Best places to exchange currency in San Francisco

03.04.17
4 minute read
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San Francisco is known as the Golden city after the Californian gold rush of 1848 – 1855. With more and more visitors exploring San Francisco each year, it’s fair to assume that tourism is the new gold rush for local businesses. San Francisco is also the home of many modern businesses like Twitter, Uber, Reddit and Dropbox. A place for the business savvy, so follow suit  and research ahead of time the best way to change your money for the trip. This is our guide to the best places to exchange currency in San Francisco.

Things to know before exchanging your money

Know the actual exchange rate

Before you travel, it’s a good idea to learn how exchange rates work. While you may see many different tourist rates offered, there’s only one real rate. This is called the mid-market exchange rate or interbank rate. It’s the rate banks use to trade between themselves in large volumes and the rate you’ll find on google. The difference between a rate offered in an exchange bureau and the mid-market rate will highlight any extra commission fees being charged, but not quoted upfront. Use our online currency converter as a benchmark to compare how fair an offered rate is. Also take into account any upfront fees applied to the conversion.

Remember - exchange rates always change

Rates can change constantly and be affected by many factors. These include speculation, inflation, interest rates, government debt and current events. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on the local and world news for any events that may affect the value of the currency during your time in San Francisco. A tool to help you keep updated on the rate, is our rate tracker. Once signed up for this, we’ll update you via email if your currency pairing reaches a desired figure.

Research your home bank’s partnerships before you leave

Many banks have a partnership with other international banks. If your bank has a partner operating in the US, then it's best to seek out their ATM machines while in San Francisco. This partnership could mean that you're charged a smaller fee for withdrawals and in some cases, no fee at all.

Always choose to be charged in the local currency

The exchange rate you’ll receive withdrawing money directly from an ATM is usually much fairer than the rates offered at in-person exchange bureaus. An important rule to bear in mind though, is always choose to be charged in the local currency. Choosing to be charged in your home currency means the ATM will convert at their own exchange rate, which is usually lower, and charge a fee for the service. Opt instead to be charged in USD, and avoid having the ATM perform the conversion.

Avoid airport and hotel currency exchanges

Exchanging money at an airport or hotel might be convenient but convenience is often more expensive. Airports and many hotels market to a captive audience and this means they can charge more for their services, including currency exchange. If you must change money in these places, convert only what you need. Then change the rest at a more centrally located office or withdraw money from a trusted ATM operator.

Spend your money before leaving

It can feel quite satisfying to get to the end of your holiday and still have money left in your pocket. However, it costs money to re-exchange the cash back to your home currency. Why pay a charge twice? Budget accordingly so you spend all the cash you exchange, especially the coins. You could also take advantage of the duty free shops at the airport or on the plane.

Where to exchange money in San Francisco

All in-person currency exchange bureaus will charge you a fee, be that upfront or hidden in the exchange rate. Do your research ahead of time so you’ll know which of the rates on offer are fairest. Here is a list of some currency exchange bureaus you could consider:

Currency Bureau Address Contact Information
Currency Exchange International 343 Sansome St #100, San Francisco, CA 94111 +1 415-677-4040
Heng Long Foreign Exchange Corporation 626 Jackson St, San Francisco, CA 94133 +1 415-362-8718
Travelex 443 Castro St, San Francisco, CA 94108 +1 415-552-3108
Pacific Foreign Exchange 533 Sutter St, San Francisco, CA 94102 +1 415-391-2548

The bottom line

If you’ll be converting cash at an exchange bureau in San Francisco, be sure to compare the offered rate against the live real mid-market rate. Add into this calculation any upfront fees charged to determine the fairest service to exchange your cash. Alternatively, withdraw your money directly from an ATM and choose to be charged in USD.

Better yet, if either you or a friend have access to a USD bank account in San Francisco, 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), but since your currency is received and sent via local banking systems in both your home country and in the U.S., all those nasty international bank fees magically disappear.

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

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