How to exchange money for travel in the Middle East? What currency should we use?
It is my experience that how and when to exchange money is a big question in travel that very often depends on circumstances.
First of all, I carry a good wad of US Dollars wherever I travel. They can be easily exchanged at a good rate in just about any country – except maybe France. Where you are going – the Middle East – US dollars are a must. In Iraq, they have a higher street value than the local currency and there are no international ATMs anyway. In other countries in the region, it is also sometimes difficult to find international ATMs, but US dollars are easy to exchange. I do not know your spending habits, but I would recommend that each person in your party carry at least five hundred US dollars each to last out the two weeks.
I usually try to withdraw local currency from ATMs, but the US dollar is the great contingency plan for modern travel. International ATMs for withdrawing local currency are good to find, but having a wad of the good ol’ greenbacks has dug me out of holes more times than I can count. I always try to use ATMs to get local currency, but US dollars are spendable just about anywhere just in case my searches for a money machine turn up futile.
I have found that using ATMs — that are connected to popular banks during business hours — is the best way of obtaining local currency. If I am entering a country by air, I know that almost all international airports now have internationally capable — VISA — ATMs in their arrivals lounges. I just pop in my card and get local currency.
If I am crossing into a country by land, I will most often get enough local currency at the border to get me to a larger city. I either try to find an exchange house in the last town that I go to before going to the border or at the frontier itself.
Warning: most, but not all, borders have money exchange people who walk around with large wads of cash from multiple countries. I would not rely on exchanging money with these fellows unless you have to. They are very good at ripping you off. But, if I do find myself using their services, I only exchange 10 to 20USD — only enough to get me to the next town where I can exchange more money at a better rate, or find an international ATM.
Money exchanging tip at border:
- I always make sure that I know the offial exchange rate before attempting to transfer money to a local currency.
- I also have it already calculated as to much money I want to change and how much it should get me in local currency before I get to the border. This is so I know what I am working with and don’t need to do too much math on the fly.
- I also never accept the first rate a money changer offers me, as I know that I can usually talk him down to a better rate.
- When exchanging money at a border, I write down how much money I want to exchange in a pad of paper and then have the money changer write down how much in a local currency he is willing to give me for it. I don’t rely on his calculator, as they are often rigged.
- Once I have a deal worked out on paper that I can accept, I then take the money that he his exchanging for me and count it BEFORE I give him my money.
- I usually always only exchange a mimimal amount of money at a border — only enough to get me to the next town — so that if I am ripped off, I am not ripped off that much.
I usually only exchange $10 or $20 at a border, as money changers at frontiers are sometimes a hassle to deal with and their rates are usually not the best. Then, as soon as I get to a town that has a VISA capable ATM, I will make a withdraw, and go on my way. This is my standard operating procedure for exchanging money at land borders.
Though the money exchange men at the border cannot be relied upon. I have crossed many land borders where there were no money changers, exchange houses, or ATMs in sight. Sometimes it is better to exchange money in the city before you get to a border. If you see an exchange house in a border town, it is probably best to hit it up before crossing out of the country.
If I am planning on traveling through a remote border crossing, going to a country that probably does not have amenities for foreigners — such as internationally capable ATMs, or not traveling immediately to a city upon crossing the border, I will try to get a few days worth of local currency in advance. I usually always do this in the border town prior to crossing at an official looking exchange house.
Once I arrive at a larger sized city in a new country, I try to find an international ATM connected to a bank or, if these are not available, a money exchange house. Here, I try to get out enough money that will be enough for my stay in the country, or at least for my first month.
I know that the least amount of times that I use an ATM or exchange money, the better off I will be. Many problems in travel are related to money, and many of these happen in connection to exchanging/ obtaining it. As a rule, I know that the least times I exchange money, the better off I will be.
I hope this helps.
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More information on exchanging money while traveling
Middle East Travel Summary
Money Exchange in Turkey before traveling to Syria
Travel Cheap: Watch Global Currency Exchange Rates
Original question about exchanging currency while traveling
I read your post on Iraqi currency and it seems you know what you’re talking about. I’m interested for some more insiders advice. In August, I will spend a couple of weeks traveling with two adults through various Asian Countries. We are traveling to: Syria, Turkey, Iraq, possibly but probably not Iran, Turkmenistan,Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. I was wondering if you had any advice about currency in those countries. What type should we have (native or US)? How much? Exchange in the country or before? Where? Any advice would be super helpful. Thank you.