While plastic will get you by at some international travel destinations, the country’s local currency works everywhere. Avoid rip-offs when exchanging one currency for another by taking care of it before your trip or at a large hotel or bank in your destination city.

Before the Trip 

Many banks in the United States allow customers to purchase common forms of foreign currency, such as euros or British pounds. Ask a local teller if the bank offers this service and if there’s a fee for this convenience. Also ask about the bank’s exchange rate. Compare the bank exchange rate to global exchange-rate charts online; the rates should be comparable if you’re getting a good deal. Buying foreign currency ahead of time from a bank means you’ll probably have to wait a day or two for it to arrive.

Foreign ATM Advantages

It’s not necessary to have the local foreign currency on-hand before you travel; ATMs are numerous at airports and also available at hotels. As with their stateside versions, foreign ATMs offer convenient access to cash in the local currency, without charging inflated conversion rates. Many foreign ATMs accept U.S.-based credit and debit cards, especially cards bearing the Mastercard, Visa or American Express logo.

Call the card-issuing bank before your trip to notify them you’re traveling abroad. Some card issuers charge foreign fees for every transaction; some charge for non-network and foreign ATM use. Ask the bank representative about such fees, so you won’t be in for any surprises upon returning home. Whenever possible, use a debit card instead of a credit card while using ATMs to avoid hefty cash-advance fees. In other words, keep plenty of cash in your account, so you’ll have more than you need for the trip.

Hotel Cash Exchange

Some business-class hotels also offer currency exchange at the front desk, which also comes in handy if you’re trying to turn in unneeded foreign currency at the end of your stay. Ask the clerk the buy-and-sell exchange rates. A difference of 10 percent or less is fair. It’s best to exchange your foreign cash in the country of origin, as it may be harder to unload it stateside.

Foreign Banks

Some large banks in major metropolitan areas also exchange currency and can do so whether you need local money or U.S. dollars. Visit a nearby large branch or ask your hotel concierge about the best local banks for exchanging currency. If your bank is affiliated with the foreign bank, such as a PNC branch, you may be able to exchange funds without added fees.

Currency Exchange Booths

While currency exchange stations such as the ones found in international airport terminals are convenient, they tend to charge high rates, sometimes up to 15 percent. On the plus side, they do come in handy when you’ve forgotten to exchange your funds and are already at the airport, awaiting a trip home. Another way to unload that currency is to use it for purchases at the airport, such as meals or reading materials.