For those lucky enough to live, work, or vacation in Vancouver, the attraction is obvious. Nature fan? Skiing’s only half an hour away, not to mention to all the beaches, parks and trails right in the heart of the city.
Foodie? Partake in farm-to-table gastro delights or join a culinary tour of Asia through Vancouver's Chinatown. Wash it all down with some of the region's best craft beers. Culture vulture? Get out and about in any of Vancouver’s distinctive neighbourhoods for art, dance and music with a uniquely local feel.
What's less obvious, though, is how to pay your way through your stay in Vancouver. If you're travelling from abroad, you'll most definitely need a currency exchange. But how can you make sure you get the best bang for your buck (or Euro, or Pound)? Here are the best places to exchange currency in Vancouver.
There are a few things worth doing before you commit to a currency exchange service.
- Keep track of the mid-market exchange rates. Because exchange rates are constantly fluctuating, it pays to keep a watchful eye on the rates to avoid sticker shock. The best way to check them is with an online currency converter. That way, you know what to expect.
- Watch out for hidden fees. The rate you’re offered as regular person off the street will nearly always be less favourable than the actual mid-market rate. Currency exchange services hide commission fees in a poorer rate, which means you’ll need to take concrete steps to avoid being ripped off. While all exchange services will charge fees, not everyone is upfront about exactly what they’re charging you.
- Abstain from changing money in or around the airport or your hotel. It might look convenient, but with a captive market, the fees are normally higher and the rates much poorer.
With constantly fluctuating exchange rates and less than transparent fee structures, using an ATM is often the best choice when you’re withdrawing cash abroad. But even here, you’ll have to watch out for hidden fees.
A few pointers on getting the most out of using an ATM while you’re abroad.
- Talk to your bank before you leave home. A little preparation goes a long way. First, let your home bank know you’re travelling so that your bank card isn’t eaten by a foreign ATM. Second, check and see if your bank has a partnership with a bank where you’re going. Using a partner bank’s ATM may help you save on fees.
- Learn how fees are added to ATM transactions. Do some research on how the local ATMs charge fees. If you incur a flat charge every time you withdraw those Canadian dollars, then make fewer withdrawals but in larger amounts to save on fees.
- Choose to be charged in the local, not home currency. When asked, select to be ‘charged in local currency’ because choosing to be charged in your home currency is granting the bank the opportunity to pick an exchange rate for you. Not the best way to get a good deal.
- Spend all your cash abroad before you come home. Decide ahead of time to spend the foreign currency you withdrew. Smaller bills and coins can’t be changed back anyway, and even with larger notes you’ll be hit for conversion charges a second time anyhow. Use it all up while you’re abroad, and have yourself one final tasty Canadian craft beer.
If you can make good use of local ATMs, you’ll save money on your exchange - meaning more cash in your pocket for your trip.
If your only option in Vancouver is exchanging the cash you’ve brought from home, then you will need a currency exchange service. When choosing one, be aware that these platforms will still charge you fees whether they declare them upfront or not. It’s important to know the current mid-market rate, so you can compare the retail rates on offer and judge whether they’re actually a good deal.
At the International Airport in Vancouver alone, you’ll find no fewer than eleven branches of International Currency Exchange (Ice). While it may be a convenient choice, with no other competition, the rates might not be the best. Take a look as you pass through, but make sure you’re not getting ripped off - compare the rates listed to ones you can find online.
Consider checking out these alternative exchange services:
827 Granville Street
+1 (604) 688-2500, +1 (604) 688-2510
They’re open seven days a week, but call in advance to check that your home currency is available that day.
Cash only - so you’ll need to have some banknotes in your pocket
8Park Royal Shopping Centre, West Vancouver, at 702 Main St.
+1 (604) 923-8000
Monday - Friday 9am-6pm, Saturday - 10am-5pm
Moneyway deals in both cash exchange and bank transfers. They can also take orders in advance for pickup.
Head Office - 800 West Pender Street, Suite 120
2576 Granville Street
West Pender St. - +1 (604) 685-1008
Granville St. - +1 (604) 739-3997 or toll free +1 (888) 224-3331
The Head Office is open 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday.
For Saturday business, try their branch at Granville Street between 10am-4pm.
Vancouver Bullion and Currency Exchange have a few branches in Vancouver.
Even if a service advertises, ‘0% Commission!’, there is no such thing as a free lunch. There will be a charge tucked into the rate that’s offered. Bear this in mind when you’re picking a place to exchange your hard earned cash.
Alternatively, for an even better deal, use TransferWise. If you already have a bank account in Canada or know someone who does, you can convert your money at the real mid-market exchange rate and know that it'll be waiting for you when you arrive. Just make sure to plan ahead and transfer a week in advance if it’s your first time using the service.