There’s no doubt about it: travelling is expensive! These days even if you are careful with your budget, you will be hard-pressed to plan a trip abroad for less than R20,000 per person. On top of that, you always ‘lose’ a bit of money on forex. But that’s one area that doesn’t need to stress you out. There are many ways to ensure you get the best possible deal when exchanging currencies. Here are some pointers.

Know the lingo 

Changing money can be a little tricky for the novice traveller, largely because it comes with a whole language of its own. But don’t let the jargon confuse you or throw you off. Instead, ensure that you know exactly what’s what. 

  • The ‘sell rate’: The amount you get in a certain currency when you exchange your rands.
  • The ‘buy rate’: The amount you get when you change a foreign currency into rand.
  • The ‘interbank rate’ (also known as ‘spot rate’): The rate used when banks change money with other banks (this is usually a wholesale rate). 
  • ‘Bureau de change’: A place where you can exchange one currency for another. 

Be aware of second currencies

Make sure you understand exactly which currencies are used where you are going, because you might need more than just the local currency. There are many countries in Asia and some parts of South America and Africa that allow you to pay in US dollars (note: make sure these are spotless; they often won’t take bills that have been folded, torn or written on). If you are travelling to a destination that has a second currency, make sure to buy some cash in advance so that you have time to shop around for a good rate. You don’t want to be at the mercy of high street traders.

Watch exchange rates

As you probably already know, exchange rates can fluctuate from one day to the next, and from one bureau de change to the next. In fact, there are also many providers that offer great deals if you order your cash in advance and online (through Travelex, for example). Apart from being affordable, these options are also convenient, as they allow you to choose whether you want to collect the cash in store or get your money delivered. Plan ahead and keep track of the rates; when you are ready to buy, you’ll know a good deal when you see one.

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Be wary of credit card fees 

Be careful when using credit cards to buy foreign currencies. It’s usually one of the more expensive options as there are usually additional fees involved. Check with your bank to see what their fees are (and how these may differ from credit cards from other banks), and determine whether withdrawing from a foreign ATM with your credit card, buying cash at a bureau de change with your credit card, or using your debit card while abroad is the most cost-effective solution.

Shop around 

As with most things, one of the best things to do when it comes to forex is to shop around. Do your research, weigh up your options, check out the different providers and calculate what the best option is. Because prices can vary quite substantially, it’s vital to understand all your options before exchanging money (especially if you are planning to exchange a large amount).


Occasionally, and specifically when you're exchanging big sums of money with a bureau, you might be able to negotiate a better price or a discount on forex. This could mean getting a percentage (0.5% usually) off or being able to negotiate a better price based on a competitor's rates. 

Learn more 

Don’t take everything that currency exchange bureaus tell you at face value. Research your options thoroughly, and then, once you have your cash, think about how you're going to keep it safe while you travel.

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