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Posts tagged cheap

Changing dollars into yen – update

Air Flight-GenericbuttonAs mentioned in a prior entry, my results from two years ago are now somewhat out of date when it comes to the best method to maximize the amount of yen you receive when converting your US$ (and possibly other currencies as well) into Japanese yen.

Here are my results for August of 2009 followed by a brief analysis:

ATM 48,000 yen received / ($503.83 + $5 Wells Fargo fee) = 94.334 on 8.14.09 when market rate was 95.27
SFO 83.12 on 8.13.09 PST
NRT Cash rate of 92.12 on 8.14.09
NRT TC rate of 94.12 on 8.14.09
Post Office TC 46,730/500 = 93.46 on 8.17.09 when market rate was 94.46

I asked at the post office in Japan what their rate was on international postal money orders, and the answer was the same rate as that given for traveler’s checks. My bank (Wells Fargo) won’t let me pull out more than $510 a day.

1. Do not change US$ into Japanese yen in the USA. You will have far fewer yen to spend on your trip. The rate can be more than 10% worse than the rates offered in Japan. I checked this rate at more than one place in the SFO airport. I think Forex is the company ripping people off in the US airports. As an example, had I converted $10,000 in the US instead of in Japan I would have had the equivalent of US $1,000+ less to spend in Japan!
2. Cash is not good to exchange. Not only do you receive an inferior rate, if you lose it there is no way to get it back.
3. If you can get free traveler’s checks from your bank this is a good option. TCs give you a better exchange rate, and if they are lost or stolen you can get them replaced.
4. International postal money orders are better than TCs if you have to pay for TCs.
5. Wells Fargo is giving the market rate on ATM withdrawals (something they didn’t do with wire transfers). The $5 per withdrawal fee can be painful, however, especially if you have a limit below $500 on daily withdrawal amounts.

A few other items to note… The Japanese post office cash rate was the same as that found at the banks in the airport (i.e., 2 points worse than TCs). Most Japanese banks still do not accept foreign ATM cards. Citibank, Mitsui, and 7 Bank are the only ones that I have found that do. Mitsui and 7 Bank ATMs only give out 10,000 yen notes so if you are trying to get, say, 49,000 yen then they aren’t the way to go. Japanese post offices do accept foreign ATM cards. There are Citibank and 7 Bank ATM machines near the second set of escalators heading down to the Keisei Line in Terminal 1 of the Narita airport. Get your daily ATM withdrawal amount raised with your bank to more than $500 before going to Japan. Withdraw your maximum amount, less frequently, to avoid fees. Credit cards should not be used in Japan now that the credit card companies are all charging at least $3 per transaction plus a 3% foreign currency charge.

Exchanging USD $ for Yen

RyogaeOn our prior trip to Japan I discovered that you can save several percent on currency exchanges by purchasing International Postal Money Orders with US dollars and then changing them into yen in Japan. Before this trip/move to Japan I called my bank and credit card company to see what their new rules are for international transactions. The banks and credit companies have increased fees on nearly everything in the past year and international transactions are no exception. My credit card company told me they will charge $3 plus 3% for every transaction I make in Japan. My bank will charge me $5 per withdrawal, but they wouldn’t say how much they will take on the spread between the market exchange rate and their rate. I’ll find that out when I use my ATM here soon. In any event, options 7, 8, and 9 on the above link no longer look very attractive.

I was going to purchase thousands of dollars in International Postal Money Orders and convert them into yen at the Narita Airport. Then I found out that the post offices in the airport close at 4 p.m., and our plane doesn’t land until 4:30. On to Plan B. I need to convert money at a bank in the airport. After researching the current Narita airport rates I decided it would be much better (almost 2% better) to use traveler’s checks (also spelled traveller’s cheque, travellers cheque, and traveller’s check) instead of cash. I recently opened a “Complete Advantage” checking account to go along with my “Wells Fargo Money Market Savings” account. I’m not sure which account has it, or if it is a combination of the two, but having them allowed me to obtain traveler’s checks for free. So that is what I did.

You may be thinking, “boy, this is a lot of effort to save a few dollars,” but this is more than a few dollars. I asked the teller how much these traveler’s checks would cost me if I didn’t have my accounts. She said they would have cost $325. I purchased $15,000 worth since we are going to be in Japan for a year. With travel’s checks getting almost a 2% better exchange rate, that adds up to almost another $300. So doing a little research will save me at least $625. Had I just used a credit card everywhere in Japan the damage could have been far worse.

