 'basic' expenses on your trip e.g. no major shopping
(C) Use credit card for shopping or big items (note: bring 2 or more cards and carry separately in case 1 is lost/broken/copied as is what happened to a friend of mine)
(D) As a back-up, carry some AU$ with you so that if all electronic means fail, you can still do cash for cash locally, but just be prepared to take a bad rate

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