What's the cheapest and easiest way to get money in a foreign country? Believe it or not it's ATMs. There are some arrangments that you have to make prior to leaving though.
Always call the card companies and tell them that you'll be gone and when you'll be back. A debit card is worthless if you can't use it. Set your pin at 4 digits (some atms don't let you put in more than that). Be sure to have an account that reimburses you for ATM fees all over the world. Banks like Charles Schwab and Trustco pay you back for the ATM fees you incur. They do this because it's cheaper than having to manage a whole slew of ATMs at their own expense.
Also when you get money from an ATM overseas you get the best exchange rate. I used my on a recent trip to prove all of this with real world examples. Here's how it's broken down...
My bank reimbursed me for fees and there was only about a 1.5% spread between the market rate and when Charles Schwab charged me. This is incredibly efficient!
But what if there are no ATMs in the airport? I've never run across this, but let's say that it does happen. It's always a good idea to take say $100 in clean $20s with you no matter where you go. The airport will always have money changers. These money changers will charge you around 4-5% of your trade. This is the second best option.
But let's say for some reason there also aren't any money changers. If this is the case than you're in a third world country and the people in that country will gladly take your American dollars because they have a shit currency.
One advantage of being an American is that we have the reserve currency of the world. Even foreignors take our currency with them when they travel. Poorer countries love American dollars and sometimes prefer them to their own. With that said they may not give you the best exchange rate when you buy something.
What not to do: do not get currency from the bank prior to leaving. This may sound scary, but unless you enjoy getting ripped off, don't do this! I've seen people doing this and when I examine the bank receipt they end up paying between 10-20% of a fee for exchanging them! 10-20%!!!!
1. Take both a Visa and MasterCard debit.
2. Make sure your bank will reimburse you for ATM fees.
3. Get money from the ATM at the airport.
4. Always take $100 just in case.