I almost always have left over currency whether it’s in the form of banknotes or coins from the country I just visited. I think it’s safe to say that almost all world travelers have some unspent currency from a country. The problem is that the currency is pretty much useless as legal tender once it’s removed from the country where it’s circulated. I don’t know what other world travelers do, but I would imagine they would exercise one of the following options:
Keep them as souvenirs
– Some currency is actually pretty cool with the watermarks and the color schemes they incorporate. In some cases, the material composition is different. We’re all used to the cotton based banknotes typical in the U.S. dollar, but some countries have implemented polymer based banknotes or “plastic money.” The banknotes are not plastic in the sense of a credit card like feel, but a flimsy plastic that holds up better to the test of time. With the different variety of currencies, it makes a great souvenir, especially if the currency ceases to be legal tender like the Italian Lira and German Deutschmark.
Use them for a future trip
– If plans permit to re-visit the country where the currency is legal tender, it’s best to hold on to them rather than converting them back to US dollars and buying the currency again, thus loosing out on transaction cost twice. In some minor cases, certain currency is the defacto currency where the currency is treated as legal tender by popularity.
– The ever familiar Travelex money exchange counters at the airport buys back nearly all currency, but these places have the worst exchange rates, which is why I urge people to avoid them at all cost.
MY OWN TAKE ON UNSPENT CURRENCY
I generally hold the foreign currency as a souvenir because I don’t buy T-shirts or any other trinkets from those touristy souvenir shops. Partly because I don’t see the value in that kind of stuff and partly because I travel light with smaller bags.
If my future itineraries includes a return trip back to a country where I have currency on-hand, I’ll certainly bring them back with me.
Some cases, if I have too much leftover currency, I’ll sell them back to my bank.
Larger banks such as Bank of America(BoA) buys back most foreign currency. The catch is that you need to have a BoA account and deposit a minimum of a $100 USD equivalent of a single type of foreign currency. Some BoA branches don’t enforce the latter requirement.
Unlike the Travelex Currency exchange, the buy back rate at BoA isn’t terrible enough to deter me from selling my currency, but it isn’t stellar either. I sold back some Turkish Lira and some Omani Rials because I had too much on hand to justify them as souvenirs.
Here’s an example for the Market Rate for the Turkish Lira and Omani Rial on April 20th, 2012.
Here’ rate that BoA bought the currency back at:
- 1 Turkish Lira = 0.5102
- 1 Rial = 2.3045
Here’s what Travelex would have bought them back at:
ANOTHER WAY TO MAKE FOREIGN CURRENCY LEGAL
In my neck of the woods, Foxwoods Casino and Mohegan Sun are frequented amongst gamblers in the North East. Casinos make a majority of their revenue from the gambling losses of casino goers. To maximize profits, casinos want gamblers to gamble more money as the odds of winning are always in the favor of the house, so the more money is gamble, the more money the casino makes. With this in mind, casinos will take any form of payment whether it’s credit cards, check cashing and foreign currency.
When smaller banks don’t buy back foreign currency as an alternative, you can try the casino to see if they will buy foreign currency. The exchange rates are not bad at all. Here’s screenshot comparing the market rates to those of the Travelex currency exchange and Foxwoods casinos.
Casinos often time buy foreign currency with the intent that you’re going to gamble at their casino so you’ll often have to present their loyalty card to ensure that you’ve logged some hours at the tables. This is to ensure that you’re just not using the casino as a bank or to launder money. I’ve never sold any foreign currency to a casino, but clearly the option is presented here.
FINAL TAKE AWAY
To me, foreign currency is a nifty souvenir because it’s unique and takes up no luggage. For some travelers, they want to buy some materialist good as a souvenir, which is fine. Each traveler has their own preference and I’ve stated mine.
If you have any interesting ways to use left over currency, I would love to hear about it.