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How Do I Get Rid of Foreign Currency?

There’s nothing like travel to help me realize how few possessions I really need. After recently visiting four different U.S. cities and carrying nothing but a large backpack, I returned home eager to downsize.

While I usually find the post-travel purge fairly painless, there’s one thing I haven’t been able to offload throughout the years - my pile of foreign currency. I'm currently in possession of 53 coins and 3 bills from 7 different countries.

So what are we travelers supposed to do with this leftover dough? I did some research, and I wish there was a more succinct answer, but here’s what I discovered...

The Technological Option

My preference was to go the electronic route. Rumor has it that there are apps available which will connect travelers to each other for the purpose of swapping currency. As of yet I haven’t located a decent service for this.

I also found a few companies that will give you a card onto which you can load credit for monies exchanged. Unfortunately they only accept money from a limited list of countries and charge fees for each transaction.

The Traditional Option

After not finding a sufficient electronic option, I hit up my bank.

This option wasn’t as simple as expected since banks apparently don’t take coins. Considering that most of my currency was coin, using their services would not have lightened my load. Their fees also exceeded the total exchange value of my paper bills. Thanks for nothing, Bank.

Next I decided to try a currency exchange store (Telex, to be specific). Turns out currency exchange spots don’t take coins either. A very helpful rep suggested that I consolidate my coins into bills before heading home from my next trip.

The list of non-exchangeable currencies that was very hesitantly provided to me by my bank. This is hard-hitting journalism!

The currency exchange option was still a wash though. Due to an IRS restriction,Telex poo-pooed my most impressive bill, a 10k Bolivar note from Venezuela. In full disclosure I was not surprised. The bill is about 10 years old and probably not usable anymore. My bank didn't even want to touch it.

Before I left, the Telex rep told me about “a guy in Chinatown” who might be willing to buy my money. I’ll write that investigative piece some other day...

The Philanthropic Option

What was I left to do? Some people find it easiest to give their leftover currency to nieces/nephews, or to that whacko relative who collects anything shiny. I’ve also read that currency can be donated to local schools.

While I believe that educating kids about places outside of the U.S. is extremely important, I prefer to put the money back into circulation. For that reason I like an alternative philanthropic route...

Ever heard of UNICEF’s Change for Good program? A handful of major airlines partner with UNICEF and will accept your donation of leftover currency to help purchase supplies and services for children in need.

Airlines used to solicit these donations in-flight, but now you'll have to request an envelope from your flight attendant, or offload your cash into a collection bin next time you visit the airport (which is what I plan on doing). If you'd rather send the currency to UNICEF, you can mail it here:


ATTN: Change for Good Program

125 Maiden LaneNew York, NY 10038

Got another method for offloading foreign currency?

Have questions or comments? Share them down below!

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