Money Exchange For RTW Travel

money exchange when traveling
Today I have a question from a reader about money exchange!

Nicole sent me over this question:

“Hi, Arnette!! My boyfriend and I are fellow Canadian nomads. We are planning a round the world trip in June 2014. One of the concerns we have is about money exchange and how we can do it in a cost-effective way. I am concerned most of our savings will be going to foreign currency exchange. I am struggling to find a blog that even talks about money exchange? What have you found is the cheapest way to exchange funds?? Thanks so much! – Nicole”

Money exchange when traveling |

Hello, Nicole!

Thanks for your email. I am not a money or foreign exchange expert but I’ll share my experience from my travels.

Money exchange when traveling especially on a round the world trip is a tough one. I always find that no matter what happens you’ll always lose out on the exchange because someone has to make money in the end and it’s definitely not the traveler!

What I did/do:

I’m a resident of the USA so I have a Charles Schwab bank account. I specifically opened this account prior to my RTW because there are no fees for ATM withdrawals anywhere in the world including the United States. I get charged initially but at the end of the month, my account is credited back for any ATM fees. I am not sure which Canadian banks have little to no fees for international withdrawals. Perhaps try a bank that has a lot of branches worldwide like HSBC, etc.

**If you’d like to open a Schwab account, click this link and use this code: REFERNPAVB**
money exchange when traveling

Taking out money in Tokyo

Financial tips:
  • I put my savings in a high-interest savings account which earned me more interest than a typical savings account. I would then transfer money in between the high -interest savings account to my Charles Schwab account when I was ready to take some money. We might as well make some interest while we’re traveling since money is just sitting there!
  • When arrived at a new airport/country, I would find a bank affiliated ATM machine to take out money (be careful of foreign money exchange bank machines). Because I have a Schwab account, I was not worried about taking out smaller sums because I wasn’t charged service fees. You might want to take out more money to incur fewer fees. I also didn’t take out large amounts because I was concerned about safety and carrying a lot of cash because I am a solo female traveler.
  • I carried US cash in different denominations for an emergency situation and necessity. As an example, when entering Vietnam and Cambodia, they want US cash for your visa at the airport/border. Make sure the US cash that you carry always stays crisp. If bills are overly wrinkled, they do not accept it.

money exchange when traveling

Yen yen bills y’all

Trip money tips:
  • I stocked away $100 US in a weird random spot so in the case of an emergency, I could get myself out of a sticky situation. I did have my bank card stolen when I was in Cambodia, so it was handy to have cash. I also carried another backup ATM card for this purpose (helpful when on a long-term trip). It will be handy for you and your boyfriend/friend/husband to carry separate cards for this reason.
  • Sometimes you may have excess money left over because you took out too much. If I was leaving via an airport and had leftover funds I would just go to the money exchange and change it for the next destination’s currency. Try not to exchange at the airport, it’s the worst rate. But at that point, what are you going to do with the money? I still have money from Indonesia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Europe (Euros), Czech Republic, and the Philippines. I am hoping that I can use them for future trips! Some airlines like Qantas collect any coins on the flight and give them to charity. I hate the extra weight on me, so I donate it.
  • My best recommendation would be to get a travel-friendly bank account, bank card, and credit card. Give yourself time to open up a new account and apply for a credit card.
Trip tips:
  • Make sure that you let your bank and credit card companies know you are traveling around the world. Nothing is worse than being in a foreign country and not having access to your funds. It happened to me once so now I always call in to let them know.

Money exchange when traveling |

Do you have any other money exchange tips to share with my readers? Leave comments below!


Round The World Girl is a blog by Arnette, a solo female traveler, lover of adventure, coffee, tropical islands, and unforgettable meals. She shares a retrospective of her 19 month, 19 country round the world trip, adventures both near and far, destination guides, helpful tips and tricks for travel, as well as tips and reviews of her favorite things.

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  • BajanNomad

    I did my RTW in 2010, the Canadians I met had huge issues with banking fees. For me, I carried pounds (my base currency) and USD $ in cash stash all over. I am a solo traveller too. I also had travellers chq. In countries like SA where the banking system is weird. I chg TC, no extra cost and I can change as little as possible. My UK bank gives me free transactions with selected banking partners around the world, and I used only those for cash withdrawals taking no more than I need. In other countries I chg pounds. As RTW girl says, I keep USD cash for those moments as it will bail you out. As I had both currencies I used the one which gave me a better rate. Some countries are USD incline. When I got back into London, I had TC and pounds left, no exchange diff there.

    Again, try not to have more foreign currency than u need. Always have local currency when you exit airport. You do not want to be flashing foreign currency at a taxi driver in Asia. However, because the rate at airport is so low, only change the minimum. Have a strategy and budget before you go, because you want to enjoy it and not worry about currencies.

    • Thanks for your comment and tips!! Definitely don’t flash foreign currency or that you have a large amount of cash. When you arrive at your destination and are taking taxis, act confident. Be sure to know directions, costs of getting to your hotel/accommodation so you know you won’t be duped. Ask your hotel or hostel how much it costs to get there and the best mode of transport. I know tons of taxi drivers dupe unsuspecting and unprepared travelers. I remember some girls in my hostel in Bali got charged $20US for a ride to our hostel. The hostel provided free pick ups but in the event that you don’t get picked up, it costs no more than $7 with tip included.

  • nicole

    Thanks for the tips everyone!! Canada has some of the most expensive banking fees in the world :( but I will definitely look into HSBC, never thought of that! So expensive up here, we get the short end of the stick on so many things!

    • I’m sorry I can’t be of more help. I remember someone mentioning Scotia Bank as well but I think HSBC has a lot of branches worldwide, especially Asia. Good luck!

  • Deia @ Nomad Wallet

    Hey, fellow Canadian here! Jealous of Charles Schwab account holders. We don’t have anything that versatile, but we do have some options.

    Canadian credit cards with no foreign currency fee: Chase Marriott Rewards and Chase Amazon. ca Visa

    ATM fees: If you keep at least $5,000 in your bank account, go for a TD Select Service account. It has lots of bonuses, one of which is free ATM withdrawals anywhere in the world. Otherwise, bank with Scotiabank, it’s a member of the Global ATM Alliance, which means that you won’t have to pay fees if you withdraw from other alliance bank members.

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