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Best places to exchange currency

How to get the best exchange rate when converting your Canadian dollars into foreign currency.

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Whether you’re heading off for an overseas vacation or sending money to loved ones in another country, getting the best exchange rate is crucial. The better the exchange rate, the better value you get for your Canadian dollars.

But where is the best place to exchange currency? How can you get the best exchange rate when converting Canadian dollars? Keep reading to find out.

Summary: Where to exchange currency

Currency exchange optionCompetitive rates?
Cash from home bankNo
Online money transfer and currency exchange specialistYes
ATM at travel destination using debit cardYes
ATM at travel destination using credit cardNo
Airport kioskNo
Airport ATMYes
Credit card with foreign transaction feeNo
Credit card with no foreign transaction feeYes
Cash via Canada PostNo
HotelNo
Digital banking app (e.g. Wise)Yes
Mall, train station, bus station kioskNo
Kiosk in tourist spotNo

Where to get the best exchange rate when travelling

Heading overseas on vacation? The cheapest ways to exchange currency are ATMs, online currency exchange specialists and credit cards with no foreign transaction fees.

ATMs

How it works: Using your debit card at an overseas ATM is an easy and convenient way to exchange money. Your card provider (such as Visa or Mastercard) will automatically convert your CAD to the local currency. If the ATM gives you the option of paying in Canadian dollars, this so-called “dynamic currency conversion” will come with a big exchange rate markup, so choose to pay with the local currency.

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Tip: Know your fees

Make sure you know how big the foreign transaction fee is on your card, or consider a debit card with no foreign transaction fees. You’ll also need to check the fine print to find out the fee for using an ATM outside your bank’s network, the currency conversion rate, and whether there are any daily or transaction limits on how much you can withdraw.

Online money transfer and currency exchange specialists

How it works: Online money transfer services and currency exchange providers offer plenty of options for travellers who want to know where to get the best exchange rate.

For example, you can send an international transfer to your own overseas bank account or mobile wallet, or collect the cash in person from a branch when you get to your travel destination. Alternatively, you could use an online currency exchange service to convert CAD before you leave home, and then pick the cash up in-store or have it delivered to your door. Other providers offer multi-currency accounts where you can exchange currencies instantly via a mobile app, and some offer travel cards that allow you to hold and spend funds in dozens of currencies. Compare providers now.

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Tip: Consider digital multicurrency apps

Apps like Wise are well worth considering here. The Wise Travel Card lets you hold more than 40 currencies, make withdrawals at three million ATMs in 175 countries, and get the mid-market rate when you exchange currencies.

No foreign transaction fee credit cards

How it works: Many credit cards charge foreign transaction fees of 2-3%, so using a card with no foreign transaction fees can lead to big savings. For example, if you make $2,500 worth of purchases on your vacation, you’ll save $75 compared to a card with a 3% foreign transaction fee. But keep in mind that overseas ATM fees may also apply, and you’ll be charged a cash advance fee if you withdraw funds from an ATM.

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Tip: Pay in local currency

When using your credit card in a store or restaurant, the machine may ask if you want to pay in local currency or CAD. Choose to pay in local currency to avoid extra fees.

How to get the best currency exchange rate when sending money overseas

Keep the following tips in mind to ensure that you get the best currency exchange rate when you send money overseas.

  • Find out the best exchange rate. Check the current mid-market rate, which is the halfway point between the buy and sell prices of the two currencies you want to exchange. You can check the current mid-market exchange rate using our live currency converter below, then use it to determine whether the exchange rate you’re being offered represents good value.
  • Choose an online money transfer specialist. Online money transfer services tend to offer the best exchange rates and low or no fees. They also support multiple payment methods and support money transfers to countries all around the world.
  • Convert money when rates are favourable. Stay up to date with exchange rate fluctuations so you know which way the market is moving. When an attractive rate is available, take advantage of it and convert your funds.

Find a currency exchange that’s best for you

Let’s take a closer look at some of the popular options when you’re searching for the best place to exchange currency.

Wise

Best for: Sending money overseas and travel

  • How it works for sending money overseas: Wise offers international money transfers in over 40 currencies. To send money overseas, sign up for a free account and pay for your transfer by direct debit, credit card, debit card or bank transfer. You’ll get the mid-market exchange rate for your transfer, and pay a fee that varies by currency but starts at From 0.43%. Transfers to popular destinations can arrive in as little as one day.
  • How it works for travel: The Wise Travel Card allows you to hold funds in 40+ currencies so you can spend money in 175 countries. You get the mid-market rate when converting Canadian dollars, and access over three million ATMs worldwide. You can also load your Wise Travel Card to your Apple Pay and Google Pay digital wallets. Withdraw up to 350 CAD per month for free.
  • How to access its services: Online or via the Wise app.

