Sending money overseas or planning a trip abroad? Learn the ins and outs of exchanging currency.
Two factors come into play when you're exchanging money: exchange rate and other fees. You can find a number of exchanges online, but these factors vary greatly between them. Read on to learn how to find the best exchange rate when you're sending money abroad.
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What are currency exchange rates?
The exchange rate is the cost of converting one currency into another. Another way to think of it is the price of one country’s currency in terms of another. For example, how much Japanese yen is worth in Australian dollars.
How are exchange rates set?
Exchange rates are determined by the foreign exchange market, where traders and banks are buying and selling currencies throughout the week. This means the exchange rate is constantly moving. We call this the mid-market rate.
However, this is generally not the rate you’ll get quoted when you want to buy or sell currency yourself. Money transfer specialists and banks may add other costs to the mid-market rate to be able to make a profit off the exchange. There’s no blanket rule across money transfer companies on how much this markup is, so it’s best to compare your options.
How can I find the best currency exchange rate?
Wanting to exchange money at the best rate but don’t know where to start looking? These tips can help you out.
- Find out what the current rates are. You should have a reliable baseline to compare the rates offered by money transfer companies and banks. Two well-known currency conversion resources are XE and Oanda. These are free tools you can use to see live conversion rates, and both feature currency conversion calculators.
- Compare by asking for a quote. Getting the best exchange rate can be difficult because money transfer services can charge high fees but offer competitive rates. This means sometimes it’s a good idea to ask for a quote and then compare this to quotes from other providers.
- Ensure you’re comparing the most accurate rate. Until you register with a money transfer service, you’re more than likely seeing their indicative exchange rates, and not the most accurate rates available. If you choose not to compare quotes, compare the exchange rate you’ll actually receive. This will usually require you to register with a service or make a call.
- Use forward contracts. A forward contract allows you to lock in an exchange rate for a transfer that will take place in the future. In most cases, you can lock in a rate for up to 12 months in advance, saving you from receiving a poor rate when you make a money transfer in the future. Not all transfer companies will allow you to use a forward contract, so ensure you consider this when comparing. The transfer service may only offer forward contracts on larger transfer amounts.
- Consider a market order. A market order, also known as a limit order, allows you to choose a favourable rate, and then instructs your money transfer company to buy or sell your chosen currencies only once that rate is available. Like a forward contract, some money transfer companies will only offer these for larger transfer amounts.
- Consider a multi-currency bank account. If you regularly deal in currencies, whether this is due to an international business or for personal reasons, a multi-currency bank account can be a good idea. Also known as a foreign currency account, they allow you to hold different currencies and convert them into Australian dollars when you want. This means you can avoid short-term rate fluctuations from harming your balance.
- Carry out one large transfer rather than several smaller transfers. If you’re looking to send a large amount of money, try to send it all at once rather than in smaller batches. Many transfer companies can offer better rates and lower fees for large transfers.
When’s the best time to exchange currency?
You can exchange currency at any time, but it’s near-impossible to predict how the exchange rate will move. Historical trends may give you a hint, as well as seeing if there are any events coming up that could change the stability of a country’s currency, like a political election.
How can I exchange currency in Australia?
From foreign currency booths at the airport to banks and even Australia Post, there are many different services that let you exchange currency. Start off by comparing your options before choosing which one to use.
To do this, check the Reserve Bank of Australia website to get an idea of current market rates. Compare the exchange rates from various providers to find the most favourable one. While most services will advertise that they don’t charge fees or commissions on currency exchange, this could mean that they offer you a less favourable exchange rate and profit on the spread between the buy/sell rates and the wholesale market rate.
Your options boil down to four main ones:
- Bureaux de change. Foreign exchange bureaus are operated in airports and shopping centres by companies like Travelex.
- Banks. You can purchase foreign currency from major Australian banks. It is advisable to call the bank and order your currency in advance to ensure they have the currency and the amount you need.
- Online foreign exchange companies. Travel Money Oz, Travelex and other similar companies offer convenient exchange services online.
- Prepaid travel cards. These cards, offered by major banks, airlines and a selection of travel money companies, allow you to load money onto a card in the currency (or currencies) of your destination(s).
Common terms when dealing with currency exchange
The price at which a trader or bank buys foreign currency. If you were coming back from the UK, the buy rate is the exchange rate you’d get when converting your pounds back to Australian dollars.
The price the trader or bank sells a foreign currency in exchange for the local currency. Say you’re heading to the US, you would be exchanging your money into USD using the sell rate your bank or provider is offering.
This is the rate the banks use when trading large amounts of foreign currencies between themselves. The spot rate is also known as the mid-market or inter-bank rank. If you look on Google or XE for the current rate, it will be quoting you the spot rate.
The wholesale rate only applies to very large amounts of currency. It’s used mostly by governments and financial institutions and is normally the inter-bank rate, plus a small markup fee.
Floating exchange rate
This kind of exchange rate changes based on the market conditions. As supply and demand changes, the exchange rate changes with it. In Australia, we use a floating exchange rate. The US and Canada are other examples of this.
Fixed exchange rate
A fixed exchange rate is the opposite to a floating one. Instead of going with the market movements, it’s set and maintained by the government and uses a central bank to manage the process.
The currency is pegged against another major world currency to work out the exchange rate. For example, the currencies of Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates are pegged to the US dollar.