Ask about the commission fee before exchanging currency
Photo by Christian Dubovan on Unsplash

Each Friday, we feature a reader-submitted tip as our Travel Tip of the Day. This week’s tip comes from reader Buzzy G. in Israel, who says:

“When changing currency in an airport (or bank), ask to see the commission fee or percentage before beginning the transaction, or even handing over your passport.

“At the airport in Rome I exchanged dollars for euro, expecting to receive the exchange rate displayed in large print at the booth. I gave the teller $100 and my passport, yet received only €67 in return: from the exchange rate that promised €82, a whopping €15 was deducted in commission. When I insisted on canceling the transaction, he pointed to the small, illegible print at the bottom of the list of exchange rates spelling out the commission, and told me he could not reverse the transaction because he had already scanned my passport.

“I always use a credit card that charges no fee for foreign transactions, but thought that I would use local currency for vending machines in the transit lounge (which are cheaper than the snack bars). It turns out, however, that many machines in Europe are now equipped to handle credit card payments for as little as €1, by simply tapping a ‘contactless’ pad.”

Thanks, Buzzy!

A great tool for exchanging currency


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5 Comments On "Ask About the Commission Fee Before Exchanging Currency"
  1. Gill Bray|

    I’m not entirely clear on this but in the US we don’t have ‘contactless’ cards like they do in the UK for example. Earlier this year when we used a non-foreign transaction fee card (Capital One) that wasn’t where the problem was. We were charged massive fees by the foreign (bank owned) ATM machine we used. Megalachori on Santorini is a very small village with 1 ATM so we didn’t have a lot of choice. We also weren’t aware of the fee until we received our statement! The receipt may have shown something, but it was probably all in greek! :-)

  2. David|

    Well you should never ever get money from an exchange at the airport. If you insist, figure out in advance how much 100 USD is in local currency. Say it’s €90. Then ask how much will €90 cost, then they’ll tell you the cost with fees. But a again ….. never ever go to an exchange in the airport. Resist their looks and nice smiles.

  3. Amy|

    I would go even further. I NEVER exchange currency (overseas or in advance of a trip). I can’t see any reason to do so. I take a debit card for an account without international transaction fees and withdraw what I need in local currencyfrom a reputable ATM (available in every airport/train station, etc.) Even without a giant commission – you’ll never get the market exchange rate through a currency exchange – including at banks. It’s faster, too.

  4. Bill|

    This experience seems peculiar to Italy where I am convinced the Mafia runs these exchanges. My Schwab debit card (from Schwab, which JJ recommends because of no foreign transaction fees) was blocked because I used it at an establishment in Napoli “known for fraudulent transactions”. It never worked in Italy again so I used my Chase Unlimited, which at the time charged fees. Schwab refunded the fees I incurred on the other card as a “customer concern gesture” so kudos to you, Schwab. I agree with the post recommending a “reputable ATM”. In my case this was no longer an option so I asked my hotel in Florence to pad my bill by 50 euros, which they did…bless them…and I limped by. I add that many people I spoke to about problem said their debit cards didn’t work in Italy either. Huuuuummmm!

  5. robbo|

    If you can avoid it, don’t chenge money at airports, it’s a giant rip-off. But f you muct, what I do now is to say to the clerk “Can you show me how much I get in my hand for $100 (eg)” and I make them show it to me on their calculator. It is very rare I need to change at airports but I did just last week at Belgrade for RSD, surprisingly, the loss was only about 5% from the official bank rates.

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