When travelling to Poland, you will certainly not be able to avoid exchanging your currency for the Polish Złoty. Here I would like to give you some tips on how to do this. Basically, there are two common ways to get to exchange into Zloty.
1) Exchange offices (Polish: Kantor)
You will find exchange offices in every big city and in a special density at the border. If you arrive by car, you will most likely have the opportunity to exchange money at the first petrol stations after crossing the border. My personal experience shows that the exchange rates are quite fair, but still, please do yourself a favour and always double check!
With exchange offices in the cities and above all in regions with high tourist density I advise you to special caution. Have a look at the ratings on the internet, as it unfortunately happens all too often that you are cheated by outrageously low rates despite other signposting. How audacious it can get, experienced a friend this summer in the city centre of Cracow. Right next to the marketplace he found an exchange office that advertised a realistic €-zł exchange rate on many billboards. Happy not to have to look any further, he exchanged a few euros in Złoty and was not even aware of his loss at the beginning. Since one receives a multiple of the deposited sum (higher numbers, more banknotes), it is, if one is not familiar with the currency, in the beginning quite confusing. After a later look at the receipt, he figured it out though.
Instead of receiving an advertised rate of 1€ = 4,30zł, a rate of 1€ = 3,22zł was used. Since my friend does not speak Polish unfortunately, his complaint attempt went also into the void. No matter how nice and understandable the lady in the cantor was communicating in English in the beginning, she couldn’t understand a word anymore after the transaction was done…
So, in principle, never rely on what is advertised! Always ask in person and, if necessary, have the exchange rate given to you in writing in case of communication difficulties.
Another tip: It is almost always worth trying to negotiate, especially when you plan exchange into Zloty larger amounts of money. But be aware, that not every employee has the right to do so.
2) Withdraw money using your credit card
If you have a credit card, I advise you to use it, because I think it is the easiest and most convenient solution to exchange into Zloty. For EC/Giro cards you will be charged a processing fee of between €3.50 and €6 or a percentage of your withdrawal amount. So be very careful here.
Most of the time, you don’t have this problem with a credit card. Although some “scammy” ATM´s exist, which will charge you fees, most of the bigger and popular banks offer ones without. There is one thing you should still pay attention to. Since we exchange our currency by withdrawing money in Złoty there is also an exchange happening here.
And here is the catch!
The ATM will let you choose. At some point in the process there will be an question asking us if we agree to the proposed exchange rate. Of course, we should not.
As a result, the money exchange will then be left to our domestic bank, which usually offers an acceptable exchange rate as we are their long-term clients. The only negative thing about this is, that the rate proposed by our bank is not mentioned anywhere on the ATM.
In addition, I have also noticed just recently that the question of whether to agree to the exchange rate or not depends on the ATM and has been asked differently and even somewhat confusingly. For example, I experienced a case that the exchange rate was not even mentioned directly, but the question was raised, whether the whole transaction should be charged in Złoty or not. Here, also I advise to reject, because otherwise the Polish bank will decide about the rates.
As a rule of thumb: Always use your currency! Then the bank at which you are a customer processes the currency exchange.
Same applies for paying by credit card in restaurants or stores. Although there are exceptions, usually the waiter will ask you, if you want to pay in Euro, Pounds, Dollar etc. or Zloty. I always choose Euro and recommend to follow my example.
One last hint:
Never exchange money with strangers on the street. That sounds perhaps pretty obvious and honestly, I have not seen such a thing personally in Poland, but based on some reports from the Internet I find it important to mention. There are supposed to be people, often equipped with a calculator, offering very good exchange rates on the streets looking for foreigners. Due to unfamiliarity with the local currency, in some cases people got scammed by exchanging their money not into Zloty but into other Eastern European currencies, such as Czech Crowns or Forints with a much lower value. So be aware of this!
This is what Polish banknotes look like: