Currency exchange, ATMs, banks, and cards in the United States
General Travel

Currency exchange, ATMs, banks, and cards in the United States

Currency exchange- This guide will explain American currency, where to get money, and how to spend it in the US. Read on to make sure you have the essential facts about money in America.

Currency in the US

The official American currency is the dollar.

Some areas in the U.S. near the Canadian border may accept Canadian money. However, in general, you should only use US dollars, as you’ll be charged unfavourable exchange rates when not paying in USD. Other foreign currencies aren’t accepted.

Exchanging currency in the US

When it comes to exchanging your money for dollars, you’ve got options.

The ATM is usually the best choice. ATMs will use the interbank exchange rate.

This rate is the midpoint between the buy rate and the sell rate in global currency markets, and so you can rely on it being the ‘truest’ rate.

If you’re looking for options beyond the ATM, you’ll find currency exchange desks in airports and hotels.

The convenient location comes at a price though, since they tend to mark up the dollar exchange rate and charge hidden fees. You also run the risk of them refusing any torn or damaged bills.


As the dollar is a widely-circulated currency, your home bank can probably handle your currency exchange ahead of time, so you can arrive in the States with your dollars in hand.

If you need further exchange services, you’ll probably find an American bank that partners with your home bank. Partner banks waive foreign transaction fees and won’t tend to charge you a withdrawal fee.

Traveller’s cheques in the US

Traveller’s Cheques used to be the safest, most common way to bring money abroad. However, the ATM has now rendered them inefficient.

Cashing a traveller’s cheque is time-intensive. It requires a verification process at a bank or a shop. Also, traveller’s cheques offer poor exchange rates.

These days, traveller’s cheques are rarely used, so it’s not cost-effective for banks to process them. You might have to visit a few different locations, just to find one that cashes your cheque.

If you feel unsafe using ATMs or banks abroad, order a prepaid debit card instead of a traveller’s cheque.

Currency exchange- Using credit cards and debit cards in the US

All major credit and debit providers are accepted across the US, and many of them are based in the States.

No matter your bank, you should be able to use your home card in most places. Even cards from smaller providers are likely to be accepted.

Just remember to tell your card issuer that you’re going abroad, so they don’t freeze your account for suspicious activity.


In the US, the credit card is king. Visa, MasterCard, and American Express are the most commonly accepted cards.

Check out their fees on foreign exchange, so you’re apprised of what you’ll be spending. Sometimes you’re better off using one card over another.


Smaller stores and cafes will often forbid you using your card unless you spend a certain amount. It’s uncommon, but not impossible, to find places that are ‘cash only.’ Keep small bills on you at all times for tips, quick purchases, tolls and transportation fare.


Always select ‘Withdraw in dollars’ as opposed to withdrawing in your home currency at ATMs.

Otherwise, you give the ATM permission to mark up your exchange rate. This is called ‘Dynamic Currency Conversion’, and it usually means you’re going to be charged needless fees.

ATMs in the US
Currency exchange, ATMs, banks, and cards in the United States
Currency exchange, ATMs, banks, and cards in the United States

There are more than 425,000 ATM machines across the US. 48 percent of these machines are owned by financial institutions, and 52 percent are owned by independent deplorers.

Those owned by independent deplorers are often found in grocery stores and small shops, or along busy streets. Expect to pay extra withdrawal fees at these ATMs.

For lower fees, or at least a more transparent fee structure, search for ATMs connected to post offices and large retail banking institutions.

For advanced planning, use an ATM locator to find your bank. Click to find the locators for MasterCard, American Express, Maestro, and Visa.

Currency exchange Banks in the US

Many of the world’s largest global banks are American. For this reason, you’ll have no trouble finding retail bank branches, pretty much wherever you are. Be it city, town or countryside, financial infrastructure in the US is sophisticated.

If you bank with a global bank, chances are you’ll find a branch or a partner in the US. The “Big Four” banks hold 39 percent of all consumer deposits across The States.

The following are the largest principal banks with retail operations in the US:

Major Retail Banks in the United States

JP Morgan Chase Bank

Bank of America

Citi (or Citigroup)

Wells Fargo


Capital One

Most foreign banks maintain branches in the US. Here’s a list of the largest and most widely accessed:

International Banks Operating in the United States


TD Bank (USA)

RBC Bank (USA)

Santander Bank (USA)

Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (USA)

BNP Paribas (USA)

Mitsubishi Bank

Credit Agricole

Deutsche Bank (USA)

Alternatively, for simple access to the money you need while you’re abroad – and an even better deal – use Wise.

If you have a bank account in the United States, or know someone who does, you can transfer money between bank accounts using the real mid-market exchange rate. It’s a convenient way to get your cash, with no hidden fees.

Banks That Exchange Foreign Currency for Free
Multiple currency options at a GWK Travelex automatic teller machine
Multiple currency options at a GWK Travelex automatic teller machine

Many U.S. banks will exchange USD for foreign currencies without charging a fee, but there are often stipulations.

For instance, Bank of America customers can exchange foreign currencies for free, but only on orders of $1,000 or more. Otherwise, the bank charges a $7.50 delivery fee for foreign currency orders.

Likewise, customers of TD Bank can exchange U.S. dollars for foreign currencies without paying a fee, but only if they have a qualifying type of account.

TD Premier Checking customers won’t pay foreign exchange fees, but other TD Bank checking account customers may.

Check with your bank to find out if it exchanges foreign currency for free and if there are any conditions you must meet to avoid fees.

Where to Get Foreign Currency Internationally

If you need foreign currency while traveling outside of the U.S., ATMs are your best bet for bills you can spend locally. ATMs tend to offer competitive exchange rates, and you can save on ATM fees by withdrawing more cash than you need instead of withdrawing smaller sums several times during your trip.

And if you’re outside of the U.S. and need currency to spend in a different country than the one you’re in, try visiting the biggest bank you can find to exchange your cash.

Before you plan your next international trip, give some thought to how you want to pay for everyday purchases.

Understanding currency exchange fees, foreign transaction fees, ATM withdrawal limits and other aspects of paying in foreign currencies can help you save money and time and enjoy your travels to the fullest.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
  1. What is the best place to exchange foreign currency?

Ans. The best place to exchange foreign currency in the U.S. is at your local bank or credit union before you leave for your trip.

  1. What is the currency exchange rate?

Ans. The currency exchange rate is the value of one country’s currency relative to another country’s currency. Exchange rates fluctuate 24/7.

  1. Do banks accept foreign currency in the US?

Ans. Some banks may let you exchange unspent foreign currency you bring back to the U.S., but you generally won’t be able to deposit foreign money into your checking or savings account. Instead, you’ll have to exchange foreign currency for dollars before making a deposit.


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