How to get rid of foreign currency before you fly home

Simple tips to lighten your load and prep you for your next overseas trip.

By David Flynn, September 26 2022
How to get rid of foreign currency before you fly home

Although the world at large is becoming increasingly cashless, with credit cards and travel money cards leading the charge, there’s still a place for actual foreign currency when you’re overseas.

I find it both reassuring and convenient to have some local notes and coins for any country I visit – especially if that means I don’t have to desperately change my money at the airport or hotel, where exchange rates are always among the worst going.
So at the end of any trip, a stash of local currency has steadily built up. Here are some ways to handle it.

1. When checking out of the hotel

When it’s time to heck out of the hotel, I have all the coins changed into notes and highest-denomination coins, just to cut down on the loose ’shrapnel’. Some people I know prefer to just put all foreign currency – notes and coins - towards paying off part of the hotel bill.

2. Top up your travel card

Another way to make use of foreign currency for your next trip is to put some or all of it onto the balance of that country’s tap-and-go travel card, such as London’s Oyster card and Hong Kong’s Octopus card.

It’s a simple task for your last day on the ground, especially if you’re catching a train to the airport.

3. Keep the notes for next time

For a destination I expect to return to, or one I regularly visit, I always like to have some notes on hand for that next trip, just for the convenience factor of having some local currency when I land.

The ‘travel drawer’ in my office thus contains not only my passport, some visa photos and an international AC/USB charger, but a series of envelopes with currency and travel cards for the UK, Europe, the USA, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Europe, the UAE and many other countries.

This adds a bit of grab-and-go simplicity to my next trip to each of those countries.

4. Donate it

This one is an oldie but a goodie, especially for the soul.

You might not want to part with the highest-value notes from your overseas trip, but loose change and small-denomination notes are always welcome as donations, either at the airport or during your flight through programs such as the UNICEF Change for Good scheme.


11 Jul 2014

Total posts 940

These days I find 200 Euro or US and an ING Orange Debit Card is all you need. On the final day part pay the hotel bill and leave a bit of cash for those Toblerones at duty free.

28 Sep 2022

Total posts 1

Generally I agree with these suggestions. HOWEVER, in regard to 3. Keep Notes for Next Time - holding notes for the next time you travel can lead to complications. For example, UK has recently removed some notes as legal tender. While redemption of 'old' notes can be made via Post Offices or ultimately the Bank of England, this could be very inconvenient for travellers who will need to visit specific Post Offices or the Bank of England in London in order to have their notes 'redeemed'. Ultimately, you will not lose value, but it could be problematic and time-consuming to redeem the value of 'old' currency.

12 Dec 2012

Total posts 1024

I have ziplock bags of coins of a number of currencies, mainly because exchange places don't take coins. I just use them the next time I'm in the area.

I currently have a number of USD notes left over from my last trip (just before Covid), the amount isn't worth changing. I expect I'll be in the US again in the next 12 months anyway.

I prefer to have cash in the local currency on hand. Using cards and or digital payment systems overseas can get overly expensive, much more then using cash, due to fees charged by the bank and/or phone provider (for mobile data to use the payment apps) at home.

I've had some issues saving notes for use "next time" before. I was in Budapest in late 2017. A number of the Hungarian forint notes were withdrawn in July, a few months before I was there. Some family members had been there been there before that withdrawal and gave their left over cash to me. No one accepted those old notes, so I had to find a bank to exchange them.

I also had a store in China one trip refuse to take "old" notes that I'd been given at the airport currency exchange counter a few hours before.

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2551

Hi Himeno, the plastic ziplock bag approach works so well, doesn't it! Like you, I always like to have local currency on hand, even if it's not a very large amount. Travel money cards have become a real game-changer, eg I use a Wise card a lot now, but nothing beats a little cash if only for peace of mind.

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