If you are the kind of traveller who is super organized and prefers to have neatly chalked out plans, you will most certainly have a heart attack travelling with me. I thrive on chaos, a little in life in general but a whole lot especially when I'm travelling. This propensity for capricious excitement during my travels often translates into last minute panic where I run pillar to post trying to sort things out.
The headache of cash transactionsThankfully, stringent timelines don’t allow me any such antics for visa but it is Foreign Exchange that I somehow always manage to mess up, at least a little bit. It all started with my foreign trip ever, to Mongolia in 2014. I was going for a whole month and needed a wad of cash. I booked my airport cab for noon and had no dollars in hand even an hour before my cab would arrive. In fact, I had no idea until then that most of the Forex sales companies in India wouldn’t even consider card payment. They worked only with cash. Since I cannot withdraw more than Rs. 30000 per day through the ATM, I was in trouble considering I had little less than an hour before I headed to the airport. At last, Thomas Cook’s helpful agent sorted things out for me when he agreed to swipe two different cards instead of one cash transaction, saving me a lot of agony in the very nick of time.
Domestic Airport is lesser of the two evilsAnother time, quite recently on my way to Switzerland for a short work trip, I needed to convert a small amount into Euros. I was arriving from a small town into Mumbai to catch my flight and so I was prepared to shell out some extra bucks and exchange currency at the airport itself – a small price to pay for convenience, I reasoned. It’s no secret that airport rates are always higher than what we get outside. While I was waiting at the domestic terminal to catch a connection to the International terminal, I went to a money exchange counter to buy some Euros but the agent was not sure if he could proceed with the transaction without my international boarding pass. He suggested I exchange currency at their counter in the International terminal, to which I happily agreed. I got the shock of my life when I was given a Euro rate that was 15% higher than the exchange rate outside at the International terminal. Fancy airport meant fancy fares. With no other choice before boarding my flight, I coughed up the money, not without cursing my laziness though.
Leftover currency woes
If there’s one thing I’ve come to hate now, it is the unused currency I’ve accumulated. I haven’t even been to so many countries yet but I already have a box that’s overflowing with crisp notes and plenty of coins. Small change is the hardest to get rid of and I absolutely hate buying useless souvenirs just to spend the remaining currency. So when I diligently got back all the leftover Euros, notes and many coins, from Denmark to exchange back in India, I got a rude shock when no one at the forex counter was willing to buy coins. This reminds me of the nifty Paypal machines installed in Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport where we could convert the leftover currency into Paypal credit. I wish more airports would come up with something like this. I didn’t try it because I had already bought an absolutely unnecessary mineral water bottle as a last resort with the remaining Turkish Liras but the option seemed very convenient.
These days my preferred way of buying Foreign Exchange currency is online. I am a big proponent of cashless transactions and nothing makes me happier than placing orders from the comforts of a home or a hotel room!
So now that I’ve made quite a few of them mistakes, here are few things I can tell you about forex in India for travellers.
- I’m sure everyone knows this but do not exchange at the airport (duh!), especially not at the International Terminal if you have a choice. You’ll end up paying a heavy premium if you buy there.
- If you have spare change left, it’s best to spend it at the airport itself, especially if it’s the currency of a country you’ll probably never visit again. Also remember if you’re converting Euro to INR, coins will not be accepted at forex counters. Spend them all!
- Instead of paying a visit to a physical counter, you can easily upload the documents and pay online. You can then have the currency either home delivered or pick it up from set locations. But keep in mind that you cannot pick up currency you’ve ordered online at airport counters.
- In Turkey’s Aataturk airport you can exchange the small change to Paypal credit; I think it’s better to have money in Paypal with a lower exchange rate than forcing yourself to buy unwanted souvenirs in the airport.
Also, if you have any tips for lazy me, I’m all ears!
, by Neelima Vallangi