Most American banks charge a $35 dollar fee to transfer money to a foreign account, and that does not include the conversion fee. If you convert your money before your big trip so you don’t have to rely on cards for purchases, your bank could still charge you up to $20. If you try to convert your leftover money back once you return home, you should know that your bank will not accept foreign coins, even if they are worth 1 Pound or 2 Euro, the equivalent of some-odd American dollars, plus change. So, what is a traveler to do, whether they are just visiting another country or living abroad for an extended period of time?
If you are visiting: Use your bank card at an ATM once you are over-seas to take out the necessary amount of money you will need for your trip. Skip the currency exchange counters in the airports, as they tend to take a small commission slightly larger or the equivalent to the bank fees incurred if you use a foreign ATM. BofA charges no more than $5 for these transactions, so lets say you are visiting England and you need a couple hundred quid to last you through 2 or 3 weeks of vacation. If you cannot find a BofA ATM, use a UK one. This overall method is best if you need to convert less than $1,000, or your daily withdrawal maximum.
If you are living abroad: I can only speak directly for Ireland’s (the Republic of) laws regarding foreign students living for 6 months or longer in the country and obtaining bank accounts, but I assume this would work in the same way for UK countries and other European countries. You will need to show a bank (AIB, Uslter, etc) proof of your residency by making of copy of an ESB (electricity) bill or anything that has your address and name on it, along with your passport or immigration certificate. Once you have your bank account, it is time to transfer money into it. You can use the above method if you need to transfer a small amount of emergency money by withdrawing cash from your American account and then depositing (or lodging) it into your foreign account at the same ATM. However, if you need to transfer thousands of dollars, pay the international wire transfer fee from your bank. If your daily maximum is only $500, then those ATM fees will add up to the $35 transfer fee, or it could be greater. $35 isn’t really that much to pay when thousands are dollars are concerned.
Moneygram is a good wire transfer company to use if you are transferring money from a credit card, instead of Western Union. The problem I ran into using Western Union was that they only allow person-to-person transfers – you will be picking up cash that you could later deposit into you bank account, rather than a direct bank-to-bank transfer. If you are trying to transfer money from an American Express credit card, they require that you use a fake company name as a code word for the person on the receiving end. Western Union does not recognize this as a personal name, so they will not complete these types of wire transfers. Moneygram, however, does.
If you are a foreigner visiting America and you want to avoid ATM withdrawal fees, try to find a Conmerica bank. They do not charge fees to take out money from an Irish or UK bank account, (and I assume others) but they will charge American accounts $5. This has come in handy for me when I need to get out cash from my Irish account and not pay AIB’s 15 euro international transfer fee.
Save those extra dollars/pounds/euro for a souvenir or a couple extra pints on your last night abroad.