The concept of peer to peer currency exchange is quite ingenious: Instead of paying the high exchange rates charged by banks, or the even higher rates charged by places like Travelex, you connect directly with people who have currency that you need and trade them (at market rate) for currency they need. There are some variations on this model, and different ways for the companies facilitating this trade to make a profit. But all systems work out to a much better exchange rate for travelers.
To be clear, the only way to get completely free market rate exchanges is to either pay with a credit card without a foreign transaction fee, or use an ATM without a fee. Check out my What’s in Your Wallet post for more on the best way to avoid wasting money on fees while traveling. But I know that it’s nice to arrive in a new country with at least a small amount of local currency in your wallet, just in case there’s no way to immediately get money in the airport. That’s where these currency exchange businesses really appeal to me.
I’m currently aware of five companies in this business. You can find info on these, and any new ones I come across, in my master spreadsheet of sharing economy travel services. Choose the category “currency exchange”.
I’ve written about WeSwap, a veteran in this market place. They’ve been around since 2010, and provide pre-paid cards with local currency for easy use at ATMs. They cover five currencies and a variety of countries in Europe. The exchanges are at market rates, with WeSwap taking a small fee for the transactions.
CurrencyFair is focused on expats and long term residents or foreign investors, rather than short term travelers. Founded in 2009, CurrencyFair offers a market for exchanges letting users set the rates they will accept. They cover 17 currencies and charge a fee for each transaction. They are focused on users who want to send money without high fees, and currently serve Europeans sending money to Australia, Canada, the U.S., and Europe.
Weeleo is a mobile app which offers free connections with people in your location who want to swap currency. You publish an ad describing how much of a specific currency you want to swap, Weeleo matches you with people nearby who are looking for the reverse swap, and you then use the in app messaging to arrange meetups. Founded in 2013 they currently support 9 currencies. They are based in France but can also be used elsewhere around the world.
CrowdTransfer launched in 2014 and provided a platform for people to sent money to Europe and Latin America. They are currently in the process of redesigning their product to send money between Europe and Chile. The release date is not yet known.
Fluint is currently in private beta so I haven’t had a chance to test it out yet, but they claim to be a no-fee way to facilitate currency swaps between people in the same location.