Skip to main content
Shopping at Terra Firma, a boutique in Jacksonville, Oregon
View more

Shopping and Spending Money

Christian Heeb

Official Travel Information

The U.S. dollar is the official currency of the United States of America. You can exchange your money in your home country, exchange money at the airport or other locations around the USA, such as banks. It is not recommended to travel with large sums of cash.


Cash is accepted at most places, although some businesses only accept major debit or credit cards. The most common U.S. currency consists of bills in denominations of $100, $50, $20, $10, $5, and $1 and coins in denominations of $1, 25 cents (quarter), 10 cents (dime), 5 cents (nickel) and 1 cent (penny). All of the bills are the same size, so be sure you give the right bill. Be aware that some merchants do not accept large denominations of bills.

Getting Cash & ATMs

There are approximately 425,000 automated teller machines (ATMs) in the United States. Keep in mind, though, that you could be charged a variety of fees, including a non-bank ATM usage fee of up to $3 per use, ATM operator access fee and international transaction fee. Check with your bank and credit card companies regarding fees before you travel. ATMs often offer the most competitive rates for currency conversion. Check the currency conversion rate before withdrawing money to make sure you are getting a fair exchange rate.

Credit Cards

Credit cards are widely accepted throughout the U.S. for everything from hotels and dining to entertainment and public transportation. Depending on your credit card, you might be charged currency conversion and international transaction fees. Check with your credit card company prior to travel to keep these fees to a minimum. Keep a photocopy of all your cards and international phone numbers for your credit card companies in a separate place from your credit cards in the event the cards are lost, stolen or stop working.

You should notify your bank about international travel before you depart to ensure your credit cards work properly upon arrival. Merchants in the United States are in the process of switching to devices that can accommodate credit cards with the chip and PIN system, matching the technology used in Canada, Europe and elsewhere. Most retailers should be able to accommodate chip and pin credit cards by October 2015, though some smaller independent U.S. merchants may take longer to bring their systems in line. Some independent merchants do not accept credit cards, so it is best to check with merchants in advance to determine whether you need to withdraw cash.

Travelers Checks

Travelers checks offer a big advantage over cash: If they are lost or stolen, they can be replaced free of charge with one phone call. The most common denominations of travelers checks are $20, $50 and $100; checks can be purchased at banks and other companies such as American Express. Be sure to research where you can cash these checks before you travel.