This week I’m “liveblogging” my trip to Ukraine. Unlike traditional reports, these posts will be shorter and more frequent.
Ultimately, I took Uber from Warsaw Airport into the city even though it cost me 10X as much as the train. Why? Foolishly or not, by principle, I was unwilling to go along with currency exchange rates at the airport.
Currency Exchange At Warsaw Airport – Avoid!
After the Warsaw Metro ticket machine declined all my credit cards, I sought out a currency exchange office. Back in the terminal, I found one.
But then I looked at the rates.
This place would buy your dollar (USD) for 3.51 Polish Zloty (PLN).
The spot exchange rate for USD to PLN was 4.48.
So by my math, that was a 29% mark-up.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t like losing 29 cents on the dollar.
I understand airport real estate costs money – but by principle, I just could not agree to that exchange rate.
Thus, I took Uber and instead of paying 4.40zł, I paid 44zł…a 10x premium for a private car versus bus or train.
You might ask what about a bank card. Good question. I forgot it.
With credit card acceptance increasingly ubiquitous, I rarely use cash anymore. This is one reason why. Losing over 1/4 of every dollar on the exchange itself may be part of travel in some contexts, but I just could not stomach it here.
If you’re traveling to Warsaw, do yourself a favor and bring your ATM card or exchange money in the city rather than at Chopin Airport. There, the rates are rather abysmal.
In ATL last Nov, 1 EUR was 1.35 USD when the currencies were in parity.
Once you become a more experienced traveler, you’ll learn to travel with two ATM cards.
Sometimes we leave wallets at home that have two ATM cards in them.
Once you become a more experienced traveler, you’ll learn not to leave your wallet at home.
Next time the author of the article should check in his bank if credit card of his bank is internationally recognized. And I fully support the idea of two cards from different banks.
ATM is your friend. It never fails. I actually don’t remember ever using a currency exchange place. It blows my mind when I see people lining up on airports to exchange money. Here at my home airport I see lots of people exchanging USD to other currencies before they board a plane? Why??? Is it ignorance? Don’t they know they can easily get cash at their destination airport by just going to a ATM machine?
Except some of the airports have caught on and fleece you with their ATMs. The Travelex machines at LHR for example charge a junk fee of 3 GBP in addition to whatever FX fee your bank will charge. No thanks.
Please take a look at Fidelity Investments banking (provided via UMB), or Charles Schwab, debit/ATM card. They refund you all ATM fees, including at international ones. I’ve used the Fidelity card at over 20 foreign countries/airports in Asia and Europe and have been automatically credited back the fees every time (except once in Korea but was reimbursed after a phone call).
Be sure the card is for the “checking” accounts, not for the brokerage accounts offered by Fidelity or Schwab. Cards linked to the brokerage accounts do not have this ATM fee reimbursement feature.
The bank I use doesn’t charge ATM or FX fees. Crapital One actually is good for something, shockingly enough. It’s more a principle thing that I refuse to pay a GBP 3 junk fee for an airport ATM. My last trip to the UK, luckily I was able to use a mobile ticket for the bus and then find an ATM in town the next morning.
I was so mad I would rather burn my money than give it to those airport exchanges so I understand your pain. That being said… was there a minimal transaction requirement? I’d have coughed up the 2 dollars to get 7 zl and yes, they get that 1.5 zl but that’s about 50 cents. Yeah, it stinks but they’re not going to get rich with that.
I actually find it’s a traveler opportunity to practice social skills and ask strangers for help. After all, you helped out an Italian woman the other day so you deserve some karma. Poles are usually friendly and would have helped and probably coughed up 4.5zl in exchange for a dollar for you and paid the kiosk and exchanged it themselves later (there’s a dozen exchanges every block or so in Warzszawa proper 🙂
Why would anyone with an ATM card use a currency exchange is the real question.
Ignorance. Not Matthew’s case as he didn’t bring his ATM card but many people don’t know they can use their US debit cards on ATMs globally.
Although there’s a caveat with ATMs: In Poland I went to use mine and I saw an amazingly obnoxious surcharge with a chain of banks that was similar to the currency exchange: about 20 percent. I just paypalled my friend some money and he gave me cash.
I both take cash as well as a no fee credit card which is the most economical. I found that even with the BEST exchanges, I was better off using a USA credit card because the exchange rate was exceptionally close but I also got at least 1% cash back.
It depends on your bank. My bank in the US has absolutely no fee for foreign ATM use so if the local bank is charging something it is on my bank and not on me.
This is when the bag of unused bills from another previous destination come into play. If your passport has the stamps, this is the time to convert the currency that was not previously used for tipping etc if I’m not going back. At that point I won’t find the conversion (airport) fees excessive. I see it as just useful, to move on. And I speak of just enough to get to the hotel. And find the recommended local guys
I lived in Warsaw in the late 1990s and ZTM tickets were 2,20. Incredible that in the two decades where Poland’s GDP has doubled (or more), the price of a bus ticket has only gone up 50¢. Fortunately Uber is a n excellent value in Poland, though I’m with you on the ethics of using public transit.
Don’t know if this would have helped you in Warsaw, but many Metro/bus systems now use mobile tickets. You can link any credit card and buy tickets in the app. Worked like a charm on my recent trip to Scotland.
I tried this too, but gave up after five minutes — to complex to figure out.
I use a Charles Schwab debit card when I travel. No forex fees, no ATM fees worldwide, and you get the bank ATM exchange rate which is market rate on the day of your transaction.
Also the Euro card processors would probably be able to charge the debit card since it is chip+pin.
Another option is taking bus to the central station. It’s a fairly direct route and doesn’t take up that much more time. There’s a manned ticket booth inside the terminal and you can use credit card to purchase ticket. I used took it a few years ago. I say this because I spent 2 days in Warsaw without using any cash at all.
There is a ticket counter of Warsaw Transportation Authority, ZTM in the arrivals floor. You can purchase the tickets from ticket machine with card or contactless from phone in buses, trams and in S train from/to airport. No need for cash. Good currency exchange rates are in kantor Redar (redar.net)