On many of our trips abroad, we’ve quickly learned that the key to not get ripped off in the currency exchange process is to go to a bank ATM. The kiosks at airports and train stations will always charge you through the nose to exchange money. It’s almost universal. The insidious part about the whole process is that they show you exchange rates without their fees, which can run in the double digit percentages. They will tout how their fees are so low or they will waive fees if you convert over a certain amount… it’s all pretty much marketing and BS. You pay either in the poor rate exchange or you pay in a fee they tack on after the fact.
The solution is to use an ATM whenever you need cash, otherwise use a credit card that doesn’t charge you a foreign transaction fee (Capital One is great about this). For ATMs, find out if your bank has any relationships with international banks. For example, Bank of America is part of the Global ATM Alliance which has one partner bank in the UK, France, China, Germany, Mexico, Canada, and Australia & New Zealand and more. In each of those countries, if you use a partner ATM, you are not charged a fee. If you use another ATM, Bank of America will assess a an automatic $5 ATM fee.
In return for using the ATM, you get a favorable conversion rate with no additional fees or hidden costs tacked on… and you don’t walk around with wads of cash (dangerous in some areas) because you’re avoiding a fee!