9 essential foreign exchange travel tips

Don't let foreign exchange get you down when travelling. Just remember these 9 essential FX travel tips.

Compare which card best fits your needs

Credit cards offer some convenience when you travel, especially for settling large bills like tickets or accommodation. If you like to use a credit card when you travel because you don't like carrying large quantities of cash, perhaps you could also consider using your ATM card instead to withdraw cash when you need it.

Many people still use credit cards because of those extra points for overseas purchases, but do always check what fees may be applicable for foreign currency transactions. Some travel cards may offer attractive miles for overseas transactions, but impose hidden fees or tend to have a high foreign exchange rate, which would result in your final bill being much higher than expected. Everyday Global Debit Card has a competitive exchange rate, and offers you a peace of mind without any other hidden fees. As our table shows, if you use your Everyday Global Debit Card, you'll save enough money to pay for your flight and still have some left for souvenirs.

Cost benefit illustration of using the Everyday Global Debit card
Types of Cards Everyday Global Debit Card Other Travel Cards
Spend Amount £18,000
£18,000
Foreign Exchange Rate 1.74991 1.81882
SGD Equivalent S$31,499.08 S$32,739.12
Benefits Savings of S$1,240.04 65,520 miles earned (S$1 = 2 miles)
What can this get you? 2 Economy class air tickets to Tokyo with Singapore Airlines3 1 economy class air ticket to Hong Kong with Singapore Airlines
Cost benefit illustration of using the Everyday Global Debit card
Types of Cards Spend Amount
Everyday Global Debit Card £18,000
Other Travel Cards £18,000
Types of Cards Foreign Exchange Rate
Everyday Global Debit Card 1.74991
Other Travel Cards 1.81882
Types of Cards SGD Equivalent
Everyday Global Debit Card S$31,499.08
Other Travel Cards S$32,739.12
Types of Cards Benefits
Everyday Global Debit Card Savings of S$1,240.04
Other Travel Cards 65,520 miles earned (S$1 = 2 miles)
Types of Cards What can this get you?
Everyday Global Debit Card 2 Economy class air tickets to Tokyo with Singapore Airlines3
Other Travel Cards 1 economy class air ticket to Hong Kong with Singapore Airlines

1Indicative foreign exchange rate as of 4 June 2019.

2Average exchange rate from relevant card scheme associations, with 2.5% administration fee applied.

3Based on prices retrieved from Singapore Airlines website, June 2019.

Stay in your network

If you use a local ATM to take out cash, make sure it’s one that's in your bank's network. If you use an ATM from a different bank or a different network, you will be charged a substantially higher transaction fee. 

You can also avoid this if you have the HSBC Everyday Global Account, which can handle 9 foreign currencies. Just make sure you have some of the local currency in your account before you go, and you can use your card for retail purchases, online shopping and cash withdrawals with zero fees – even for withdrawals from third-party ATM networks.

Pay in local currency when you've got the option

Whether using an ATM card or a credit card, if you get the option of paying in your home currency or the local currency, always choose local. The merchant’s bank or credit card device usually has a much wider FX spread, compared to your own credit card company making the exchange on your statement. You might also miss out on reward points for overseas spending if you don’t pay in the local currency.

Though there are times when you won’t be able to use a card. For small purchases, or for big purchases from small businesses, you might have to use cash. Here are some tips to make sure you always get the best rates.

Exchange currency during bank hours

You’ll get the best rates when you exchange currency during bank hours. Weekday evenings are ok, but the worst time to exchange is on the weekends, starting from Friday night to Monday morning, because markets around the world are closed. Why are weekends the worst time? Since banks don’t know what the new rate will be on Monday morning, they charge a slightly higher rate to protect themselves against unforeseen market movements when the market re-opens.

Always look for hidden fees

Many currency exchange shops advertise a fantastic rate on the board out front. But before you hand over your cash, make sure you get all the details. Do they have a commission or a charge for each transaction? Is that good rate only applicable to notes of a certain denomination or year? Or is there a certain amount you'll have to convert to get that rate?

Go with the bigger brands over smaller shops

If you’re going to a bank or a currency exchange centre, choose a big one. Smaller shops often have fewer notes in stock, so they’ll charge a premium for exchanging. Choosing a reputable brand for your FX needs will also give you the security that you won’t get shortchanged or cheated with counterfeit notes. A big, busy venue with more turnover is a better option, but that might mean you’re in for a long queue.

Recommended option: Buy your currency online

You probably pre-ordered your flight and your hotel booking, so why not enjoy the same convenience and pre-order your foreign currency? All you need is an Everyday Global Account and you'll get anytime access to 11 currencies. Log on to your account and convert your local funds to one of the other foreign currencies, then pick up the cash at the branch before your trip – simple and fuss-free. Or you have the option of withdrawing the converted currency from one of the many ATMs of HSBC’s overseas network.

Use Order Watch to set an alert and get the best rate

Not happy with today’s exchange rate? No problem. Log on to Order Watch and set the exchange rate you’re comfortable with. If and when the rate reaches that level, you'll get an alert. Or you can just set aside the amount you want to exchange, and we’ll make the exchange when the rate matches your selection. 

Download (and use) the HSBC QuickFX app

HSBC QuickFX is like the mobile app version of Order Watch, with a few extra features. You can track exchange rates, and set alerts or auto-exchanges for when the rate meets your target. QuickFX also allows you to do Global Transfers. So if you have foreign currency accounts all set up, you can easily move money between them. And if you are a expat travelling home, you can easily transfer to your HSBC home account instantly.

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