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Xe

Best for: Sending money overseas and travel

  • How it works for sending money overseas: Xe offers money transfers in 100 currencies to 200 countries. Fees vary depending on your payment method, currency and where you send money, while the exchange rate markup is commonly around 1%. Transfers take 1-4 business days to arrive and can be sent to your recipient’s bank account.
  • How it works for travel: If you want to get a competitive rate when you exchange currency for your next vacation, you can use Xe to send a self-transfer. Simply answer “Yes” to the question “Are you sending money to your own account?” when entering the details of your transaction. Xe has over 500,000 cash pickup locations around the world.
  • How to access its services: Online or via the Xe app.

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Instarem

Best for: Sending money overseas

  • How it works for sending money overseas: Instarem offers fast money transfers to over 60 countries around the world. The maximum transfer limit is $3,000 per day and you can pay for your transaction with Interac e-Transfer. The funds are sent to your recipient’s bank account, with no fees on transfers to many popular destinations.
  • How it works for travel: Heading overseas? If you have a bank account in your destination country, you can use Instarem to send funds to your own account and get a competitive currency exchange rate.
  • How to access its services: Online or via the Instarem app.

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Africhange

Best for: Sending money overseas

  • How it works for sending money overseas: Africhange uses blockchain technology to provide fast transfers to overseas bank accounts. Transfers are fee-free and can be sent to Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, the USA, China and India. The maximum daily transfer amount is $9,500, an exchange rate markup applies, and you can get money to your recipient within minutes.
  • How it works for travel: If you have a foreign bank account in the country you’re travelling to, you can use Africhange to exchange currency and send a transfer to yourself.
  • How to access its services: Online or via the Africhange app.

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Remitly

Best for: Sending money overseas and travel

  • How it works for sending money overseas: Remitly supports international transfers in over 100 currencies. You can send a bank account, mobile wallet, or cash pickup transfer, and it’s easy to review fees and exchange rates upfront before sending. Pay for your transfer using your bank account, Google Pay, credit card or debit card.
  • How it works for travel: You can use Remitly to send money to yourself while travelling. Depending on where you are in the world, you might be able to send funds to your bank account or digital wallet, or collect the cash in person. Remitly has over 460,000 cash pickup locations worldwide.
  • How to access its services: Online or via the Remitly app.

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MoneyGram

Best for: Sending money overseas and travel

  • How it works for sending money overseas: MoneyGram offers international transfers to over 200 countries and territories around the world. You can send money to a bank account, mobile wallet or cash pickup location, and MoneyGram has over 430,000 cash pickup locations globally. You can also visit your nearest agent location if you want to pay for your transfer with cash. Exchange rates and fees vary depending on where you send money, how you pay for the transaction and how your recipient gets the money.
  • How it works for travel: You can use MoneyGram to send an international transfer to yourself. You can send a cash pickup transfer to collect in person once you arrive at your destination, or send funds to your overseas bank account or mobile wallet.
  • How to access its services: Online, via the MoneyGram app or in-person at an agent location.

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RemitBee

Best for: Sending money overseas and CAD/USD currency exchange

  • How it works for sending money overseas: Remitbee offers international money transfers in over 50 currencies , with an exchange rate markup that ranges from 0.0050% to 3%. Pay for your transfer via debit card, e-Transfer, EFT, bill payment or Interac Online. A $2.99 fee applies to transfers below $500, but the fee is waived on several payment methods for transfers over $500. You can send funds to your recipient’s bank account, mobile wallet, e-wallet or a cash pickup location.
  • How it works for travel: Remitbee doesn’t charge any fees on CAD/USD conversions, so you can stock up on funds for your US vacation without being slugged with fees. You can also use the service to transfer money to yourself in another country.
  • How to access its services: Online or via the RemitBee app.

Western Union

Best for: Sending money overseas and travel

  • How it works for sending money overseas: Western Union offers money transfers to over 200 countries and territories worldwide. It supports bank account, mobile wallet and cash pickup transfers, and boasts a network of over 500,000 agent locations. Exchange rates and fees vary depending on destination country as well as payment and payout method. You also have the option of sending an in-person transfer from your nearest Western Union agent.
  • How it works for travel: You can send a Western Union transfer to yourself, then collect the cash once you reach your travel destination. Alternatively, you can transfer funds to your own overseas bank account or mobile wallet.
  • How to access its services: Online, via the Western Union app or in-person at an agent location.


KnightsbridgeFX

Best for: Larger transactions (over $2,000)

  • How it works for sending money overseas: KnightsbridgeFX offers transfers of $2,000 or more to the US, UK, Europe, Australia and NZ. Start by registering your details online, and KnightsbridgeFX will call you to give you a quote. You can pay by a bank transfer, bill payment, or EFT, and KnightsbridgeFX will convert your currency and send it to an overseas bank account.
  • How it works for travel: KnightsbridgeFX offers bank-beating exchange rates when you need to stock up on cash for an international vacation. Apply online and KnightsbridgeFX will call you back with a quote.
  • How to access its services: Online and over the phone.

