Operating a currency exchange business, also known as a bureau de change, allows entrepreneurs to fill an important niche in the financial services sector. With cross-border travel and global money transfers becoming increasingly common, the need for currency exchange services continues to grow. This comprehensive guide explores how to start and successfully run a bureau de change in today’s competitive landscape.


A bureau de change, or currency exchange outlet, offers services to consumers and businesses who need to convert funds from one currency to another. These services play a vital role in tourism, international business, and overseas money transfers. While technology has made accessing foreign currencies easier, physical currency exchange locations remain popular due to their convenience, ability to handle cash, and personalized service. For aspiring entrepreneurs, operating a profitable bureau de change takes strategic planning, compliance with regulations, and constant attention to emerging trends. This guide offers a complete overview of critical factors in opening and operating a successful bureau de change in the modern marketplace.

Key Services Offered by Bureaus de Change

The core function of a currency exchange business is buying and selling foreign banknotes and coins. Additional services may include:

  • Currency exchange – Converting one currency to another at current buy/sell rates. This includes major currencies like the US dollar as well as less common currencies.
  • Cash advances – Providing cash advances on credit/debit cards, often for customers needing local currency. Fees and interest rates apply.
  • Traveler’s checks – Cashing traveler’s checks from major providers like American Express or Visa. May also sell the checks directly to customers.
  • Money orders – Providing international money orders in foreign currencies. Useful for small transfers or payments abroad.
  • Wire transfers – Wiring money internationally, usually in cooperation with banks or money transfer operators.
  • Prepaid cards – Selling prepaid debit cards denominated in different currencies for convenience when traveling.

Getting Licensed and Compliant

Operating a currency exchange requires proper licensing and compliance. Key requirements include:

Money Transmitter Licensing

In the United States, bureaus de change are regulated as money transmitters on both federal and state levels. This requires obtaining licenses to legally handle financial transactions. Licensing is done through entities like the U.S. Treasury Department, state banking departments, and the IRS. Requirements vary based on location and business volume.

Anti-Money Laundering (AML) Compliance

Currency exchangers in the U.S. must comply with AML record-keeping and reporting. This includes steps like customer identification and reporting suspicious activity. AML policies deter use of the business for money laundering or terrorism funding.

Foreign Bank Accounts

If buying and selling foreign currencies overseas, proper accounting of foreign bank accounts is necessary to remain compliant with IRS regulations and avoid heavy fines.

Other Local Laws

Research laws applicable to money transmitting businesses for states, counties, and cities where the bureau de change will operate. Zoning regulations and business permits/fees may apply.

By taking steps to remain legally compliant, currency exchange operators avoid fines and business disruptions down the road. Consulting legal counsel is highly recommended when establishing operations.

How Much Capital is Required?

Launching a new bureau de change requires sizable upfront capital investment. At minimum, several hundred thousand dollars are needed to secure a location, obtain inventory, cover expenses like licensing, and keep operations running until profitability is reached.

Key costs include:

  • Business formation – Incorporation, licensing, legal fees, registration costs
  • Rent and renovations – Leasing appropriate office space and building out facilities
  • Inventory – Purchasing starting inventory of foreign banknotes/coins
  • Staffing – Hiring and payroll expenses for staff
  • Insurance – Protecting against risks like theft, accidents, or money loss
  • Utilities and services – Phone, internet, security, accounting, advertising

Aside from fixed costs, adequate operating capital must be available to handle daily customer transactions. Cash on hand lets the business meet demand without delays.

For new bureaus de change, costs often reach $500,000 or more to establish sustainable operations and cash flow. An existing book of business or inventory can lower capital requirements for a new location. But sufficient funding is vital.

Choosing a Location

Choosing the right location is critical when starting a currency exchange. Key factors in site selection include:

High Traffic and Visibility

The best locations have continual foot traffic and prominent storefront visibility. International airports and transportation hubs like bus/train stations are ideal due to constant customer volume. High-traffic tourism areas also present opportunity. The goal is exposing the business to the highest possible number of potential customers.