I’ll soon let you know some exact rate differences for your planning purposes.

The characters in the graphic to the above left are 両替 (りょうがえ or ryogae) which means “money exchange” or “changing of currencies”.

Changing U.S. dollars into Japanese Yen

One of the more popular questions in Japanese travel forums on the internet relates to finding the best rates for changing U.S. dollars into Japanese Yen. That being the case, I did a comparison last year and posted my results here.

Subsequent to creating that web page, others have emailed me their experiences. In the future, people can compare stories by responding to this blog entry.

Here is one that I just received yesterday:

I found your study to be very thorough and just what I was looking for. Some new info as of June 2008:

Bank of America skims off 3%, so you get approx. 104 yen (exchange rate is 107) but no “additional” service fees if you change $1000+. Narita airport website now lists exchange rate. If you bring cash, it is 104 yen (I’m guessing there is a fee attached as well, but can’t confirm). If you bring Traveler’s Checks, the exchange is 106. So that seems to be the best option, if you can get your TC for free at your bank, then wait until you are in Japan to do the exchange.

(Lonely Planet (newest version) says you will pay fees at Japanese banks and airports to exchange, so I’m undecided at this point about what to do.)

There were no fees at Japanese post offices if you had international postal money orders in hand, and I don’t believe that has changed.

I’ve noticed in preparation for my trip to Europe next week that my credit card companies are charging more than they previously did. My MasterCard is taking 3% off the top for currencies other than U.S. dollars, and my American Express is taking 2%. Since my American Express gives 3% cash back on restaurants, and 2% back for travel-related purchases that won’t be bad. Hopefully people will take American Express, and I won’t be forced to use my MasterCard (which only gives 1% back).

Leave a reply if you have additional, first-hand experiences that can help people save money on currency exchanges.

Finding a place (hotel or apartment) to stay in Paris, France

Paris isn’t cheap. We knew that going in, but we were a bit surprised by just how expensive it is to stay in Paris at even the “less expensive” places. So we did lots of research for our Paris trip this coming August, and I will share our findings with you. Perhaps it will save you a few hours in finding a place for, or few hundred Euros on, your next trip to Paris.

paris hotels and apartments

There are two main factors that cause Paris to be expensive in our case. The first is that the U.S. dollar is very weak at the moment. If a dollar equaled a Euro (like it did eight years ago) then things wouldn’t be so bad. As I write this, however, a U.S. dollar equals just over .6 of a Euro which means that things are more than 56% expensive in U.S. dollars that they were eight years ago due to the weak dollar. This doesn’t even consider inflation. As recent as 2002, a U.S. dollar equaled 1.15 Euros which means things have actually become more than 70% expensive in just six years (not counting inflation)!

The second factor is that there are four of us. Very few hotels in Paris allow four people in a single room (what are called quad rooms in Paris) which means that we’d have to get two rooms at more than 90% of the Paris hotels. Given that average room rates are near 200 Euro a night, we are talking about more than $600 U.S. dollars a night for something that isn’t all that fancy. Ouch! But there is a better, less expensive way.

Look not for a hotel but an apartment when you want to go to Paris. There are many advantages in renting an apartment in Paris over a hotel room.

  1. apartments are usually bigger, in many cases much bigger
  2. apartments have a kitchen (not only is this a matter of convenience, but it also means you don’t have to eat out for every meal–saving yourself some more money)
  3. apartments frequently include a free-to-use washing machine (and compared to hotels more have free cable TV, WiFi, and phone calls) 
  4. apartment neighbors are usually real Parisians instead of noisy tourists
  5. apartments can usually accommodate 4 or more people
  6. apartments cost much less than a much smaller hotel room
  7. apartments usually have a big price break if you stay for a week or more

About the only disadvantage is you won’t have daily maid service. With the above discovered, we narrowed down our search to three places.

We ended up going with the middle one because the first seemed a little cramped for four of us, and the last one was booked the week we needed it. I’ll provide reviews and recommendations (or not) after we stay there in August.

To look for your apartment in Paris these are the two best sites: