Best places to exchange currency in Los Angeles

TransferWise content team
10.04.17
4 minute read

As an internationally well known city and the world’s entertainment capital, Los Angeles is as vast as it's iconic.

There are incredible museums, world class shopping and some of the best-known attractions anywhere. In fact, you could probably spend years in LA without ever doing the same thing twice.

Or course, all of this costs money; so you’ll need a fair amount of US Currency to make the most of your trip. Read this guide to see how you can get the best deal possible when exchanged your money in Los Angeles.

Things to know before exchanging your money

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

About the US Dollar

The Dollar is widely used in international transactions and it’s the world’s main reserve currency.

But while the Dollar is often very much in demand, it’s value does fluctuate regularly. It’s a good idea to monitor its performance for a few weeks before your trip. Then you can try to make your exchange when its value is lower than usual. By buying when USD is weaker, you’ll be able to buy more dollars with the same amount of money. You can sign up for exchange rate alerts to receive notifications when the exchange rate changes.

Know the actual exchange rate

As a floating currency, the Dollar’s value can go up or down every day, or even every few hours.

The exchange rate to keep in mind is the mid-market rate. This is considered the real exchange rate, and the fairest one possible. You can use this rate as a benchmark to compare how fair offered tourist rates are. Check the live rate using the TransferWise currency converter.

Avoid airport and hotel currency exchanges

If you’re looking for the best deal possible on foreign exchange, you’re probably better off avoiding the airport. The same logic applies for exchange services offered in hotels. The fees will usually be higher and the exchanges rates poorer.

If you only want a small amount to get you started, though, the convenience of using the airport might be worth the less favourable rate.

LAX, Los Angeles’s main international airport, has a total of nine foreign exchange kiosks which are all operated by ICE Currency Exchange. You can find their locations and information about their opening hours here.

ATM withdrawals

Bank of America, which is part of the Global ATM Alliance, has several ATM machines in and around Los Angeles that are fee-free for customers of other alliance banks.

Citibank, which offers its customers fee-free withdrawals from all its ATMs worldwide, also has several ATM locations around the city.

Either way, you may still want to check with your home bank before you leave as they may have a special arrangement with a US bank. This could mean special offers on foreign ATM withdrawals.

But while withdrawing dollars from an ATM can be a cheap way to exchange currency, if an ATM asks you to choose whether to be charged in dollars or in your home currency, you should always choose dollars. Otherwise, you’ll be facing a very unfavourable exchange rate.

Spend all your money

Most foreign exchange companies charge you one rate when they sell you a currency and a different rate when they buy it back from you. This means that selling back any leftover dollars you may have is rarely a good idea, as you’ll probably lose out on the transaction.

Some companies do offer buy-back guarantees where they offer to buy back your leftover currency at the same rate you bought it. However, these usually come at an additional fee and have lots of terms and conditions. So as illogical as it may sound, you’ll probably get a better deal if you just spend all your money during your trip.

Where to exchange money in Los Angeles

There are several foreign exchange bureaus in and around Los Angeles. They will all charge fees whether advertised upfront or hidden in the exchange rate they offer. To pick the fairest of the lot, compare their offered rate against the live mid-market rate.

Foreign exchange companies that tend to have a good reputation include Foreign Currency Express, Currency Exchange International, Bretton Woods and LA Currency. The details of these services are listed in the table below.

Currency Bureau Address Contact Information
Foreign Currency Express 350 S Figueroa St Ste 134, Los Angeles 1-213-624-3693
Currency Exchange International Currency Exchange International has five branches in the Los Angeles area. You can find the one closest to you here. Varies by outlet. You can find the phone number for the branch closest to you here.
Bretton Woods Bretton Woods is located in the Brentwood area, at 11659 San Vicente Boulevard. You can view it on the map here. 1-800-439-2426
LA Currency LA Currency has branches in Downtown Los Angeles, Van Nuys and Hollywood. You can find them on the map here. 1-213-228-0000 - Downtown; 1-323-878-0555 - Hollywood; 1-818-785-0999 - Van Nuys

The bottom line

While buying money at the airport is really convenient, it’s rarely a good deal. Your best bet is to use an ATM or shop around at a reputable foreign exchange bureau. Be sure to check the rate offered against the live mid-market rate, and take into account any upfront fees applied.

Or, even better, if either you or a friend has access to a USD account in Los Angeles, 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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