Exchanging foreign currency is a part of life for any traveler, but the practice can vary by country. In one country, you may have to change your money at the airport, and in other countries you may need to buy your foreign currency in advance. If you have a trip to the United States planned, here is what you need to know about where to exchange foreign currency for U.S. currency.

Your Bank

Most banks keep a reserve of U.S. currency on hand, so you can purchase currency for your trip from your own bank. Depending on the size of the currency purchase, the bank may require you to fill out paperwork stating the reason for your withdrawal and your travel plans.

Banks tend to have higher exchange rates than some currency exchange (Bureau de Change) business, since they do not have to be competitive. Before you conduct your transaction at the bank, check the currency change rates for that day via a site such as Oanda (see Additional Resources) so you can compare the rate the bank is quoting and determine if it’s a good offer. There is a fee involved in withdrawing foreign currency from your bank.

The Airport

Currency exchange businesses can be found at most international airports, so you can purchase U.S. currency either before you board your flight or at the U.S. airport on arrival. Note that U.S. airports typically have fewer currency exchange counters than travelers are accustomed to seeing in other parts of the world. If the airport you are flying into is not in a major U.S. city, consider using the exchange service in your departure airport to be on the safe side.

If you are in an airport where several exchange companies operate, be sure to shop around for the best conversion rate and lowest exchange fee.


Most ATM cards can be used in ATM machines all over the world. Check with your bank to see if your card works in the U.S. If it does, you can simply withdraw U.S. funds from an ATM in the U.S. Your bank can advise you on the conversion rate and fees you can expect.

Currency Exchange Businesses

Currency exchange companies are not as widespread in the U.S. as they are elsewhere. There may not be any such companies in small towns. There are currency exchange companies in larger cities, but don’t expect to see them on every corner as you might in London or Paris. You can purchase U.S. currency from exchange companies in the States, but if you plan to travel outside of the major cities, these should be your last option.

Although brick-and-mortar currency exchange locations might be limited in the U.S., you can purchase U.S. dollars from online foreign currency companies like Travelex and Wells Fargo.