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Here’s What You Can Do With Leftover Foreign Currency

By Stacey Leasca · August 08, 2022 · 7 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

Here’s What You Can Do With Leftover Foreign Currency

Traveling abroad can be life-changing. By hopping on an airplane for a few quick hours, you’ll get to experience new cultures, try new foods, see new sites, and have the chance to walk in someone else’s shoes — even if it’s just for a few short days. Heck, you may even make a friend or two along the way.

However, getting to see, do, and eat new things can get expensive. Between hotel costs, plane tickets, sightseeing tours, restaurants, and nights out on the town, that vacation to a new country could quickly become a financial mountain.

Though you’ll likely want to come home with at least a souvenir or two you purchased on your sojourn, there is one thing you’ll probably want to leave behind — extra foreign currency that merely goes to waste upon landing.

Even the best budgeters may end up with some extra cash at the end of a trip. And since you can’t spend that foreign currency back home in the United States, you’ll need to come up with an alternative plan for all those foreign coins and bills now burning a hole in your pocket.

Sure, those bills may be pretty (Have you seen the Australian dollar?), but it won’t do you any good hanging as art on the wall. And you don’t want to miss out on saving or spending that money on things you need at home.

Instead of letting it go to waste, here are a few things you could choose to do with that leftover foreign change once your trip is done and your regular life sets in again.

What to Do with Extra Foreign Currency

Using It to Pay Part of Your Hotel Bill on Vacation

This might seem obvious, but there’s nothing worse than arriving at your gate with five minutes until boarding, only to realize you’ve still got about $80 worth of Moroccan dirham or Turkish lira left in your wallet.

That’s why it’s crucial to be smart about your spending and track your expenses while you’re on your trip by creating a travel budget. A trip specific budget can help you keep your spending in check and help you make sure you don’t have any local currency left by the time you depart.

If you don’t spend all your money that’s OK too; it’s just important to keep track. In fact, the earlier you realize you’ll have leftover money, the better. Sometimes hotels will let you split your bill up, so that you can use up your extra currency and then put the rest on a credit card.

Just remember to save enough for the cab ride to the airport — Uber or Lyft aren’t available everywhere and not every cab accepts credit.

Recommended: 27 Tips for Finding the Top Travel Deals

Shopping Duty Free

If you have a fair chunk of foreign currency leftover, consider making a stop at the Duty Free stores upon departure. This can be a good strategy if you are buying something you’d use ordinarily, like your favorite perfume or liquor, or if you’re still looking to buy a souvenir from the destination.

However, some countries, especially those that are sensitive to inflation, don’t accept foreign currency (except for euros and dollars) at Duty Free, so double-check that your change is eligible before you show up at the register with a cart full of goods.

Donating to Charity

Thanks to UNICEF’s Change For Good initiative , you may not have to exchange a dime. This program involves a partnership with several international airlines to help passengers donate their excess change.

On these flights, passengers receive envelopes in which they can donate their leftover foreign currency. If you’re not flying with a partner airline and still want to donate, you can mail your change to the organization.

Some airports have similar initiatives and programs that raise money for different charities around the world — all you need to do is find the box or envelope and stuff it full of your extra change. It’s a great way to do good and not let that spare money go to waste.

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Exchanging It

Although exchanging physical money comes with a fee, this can be one way to recoup your cash if you aren’t planning on visiting the country again anytime soon.

But where can you exchange foreign currency in a pinch?

Since money exchanges have notoriously high rates, make sure to search the exchange rates before using just any kiosk.

Although it is counterintuitive, airports are known to have some of the worst exchange rates. It might be worth waiting if you know there will be another option available when you get home. It simply may not be financially worthwhile to exchange foreign currency to USD if you only have a small amount leftover.

Your local bank or credit union is likely to exchange currency for a small fee. It may be possible to deposit foreign money into your bank account. You could make a few calls before you even leave for your trip to find out who will exchange or accept your cash and for what charge. If you have enough money left over from your vacation, it could be worth the additional effort.

Recommended: Ways to Be a Frugal Traveler

Saving It for Another Time

If you know you’ll be visiting again, why not store your extra foreign currency with your passport? Not only will you be able to keep the money, but you’ll save yourself a trip to the ATM upon arrival at your destination.

This can be one of the easiest solutions to the “what to do with leftover foreign coins” problem. And it might encourage you to start planning your return visit and growing your travel fund.

Regift Leftover Coins as a Quirky Souvenir

If you’re wondering what to do with foreign coins, know that they can be a fun gift to a child or currency collector in your life. It can be an opportunity to teach kids about both the world at large and about money. Bonus points if they are from a country with a cool design on their currency — like the Egyptian pound with pharaoh Tutankhamun.

Any leftover old foreign coins or bills can be a thoughtful gift for any of your friends or family members traveling to the same spot. Bonus points if it’s for friends heading out on a honeymoon.

There’s no better way to send them on their first trip as a married couple than with a little dough lining their pockets.

Recommended: Can You Use Your Credit Card Internationally?

The Takeaway

If you wind up with excess foreign currency at the end of a trip, you have a few options. You might save it for later, donate it to a charity, exchange it, or gift it to a friend. Depending on how much money you have, when (if at all) you plan on returning to your destination, and how much you’re willing to pay in fees, there’s an option that will likely be the right choice for you.

About traveling and fees: Your bank can make a difference in how much you pay in charges. For instance, if you open an online bank account with SoFi, you’ll have access to any Allpoint® Network ATM (there are 55,000+ globally), and you won’t get charged a fee. No fees are charged here in the United States, either.

In addition, SoFi Checking and Savings accounts earn a competitive APY with direct deposit and charge zero account fees.

Bank better at home or away with SoFi.


Where can I donate leftover foreign currency?

UNICEF’s Change for Good program accepts donations on a number of international airlines. Leftover change may also be mailed to this program. You may also see other opportunities to donate currency at airports, benefiting various charities, as well.

Can I exchange my foreign currency at a bank?

If you’re wondering, “Where can I exchange my foreign coins and bills?” you will find that many banks offer to exchange currency for their clients. However, some will only do so for a limited number of currencies. A fee is usually involved, but it is likely to be lower than what you will pay at an airport currency exchange.

What is the meaning of leftover currency?

Leftover currency is typically foreign money that you have at the end of a trip. Before or after you return home, you can exchange it to recoup its value, donate it, or find another way to use it.

Is leftover currency legitimate?

Leftover currency is legal tender in the country you have traveled to, but when you return home, it will not be usable. Therefore, it may be wise to exchange it or donate it.

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