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I'm going to relocate to Germany, Munich and basically wonder what is the best option - to buy some euro (~4-5 thousands) here, in San-Francisco or should just take some amount of cash in dollars buy some euros in Europe?

Update: Let me clarify what I mean by "best" - basically I'm interested in two things:

  1. Are there more places in Munich where I can exchange dollars for a reasonable price rather than places in San-Francisco?

  2. Can I avoid the necessity of bringing lot of cash at all and just somehow indeed do a wire transfer to a german account while I'm already there?

closed as off-topic by Chris W. Rea, Nathan L, JoeTaxpayer Feb 2 '17 at 23:50

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You may want to look at services like https://transferwise.com/. For transferring money abroad they may be cheaper than you own bank. Here is a list of similar services: https://www.icomparefx.com/transferwise-competitors/. Which one is the cheapest depends on the amount of money you want to transfer.

You would still need an account at a german bank or a trustworthy friend with a german account.

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If you are going to keep your US bank account for any period of time, the very best option I know of is to withdraw Euros from an atm using your US card once you are in Germany.

I draw on my US account regularly (I'm in Munich) and always get the going "mid market" exchange rate, which is better than what you get from a currency conversion service, transfer agency, or bank transfer, and there are no fees from the atm or my bank for the currency conversion or withdrawal.

Of course you should check with your bank to verify their rules and fees for atm use internationally. It would also be wise to put a travel advisory on your account to be sure your transaction is not denied because you are out of country.

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    +1 This is a good idea for the beginning, but do set up online wire transfer as well, so you can transfer your funds to your German account as soon as you have that set up. – Sumyrda Feb 2 '17 at 16:15
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Most US banks allow to initiate wire transfers online. (I do it regularly with BoA and JPMorgan-Chase)

Once you have your account details in Germany, you log on to your US account, set it up, and initiate the transfer; that should go through within one day. The exchange ratio is better than anything you would get buying/selling currency (paper cash money), no matter where you do it.

Chase takes a fee of 40$ per online transaction; BoA 45$. The receiving bank might or might not take additional fees, they should be lower though (I have experienced between 0€ and 0.35%).
Therefore, it is a good idea to bundle your transfers into one, if you can.

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My experience is from travelling in Central Europe and Germany, so I've dealt with much smaller amounts of money, but the general principles are the same.

Many Visa-brand ATM cards allow you to withdraw money from European ATMs for a 1% fee (plus any fees the bank may charge, my bank charged zero fee) in local currency. Even if the bank charges a 2-3% fee, the combined max 4% fee is going to be a lot smaller than most currency exchange places will offer. There are a lot of exchange offices that are built to scam tourists out of their money. We had no choice but to use one that ended up taking around 10% of the exchanged money (luckily we were only exchanging a small amount of currency). Call your bank and ask what their fees are, and if they are large, find a bank with small or zero fees and move your accounts there. Be sure to notify your bank that you are going to be travelling for an extended time in a foreign country. Literally any ATM (Geldautomat) accepted our card (thank you VISA). We literally walked off the plane with some USD and no foreign currency, and were able to stop at an ATM right outside our hotel (the taxi had a card reader, as most in Munich did).

If you have a source of income secured within the country (which I am hoping you do if you will be living there) you could live off of your income, and use your USD to pay off things like credit card bills. Get a Travel Rewards Credit Card (or similar card that offers no foreign transaction fees or free currency transfers). Use this card for anything and everything you can, and pay it with a transfer from your US bank account. Under this method you'll probably have to convert some currency, but you can do so from an ATM easily enough.

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