Cheapest currency exchange in Australia revealed...

By danwarne, November 24 2010
Cheapest currency exchange in Australia revealed...

Heading overseas soon? Buying foreign currency from the wrong place could cost you as much as a dinner for two at a good restaurant.

An investigation by Australian Business Traveller shows that unwary travellers can end up paying more than $200 extra if you swap Australian dollars for overseas currency at the airport's bureau de change desk.

On the other hand, careful selection of where to purchase your US dollars, pounds or Euros can put hundreds back into your pocket for an overseas shopping spree.

We surveyed over a dozen foreign currency exchange outlets and found that when buying £1000, the cost in Aussie dollars could be as little as $1,869.16 (at American Express Foreign Exchange or through Travelex Online, paying by BPAY) or as much as $2,111.70 (using the Travelex change booth at Sydney International Airport). That's a whopping $242.54 difference.

Despite being the worst value place to get money changed if you just walk up to a counter at the airport, Travelex can also be one of the best if you think ahead and pre-book your money via their website.

By ordering your money three working days in advance of your trip and paying for it via BPAY – straight from your online bank account to Travelex – you get a better exchange rate and avoid commission fees entirely. You can also collect your foreign currency from a Travelex kiosk at the airport on the day you fly, so that's one less errand to run before your trip.

Using this method, you could buy £1000 for $1,869.16 -- a staggering $242.54 cheaper than the using the Travelex convenience booths at the airport.

In the table below we've listed the cost of buying $US1000, £1000 and €1000 from a selection of major currency exchange outlets as well as the big four banks and two credit unions, with all rates based on the same day.

This is obviously not a comprehensive coast-to-coast survey of every outlet in Australia – if you think we've missed one that's particularly good value, we'd love if you posted about it in the article comments.

Australia's best – and worst – currency exchange outlets

Outlet US $1000 UK £1000 Euro €1000
AMEX Foreign Exchange 1118.07 1869.16 1552.80
ANZ 1139.43 1904.94 1583.31
Australia Post 1122.33 1884.66 1568.14
Bendigo Bank 1129.15 1895.29 1567.83
Commonwealth Bank 1139.18 1910.71 1589.80
NAB 1139.31 1895.73 1584.56
Sydney Credit Union 1141.89 1926.01 1593.56
Travelex Online (paid via BPAY) 1118.07 1869.16 1552.80
Travelex Online (paid via Credit Card) 1128.02 1885.80 1566.62
Travelex shopfront store (QVB, Sydney) 1137.00 1930.50 1600.00
Travelex Sydney Airport kiosk 1202.34 2111.70 1762.65
Westpac 1126.33 1888.66 1572.14

Green = best value, Red = worst value

As you can see, we found that both American Express Foreign Exchange and Travelex Online (BPAY) were the best value outlets across all three currencies in the amounts quoted. Not only are the exchange rates favourable but there are no fees or commission charges if ordering online and paying by BPAY.

The two next-best deals are from Westpac (USD & GBP) and paid via credit card.

Australia Post and the remaining big four banks offered quite good value – only about $20-$40 more expensive to buy £1000 than the best value outlet, Travelex Online (BPAY).

By far the worst value currency exchange outlets were the Travelex booths at the airport and Travelex kiosks in shopping centres. Clearly, they're charging a high price for the walk-up convenience locations.

Keep in mind that exchange rates change every day, and in the foreign exchange business outlets can vary their fees and commissions at any time -- so be sure to get a quote before buying to compare to the quotes we received.

Deciphering confusing rates and fees

Currency exchange bureaus make money in two ways -- by offering an exchange rate that's a few cents worse than the official inter-bank exchange rate, and by charging a per-transaction commission, either a set amount, or a percentage of the amount you're changing, whichever is greater.

The number of factors that feed in to the overall price make it very difficult to assess which outlet offers the best value on any one day, so the best thing to do is to ignore their price structure entirely and simply ask for a quote on changing the amount of money you want to take with you. You'll then get a bottom-line figure that you can compare between outlets.

What about prepaid travel cards and credit cards?

Australian Business Traveller compared the best rates on prepaid travel cards and the costs of using credit cards for purchases in a separate article.