Storefront Accessibility

Easy access via public transportation and availability of nearby parking allows customers to conveniently use the currency exchange. Corner locations on busy intersections are prized. The bureau de change should be situated in safe, lawful areas to encourage customer use.

Geographic Targeting

Some bureaus de change operate in geographic areas frequented by target customer groups. Locations near universities appeal to foreign students, while areas with immigrant populations offer built-in demand. Proximity to global business centers also helps drive transactions.

Compliance with Zoning Regulations

The property must be zoned for financial/banking uses under local regulations. Restrictions apply in some areas, while currencies exchanges are banned in certain countries. Verify compliance before finalizing a lease.

Selecting the optimal location gives new bureaus de change the visibility and access needed to build their customer base. High fixed costs make it vital to maximize potential volume.

Building Inventory of Banknotes and Coins

A currency exchange must carefully build and manage inventory of foreign banknotes and coins to meet transaction demand. Key factors in sourcing inventory include:

Currency Pairs

Choosing which currencies to stock depends on the customer base. Exchanges near Canadian borders may prioritize the Canadian dollar, while South Florida locations focus on Latin American currencies. Base inventory on historic and projected demand.

Volume Requirements

Only carry enough volume of each currency to meet short-term demand. Excess inventory can tie up capital. But shortages can also lose business. Estimate typical daily transaction amounts for each currency.


Keep ample smaller bills/coins to handle retail customer needs. Larger denominations accommodate bigger transactions. Work with suppliers to obtain optimal denominations.

Sourcing Partners

Banks and authorized wholesalers are safer sources for currency. They ensure notes are valid and legal. This avoids losses from counterfeits. Compare rates between sources to control costs.

Storage and Security

Secure storage protocols like vaults, anti-theft devices, and surveillance protect valuable currency inventory. Insurance coverage is also essential. Inventory tracking software prevents shortages.

With proper inventory management, bureaus de change avoid lost profits from tying up excess capital or losing sales from stockouts. This takes strategic planning and forecasting.

Staffing and Operations

Running daily operations for a currency exchange requires hiring and training suitable staff to handle specialized transactions.


Friendly, honest cashiers provide frontline service assisting walk-in customers. They must quickly process exchanges at the correct rates. Cash handling experience is ideal. Multilingual skills accommodate foreign clients.

Compliance Officers

Dedicated compliance staff ensure all transactions meet KYC (know your customer), AML, and other regulatory requirements. This protects the business legally.

Accounting Personnel

Accountants maintain books, manage inventory levels, handle accounts payable/receivable, and oversee payroll. Accuracy with numbers is vital.

Security Personnel

On-site security guards protect against robbery and deter internal theft, which are constant risks for currency businesses. Many locations have armed guards.


Managers supervise daily operations, set competitive rates, control costs/profits, oversee compliance, and plan business strategy. Related finance experience is preferred.

Hiring specialized personnel makes currency exchange locations run more smoothly while reducing risks. Don’t cut corners on staffing.

Setting Optimal Exchange Rates and Fees

The transactional margins between currency buy and sell rates represent the key revenue streams for bureaus de change. Maximizing these spreads involves setting optimal exchange rates and fees.

Benchmark Currency Rates

Base buy/sell rates on daily currency markets, then adjust to build in competitive profit margin. Monitor rates quoted by large banks to stay aligned with broader trends.

Compare Competitor Pricing

Regularly check exchange rates posted by nearby providers. Offer attractive pricing but avoid unprofitable price wars. Give rate quotes over phone/online for transparency.

Leverage Software Tools

Specialized software can automate rate adjustments and calculate ideal spreads per transaction. This optimizes profitability. Apps also provide rate feeds for staff.

Account for Operating Costs

Consider operating costs like payroll, rent, licensing fees, and other expenses when pricing. Charging too little can lead to losses.

