U.S. Exchange Rates, Conversions, and Processes: Tips for International Travelers

Bags packed, sunscreen on, passport handy - you’re almost ready for your Florida vacation. But before you jet set, you’re going to want to know your way around currency exchange rates and money.

Though foreign currency can sometimes feel daunting, all it takes are some simple basics to have you travelling like a pro. From exchange rates, to payment options, to tipping, follow these simple tips to guide your planning, and jump into your Sunshine State vacay worry-free.

At the airport

Ah, the airport currency exchange. So close, so convenient… and more expensive. The truth is, most airport conversion houses put a premium on convenience, which often means higher service fees.

If time permits, leave the currency exchange to your local bank or financial institution of choice. These usually have the most competitive exchange rates, and a more transparent process.

Though some exchange houses outside the airport are conveniently located in tourist areas, they can also come at a hefty price, so keep a trusted currency converter app handy (you can’t go wrong with XE), and do your research to make sure you’re getting the best rates.

Pay with your card

There’s no doubt America loves debit and credit cards, and it shows by how accessible it is to pay with them in most establishments. Cards not only save you the hassle of carrying cash, they can also help appease currency exchange fees and even get you points.

Though some travel credit cards offer no foreign transaction fees, most charge a small fee per transaction. These fees can add up, but many times you’ll end up saving money by using a credit card rather than exchanging money.

Check with your local bank about your card’s transaction fees before you fly, and consider sticking to a card with low or no transaction fees. It’s important to note that while some places offer contactless payments, most still rely on chip technology, so be mindful when selecting which cards to brings.

Last, don’t forget to notify your bank of your travels. Banks often freeze accounts when foreign activity is registered, so notification ahead of time will avoid any hassles.  

Tap into the power of ATMs

There’s no shortage of ATMs in America. You can find them on the street, in petrol stations, shopping malls, bars, and restaurants.

ATMs can be useful if you’re trying to avoid currency exchange fees because you can directly withdraw money from a machine. This is ideal if you plan on mainly using your ATM card, and keeping a smaller amount of cash handy. (Remember, it’s always a good idea to come prepared with some cash).

Most American ATMs operate with chip-reader cards, so you might want to bring a backup if your main card has no chip.

It’s also important to note that ATMs charge a service fee that varies by entity. Check with your bank for affiliates in the U.S., or banks with lower rates before you travel.

Take a deeper dive into ATM’s here.

Tip your servers   

Unlike many European countries, gratuities work differently in the U.S. Although it’s considered optional in theory, tipping is the norm stateside, with tip amounts varying by state.

Though there is a debate about what the official tipping percentage should be, the acceptable range is typically between 15-20%, 20% being the amount stressed by many industry experts. Ultimately remember to always, ALWAYS tip, unless you’re visiting a gratuity-included restaurant or are seated in a party of 6 or more, in which case many restaurants include gratuity on your bill.

Currency, cash, cards, tips. You’ve got the financial basics covered, so nothing surprises you except the unforgettable Florida adventures you’re about to experience. Happy vacationing!  

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