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Guide to buying foreign currency

If you need to buy currency in the form of cash, there are several options to explore.

There are many providers that allow you to buy and sell foreign currency online. However, sometimes you need foreign currency in the form of cash. You may simply prefer to have cash for an upcoming holiday, or you may need to make an international purchase with a merchant that only accepts cash.

Whatever the reason, here’s what you need to know about buying foreign currency as cash.

How does buying currency work?

You can buy foreign currency through your local bank but you will most likely not get a fair exchange rate. Specialist currency exchange providers with storefronts allow you to go in and physically buy cash in the same way that you would make any other purchase. You just need to tell them how much of a particular foreign currency you need and they will tell you how much it will cost you in US dollars.

The price in US dollars will depend on the exchange rate the provider offers, so shop around to ensure you’re getting the best deal. These exchange rates change daily, so do a comparison on the day that you’re planning to buy the currency. Also check what transaction fees the provider charges since this will affect the price you pay.

As these providers are selling physical cash, they don’t have an endless supply and can run out of a certain currency later in the day. If you’re buying a large amount of a particular currency, for example £10,000 GBP, it’s best to call the provider a few days in advance to ensure that they will have the cash available. The same applies for less exotic currencies.

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How do I buy currency online?

If you’re unable to get to a provider’s physical store or live in a regional location with no FX providers, purchase the cash online and have it delivered to you. You might find that there are better exchange rates if you purchase online, although you will usually have to pay a delivery or courier fee. Alternatively, order and pay for the currency online and pick it up in-store or at an airport at your convenience.

To buy currency online, head to the provider’s website and create an account with your personal details. You’ll need to select the currency that you wish to buy and the amount that you need to see the price in US dollars. Again, this will depend on the exchange rate for that day as well as any transaction fees or commissions the provider charges.

Once this is set up and if you’re happy with the price, purchase the currency using your credit or debit card. You may be charged an additional fee for credit card payments.

The currency should be available for pickup or it’ll be delivered to you after a couple of business days. You might be able to opt for same-day delivery if you need the currency urgently. But like anything that’s express-posted, it’ll cost you more.

What ID do I need to provide to purchase foreign currency?

Currency providers will need to confirm your identity before you can buy any currency, meaning you will need to provide a photo ID to purchase cash either online or in-store. A valid form of ID should be government-issued, like your driver’s license or passport. Your ID will need to include your photo, your full name, your date of birth, your residential address and the issue and expiry date.

Tips for buying currency

  • Compare providers on the day that you wish to purchase the currency as exchange rates change daily.
  • Call ahead if you’re planning to buy a large amount of cash or a less commonly purchased currency to check that they have the cash available.
  • Consider your own bank for less common currencies, such as the South African rand, since these may not be available at many foreign exchange providers.
  • Check what transaction fees and commissions the provider charges, or look for a provider that doesn’t charge any fees.
  • Steer clear of buying cash at the airport, as the exchange rates are often poor and the transaction fees are high.
  • If you’re traveling with over $10,000, you are required by law to declare it.

How do I compare my options?

When comparing your options, look at the offered exchange rates, transaction fees and commissions the provider charges.

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