Everything I Wish I Would Have Known About Exchanging Money + Budgeting Tips

Taylor Graham
Major: Advertising and Promotion
Business and Culture in the Dominican Republic
Summer I, 2017

I am now 4 days into my study abroad experience in the Dominican Republic and I have already learned more than I ever expected. Some lessons have been great life and travel lessons. Others I learned the hard way though, like exchanging money.

Down in the Dominican Republic the form of currency is the Dominican peso. It is different from the Mexican peso, which are much easier to exchange in local banks back home. During my various pre-departure meetings, instructors talked all about international ATM fees and how it was best to exchange cash right away rather than using your debit card to take out money here and there. I was warned that I would probably have to wait until the I got to the airport in Santo Domingo to exchange my money. What I didn’t know is that the airport was going to rip me off. When I say rip me off, I mean really rip me off.

The current exchange rate is 47 pesos for every 1 American dollar. I really wished I would have been smarter and looked that up before I left for this trip too because then maybe all of this could have been avoided. I started off by exchanging $350 American dollars. In return I received ₽13,702.10. That means I got 39 Dominican pesos for every 1 American dollar, instead of 47 Dominican pesos. The airport also charged me a currency conversion fee. After doing the math, I discovered I lost out on roughly $63, which is a lot of money considering I only came down with $500. Needless to say, I was not happy once I figured all of that out. However, it was my fault. I should have looked up the current exchange rate and done more research on exchanging money in general. I learned my lesson, I just wish I didn’t have to learn it the hard way.

All of this being said, I want everyone to learn from my mistake. So, here are some tips I’ve learned about converting your money and a few budgeting tips as well.

  1. Don’t exchange your money at the airport. Chances are your local hotel or the university you’re studying at will be able to exchange it for you. They will also give you a better exchange rate and the conversion fee will be much lower.
  2. If you have to exchange money at the airport, don’t go to the first conversion station you see. The airport is sneaky. I flew down with a group of 8 students. Four of us went to the first conversion station we saw. The other 4 that walked around and found a different one ended up getting a better conversion rate than the rest of us. I don’t know why the conversion stations have different rates in the airport, but they do. So walk around and see what the rates are before you rush to exchange your money.
  3. Don’t convert all of your money at once – only convert what you need. It will help you budget better. I brought down $500 for the whole trip but only converted $350 of it. I have spent on average $20 American dollars a day. As of right now, I’m on track to bring a little extra money home. Converting a smaller amount helped me to not go crazy with the spending.
  4. Don’t carry all the money you converted on you at all times. Again, this one helps with budgeting. After I lost out on that $63, I was really worried about budgeting for the rest of the trip. If I have cash on me, I’m probably going to spend it. So only carrying $20 or so on me at a time helps me not make impulse purchases.
  5. Do your research – be smart. Look up the exchange rate of the country you are going to. It will help you know how far your money can stretch and help you figure out how much to bring. Don’t be like me and throw yourself into the fire blindly because it was not a good idea.

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