4 companies trying to revolutionize currency exchange

Photo: frankieleon, Flickr

Many a junk drawer is littered with unintended souvenirs from international travels in the form of bills, coins and currency you can’t spend back at home. We set the extra Ringgit aside thinking it will come in handy when we revisit Malaysia, or that surely we’ll remember to pack that handful of Canadian change before we drive up to Montreal next. But you know as well as I do that all of that foreign currency will be with you longer than your current lease — or maybe even spouse.

Lucky for you, a number of companies are attempting to clear the pesos and rupees out of your change drawer forever, with a wave of services aiming to revolutionize currency exchange. Here are a few of our favorites:

FourEx: Currently being rolled out around London, this vending machine is reminiscent of the Coinstar kiosks at so many grocery stores stateside. But FourEx machines accept 150 different foreign currencies, and transform them into British pounds, Euros or U.S. dollars.

TravelersBox: More than half a million people have used the 45 kiosks in Turkey, Manchester, Milan, the Philippines and Tbilisi to transform their leftover change into a Paypal deposit back into their own bank accounts. TravelersBox is notable in that users are given the option of turning their coinage into gift cards (think Starbucks, iTunes and Google Play), or donating the balance to charity. Best of all, the company charges no fee to the user.

WeSwapUsing this company requires a bit of advance planning, but the results speak for themselves. Before traveling to another country, WeSwap users log into the site and declare how much money they are looking to exchange, into what foreign currency, and by what date. WeSwap then pairs each request with someone hoping to make the opposite exchange, and makes the switch. The new currency is then loaded onto a prepaid credit card, and accepted everywhere Mastercard is, without any additional foreign-exchange fee.

CurrencyFairSurely the most time-consuming on this list, CurrencyFair allows its pool of international users to set their own exchange rates, and then hope and wait for someone else to accept the transfer. The company takes a little bit off the top — .015%, actually. In the event that nobody steps up to exchange with you, CurrencyFair will make the exchange for a 4% to 5% fee. This one won’t be of much help in turning your heavy coins into crisp American bills again, but with a bit of planning, CurrencyFair might be able to provide you with the most bang for your buck when trading currencies.

Arming yourself with a good old-fashioned currency exchange rate list is the easiest way to protect yourself from hidden fees and stingy rates when switching from one nation’s dollar to another’s. This app is free in the App Store and on Google Play.

Whether you choose to use one of the services above, or go a more traditional route and hit up the classic currency exchange desk, it is important to remember that the rates offered in most airports are nowhere near the most favorable to consumers.

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