(The following is from the point of view of a U.S. resident traveling in Europe, but this information applies to all travel for all those traveling outside their own country. Be careful which currency you are paying with when using your credit card!)
“La cuenta, por favor.” “Die Rechnung, bitte.” “L’addition, s’il vous plaît.”
You’ve finished your very-European meal and asked your server for the bill. They deliver the bill, see your credit card, and bring a small credit card reader to your table. After reading your card they ask, “Euros or Dollars?” How do you choose?
The server asks because the reader has detected that you are paying with a U.S. credit card. The machine asks whether you want to pay in Euros or USD (U.S. Dollars). ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS SAY EUROS!
If you choose Dollars you will pay more than if you say Euros. Here’s my example:
First, we have to talk about credit cards. You need to have a zero-fee credit card – one that does not charge fees for transactions in foreign currencies. Check with your credit card company and, if they charge a fee, get a different card a couple of months before your trip. Among others, Bank of America offers cards with no fees for currency transactions, and has some decent rewards.
Today I bought a meal for 35.55 Euros. The server printed this statement for me when I was paying:
As you can see, the conversion rate is 1 Euro = 1.21 US Dollars. What a rip-off! Here’s why:
USA Visa provides a currency exchange calculator. According to their calculator, my exchange rate today should be:
Basically 1 Euro = 1.1 USD. If I use that rate to calculate the exchange rate for my meal’s bill, I would pay $39.11. In fact, that IS what I will pay for that meal!
The difference between the restaurant’s machine conversion rate and that from my own credit card company is $3.95. That’s about 11%!
By choosing Euros every time you may save yourself about 10% on the expenses you pay during your trip!
Be aware – the card reader machine will ask confusing questions like: “Pay $43.03?” and provide a green yes and red no button. If you aren’t paying attention you’ll just click “yes” because it’s green and you don’t notice the currency being quoted (and that the number went up!) Or, you’ll sometimes see a screen that has a green button with USD on it and a red button with EURO on it – again, tricking you into just pressing the green button to process the payment – and give the corporate schemers an extra 10% profit!
Always choose Euros!
(By the way, it’s not the restaurant that is ripping you off, it’s the bank they are using to process their credit card payments. The staff at the restaurant doesn’t realize what a ripoff it is. Be gentle with them, but be firm. Say clearly and up front “Euros please/bitte/por favor/s’il vous plaît.)