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Monday, September 24, 2007

Updates and tips on exchanging money overseas.

The last deal I posted about the unlimited Blockbuster renewals doesn't work anymore unfortunately. It was a good 6 months of free movies and video games. You can still sign up for new accounts using new email addresses + credit card combinations, but that's a bigger hassle.

Some thoughts about exchanging money overseas.

On my recent trip to Europe, I experimented with different ways of obtaining cash and paying for items. Now that all my credit card and bank statements have posted, I can do some analysis and share with you what were the best ways to pay when travelling.

The best way by far was to get money directly via an ATM. Bank of America does not charge you any ATM fees if you use any of these banks's ATMs overseas: Barclays (United Kingdom), BNP Paribas (France), China Construction Bank (China), Deutsche Bank (Germany), Santander Serfin (Mexico), Scotiabank (Canada), Westpac (Australia and New Zealand). After returning back from my trip, I noticed that with each ATM withdrawal I made, there was a ATM charge of exactly 1%. After calling BofA and learning that this was a currency conversion charge, the friendly customer rep even waived it for me, resulting in absolutely no fees.

The end cost (over the prevailing rate) of using ATMs to withdraw money was essentially zero (comparing my daily ATM withdraws to x-rate.com's historical data)*. If you have access to free ATMs, this is definitely the way to go, even if you can't get the 1% currency conversion fee waived.

Other options that I used or noticed were paying with a credit card, letting the store charge it in USD, exchanging it at the hotel, or exchanging it at a currency exchange location. They all offered worse rates, some really bad. Without going into too much detail, I'll briefly explain why.

Credit cards will tack on a 3% fee if you charge in a foreign currency, unless there are no ATMs, this is your 2nd best option. Some credit cards don't have this foreign transaction fee (or charge a smaller %, amex for example), but they are a little less common.

Other options are all rip offs.

* if anyone knows of a site that has historic hourly breakdowns of the exchange rate, that would allow me to compare more precisely. Thanks.

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