Promote Rate Deals

Post specials or discounted rates to win new business. This could include waived fees, reduced spreads, or loyalty programs for regular customers.

Adjusting exchange rates and fees helps maximize revenues and transaction volume without alienating customers. Striking this balance is an art.

Key Opportunities for Growth

While demand remains strong globally, bureaus de change can employ strategies to expand operations for increased profitability:

Add Locations

Opening additional physical locations extends visibility and brand awareness. Focus new sites near target demographics or high foot-traffic areas.

Mobile Services

Offering on-site currency delivery or pick-up for corporate clients provides a premium convenience service to boost business, especially with larger exchanges.

Digital Tools

Let customers check live rates and place orders online for in-store pick-up. This improves convenience and transparency.

Partner with Banks

Co-locating in banks, ATMs, or other outlets builds third-party business. Revenue-sharing agreements provide incremental transactions.

Specialize in Exotic Currencies

Trading in rare, out-of-circulation notes appeals to collectors. These higher-margin transactions can drive profits. Verify currency legality.

Travel Discounts

Partner with travel agencies, hotels, etc. to offer their customers discounted currency exchange rates. This helps win expatriate business.

A bureau de change has options to expand beyond routine transactions. The key is specializing in high-demand offerings tailored to underserved demographics.

Handling Challenges of Running a Currency Exchange

While a bureau de change provides an important service, owners face constant challenges including:

Currency Rate Volatility

Fluctuating exchange rates squeeze margins and make rates less competitive unless adjusted frequently. Closely tracking markets is required.

Security Risks and Theft

As a cash-based business, vast security precautions like vaults, cameras, and guards are necessary – but robberies still occur. Robust insurance is a must.

Slow Periods

Transaction volume drops during slow travel periods, like winter months in seasonal destinations. Promotions help, but revenue declines are common.

Currency Shortages

Regional currency shortages happen, sometimes sparked by economic crises. This disrupts supply chains. Maintaining reserve supplies helps weather tight markets.

Fraud and Money Laundering

Rigorous compliance and detection policies are vital to prevent money laundering attempts or forms of cross-border fraud using currency exchanges. Staff must stay vigilant.


Major banks and online exchanges take business through competitive rates and digital platforms. Standing out in service and convenience is challenging but helps boutique operators.

The currency exchange trade has always required adaptability. By preparing for known challenges, independent providers can thrive.

Future Outlook for Bureaus de Change

Currency exchange is a time-tested business. But in an increasingly digital world, the future outlook depends on certain factors:

Adapting to Mobile Payments

As apps like Apple Pay and cash transfers gain adoption, fewer leisure travelers carry cash. Bureaus must incentivize mobile users to exchange funds.

Emphasizing Convenience

Leverage tools like online ordering and delivery to provide unmatched convenience that big banks can’t. Catering to customers is necessary.

Adding Value-Added Services

Consider check cashing, key duplication, transit card sales, and utility bill payments to generate traffic beyond just currency exchange.

Fighting Money Laundering

By maintaining rigorous AML and know-your-customer procedures, bureaus de change avoid misuse and build trust. This distinguishes businesses from shady operators.

Specializing in Service

Provide personalized, discreet service and domain expertise that online exchanges lack. High-touch customer service remains relevant.

While adoption of digital payments poses challenges, specialized bureaus de change can still thrive by understanding their target customers. Combining strong compliance, convenient service and adaption to new technologies will be key. For entrepreneurs passionate about finance, currency exchange remains a viable business opportunity.


From ensuring proper licensing to managing daily operations, launching and running a successful bureau de change demands knowledge, dedication and access to sufficient capital. But for business owners able to run an efficient, compliant currency exchange operation, sizable profits are attainable. By adapting to new technologies while emphasizing unrivaled service, today’s bureaus de change can still fill an important niche in a globally connected world where the need for secure, convenient currency exchange remains strong. This guide provides prospective business owners with the information needed to confidently navigate the intricacies of starting and growing a currency exchange company built for long-term success.