For this particular article, we wanted to focus on the thing that most travellers still do -- get cash in their wallet to pull out at the airport at the other end. Cash is still the most accepted form of payment no matter where you are, or what you're buying, so despite the risk of losing it or having it stolen, most travellers still take it with them -- even if it's only to supplement purchases that can't be made by credit card.

Foreign exchange costs used in this article included any applicable commission or exchange fees, and were as quoted on April 8 2014.

Additional research by Fraser Orr, David Flynn and Chris Chamberlin.

Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter: we’re @AusBT

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

24 Nov 2010

Total posts 60

I travel often but never change large amounts of cash, I prefer to take enough local currency to last me one day and use ATM's to withdraw in local currency whatever I need, as I need it, I've found the rate from my bank when using like this to be competitive and also less risk than carrying too much cash

Topping up a credit card over its limit is also a good way to be able to take cash from a credit card without incurring interest charges

Good info on the different exchange rates though regardless


24 Oct 2010

Total posts 177

Good comments - thanks Jokiin. I've found in the past that if you top up credit cards into credit, when you take the money out, banks still charge cash advance fees -- so I don't think that's necessarily the best way to do it. Of course, if you were with a bank that didn't charge per-transaction cash advance fees that might not be a problem.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

24 Nov 2010

Total posts 60

Might be worth checking with your credit card provider then, mine didn't charge the cash advance fees if the account was in credit but perhaps they don't all do the same

Another tip when travelling if going somewhere out of the way is that if you want to take cash it's often better to take USD or EURO if you intend to change cash for local currency, I've been stuck in some out of the way places when nobody recognised our plastic money and wouldn't exchange it

Just a suggestion, try checking the rates at UAE Currency exchange, the rates are pretty competitive then the banks and they dont even charge any fees or commission into it. In my opinion, cash is by all means the best way to handle the exchange needs.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

13 Dec 2014

Total posts 80

For the best cash rates see the smaller local foreign currency exchangers. I have found them to give better rates than the multinationals like UAE Exchange. Always shop around and negotiate for a better rate. Most exchanges are usually not too far apart. Good luck.

28 May 2013

Total posts 1

i was traveling to the states recently and needed to carry abit of cash on hand in case if i needed  in an emergency. well before i travel i always do abit of research, so i google the foreign exchange in dandenong, i noticed that there we few companies that came up, so i decided to give them a call to find how it works and get the latest exchange rate. well i noticed that banks would charge for converting and there where exchange rate difference. then i called Danesh Exchange(, firstly i was supprised by their customer services, absolutely wonderful.what i found that they dont change $0 commission and the exchange rate was slightly higher. i would 100% recommand them.

13 Dec 2013

Total posts 1

How about getting you Money from your local Australia Post, I did and save heaps, because there is no commission, it is better than at the bank and most certainly better than at the airport. Too easy.


Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 May 2014

Total posts 3

Changing AUD to USD in cash... did a comprehensive review ringing around a whole heap of places. including that ksd place in citibank tower and all the other ones suggested.

i found the cheapest today to be UAE Exchange, chatswood branch. It seems even amongst the UAE exchange branches there is variation. It is located at Westfield Chatswood near Aldi, there was a line of mainly chinese customers, about 20 minutes to get served. No fees or commissions at UAE. process very simple, hand over cash and drivers licence (they make a photocopy), provide them with a phone number and occupation (not sure why they need to know if i am a bricklayer or merchant banker), it all gets typed up on a receipt, and you get your foreign currency. whole process is about 10 minutes.

Rate i got on 11/5/14 was 0.9180.. by way of comparison travelex was quoting 0.9044 and AMEX Travel quoting 0.9043. I found another UAE branch quoted me 0.9120 on the phone.

I am amazed the UAE chatswood branch is nearly a full 1.5c higher than the bigger players in travelex and amex. and far far better than any bank.

only problem is parking in westfield can be busy.. go mid week if you can

Thai Airways International - Royal Orchid Plus

15 Jan 2013

Total posts 464

Travel Money OZ is your other option.They might not be quite as good as the bank but charge no commissions.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 Sep 2015

Total posts 1

i travel to the USA once a year for 4-6 weeks.  i save through out the year and watch the rates on TV.  I leave in 10 weeks and im still none the wiser on where to exchange AUD to USD.  Could you please help me understand this process.  I usually just go to the commonwealth online and transfer over.  How can i get a better deal?

Thank you 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 Dec 2015

Total posts 1

would love an update on this article.

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