“Where to change currency in Portugal” is the second of three posts that we recommend reading if you are new to the currency exchange travel money industry in Portugal. If you didn’t read the first one, please do it now before reading this second installment. It’s called “Pay attention to currency converters“.
Where to change currency in Portugal
In this post we show you the three alternatives to change currency in Portugal in a serious and professional way, with the pros and cons of each one of them.
Whether you are a Portuguese resident or a visitor, read along and learn where to get the greatest rates for your travel money when you travel in or out Portugal.
Thousands of currency exchanges every day
In Portugal many of them leave it until the last minute, and they change at the airport, where it is very comfortable and safe, but it is not cheap. And almost all of them have something in common: having no idea what type of exchange rate has been applied to them in the operation.
Every day, foreign exchange suppliers, airports and banks take advantage of our ignorance as users and apply high exchange rates, which are not very competitive, when they do not charge us in addition a foreign exchange commission.
The result is that, we get much less foreign currency for the same euros (or vice-versa, less euros for the same dollars or pounds).
Just as in the market you look at how much is the kilogram of [put the name of the food] in a supermarket and check the same in the neighboring store to choose the one that gives you the most confidence and best price, in the currency exchange, there are many options to buy foreign currency or get euros with your travel money.
And Cambiator Portugal is here to tell you which ones and at what rates.
Did you know that in Portugal, if you buy 1000 dollars the difference between the best and the worst optio can reach 60 euros? Or if you exchange 1000 pounds to euros, you can get around 50 euros plus only by choosing the right place?
The currency exchange market in Portugal
Foreign currency exchange operations are free in our country.
In Portugal there is not much transparency in the supply of foreign currency to individuals.
There are basically three places where you can buy (sell) currency today: banks, high street currency suppliers and airport currency suppliers.
Let´s take a look at the pros and cons of each of them.
Portuguese Banks are not our usual resource to buy foreign currency before traveling, when we go ahead. THey have this service reserved to their customers but do not really like to handle many foreign currencies.
Obviously most of them only pay this service to customers. In their favor they have to be absolutely reliable and they attend us at our branch.
It is convenient to pick up the phone or send an email to our manager to ask for currency (in advance). In addition, as they know us as customers (they have all our personal data, income, tax returns, etc.), they do not need to ask us for additional supporting documents when we change currency.
Banks are said to know well their customers and that they meet the “know your customer” (KYC) requirements of the anti-money laundering prevention regulations.
Against them they have that the banks do not like the currency exchange very much. They see it more as something that you have to have to satisfy your customer, rather than as a “profitable” service. In addition, in Portugal they only sell at least twenty foreign currencies (convertible currencies).
If you need to change currency you will have to be patient. First you will have to ask for the travel money, then wait for your branch to ask their main office for the currency. Finally get back to the branch to collect your dollars, pounds, etc. and pay for them at the exchange rate of the day.
And if it’s an exotic currency that you want to buy, forget it, they don’t sell it. But they will try to endorse you “dollars” so that you later change them in destiny: come on, a double change!
With which, you better go to your bank at least 10-15 days in advance and not aim to buy a currency too exotic. They will not have it in their portfolio.
Finally, almost all bank entities charge you around a 2% commission when you buy or sell foreign currency. So be very carefull if you are considering a bank as your next destination for travel money in Portugal.
And at least compare rates before taking your final decision.
Travel money suppliers
The “casas de câmbio” are natural or legal persons (companies) of recognized commercial and professional honor that have a license from the Banco de Portugal to operate as “agências de câmbios” or as “instituições de pagamento”.
The Bank of Portugal supervises and controls the “agências de câmbios” and “instituições de pagamento”, like the banks, but requires greater transparency and procedures when it comes to “knowing” their customers.
Therefore, if you change currency at a currency supplier in Portugal, they should at least ask you to identify yourself with an identity document or passport. Please note that a driving license is not accepted as identity document.
And for this reason, you will also have a maximum limit in euros that you can change to another currency (and vice-versa). But don’t worry, this limit is high enough not to fear, if what you plan is a tourist or business trip abroad.
An activity license superior to that of the currency suppliers, just below the “bank license”, is that of “Instituições de Pagamento” (payment institutions). This license allows, in addition to exchanging currency, performing quasi-banking services such as international money transfers, foreign currency accounts for ther customers, etc.
Regarding the pros and cons of currency suppliers:
In their favor, the currency suppliers are specialists in the matter. The number of currencies handled on average in Portugal can be around 60 currencies compared to around 20 currencies handled by banks.
Another point in their favor is that they are usually in places with a lot of transit (centre of tourist towns, train stations and airports).
Lastly, they are starting to offer currency delivery at reasonable rates (some of them), with added services included in the price.
Against them they have that, since there is not much competition between them and the Portuguese consumer is not very seasoned, they do not always offer you good rates. In other words, there are big differences between them, depending on the currency in question, the place and the time of year.
Therefore, it is better for you to compare exchange rates whenever you need them and not think that such currency suppliers is cheap per se, and will always be the best currency exchange option.
In fact their rates can fluctuate quite a bit for each currency and from one day to the next depending on ther stocks for each currency.
Currency exchange at the airport
Airports are gigantic hubs for attracting people and travellers. It´s natural that they offer currency exchange at the airport.
Only at the Lisboa Airport it is estimated according to ANA that 15 million passengers passed between January and November 2022. And another more than 13 million did so through Porto airport.
Aeroportos de Portugal takes advantage of these flows to “commercialize spaces” to multiple shops and services, among which there may be banks or currency suppliers that deal with the sale of foreign currency (especially in the Departures areas of the airport), and purchase of currency in exchange for euros, in Arrivals.
This privileged and exclusive situation that both ANA and the airport’s currency exchange service have is dangerous. They are moved more by the desire to make each client and square meter of the airport profitable than by providing a service to a consumer who travels and needs to change currency.
That is why airports are today the least interesting option to change currency.
In their favor they have that the currency exchange services at the airport are very comfortable and safe since they are located in the correct “flows” of passengers (those who depart or those who arrive).
In addition, currency exchange is generally done in the “sterile” area of the airport, after security control. Better to change there than in the public area of the airport or at the destination in the center of a busy and distant country, with onlookers and in another language.
Against them, the main problem with currency exchange at airports is that they are expensive, quite expensive.
And this because the airport manager (ANA and such companies) wants to obtain good performance from each exchange operation, and the service manager (bank or currency suppliers) as well.
At the end of the day, either the exchange rates are high or the P&L does not work for these companies. For this reason, the average amounts exchanged by users at the airport are usually lower than those exchanged at the bank or at a currency supplier out of the airport.
Travel money is changed at the airport more for convenience than meditatively.
Cambiator.pt is the first currency exchange comparator for travelers and tourists in Portugal.
We have come from Spain and France to Portugal to introduce transparency in the Portuguese currency exchange market and to help you find the best rates every time you exchange money for your trips abroad. All of it for free.
And we are here also for the millions of travelers who travel to Portugal with foreign currency every year.
Next recommended reading
“Where to change currency in Portugal” is the second of three must-read posts for those who start in the currency exchange (the first is called “Pay attention to currency converters“). The next one that we advise you to read is “Travel money tricks“.