What to do with foreign money after your vacation

by Сашка

Don’t toss foreign currency in your junk drawer. There are plenty of ways to exchange it — or donate to a worthy cause.

Unused foreign currency is a waste of money. And yet we often return home with another country’s tender padding our wallets and jangling in our pockets.

According to global charity Oxfam, unutilized foreign money worth 2.7 billion pounds ($3.4 billion) is floating around the United Kingdom. American travelers stockpile other countries’ dough, too. Many of your friends and neighbors are likely to have a sandwich bag full of coins or a small wad of bills stashed at home.

“You break that bank note of 20 dollars or 20 pounds and then you get a few smaller notes and coins that end up in a drawer or a jar,” said Mario Van Poppel, owner and founder of LeftoverCurrency.com, which helps people cash in their foreign currencies. “But there are lots of creative things that people can do with bank notes and coins.”

Instead of tossing the cash in your junk drawer, you can still squeeze value out of leftover bills and coins for your own use — or for a greater cause.

Paula Twidale, senior vice president at AAA Travel, warns against sitting on foreign cash for too long. Over time, it can become obsolete. Last January, Croatia replaced the kuna, its national currency, with the euro. In 2016, India eliminated all 500- and 1,000-rupee notes and introduced a 2,000 denomination, which it yanked last year.

To minimize monetary losses, switch to cash payments a few days before you depart. Dole out tips to the hotel and restaurant staff, and drop some coins into buskers’ instrument cases. When checking out, pay a portion (or all) of the hotel bill in banknotes. Take cabs that accept bills.

Unfortunately, when dealing with foreign currencies, ATMs don’t work two ways. You can withdraw foreign cash from overseas bank machines, but you can’t deposit the bills back into your account.

You can, however, sell unused notes to banks and currency exchange specialists.

Exchange at the airport

Twidale recommends selling leftover foreign currency at your departure airport or upon landing in the United States. The convenience and expediency will make up for the less-than-stellar rate and commission fee.

Go to the bank

On a recent weekday morning, I lugged two quart-size freezer bags stuffed with more than two dozen currencies to a Bank of America branch in Washington. The teller inspected each note for year, denomination and condition. He rejected more than he accepted; “out of circulation” was a common refrain. I made $112 on legal tender from Peru, England, Canada and Jamaica. For the Turkish lira, my bank only takes the 20 note, which netted me a piddly 58 cents.

After visiting the bank, I tried my chances elsewhere.

Go to an exchange bureau

Marc Broder, owner of Treasure Trove Foreign Currency Exchange in Washington, D.C., said about 40 percent of his transactions involve trade-ins for U.S. dollars. Though he handles about 90 currencies, he can’t accept every banknote that slides across his desk. Many are outdated or have no value, such as my Republic of Ireland one-pound note, Pakistani rupees and Argentine pesos, which he said “weren’t even worth a penny.” However, he will accept these artifacts as a donation; he distributes them to collectors and children.

Many banks provide a similar service for their customers. They will typically buy back hard foreign currencies but will pass on soft or defunct currencies. (Hard currencies are stable; soft currencies are volatile.)

Visit collectible shops

Businesses that specialize in coins and collectibles often purchase foreign money, though the payout is typically less than what you would receive from a bank or exchange bureau. On the upside, these stores often purchase obscure or outdated bills and impossible-to-unload coins.

In my quest to divest myself of foreign cash, I dropped by Capitol Coin and Stamp Co., a D.C. collectibles store in business for more than 60 years. The owner, Nelson Whitman, poured the coins onto a small mat covered in dark cloth. “All this old stuff has no value,” he said. “It’s obsolete.”

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But not totally worthless. He extracted about $11 in British coins and offered to pay me 10 cents per banknote, which he would sell for 20 cents each. He filled out an invoice for $7.50 and paid me in cash.

Try the internet

Savvy online sellers can try their luck on eBay or through such Facebook groups as Coin collecting Buy Sell Trade Ask.

To determine a list price, Broder recommended using Google Lens. He demonstrated by snapping a photo of my Algerian 1,000-dinar note and finding a similar bill listed on eBay for $13, almost twice as much as its face value.

Use a leftover currency specialist

If you are still left with a mound of money, you could enlist the help of a company that specializes in finding repositories for unused or unwanted currencies.

Van Poppel, of LeftoverCurrency.com, said his office in Datchet, outside London, receives daily parcels stuffed with foreign bills and coins. His staff will send the money to entities that might buy or accept it, such as national banks. His team also receives requests from film studios seeking vintage currency to use as a movie prop.

“If it is a period drama set in the 1970s, the film studio will need the currency from that day,” he said. “The real thing is always better for the actors.”

Van Poppel said the return on the currencies might be underwhelming, but sometimes money is not the object.

“We have people sending in very small amounts that are lower than the cost of postage,” he said. “We ask them why, and they tell us they’re happy it’s going to good use. It’s not being thrown away, and they have clean cupboards.”

Charities and other donations

At airports around the world, travelers can deposit leftover currencies in donation boxes — or, more often, giant globes — earmarked for charities. On some international carriers, flight attendants collect loose change from passengers. The money goes to nonprofits dedicated to such causes as child hunger and community programs.

Through Help Alliance, a nonprofit founded by Lufthansa Group employees, travelers can contribute currencies on long-haul flights run by Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, Edelweiss Air, Brussels Airlines, Eurowings or Condor. Passengers can also donate at German airports.

Since 1991, UNICEF has worked with airlines on its Change for Good initiative. It accepts foreign currencies through its air industry partners as well as individual contributions sent by mail or dropped off in person. Oxfam International, which has affiliates in nearly two dozen countries, runs a similar program.

The Humane Society of the United States accepts cash and coin donations in foreign currencies.

You can also try contacting local schools or libraries about donating your currencies, which educators can use for lessons, art projects or exhibits.

Finally, if friends or family members have an upcoming overseas trip, give them the gift of your unused currency.

More travel tips

Vacation planning: Start with a strategy to maximize days off by taking PTO around holidays. Experts recommend taking multiple short trips for peak happiness. Want to take an ambitious trip? Here are 12 destinations to try this year — without crowds.

Cheap flights: Follow our best advice for scoring low airfare, including setting flight price alerts and subscribing to deal newsletters. If you’re set on an expensive getaway, here’s a plan to save up without straining your credit limit.

Airport chaos: We’ve got advice for every scenario, from canceled flights to lost luggage. Stuck at the rental car counter? These tips can speed up the process. And following these 52 rules of flying should make the experience better for everyone.

Expert advice: Our By The Way Concierge solves readers’ dilemmas, including whether it’s okay to ditch a partner at security, or what happens if you get caught flying with weed. Submit your question here. Or you could look to the gurus: Lonely Planet and Rick Steves.

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