While credit cards are widely accepted in Europe, carrying cash may provide a more flexible means of payment. Cash can come in handy in situations where cards are not accepted, such as in taxis or certain restaurants, or in markets where travelers can negotiate prices.
Additionally, cash always provides peace of mind in preparation for emergencies. Upon arriving in Europe, it is easy obtain Euros at ATM machines located throughout destinations. Most major banks, such as Chase, US Bank, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America, have bank ATMs across Europe that offer low exchange rates. Many travelers prefer to get everything done before they depart, finding the best exchange rate possible.
Fortunately, exchanging USD (US dollars) for Euros (EUR) can also be done in the United States, pre-departure, offering several advantages.
How do I obtain Euros in the US?
There are three primary methods travelers can safely and securely exchange their cash for USD for Euros, Pesos, or British pounds before boarding their flight. These include:
- FDIC banks and credit unions
- Foreign currency exchanges
- Travel money cards
 Banks and Credit Unions
Most banks and credit unions can do the currency conversion for euros. That said, it is always wise to call ahead of time to ensure they can accommodate such an exchange. Before exchanging currency at a bank, You should ask a few questions:
- What is the foreign exchange rate?
- What is the exchange fee?
- Do I have to set up a bank account? A checking account or savings account?
When exchanging currency at a bank, ensure they go by the mid-market exchange. This is the standardized exchange rate between two currencies on any given day, and is what most banks should use.
Some major banks will exchange foreign currency for free up to a certain limit. Most banks, though, will incur a fee on top of the exchange rate.
This is not a problem, as a fee is to be expected no matter the method of exchange. Generally, local banks and credit unions will charge the smallest fees.
 Foreign Currency Exchanges
Travelers whose bank does not exchange Euros will need to look for an alternative method. In major cities, foreign currency exchanges can be a reliable way to obtain Euros.
Before considering this option, understand that foreign currency exchanges make all their money by exchanging cash, unlike banks. This means they do not go by the mid-market rate, instead charging a rate more favorable to them. On top of that, they will also charge an exchange fee.
While not the best option, reputable foreign currency exchange may be suitable for those without access to a bank. Some of the most reliable foreign currency exchanges are online. Online foreign currency exchanges offer transparent, standardized rates and will often ship euro notes and coins directly to the customer.
 Travel Money Cards
Travel money cards do not necessarily allow travelers to obtain Euros in the US. Nonetheless, travel money cards are almost as good, providing travelers peace of mind that excessive fees will not hit them while overseas in Europe.
Travel money cards are essentially debit cards that can switch between currencies. For example, the card will use USD while in the US. If the cardholder travels to France, though, the card will automatically switch to Euros, usually at the mid-market rate.
This allows cardholders to avoid the high debit card transaction fees (usually as high as three percent). While travel money cards do not charge transaction fees, they still charge exchange fees.
So, when the card switches from USD to euro, it will incur an exchange fee. This is usually a small fee, similar to what a bank might charge.
Travel money cards also allow holders to withdraw cash from ATMs. Another exchange fee should be expected here, but many offer monthly free withdrawal limits. Travel money cards are an excellent option for travelers who want to avoid credit cards altogether.
Places to avoid when exchanging for Euros
Travelers who want to exchange their cash for Euros before departing have several reliable options. That said, there are some places they should try to avoid.
Airport Foreign Currency Exchanges
Most airports will have foreign currency exchanges. While these provide great convenience, eliminating the need for an additional stop, the convenience comes at a cost.
Airport foreign currency exchanges rarely offer the mid-market rates that banks do. Their rates are usually worse than those offered by foreign currency exchanges outside airports.
On top of that, airport foreign currency exchanges will charge fees higher than banks or other foreign currency exchanges. Foreign currency exchanges may be the best option for some people, but they are never favorable at the airport.
Foreign Currency Exchanges in Tourist-Dense Areas
Similar to foreign currency exchanges in airports, foreign currency exchanges in touristy areas will also charge unfavorable rates and fees. This is an added benefit to exchanging before travel, as travelers can avoid such unfavorable establishments.
What about Credit Cards?
It's almost impossible to avoid fees when exchanging USD for Euros. Even major banks that offer free exchanges will incur a fee after a certain limit — and that limit is usually much lower than the average traveler will spend while on vacation. This makes credit cards one of the only ways to avoid any exchange fees.
Many credit cards offer no foreign transaction fees, meaning the local currency will be charged at the mid-market rate with no extra fees. That said, some European cities are still cash-dominant. It may be a good option to carry a no-fee credit card and cash when traveling.
How do I travel without a Credit Card?
Many people don’t want or can’t have a credit card. This can make traveling abroad difficult, as carrying cash at all times can be cumbersome or inaccessible. Some debit cards offer no foreign transaction fees, functioning like a travel credit card. Some don’t even charge a foreign ATM fee.
What else do I need to travel to Europe?
In addition to Euros, there are some additional things travelers should consider while planning a European trip. Many travelers, including those from the United States, do not need a visa to travel to Europe.
Such travelers can remain in Europe for up to three months within a six month period. None of this should change; however, the incoming implementation of ETIAS will change how many people go about European travel.
What is ETIAS?
As early as 2024, each European country in the Schengen Area will implement ETIAS, an electronic visa-waiver program. ETIAS is not a visa but rather a registration process that allows those who currently travel visa-free to continue traveling visa-free.
Upon registering for ETIAS, travelers will enter an online database accessible to EU border agents. This database gives such agents prior knowledge of who they will be encountering each day, thus enhancing the identity verification process and border security. Greater security measures were created for the following reasons:
- Each year, around 200 million people cross EU borders, which continues to rise.
- As a result of several international crises, the number of refugees and people seeking asylum has risen sharply.
- Terrorism has become a more material threat, threatening the lives of citizens who call Europe home.
- Technological advancements have made electronic pre-travel authorization a realistic and practical way of maintaining border security.
Who needs ETIAS?
Travelers who currently travel to Europe visa-free will need to register with ETIAS. Such travelers will continue to be able to travel to Europe visa-free, as ETIAS is a visa waiver. On the other hand, travelers needing a Schengen Visa to enter Europe will continue to need a Schengen Visa.
Travelers who are confused about whether ETIAS applies to them or the country they intend on traveling to should complete an ETIAS assessment.
Will ETIAS make traveling to Europe more difficult?
ETIAS adds an extra step that was not there before; however, its aim is not to make travel more difficult. Conversely, a side effect of ETIAS will be an expedited travel process.
As ETIAS enhances the identity verification process at EU borders, lines will move much more efficiently. On top of that, ETIAS is a quick process that features near-instant approval.
Upon approval, ETIAS is digitally attached to the traveler’s passport, meaning no extra documents are necessary. Furthermore, ETIAS approval is valid for up to three years.
International travel requires a lot of logistics. Even after flights, hotels, and activities are booked, many more items are on a traveler’s to-do list, such as currency exchange.
Those who want to obtain Euros ahead of time have no shortage of options. While banks usually offer the best and cheapest exchanges, plenty of foreign currency exchanges and travel money cards are also worth consideration.
ETIAS should also be at the top of any traveler’s agenda. Those who travel visa-free should look into ETIAS and how it applies to them.