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Money advice for the Toronto traveller

Brought to you by Continental Currency Exchange

Planning on escaping Toronto this winter? If so, it doesn’t have to be expensive, but it definitely won’t be free. Knowing what type of currency to buy, how much to bring, and where to spend it are important, and often overlooked, aspects of traveling.

Quick Tips:

  • Debit and Credit cards often incur hidden fees and poor rates, use cash instead
  • Travelers drafts and cheques can be more expensive, but safer than carrying currency. But make sure you get a great rate!
  • Buy your currency before you leave. Airport and overseas currency exchangers might have exorbitant rates
  • Familiarize yourself with the local currency – don’t hand someone a 20 because you thought it was a 10!
  • Don’t keep the change. Coins can’t be exchanged like bills upon your return
  • Know the tipping culture. Over tipping can be an expensive faux pas, and under tipping can be downright rude
  • Bringing too much currency is a lot less detrimental than bringing too little. Make sure you know where to buy more if need be
  • Continental will buy back your foreign currency and foreign drafts and cheques

Know What Currency You Need

It may sound silly, but make sure you know what type of currency you’ll need. Do your research ahead of time to avoid embarrassing (and costly) mistakes. Ireland uses the euro, but Northern Ireland uses the pound (but Northern Irish pounds may not be accepted elsewhere in the UK). Along with Ireland, much of Europe uses the euro, but there are some notable exceptions. If you’re not sure, visit your local Continental branch and we’ll be happy to help!

Convert on the Go

Keeping track of your spending can be tricky on vacation. After all, you are trying to relax so you don’t want to spend all day counting every nickle and dime. But remember, you’re going to have to return to the real world eventually, and you’ll be glad to have saved a few extra bucks when you land. Budgeting in a foreign currency can be particularly difficult, especially when using something like the Colombian peso where a 10,000 bill might not be worth as much as you’d expect. For this reason make sure to have a currency converter on hand to translate spending into a familiar currency.

Plastic World

Of course, you can always pay with plastic right? Wrong! Although paying with plastic is near ubiquitous here in North America, it can vary country to country, city to city and might not always be an option especially in more rural or less developed areas. On top of this many card issuers will slap an additional charge onto already steep exchange fees when you swipe your card overseas. Make sure you know what your card provider’s policies and fees are ahead of time. Using cards can also make you more vulnerable to identity theft so make sure that you only use plastic to pay trusted businesses.

Not everyone will accept cards, but you’d be hard pressed to find a business that doesn’t accept good old hard currency. Plus, it can be a lot simpler to make and keep to your budget when it is laid out in cash. Of course, if you will be carrying cash then there are certain precautions you should take, but we’ll cover that more extensively in our ‘Health and Safety’ section.

Foreign Drafts and Cheques

Similar to paying with cards, Traveler’s Cheques are often subjected to high service charges and poor exchange rates. In some places Traveler’s Cheques in Canadian currency are not accepted at all.

Despite this, many people still prefer foreign drafts and cheques, and they do have certain advantages. Foreign drafts and cheques are safer and more convenient than carrying around hundreds of dollars in cash. Just make sure that you are getting the best deal; compare prices and come into Continental Currency for guaranteed low rates. We will also buy back your foreign drafts and cheques after you return.

Buy Local Currency

Another simple and overlooked tip is to buy local currency. Many locations will accept good ol American greenbacks, British pounds, or other currencies often used by tourists. But remember, these businesses will also set their own exchange rate well above the going rate and slap on a fee for good measure. Using local currency is simpler and cheaper in the long run, especially if you buy it before reaching your destination.

Budget Appropriately

Your total expenses may vary greatly depending on where (and when) you are visiting. A good starting point is: $75-$100 a day for a budget trip, $100-$200 for a moderate trip, and $200 and above for a more luxurious adventure. Do your research, look up costs and remember you can always exchange any leftover currency – it is better to bring too much rather than too little.

Buy Before you Fly

Buying your currency before you take off can be an important money saving step. Airport currency exchangers will often take advantage of frantic last minute flyers with high rates and hidden fees. Don’t be duped. Buy your currency ahead of time from a trusted currency exchange, and be sure to compare rates and fees.

Know your Currency

It may seem overly cautious but familiarize yourself with the currency that you’ll be using before your arrive at your destination. There are lots of online resources – including our very own Currency Spotlights – that will give you an insight into the value, look and feel of the currency that you’ll be using. Familiarize yourself with local nicknames (imagine visiting Canada and not knowing what a loonie is!), subunits (like cents, centimos, fils, grosz, etc) and the look and feel of different bills and coins. Not knowing the difference between bills and coins can help you avoid being shortchanged (intentionally or not).

(Don’t) Keep the Change

Although some currency outlets like Continental Currency Exchange will buy back your bills, most won’t be able to exchange your coins. So if you find yourself with a handful of leftover coins, try converting them into bills before you return home. Of course, you can also spend them on trinkets, show your appreciation to street performers or keep them as souvenirs. If you’re planning on returning then there is no harm in keeping some coins, but otherwise they can be a bulky, expensive weight in your pockets.


While commonplace in much of North America, tipping is by no means a universal custom. Different rules apply depending on where you are. Tipping can be all but mandatory in some places, while downright rude in others. Do your research ahead of time, familiarize yourself with the local tipping culture and go along with it. Even though it might feel wrong to leave a great meal without tipping, if it is the local custom then just go with the flow. Even if the place you are visiting does encourage tipping make sure to check the local rate beforehand. You might be used to tipping around 15 or 20% but the local rate could be closer to 5 or 10%

Know Where to Get More

Even if you bring a lot of currency and stick to your budget, it is always best to prepare for the worst. Know beforehand how and where you will obtain additional currency if need be. Bringing currency with a reserve of foreign drafts and cheques can be a prudent decision, and we’ll buy back anything you don’t use.

Leaving Already?

Some countries impose a departure tax or service fee at the airport. Make sure to set aside enough currency to cover such expenses. Exchange your leftover currency for Canadian currency or the currency of choice at your local Continental Currency Exchange branch.

Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO