A Practical Post on Changing Money

Jerusalem Yaffo Money Changing Dollar Shekel Euro
The best I found in 5 minutes of looking.

One of the common issues that any traveler needs to address is exchanging money from his home country for the local currency. I think most people that go through this procedure basically accept in advance that they will be ripped off, and just take that loss as part of the cost of their vacation.

While it is true that there is a high chance of losing money during such transactions, a very little bit of effort can save you a drop of money, and might at least make you feel as if you are not a complete freier (for an explanation of that Israeli slang term, see this post from my comedian friend Benji Lovitt).

Basically, I had some American dollars I needed to exchange for shekels earlier today. I used to use one company for all of my money changing needs, but alas they recently fell on hard times (a confusing story that I don’t know all of the details of, but embezzlement or theft may have been involved). Regardless what actually took place, the fact is that they are no longer open, so I needed to find somewhere else.

I knew that there were a plethora of money changers in the center of town here in Jerusalem. For those who are unclear what that means exactly, I am referring to the area around Zion Square, where Ben Yehuda St. and Jaffa / Yaffo Rd. intersect. I had virtually no experience using these guys, so I had no idea if there was a standard exchange rate, or what. But I remembered that the last time I used one of them, he gave me an exchange rate that was extremely low, but that for the small amount of money I was changing at the time (about $100), it didn’t make that much difference.

In this case, I was trading a bit more money. Not enough that it would make a huge impact, but enough that I didn’t want them to have the extra money. I learned a few things about these money traders from a colleague back in my days at learntotrade.co.uk, and I did not want to become the dreaded freier!

Within about 2 blocks of Zion Square, I saw close to 10 different money changers. I did not go into every single one, but I went into about 6 or 7. And let me tell you, the range of exchange rates was really shocking to me. The first 3 change stores I went into were literally within a 10 second walk of each other and they offered the following exchange rates: 3.36 (NIS per US dollar), 3.37 and 3.38. I’m guessing that’s why these stores don’t post their rates visibly outside — because then it would start price wars like at gas stations on opposite corners in the States.

A bit more asking around finally found me two places that were both offering 3.40 shekels per dollar. I went back to the first one that offered me that price and made my exchange. (As a frame of reference, at the close of trading yesterday, the exchange rate was 3.40 and at the close today, after I made my exchange, it was 3.43. That is the middle between the buy and sell rates, so you never really get that number. So the rate I got was fairly good.)

In the end, I only came out with an extra 16 NIS in my pocket, which isn’t that much. But it can buy me a few beers at the supermarket, or a slice of pizza or two. It’s definitely enough that I’d rather have it in my pocket than give it to the money changers.

So what’s my bottom line here? Spend 5 extra minutes walking from store to store to compare. And when I say 5 minutes, I mean it literally. Especially if you are changing a larger sum of money, it can really be worth it.

And by the way, also remember that Israel is in the Middle East, and bargaining is the norm. As I was doing my little price comparison today, 3 of the people who offered me a lower rate asked me how much I had to change when they saw me walking out of the store without making an exchange, implying that they were willing to give me a more favorable rate if I had enough money to be worth it for them. And another actually raised his rate immediately and called after me when he saw me turn around and walk out.

I may try to do a more complete survey soon and post the results here. But for those who are interested in which store had the best rates I received today, check out the picture at the top of the post. The change store is located right next door to the Aldo ice cream store on Jaffa Road, between Zion Sq. and Heleni HaMalka St. (where the Coffee Bean is located).

11 thoughts on “A Practical Post on Changing Money

  1. Richard says:

    I don’t get it.
    If you have 1000$ and want to trade it to NIS, you’ll get per exchange rate:
    3.4: 3400 NIS.
    3.39: 3390 NIS.
    3.38: 3380 NIS.
    So this five minutes walk of yours saved you about 10-20 NIS out of 3390 or 0.4%…

    Does it worth it?

    It really depends on the standard of living you are used to. Like, you can have a vacation in France for 100$ a day or you can have for 1000$ a day… Different restaurants and whatever else. If you can afford that 1000$ a day, you won’t matter very much for a few cents…

    • Fun Joel says:

      I hear what you’re saying Richard, which is why I said more than once that it is NOT a lot of money. However, there are three factors involved here:

      1. I’m not saying spend an hour. 5 minutes is not a long time, so why throw money away, no matter how much it is?

      2. No matter how little it is, I would rather have it in my pocket than let them have it. It is a matter of principle.

      3. I said that some people just add that in to the cost of their trips, and that’s fine. But others travel on more of a budget, and all of the little bits add up. There are MANY ways to overspend as a tourist in Israel. This is simply one example of the way you can get ripped off. But if you pay attention, those little bits can add up to quite a large amount.

      (And if you disagree, I will happily take any of the money that you would have thrown away! 😉 )

    • Fun Joel says:

      I don’t actually know, sorry. But my father found someone who makes bank transfers and they will even send a messenger to get the check from you. I can find out from him how the rates were. Remind me!

  2. Moshe says:

    Hi Joel,
    As the proprietor of Change 40, featured in your article I want to personally say thank you for the wonderful article. I am always happy to hear feedback, hopefully positive, about the quality of the service and the exchange rate. While of course we all work or are in business to earn money, my goal is the highest level of service and the fairest rates. This, ultimately saves my customers money on their transaction, be it via cash, checks or wire transfers. Once again thank you for your article and for the business.

    • Fun Joel says:

      Wow! How’d you find this so quickly! 😉

      Let be said up front that I do not know Moshe, and he clearly has good friends who sent him this link. Because I did not alert him about it!

      Moshe, perhaps you can answer Ilene’s question above regarding bank transfers?

      And thanks for doing a good job. You see it was worth it for you!

  3. Aaron Shaffier says:

    In my experience, people who come here from abroad are really afraid that they are going to get jacked big-time on the exchange rate. Some of them are so afraid, that they go to the bank and wait in line to get a horrible exchange rate and a fee on top of it, just because they feel like the bank is more ‘official’ or whatever.

    I think that most people would be very pleasantly surprised to hear the results of your research. Basically what you have found out is that if you pick the wrong place, you might lose a half a percent or so.

    As a local, who has to exchange money rather frequently, I totally agree with the idea of shopping around to save that extra 20 shekel because it adds up over time. But I think you have good news for most travelers here that they can feel pretty safe exchanging their money at any of the authorized change places in Israel.

    • Fun Joel says:

      Thanks Aaron! And you actually raise a good point that I should have mentioned.

      Banks are NOT a good place to change money. Neither, in my experience, is the airport.

  4. Moshe says:

    Joel, like you I am from New York and when I first came to Israel I just changed wherever and even after I made Aliyah I would go where everyone went but I never bothered to check, I just as assumed that the rate was OK.
    The article was sent by a customer of mine, just to illustrate how a rate isn’t just a rate, she started coming to me because her business partner comes to me and then her husband brought the business that he is a partner in as well, and along the way those recommendations have compounded. I believe personal experience and word of mouth are the best advertisements.
    To answer Ilene’s question we have amazing rates on bank transfers. I would be happy to give you more information just email me at change40(at)orange(dot)net.il.
    I also encourage you to shop around and tell me what you have been quoted, before and/or after you have a quote from me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *