Figuring out how to exchange foreign currencies is always a hassle for international travelers, but several companies have made it their mission to make this process less daunting. Whether you’re fretting about tipping internationally or you’re just sick of returning from vacation with wads of foreign currency, here are four companies working to make your life easier.
This one’s for the traveler willing to wait around for the best deals. The service consists of a peer-to-peer marketplace in which users declare their own exchange rates and then wait for someone else to accept the transfer. The company hosts the marketplace and skims off 0.15% when users exchange currency with each other. If no one accepts your offered exchange, then CurrencyFair will—for a 4-5% fee. While the service won’t do you much good if you need to exchange currency very quickly, it can be a great way to get cash for foreign currencies after returning home from a trip.
The premise of Fourex is easy to grasp: Simply insert coins and notes from any of more than 150 currencies into a kiosk, and get cash back in the form of U.S. dollars, British pounds, or Euros. The kiosks even process old European currencies like Schillings and Deutschmarks. There’s no minimum deposit required; travelers can exchange any amount between £1 and £1,000 at any Fourex kiosk.
Remarkably, travelers can expect to pay the same exchange rate at any kiosk; the company doesn’t even hike prices at its airport locations. And there are no hidden fees; Fourex makes money by buying and selling currency on the market.
The biggest downside to the service is that it’s currently only available in and around London. But if you’re passing through on a layover or traveling around England on holiday, their find-a-kiosk feature will allow you to seek out a kiosk and convert currencies into whatever form is most convenient for you.
TravelersBox functions similarly to Fourex, only it has kiosks in airports around the world, and it applies deposits toward gift cards or donations instead of doling out cash. The idea is that travelers can invest unused currency at the end of a trip by purchasing gift cards (think Starbucks or iTunes) or donating to select causes.
After depositing money into the kiosk, travelers will receive an email confirmation with instructions for redeeming their gift card or donation. The company applies a fee of 3-10% depending on the amount that gets deposited. Currently, TravelersBox kiosks are available in Turkey, Georgia, Italy, Israel, and the Philippines. Depending on the country, kiosks will only accept certain kinds of currencies.
Similar to CurrencyFair, WeSwap allows users to exchange currencies directly with each other via a peer-to-peer marketplace. The service promises fast, secure exchanges that’s up to 10 times cheaper than the rates travelers will encounter at banks or bureaus.
Here’s how it works: Users load their account (via debit card or bank transfer) with the amount they want to exchange, input their desired currency and the date by which they need it, and then get matched with other travelers looking to swap. Users can expect to pay a mid-market exchange rate in addition to a sliding fee charged by WeSwap. (The fee varies depending on how quickly you need cash.)
As soon as a swap occurs, the money is instantly available to spend or withdraw on the WeSwap Prepaid MasterCard, which all users receive (for free) after signing up. The card can carry up to 16 different currencies at once and will recognize what country you’re in in order to access the appropriate currency. (The card is accepted everywhere that Mastercard is accepted, without additional foreign-exchange fees.)
The service works best—and costs less—with plenty of advance planning, so sign up as soon as you’ve purchased tickets for an international flight.
From London to Turkey and everywhere in between, high-tech companies like the ones featured here are helping to make currency exchange a more democratic process by lowering fees, improving competition, and enabling peer-to-peer transactions. Here’s hoping that when it comes to providing travelers with low-cost exchanges, this is only the beginning.
(This post was posted by Hipmunk on Hipmunk’s Tailwind blog on November 6th 2015.)