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Exchanging Currency For Your Trip Abroad

To avoid delays after your arrival abroad, you may wish to buy enough foreign currency before you leave to cover the cost of transportation from the airport to your hotel and tips to bellhops and the like. Because you are likely to get the least favorable exchange rate at U.S. banks and U.S. airports embarkation, purchase only what you need for immediate expenses on arrival. Another problem with advance purchase of foreign currency is that the U.S. dealers have only large-denomination bills Ė not the small change you are looking for.

Note: In times of currency exchange rate controls, there may be good reason to stock up on foreign currencies before leaving the United States; seek the advice of an experienced travel agent.

Some travelers carry $50 to $100 in one-dollar or five-dollar bills so they can pay initial cab fares and portersí tips in U.S. currency. This helps you avoid giving unintended lavish tips in an unknown currency, and the need for exchanging currency until you are in your hotel or until your overseas host can give you some guidance. Spending U.S. currency is illegal in some countries (several African republics and Cuba among others), and in many other countries (Romania and other former Soviet republics), merchants do not accept U.S. dollars, so check beforehand. Also, some countries will only accept the new $20 bills and $50 bills, not the old ones.

Be especially careful about people approaching you in the airport or on the street with informal or black-market offers of exchange at apparently favorable rates. The hand is quicker than the eye, and the wad of bills just counted before your very eyes may turn out to be two bills and some cardboard or a circle of some bills around a curl of paper, as your trading partner disappears with your money. We recommend you use reputable financial institutions, American Express, ATMís, etc. for your currency exchange.

For more in-depth information regarding the use of travelers checks, credit card, ATM cards, and personal checks abroad, click here for Advanced Planning - Key To A Safe Trip Abroad.

The information in this brochure is provided by Peter V. Savage, author of The Safe Travel Book, (available at 800-462-6420 or 888-499-7277.) Savage has over 20 years experience as an international security consultant. His articles appear regularly in Bottom Line: Personal, and he has written for Travel Executive, The Business Traveler, Travel One, and various other travel and security publications. He has appeared on both the Oprah Winfrey and Geraldo shows, and regularly appears on CNN when travel security is affected. Savage is currently active as a security counselor and principal in Passport Health, Inc., a travel medicine clinic with offices nationwide.

The information provided is purely advisory in nature. While the information is valuable, it is not comprehensive. We can point you in the right direction, but we highly recommend that you take the time to make the calls and conduct research carefully to make your trip a safe and smooth one.