So you're planning a trip to Europe, and you need to figure out the currency exchange process to get Euros ahead of your visit. This is an exciting time, and you've got an exciting trip ahead of you!
The currency logistics of your trip may be made much easier given that a single currency - the Euro - is the primary currency in many countries you'll be visiting. However, there are specific nuances you'll need to pay attention to in your planning, to ensure a smooth trip and a smooth currency exchange process.
Specifically, you'll need to know...
Which countries currently use the Euro as their primary currency
Which other currencies you may need on your trip
How to exchange currencies as efficiently as possible
How to secure the best exchange rate
How to best exchange currencies back to your home currency when you return
That's why we've put together this guide to currency exchange as you plan for your trip to Europe. It covers all of these topics in detail, so that you can check off the currency part of your pre-trip planning with confidence.
Countries that use the Euro
The Euro is the sole currency in Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain. When you visit these countries, having Euros on hand will help you easily navigate any transactions, and will help you avoid foreign exchange fees on your credit or debit cards.
While not the sole currency, the Euro is also used in Montenegro and Kosovo, and several European microstates (Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican City). The same benefits to having Euros on hand apply if you're visiting any of these places on your trip!
Other currencies you might need
The Euro is the second most widely held currency after the US dollar, so you'll likely be able to use it in most countries around Europe, and even around the world. That said, the currency exchange rate at a cash register will be much less favourable than the exchange rate you can secure if you plan ahead.
You'll need to get additional local currencies for Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Sweden, and the United Kingdom - all countries that do not use the Euro as their primary or sole currency. If any of those destinations
The best time to exchange your currency into Euros - and other required currencies - for your trip is before you get to the airport. It may even be months before you get to the airport if you plan things well.
Currency exchange rates fluctuate in response to a wide range of market factors, events and announcements. To stay up to date, and get a sense of when would be the best time to exchange currencies for an upcoming trip, you can sign up for the VBCE newsletter, which provides daily updates on currency exchange news.
When you're ready to exchange currencies, you'll find the best rates at specialized currency exchange businesses like VBCE. Typically, the spread at currency exchange businesses will be approximately 1%, whereas the spread to exchange at your bank will be over 2-3%, and the spread at airport-based currency exchanges can run upt to 10% - or more.
Those businesses are based on the fact that once you're at the airport, you have no other options, so to save yourself money, exchange currencies well ahead of time and make sure you have those options!
Paying attention to exchange rates
While you're off on your vacation, it can be easy to ignore the sticker prices on the delicious plate of pasta you're eating in Italy, or feel like that bottle of wine in France is very reasonably priced. However, if the price is in Euros, you'll need to keep the exchange rate you paid for those Euros in mind to have a good idea of what the price is in your home currency.
For example, if you're Canadian, and you think $30CAD is a reasonable amount to pay for a single person's lunch while on vacation, at today's exchange rates that's about $20EUR. Meanwhile, if your lunch is running you $30EUR, you're really paying closer to $44CAD.
The exchange rate can add up over the course of a vacation, so make sure to go into your vacation with a good idea of what you want to spend on different parts of your vacation in your local currency - and what that amounts to in Euros.
Returning Euros when you get back
If you find yourself with Euros and other currencies left over at the end of your trip, there are a few ways to make sure you'll be able to exchange them back into your home currency at a favourable rate.
First, make sure to prioritize spending any coins you have left. Many currency exchange businesses will only work with bills, not coins, so save any remaining bills to exchange when you return from your trip.
Secondly, as when you were planning your trip, avoid airport exchanges. You'll receive a much less favourable rate, and depending on how much money you have left to exchange, the difference in how much of your home currency you get could be significant.
And if you do end up with some coins leftover, you can always save them for your next trip! The Euro is a stable currency and will still be valuable on your next European vacation, even if the exchange rate fluctuates one way or another.