Best places to exchange currency in Chicago

13.06.17
4 minute read
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Whether you like to marvel at stunning architecture, lie in sun on the lakefront all day or enjoy Michelin-starred meals and craft beer, Chicago will definitely not disappoint.

Unfortunately, though, your trip to the Windy City isn’t going to pay for itself. You’ll be needing some US Dollars for your trip.

Read this guide to help you find the best deals on currency exchange in Chicago.

Things to know before exchanging your money

Before rushing to the nearest service to exchange your currency to USD, first take the time to learn about this process. Here are few helpful facts that will better prepare you.

Remember - exchange rates always change

While the US Dollar is the world’s main reserve currency and always in demand, it’s still a floating currency, which means its value may go up or down.

If you’re careful and don’t mind doing a bit of monitoring before your trip, it’s possible to book Dollars in advance while the exchange rate is in your favour. You can also sign up for exchange rate alerts to keep track of the rate and receive notifications when it changes. That way, you can time your purchase so you’ll get the best possible deal on your exchange.

Know the actual exchange rate

Different foreign exchange companies will offer you different exchange rates, and these may not always be the best deal. Services will add their commission into their offered exchange rate, leaving less at the other end for yourself.

You can easily find out how good the rate you’ve been offered is by comparing it to the real mid-market rate. This is the midpoint between the buy and sell rates from global markets, and is the fairest rate there is. Compare any offered rates against the mid-market rate by checking the TransferWise currency converter. Be sure to also add any upfront fees into the calculation.

Avoid airport and hotel currency exchanges

Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport has foreign exchange kiosks in every terminal, run by the Seaway Bank and Trust Company. You can find the exact locations and opening hours of each kiosk here.

You can also buy US Dollars at various hotels around Chicago. That said, exchanging money at the airport or at a hotel is best avoided, as fees are high and you’re unlikely to get a favorable exchange rate.

ATM withdrawals

Citibank, which offers its customers free withdrawals from its worldwide network of ATMs, has several branches across Chicago. If you’re a Citibank customer in your country, using an ATM can be a great way to get US Dollars for less fees.

The Bank of America also has around 50 ATMs in Chicago. As part of the Global ATM Alliance, it offers fee-free withdrawals from its ATMs to customers of other banks in the network.  

When using an ATM, remember to always choose to perform the transaction in US Dollars. Some ATMs will ask you if you’d prefer to be charged in your home currency. When you agree to this, you’re basically asking the ATM to make up an exchange rate for you, which will probably mean you’ll get less than the mid-market rate.

Don’t buy back your home currency

Ideally, you should use up all your money before you leave Chicago. Foreign exchange companies rarely offer the same exchange rate for currency buy-backs as they do for sales. If you budget well, you should have minimal cash left at the end of your trip. Spend your leftover cash, especially the coins, or set it aside for your next trip to the States.

Where to exchange money in Chicago

Foreign exchange companies in Chicago are primarily neighbourhood kiosks that form part of the Currency Exchange franchise. There’s also a Travelex and a company called Currency Exchange International.

Always keep in mind that, if a company claims not to charge fees or take a commission, it probably builds the fee into the exchange rate. Don’t forget to compare the rate you’re offered to the mid-market rate so you know exactly what you’re being charged. Below are some currency exchange services you could use in Chicago.

Currency Bureau Address Contact Information
Travelex 19 South La Salle Street Chicago, 60603 1-312-807-4941
Currency Exchange Currency Exchange has nine locations around Chicago. You can find the store nearest to you here. 1-847-759-8905
Currency Exchange International 520 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, 60611 1-312-755-9200

The bottom line

If you’re looking to exchange currency in Chicago, withdrawing cash from a trusted ATM operator will usually give you a fairer rate than you’ll get in a currency exchange office.

However, do shop around before you commit to a deal, and don’t forget to compare the rate you’re offered to the mid-market rate. That way, you’ll know whether you’re getting the best deal possible.

Or, even better, if either you or a friend has access to a USD account in Chicago, use TransferWise and make the transfer ahead of time. Not only does TransferWise use the real mid-market exchange rate to convert your money (which almost always beat the banks), your money will also be sent and received using local banks, bypassing those nasty international banking fees.

TransferWise is the smart, new way to send money abroad.

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