South America money issues

  • Most South American countries have their own currency, except Ecuador where the US Dollar is used

  • In all South American countries US Dollars are widely accepted and exchangeable

  • Exchange rates can differ from day to day (and city to city)

  • Small daily payments are best made in the local currency

  • It is better to exchange from US Dollars to the local currency than from South American currencies

  • Make sure that when you receive US Dollar bills, these they are in 100% good state, rips or crinkles can make them useless

  • Always use ATM’s inside of banks and never accept any help when offered

  • When changing money, take your time going over the bills and if you are not sure, do not accept them

Hereunder we will try to give some additional guidelines when it comes to dealing with money in South America. Whether it is cash, credit cards, debit cards or Traveller Cheques it is always important to stay alert when dealing with money. In many South American countries there is a problem with fake money, both notes as coins. The coins are not that big a problem as they are being exchanged without too many problems and their value is not very high. Banknotes on the other hand can prove to be somewhat more complicated. For tourists it is always difficult to know if the bill at hand is fake or real and people sometimes do take advantage of this. The old notes sometimes can be pretty worn down making it hard for people to distinguish the good from the bad. The best way to find out if your bill is false or not (even though some fakes are quite well made) is asking a local person (a hotel owner, friend, shop owner, etc..) to indicate the local tricks to distinguish the good from the bad. One can never completely protect

Another tip when it comes to money is to make sure you always have enough change or small bills and coins on you. Taxis, small shops and street vendors will very unlikely have change for notes with the value of a US$50 or let alone US$100 bill. Therefore whenever you have taken out money and they give you large bills, make sure you pay with them in a restaurant or other large commercial business. 

US Dollars are also widely accepted and exchangeable in South America. In general it is better to change the US Dollars to the local currency before making any purchases. The exchange rate you will get in official exchange offices is mostly better than in shops or restaurants. When changing US Dollars (or Euros for that matter) to the local currency, it is recommendable to do this in official exchange offices. 

Regarding US Dollar bills; in particular in Bolivia and Peru people are very strict when it comes to US Dollar bills, the bills with the smallest rip, crinkle or which is just looking old will not be accepted anywhere. Therefore if you receive bills that are not in a 100% goo state, do never accept them.  

When taking out money, ALWAYS TAKE OUT MONEY OUT OF AN ATM INSIDE A BANK. Never use ATM’s that are outside of a bank as these are sometimes fake and other people may be watching over your shoulder. When in a bank make sure that there is enough space between you and the person behind you and ALWAYS COVER YOUR HAND WHEN ENTERING YOUR PIN NUMBER. Do not accept any assistance and if there is a problem find a person inside the bank that has clear identification. Finally, in tourists cities you will often find those yellow ATM's’in shops, these are safe to use, but they do charge an additional percentage for the transactions o it is better to walk to a bank and get your money from an ATM in the bank. 

Most major credit cards are widely accepted in South America. They are accepted to make payments in the more upscale restaurants and hotels and some stores. ATM machines in South America recognize most international credit cards to redraw money. Please keep in mind that your bank charges a fee to withdraw money and make credit card payments.

Debit cards can be sometimes a bit more problematic. Some debit cards are accepted but others are not. Furthermore this still varies a lot between countries. Another thing to keep in mind is that some debit cards work with a daily limit for withdrawals and this limit is mostly well under the credit card limit. This can be annoying for paying for larger amounts in cash. 

Therefore if you are planning to travel it is important to pass by your bank and consult them about the easiest, cheapest and secure way to travel with credit or debit cards. Traveller cheques are being used less and less and are more difficult to exchange in recent years. 


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