Prague is one of the most beautiful places on the planet - there's no doubt about that. The "city of thousand spires" offers innumerable sights and unparalleled views. However, its image is soiled by a few problems whose resolution has long been overdue. As part of the service we offer to incoming tourists, we believe it is our duty to point these problems out and to warn you about them. Exchange offices in Prague are one of these problems.
Recently, Zuzi's brother who works in a restaurant in Dublin, Ireland, came back to the Czech Republic to visit family and friends. However, he did not have any Czech crowns at hand so we headed to an exchange point right under the Powder Tower in the centre of Prague. The offered rate was decent, and they charged 0% commission. However, we learned (after the Euros exchanged hands) that the offered rate (about 23.5 CZK for one EUR) applied solely to "larger transactions" (i.e. transactions over EUR 200) and that any amount lower than EUR 200 would be exchanged at a significantly lower rate (CZK 17 per one EUR). When we wanted to cancel the exchange, the assistant said the exchange had been completed and that he could not give us the money back. After we threatened to call the police, Zuzi's brother was offered the better CZK/EUR exchange rate.
After this experience, we think we should post a few tips about exchanging money in Prague.
1. Never exchange money on the street
Ever. That's the biggest mistake you can make. We have heard many stories about foreign gangs of scam artists cruising the streets of Prague. However reliable these people might seem and whatever the course of the transaction is, the result is always the same: the tourist either gets a roll of paper cut to resemble money, wrapped in a single genuine banknote, or gets quite a lot of genuine banknotes, but of another (read: "less valuable") currency. Tourists rarely know what Czech crowns look like, so they accept substantial amounts in, let's say, Bulgarian currency, only to find out they were cheated when they try to use the banknotes to pay.
2. Look for the small print
So the exchange rate posted on the board looks great? Think again. Some exchange offices apply two different rates - one is the standard rate that more or less matches the official rates, the other (significantly lower) rate applies to "under limit" transactions (which may mean anything from EUR 200 to EUR 10,000). Therefore, always ask what rate applies to the amount you wish to convert to Czech currency. Which brings us to the next tip:
3. Ask first, hand out money later
Always (and we do mean ALWAYS) ask how much you'll get for the amount you wish to convert: "I want to convert EUR 150 to Czech crowns. How much will I get for that specific amount when you include the applicable rate, commission etc?" After the assistant replies, take your calculator, mobile phone or PDA and calculate the real rate. Never hand out your money to the assistant without knowing and agreeing on the amount you'll get back for the specific amount. You can always cancel the transaction in the exchange process, but once you hand over the money and you get cheated, your only available remedy is a complaint to the Czech National Bank. The bottom line is: once you give your money to the assistant on the other side of the counter (behind a thick sheet of glass), they are very hesitant about giving it back to you.
4. Request a receipt
Always request a receipt. First of all, you'll have proof of the transaction. Second, you may avert tax evasion by the exchange office.
5. Do your homework
It is not our intention to claim that all the exchange offices in Prague want to cheat you out of your money. We just think you should be very cautious and follow the rules mentioned above. We also recommend that you do your homework before you leave home: ask your bank how much money they charge for ATM cash withdrawals and card payments abroad - ATMs are almost on every corner in Prague, and you can use your card virtually everywhere in the centre of Prague. Unfortunately, cash-back services are virtually non-existent in Prague, but when you buy food in major supermarket chains (Billa, Albert, Tesco etc.), you can pay in Euros and you'll get the change back in Czech crowns - you'll get a receipt and the exchange rates tend to be decent.
(Please note that this is independent advice: we do not - nor plan to - provide currency exchange services ourselves. We have also decided not to recommend or name specific exchange offices in this post, for obvious reasons (future changes of ownership etc.). If you are uncertain or need help or advice when you want to exchange money, do not hesitate to contact us.)