How to choose the best currency exchange

The tips below will help you get more bang for your buck when deciding where to exchange money.

  • Know the exchange rate. Arm yourself with knowledge and check the current mid-market exchange rate. This will allow you to work out how much markup a currency exchange provider is adding.
  • Watch out for fees. The exchange rate isn’t the only factor you need to consider when converting currency. While some providers incorporate their fee into the exchange rate they offer, others charge a separate fee. Make sure you know how much you’ll pay in fees before you exchange currency.
  • Check the fine print. Some currency exchange providers offer online calculators so you can work out how much foreign currency you can buy with your CAD. If you use these calculators, make sure the rate quoted is the rate you will get and not simply the mid-market rate.
  • Avoid credit card cash advances. Withdrawing foreign currency from an ATM with your credit card is convenient, but it also means paying a cash advance fee. A high interest rate applies to your transaction too.
  • Avoid airport kiosks. If you’re travelling overseas, don’t wait until you get to the airport to exchange your Canadian dollars for foreign currency. These providers have got you right where they want you, so you can generally expect a poor exchange rate.
  • Don’t pay in Canadian dollars. If you’re paying for a purchase overseas and the merchant offers to let you pay in CAD, you’ll likely get a poor exchange rate and pay extra fees. Opt to pay in the local currency instead.

Pros and cons of the best places to exchange currency

Currency exchange optionProsCons
Online money transfer and currency exchange specialists
  • Best exchange rates
  • Low fees
  • Easy to use
  • You can secure the exchange rate you want in advance
  • If getting cash for overseas travel, currency may be delivered to you for a fee or you’ll have to pick it up in person
  • International transfer fees may apply
  • The exchange rate you get on a money transfer may vary depending on your payment and payout method
ATMs
  • Watch out for ATM provider fees
  • Foreign exchange fees and non-network ATM fees may also apply
  • Cash advance fees if you use your credit card
No FX fee credit cards
  • Save on the cost of foreign transactions
  • Liability protection and no need to carry a large stack of cash
  • Cards often come with other travel perks
  • Interest applies to purchases
  • Annual fee
  • Rates and fees may be higher than on regular credit cards

How to monitor exchange rates

One of the ways to save yourself money when making an international money transfer is to carry out your conversion when the exchange rate is most favourable. If you know in advance you will be sending money abroad or travelling overseas, then you can monitor currency trends ahead of time. Take a look at our live currency converter to see what exchange rate you would get for converting your cash today.

Market demand dictates how much one currency is worth compared to another – this is known as the mid-market rate. It is also the rate that banks use to trade money with one another.

When you convert money through a money transfer service, you will typically find that the provider adds a margin on top of the exchange rate to make money. So it is worth keeping this in mind when you are monitoring exchange rates.
Select the currency pair to fit your needs

Cash vs online transactions: Which is better?

The best option for you will vary depending on your money needs and whether you’re travelling internationally or sending money overseas.

When sending money overseas

When you need to send money overseas, online transactions tend to come with the best exchange rates. If you use a specialist money transfer service or app for your transaction, you’ll generally get the best exchange rate.

However, there are also situations where cash is king. If you need to get money to a loved one overseas urgently, sending a cash pickup transfer and paying with your debit or credit card will allow them to access the funds within minutes.

When travelling

It’s hard to beat the convenience of withdrawing money from an ATM with your debit card when travelling. Debit cards offer a quick and easy way to get cash or pay for purchases, but you’ll need to watch out for foreign transaction fees and overseas ATM fees. Check the fine print to find out what fees apply to your card.

Converting cash at foreign exchange kiosks is also a convenient option. Just make sure to avoid kiosks at airports and train stations, as they typically don’t offer great exchange rates.

At the same time, using an online currency exchange specialist has its perks too. You can exchange your Canadian dollars for foreign currency well in advance of your trip, locking in the best exchange rate so your finances are all sorted before you pack your bags. The downside is that you then have to carry around a big wad of cash.

Ultimately, it all comes down to what best suits your needs: convenience or getting the best value for your money.

Bottom line

The best place to exchange currency depends on your needs. If you’re sending money overseas, you’ll often get the best exchange rates from online transfer specialists, but cash pickup transfers allow you to send money to loved ones within minutes.

Travellers can often get a better rate on currency conversions if they use an online currency exchange service before their trip, but debit cards with no foreign transaction fees also offer a convenient way to manage your money when travelling abroad.

Compare the best currency exchange services and money transfer providers to find the solution that’s right for you.

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