- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 26, 2001

NEW YORK Foreign travelers stand to gain the most by Europe's historic currency switch next week, despite expected confusion during the transition.
Jairo Riveros, for example, made eight trips to Europe last year and had to convert currency each time he crossed from one country to another.
But starting Jan. 1, the New York manager of student exchange programs will have to do it only once. Calculating housing and transportation costs for students from different nations should be a snap, too.
Once the new notes and coins start circulating next week in the 12-nation euro zone, travelers can save the hassle and cost of changing money multiple times, avoiding commissions of up to 8 percent or more. It will be easier to comparison shop from country to country for everything from car rentals to wool shawls. Pockets no longer will bulge with francs from France, guilders from the Netherlands and lire from Italy.
"The bottom line is short-term confusion, long-term gain for everybody," said John Murray, president of ETM Travel Group, a Westport, Conn., tour operator that sends about 7,000 American tourists to Europe a year.
At first, travelers should expect longer lines at foreign-exchange outlets and some retail shops, which will handle both euros and outgoing local currencies during a phase-in period of up to Feb. 28, depending on the nation. Some overseas automated teller machines may not be equipped to dispense euros immediately.
Shoppers could pay more for some items, as stores round up prices when converting local currencies to the nearest euro decimal. It may be tough for tourists unfamiliar with European costs to figure how much more they are paying.
"It's important that you check your change," said Nancy Muller, a spokeswoman for American Express, which operates 380 foreign-exchange bureaus in the 12 nations adopting the euro.
To avoid long lines abroad during the transition period and to make sure retailers charge travelers correctly analysts recommend using credit cards for most transactions.
For small purchases like gelato in Florence, Italy, or espresso in Paris, travelers will want to have euros on hand. To avoid waiting in line for money, it will be prudent to buy a few hundred dollars worth in advance from a foreign-exchange bureau in the United States.
American Express and Thomas Cook, operators of major foreign-exchange bureaus in the United States, said they will start selling euros from outlets in the United States the first week of January. Citibank, owned by financial services giant Citigroup, said it will make euros available from its 446 U.S. branches also at that time.
To supplement pocket change, some vacationers plan to empty their dresser drawers of European currencies hoarded as souvenirs from previous trips.
"I think I still have some francs left over from last year, and I will take them less than $100," said Elsa Montemayor of San Antonio, who is returning to Paris Jan. 2 for a 10-day vacation with her husband and two friends.
Outgoing currencies will be accepted until Feb. 28 by businesses in most of the euro nations, including Germany, Italy, Greece and Spain. The exceptions are the Netherlands, until Jan. 27; Ireland, until Feb. 9; and France, until Feb. 17.
Commercial banks will accept local currencies for many months after the deadline.
Travelers should not panic if they forget to use up old European currencies before returning to the United States.
Thomas Cook will redeem them for dollars at its 40 foreign-exchange bureaus in the United States, as long as the individual country's central bank accepts them, said David Montgomery, general manager of North American retail operations. American Express' 120 U.S. bureaus also will buy them for dollars for years to come.
For instance, French francs and German marks will be redeemed indefinitely by their central banks, Italian lire and Greek drachmas until 2012, and Dutch guilders until 2032.
Citibank, for its part, will redeem local currencies until Feb. 28 at its U.S. branches and two foreign-exchange bureaus in New York, spokeswoman Maria Mendler said.
Many travelers look forward to the convenience of a currency whose value is close to the dollar, with one euro trading at about 90 cents on foreign-exchange markets last week.
The states adopting the euro are Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. Those staying out are Britain, Sweden and Denmark.

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