Travelers checks or ATM card, which is better?

In short no travelers checks!

Amex closed its Budapest office and now works with Western Union at VĂ¡ci u. 10. There are two Western Union offices close together at the same address, so look for the American Express sign above; the exchange rate is poor and they will only give forints.

Otherwise, travelers cheques are very difficult to cash. Some Unicredit Banks will cash American Express cheques, but their hours are not convenient. You will still lose money on the exchange rate.

ATM cards are your best bet; there are ATM machines everywhere. You will need a 4 digit pin. There is an ATM machine at both airport lobbies for quick pocket cash. You can print out a quick and handy conversion guide using the link on our home page. Make sure you alert your bank and credit card companies that you will be traveling.

In the membership section, there is an article financial issues for travelers and what you should know before leaving home.

currency-symbolsDoes Hungary use the Euro?

Hungary will not be using the Euro until 2015 at the earliest.

The currency is the Hungarian Forint. Coins are 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, and 200.

The paper money is

  • 500
  • 1,000
  • 2,000
  • 5,000
  • 10,000
  • 20,000

Never change money with anyone who approaches you on the street; it is illegal and if caught you will be arrested. There is no guarantee the money is not counterfeit either. Never take a 200 Huf paper note. They are no longer circulated.

currency-symbolsWhat can I do with those big numbers?

It is highly recommended that before you leave home, you go to the Oanda currency website. They have a great currency cheat sheet that you can print out. You can do home currency to foreign currency or foreign currency to home currency. For the most accurate rates that are closest to what your ATM will give, use the "typical cash rate plus 4%". The others are discounted rates for financial institutions. Whenever we travel, I create a cheat sheet that has the exchange in both directions, and then fold it for easy reference. You can find it by clicking here. This is especially handy when going to an ATM.

currency-symbolsI don't have a PayPal account. How do I use a credit card?

PayPal allows for secured credit card transactions without having to have a PayPal account. Just follow these simple instructions to guide your way through and you will receive an e-mail receipt from PayPal confirming your transaction.

 

currency-symbolsCan I tip or pay in Euros or U.S. dollars?

Although many believe that US dollars are the currency of choice, this is far from the truth in Europe. Dollar are not accepted nor are they appreciated for tips.

Some restaurants and tourist shops will take Euros, but you are at their mercy for the exchange rate, which will be in their favor, not nearly yours. Euros are not generally accepted except in hotels, some restaurants, and very touristy area shops. If you pay in Euros, they will give you your change back in Hungarian forints. Unless you don't care about how much you are spending needlessly, use forints to begin with.

currency-symbolsCurrency exchange booths or change money at banks, which is better?

First and foremost we do not recommend using the currency exchange booth at the airports or train stations. The rates are poor and they charge a commission. Sometimes the commission is transparent by giving you a poor exchange rate. Once you are in town, there are licensed currency exchange booths around the city. Some are associated with Arany Pok clothing stores. These usually have the best rates and do not charge commission.

currency-symbolsWhy do exchange rate boards have two lists for each currency?

Exchange rate boards confound many. When you look at the board, first look for the flag or abbreviation for your home currency. For simplicity, let's use the Euro as an example. As you follow the Euro line to the right, the first list is how many Huf you will receive for each Euro you exchange. 

currency-symbolsWhat credit cards are most commonly used?

Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted in Budapest. The U.S. Diners Club card is now associated with MasterCard, so it is accepted anywhere that takes MasterCard. This is not so for the European Diners Club cards.

American Express is still not accepted widely. On that note, American Express has closed their office here and subcontracts with Western Union. Smaller stores, restaurants, or tourist venues will usually not accept any cards at all.

Outside of Budapest, you will have less opportunities to use credit cards. Always have some cash on you.

To save yourself some embarrassment, call your credit card companies and let them know you will be traveling and to which countries. They may block your purchase otherwise, thinking your card may have been stolen.

We have had the experience more than once of verifying that a restaurant takes credit cards as we walked in the door, only to be told that their machine is not working when it comes time to pay. There are two reasons for this.

  1. The bank lines are unstable connecting to the credit card server.
  2. The restaurant is cash poor and needs the cash that does not necessarily get reported as income.

currency-symbolsWhat is the least expensive way to call home?

Generally, we recommend using Skype as the most economical way to call anywhere in the world. Skype requires a headset or a Skype plug-in on your Smartphone. 

If you are staying in a hotel, ask what the phone or Internet charges may be before using either. Many hotels charge for Internet access. The next solution is to purchase a Neophone, Telecard, or other such international calling card. These are low cost phone cards that come in 1,500, 3,000, or 5,000 amounts. A 1,500 Huf card will give you about 45 minutes calling time to the U.S. and more within Europe.

Do not buy more than you need, as they are only good in Hungary.

For free phone calling world-wide another suggestion is GTalk. Gtalk requires a computer headset.

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