Travel | December 7, 2022 6:31 am

How to Take Advantage of the Dollar When Shopping Overseas 

Headed to Europe in the next few months? Read this first.

Pattern of crumpled one dollar bills lying against pink background
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If you’ve ever considered taking a trip to Europe, the time is now. Right now. Pack your bags and hop on a plane tomorrow. Even better: Bring an empty suitcase when you hop on that plane.

The exchange rate is the best we’ve seen in about 20 years, making European stores the place to be. The rate is so good, in fact, that the cost savings is well worth the flight over the pond, says Erica Jackowitz, the president and co-founder of Roman & Erica, a luxury travel agency

“American travelers should take advantage of the opportunity while it lasts,” Jackowitz says. 

Before you snag that flight, here are all the deets you need to know:

The exchange rate

The Euro/dollar fluctuates daily, but it’s been hovering at around 1:1 for a few months. This means that the Euro is about 10 to 15% lower than the 2019 rates against the dollar. And the pound fell to an all-time low against the dollar in late September, so the dollar is about 18% stronger against the pound, compared with this time last year.

“Prediction is an art, not a science, and what happens is entirely dependent on factors such as the energy supply for the winter in Europe, the war in Ukraine and domestic inflation in the EU,” says Dia Adams, a travel rewards expert and Forbes advisor in DC.

Still, the dollar’s strength is likely to last until 2023 before giving up some ground in the second half of the year, as the Fed finishes hiking rates and the rest of the world stabilizes and starts doing better, says Scott Wren, the managing director and senior global market strategist at Wells Fargo Investment Institute. 

Flights

While the cost of airfare fell after a surge earlier this year, it’s still expensive if you plan on traveling at peak times (these would be during winter break, spring break and over the summer). If you’re at all flexible, there are plenty of deals to be found, making this shopping spree even better. I’m flying to London round-trip in January non-stop for $600, for example. But the same flight would have been double had I flown during winter break. 

The best deals

These can be found in local European shops, Jackowitz says. For example, if you’re on the hunt for amazing tees and basics, Jackowitz has always loved the Parisian brand Majestic Filatures. In the United States, she might pay $120-$150 for one of their tees, but they’re about 30 to 50% less expensive in Paris right now because of the strong dollar. 

“Wolford and Petit Bateau are some of the other brands I don’t leave Europe without stopping at each and every time,” she says. “So snagging great buys like this is what makes it fun to shop there now.” 

But you don’t have to stick with the basics to enjoy the savings. Train tickets — which will also be priced by the Euro (or the pound, if you’re visiting England), will also be less expensive for Americans, as well as tourist spots. 

“The benefit of a stronger dollar is that all purchases in a foreign currency are cheaper,” says Scott Keyes, the founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights, based in Portland. “Hotels, meals, tours, you name it. You’re not saving money if you buy frivolous items you didn’t need just because they’re cheaper than they were last year, of course, but I like to think of a strong dollar as a little cherry on top, especially if you were already planning to travel abroad.”

If you do splurge, remember to request VAT (Value Added Tax) refunds on any of your pricier items. This should save you up to 20% more. Claim the VAT refund at the airport, as long as you have the paperwork and receipts from the store merchants. This should work anywhere except in England, as the UK stopped offering VAT refunds in 2021. 

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Dining

This is another area where you’ll see tons of savings, with some restaurants appearing to be up to 50% off for Americans. 

Don’t bother buying this…

Since luxury travel is still strong, there’s no incentive for couture or high-end luxury retailers to have lower prices in different areas of the world, so don’t expect any bargains at the top end of the spectrum, Adams says. 

How to pay

The best conversion rates are via your credit card or through an ATM. And when you’re using your credit card, select the option to pay in the local currency. It’s also best to use a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, as these can jack up the price by 3%. 

Did you fall in love with your holiday?

Then this is the perfect time to actually buy yourself a little home away from home. If you were to buy a 2,000 sq. ft. villa in Tuscany listed for $495,976 in 2018, the cost today would be $449,958: a savings of $46,000. Or, snag an 800 sq. ft. Paris apartment for $855,858 today, versus $943,389 in 2018, says Lara Bianco, the owner of My Dolce Casa, a research blog about moving, living and retiring abroad. 

“Increasingly, more Americans are moving abroad, and destinations like Portugal, Italy and France are hotter than ever for relocation or second home purchases,” Bianco says. 

Make the deal even better

Before your trip, head to the site Farfetch. This app is a great online portal for savvy shoppers worldwide, Jackowitz says. Once your add your items to your cart, change your shipping address to your European hotel, and you will have all your items waiting for you there before your arrival at 30 to 40% less than you would have paid if you sent or purchased them in the United States due to the exchange rate. 

“Notably, I took my online shopping hack a step further on my recent trip to Monaco last month, and ordered many of the items locally in the United States to try on for size before placing my Farfetched order,” Jackowitz says.