While showing two friends around in Tokyo last week one of them ran out of Japanese Yen and ended up exchanging some USD at a Currency Exchange Machine for realistic rates if you exchange small amounts.
ATM Machines in Japan can be tricky even though they got much better so that nowadays you can use foreign bank cards on most of them. For small amounts however it can be worth it to just exchange cash.
On of the issues when obtaining cash overseas is that you have to factor in fees that your home bank and the ATM might charge you, especially when you just want to get a small amount out.
For example if you get cash out of a Thai ATM it costs you 200 THB (5.70 USD) fee from the ATM alone plus my German Commerzbank charges 5,95 for the international withdrawal when using the regular bank card instead of the Premium Visa (Free of charge).
In Japan the ATM’s do not charge such a robbery fee but my friend doesn’t have a card that allows for free withdrawals. Since he only wanted to exchange 50 USD and we walked by the pictured Currency Exchange Machine we decided to give it a try.
For the small amount of 50 USD the exchange rate included a commission of ~ 3 USD which is definitely much cheaper than paying his bank for the withdrawal at a Japanese ATM.
I have written about a similar machine in Beijing back in January (access here) and pretty much came to the same conclusion however this machine had different spread % based on currency selected.
Since a reader emailed us this week and asked about the best way exchange cash overseas so I thought I’d bring this matter up again.
Depending on the frequency of your currency needs I suggest you look into options of getting a bank- or credit card that allows for free withdrawals abroad in order to avoid being dinged by too many fees.
For the occasional cash exchange you can use the Hotel Front Desk, Banks or such machines but keep an eye on the exchange rates. Whatever you do stay away from Travelex Exchange Booths because those have the WORST rates worldwide which John also mentioned many times (see here).