Americans heading off on a trip to Europe often wonder whether or not they should buy euros back home before taking off. Naturally, the thought of leaving for a foreign country without a single piece of foreign currency in your pocket can be an unnerving one. You can feel so, well, naked!
So should you buy euros before leaving? And if so, where?
It’s a great question — and it depends upon on a few factors. But first, my general rule of thumb:
Generally speaking… no need.
In most cases for Americans heading off to major European destinations, my answer is to just say “no” to buying euros in advance in the States. Unless you have a great bank that doesn’t charge for the service — and gives real exchange rates, not lousy inflated rates — those euros will be overpriced. And, for the most part, they’re unnecessary.
Instead, make sure your debit card will work abroad and head straight to the nearest bank ATM once you’ve arrived at the airport to take out euros.
And for the most part, that’s that.
But, what happens if…
I know, this doesn’t really do much to calm the nerves, right? What happens if you wind up in a vulnerable position? What if the ATM machine in the airport is broken, non-existent, or has an impossibly long line?
If, for some crazy reason, all the ATMs at the airport are broken (I’m tossing aside the possibility of “non-existent”, as I’ve never heard of, nor landed in, a major European airport that didn’t have an ATM), or more likely, there’s just a really long line, you can always use your credit card to get into town (via public transportation or taxi) and from there go to a bank ATM.
But what happens if the airport doesn’t have an ATM and you can’t, for some reason, buy a ticket into town or pay for a taxi with your credit card? Well, chances are very strong that they’ll still have a currency exchange counter. If you find yourself in this unlikely situation, you can head over to the counter and cash in some US dollars. (It’s always a good idea to bring some along for emergencies.)
However, it’s worth noting that this string of circumstances will probably not apply to airports into which you’d initially be touching down in Europe. This brings up a point worth addressing:
Into which airport are you arriving?
If you’re flying from the States to Europe, you’re most likely landing in a major European destination (including all capital cities). These airports will have bank machines. Some examples:
- Amsterdam Schiphol: ABN AMRO Bank has 8 locations in the terminals.
- Barcelona-El Prat Airport: Many ATMs for 5 different Spanish banks in both terminals.
- London Heathrow: Many ATM options to pick up some GBP.
- Paris Charles De Gaulle: 25 HSBC ATMs throughout the terminals.
- Rome Fiumicino: ATMs in the terminals.
- Venice Marco Polo: Bancomat in the arrivals hall.
Click the links above to visit the airport websites and read more. If you’re arriving into another airport, visit the official website of the airport and you’ll be able to check on ATM and bank services, along with public transit options.
If, however, you’re somehow landing into a really off-the-beaten-path regional airport, ATM services might be limited. Again, it would be a good idea to research the airport services in advance.
Who should buy euros in advance?
If you’ve made it this far in the article and you’re still nervous about traveling without any euros in your pocket, by all means, pick some up ahead of time — it’s not worth worrying about, especially if it’ll prevent you from relaxing and enjoying your flight.
However, do your best to not get taken for a ride by your bank. Understand from your bank what exchange rate you’ll be given and whether or not they’ll be taking a commission or adding a service charge.
Also, be very wary of buying them at your departure airport back in the States. Ask for a printout of exactly what you’ll be paying before handing over any cash — and be sure to know the current exchange rate. (Warning: It’s not going to be pretty.)
If buying euros in advance, whatever you do, don’t overdo it! In almost every case, euros you can get abroad from an ATM will be cheaper than those you can get back in the States, so if buying in advance, just get enough to give you a comfortable cushion, and get you through a day’s worth of emergency expenses.
A few notes about using ATMs abroad
1. Ask your bank about ATM fees before leaving
First, be sure to call your bank before your trip to tell them that you’ll be in traveling in Europe (to ensure that your card will work), and, while on the phone, ask how much you’ll be charged for each withdrawal.
Each bank is different, so know what you’re dealing with. Do they charge a percentage or a per-withdrawal fee? If it’s the latter, you’ll want to make as few trips as possible to the ATM. Here’s a list of questions to ask them.
2. Stick to official bank ATMs
When using ATMs abroad, stick to cash machines that are associated with major banks (look for those located inside bank lobbies or on the side of bank building). Make sure you see a bank logo somewhere on the cash machine or signage.
Steer clear of “stand-alone” cash machines that aren’t a part of a bank, especially in tourist centers, as these might actually be associated with overpriced currency exchange services. (Chances are you’ll end up paying a service charge AND get a lousy exchange rate.)
Stash away some euros for next time!
One last note: If possible, at the end of your trip, try to set some euros aside for your next European adventure. There’s no need to splurge at the airport on the way home (although a Duty Free binge can usually help cast aside the end-of-the-trip doldrums).
Instead, keep your unused euro bills and coins in a special place. I keep mine in my dresser as a constant reminder that I’m set for my next trip, and as a bit of encouragement to get back on the road again.
Sometimes, a few euro bills in your sock drawer can be all the encouragement you need!
Your tips for buying euros
Do you buy euros before you get on the plane? Tell us what you do when you’re heading across the pond.
Read more of our best European tips:
• Planning a trip to Europe? Avoid these 10 mistakes!
• A guide to buying a SIM Card in Europe
• How long can you stay in Europe with an American passport
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