Banks, ATM's and Currency Exchange
Before you head off, learn about:
- Changing money in the United States
- Using credit and debit cards in the United States
- ATMs in the United States
- Banks in the United States
- Travellers cheques (and why you shouldn't use them)
Changing Money in the States
Changing money when you get to the US is definitely an option. A lot of Australians travel to the United States every year, so you shouldn't have any issues exchanging AUD to USD. You can do this by going to a money exchange service. To find the best way to buy USD, you can read our guide here.
Here are a few things you should keep in mind if you are exchanging money in the US:
- There’s no restriction on the amount of foreign currency or US dollars you can bring into the US. However, you do have to declare the amount at US customs if it exceeds $10,000USD.
- Make yourself aware of what the exchange rate is before you make an exchange. This will help you get a fair value and make you aware of the fees they're charging you.
- You should be able to make the exchange at money exchange centres, banks, hotels and airports. However, the airport is almost always the worst place to exchange money, because of their terrible rates and fees.
- Use our currency converter to find out what the current rate is between the AUD and USD.
Using credit and debit cards in the USA
Like we have said, cards are widely accepted in the US. Almost all major brands of cards will be accepted. You can read more about the best travel cards to use in the United States here. But here are some general things to keep in mind:
- Usually you'll find that MasterCard, Visa and American Express credit cards are accepted and you can use any MasterCard or Visa branded debit card.
- Contactless terminals are common in retailers and food outlets.
- Be careful of overseas ATM fees and currency conversion fee.
- Bankwest Platinum Card and 28 Degrees Platinum Mastercard are examples of credit card accounts which waive the fee for currency conversion
- The Citibank Plus Everyday Account is a debit card that doesn't charge international ATM or transaction fees.
A couple of important things:
- If you're using your Australian card in the US for purchases, make sure you're opting to be charged in USD when you buy your items. You will generally be offered a very poor exchange rate at the retail outlet if you opt to pay in AUD, so it's better to let your financial institution do the conversion by paying in the local currency - US dollars.
- To find out the best travel cards to use in US, read our article here.
ATMs in the United States
Like in Australia, ATMs are widespread in the US, which means if you need to withdraw cash, you shouldn't have any issues. Just keep in mind that most banks will charge a foreign transaction fee if you're using an Australian debit card. And you might find there is an ATM access fee (this is usually between $2.00-$3.00USD).
This means that if you are withdrawing cash from ATMs, plan ahead if you can. Instead of making multiple withdrawals, try and withdraw everything you need and minimise the times you do it.
There are some banks in Australia that let you withdraw money free of charge when you're overseas. Citibank and ING do this. If you travel frequently, it could be worth looking into opening an account with a bank like this.
ATM TIP: always choose to withdraw in US Dollars to get the 'mid-market rate' which is the best exchange rate you can possibly get.
Banks in USA
Let's have a look at banking in America. It's quite similar to banking in Australia. They have four major banks and they also have branches of foreign banks.
Generally you will find that banks in the US are open on weekdays within normal business hours. Before you leave Australia it is worth asking your local bank if they have a partnership with a bank in the US. You may find you can use their ATMs free of charge and avoid having to pay transaction fees!
The main banks are:
Thinking of using travellers cheques in the US? Don't.
Travellers cheques are pretty outdated now, and it is rare to find places that will cash them. Having said that, if you already have some or are thinking of getting some for your trip to the US, here are some considerations to keep in mind:
- They're expensive, and it's rare that the rates offered are competitive.
- The main advantage of traveller’s cheques is they can be replaced if they’re lost or stolen, and only you can cash them. But all travel cards will generally have provisions for this as well if you don't want to carry cash.
- We would suggest only using them if you really, really have to.