Use credit cards: Who needs wads of cash when credit cards are so much safer and more convenient? Even with most Canadian providers adding 2.5 per cent to the market exchange rate on foreign purchases, credit cards still tend to beat currency-exchange bureaus and banks when fees are factored in.
But use the right credit cards: That low-single-digit market exchange spread goes down to zero when you use plastic that waives foreign transaction fees. A few examples of cards that do this: The Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card, the Rogers Platinum Mastercard and the HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard.
Try prepaid currency cards: Exchange-rate fluctuation isn’t a problem with these prepaid options. Offered in Canada by Visa and Mastercard, they lock in rates whenever the cards are loaded and reloaded (easy to do online). Exchange rates depend on how the cards are loaded; the online option for Mastercard’s Cash Passport, for instance, adds around 5 per cent to market rates. There are also various fees involved, such as Cash Passport’s $15 purchase price and $3 reload fee.
Use ATMs smartly: Fully cashless travel still isn’t realistic and that’s where ATMs come in. On one hand, they tend to offer similar market-exchange rates as credit cards. On the other, transaction fees can add up. That’s why foreign ATM affiliations can save substantial sums. Bank of Nova Scotia, for instance, is a member of the Global ATM Alliance, which waives surcharges and reduces access fees in more than 50 countries.
Plan accordingly: The best hard-currency exchange is one that never happens. Only take out as much cash as you plan to spend before heading home or moving on to another country that uses a different currency. Leftover coins are souvenirs. Lots of leftover cash represents an exchange-rate double whammy.