South America Travel Guide: Cash And Financial Tips For A South America Vacation by:Matthew Barker
When planning a Central or South America vacation, one of the many things to consider is what form of currency to bring, especially for journeys that will involve multiple destinations. However as the following article, written by a Central and South America travel expert, explains, managing your money while away is easy if given a little preplanning.
Travelers have little difficulty with currency and money changing during a South America vacation, but the standard advice to traveling anywhere abroad is to take a mix of cash, plastic and traveler's checks, for the sake of both convenience and security.
The US dollar is by far the most accepted and easily changed foreign currency across the entire continent. In many places, you can use dollars to pay for goods and services directly, and receive the change either in dollars or the local currency. The exchange rate for this kind of transaction varies significantly depending on the country and the store or service provider.
Aside from these options, you'll have no problems changing major currencies (euros, sterling, Canadian dollars) in banks or at the airport. The exchange rate will be less competitive here, but probably still better than in your home country.
For a Peru vacation, US$ are accepted in all the major supermarkets as well as in hotels and popular tourist restaurants. You can choose to receive your change in dollars or nuevo soles. The supermarket exchange rate is probably the best you'll find, making them convenient places to change smaller denominations (they'll refuse $100 bills.)
Outside each supermarket and around Lima's busier districts you'll find money changers, or cambistas who also offer a reasonable exchange rate. These money changers are properly registered and can be trusted although take sensible precautions, always check your bills and don't flash cash visibly in the street.
Away from the busier urban environments, dollars are less accepted and you'll need a supply of nuevo soles. There is a large quantity of counterfeit bills in circulation so appear vigilant to avoid receiving fakes and check larger bills carefully. There should be a clear watermark, a silver strip and embossed detail across the top of the note. If in doubt, ask for another bill.
For an Argentina vacation, dollars and euros are often accepted in major cities at supermarkets, hotels and popular restaurants and change can be received in pesos. Cambistas offer a reasonable exchange rate but take precautions when handling money in public.
As in Peru, banks and airport counters are convenient and secure but tend to offer a less competitive rate
When venturing into more rural regions, be sure to have a sufficient supply of pesos, because changing dollars will be less easy and they may not always be accepted in stores.
During a Brazil vacation you can change your dollars for Brazilian reais at banks and large hotels but it is advisable not to use street changers due to the risk of receiving forgeries. Banks are likely to be closed on Saturdays and Sundays so be careful not to get caught short during the weekend.
Meanwhile, on a Costa Rica vacation, US dollars are not widely accepted other than for specific tourist-related services (tours, park fees, hotels etc), and even less so in the more rural areas. They are easily exchanged in banks, along with euros, while changing other currencies may not be so easy. Exchanging with street changers is not recommended due to the number of forgeries in circulation. Whenever receiving bills in dollars or colones, only accept pristine standard notes, as worn bills are likely to be rejected elsewhere.
International ATM networks are well established across Latin America and it's easy to find ATMs (cajeros automaticos) in busy, urban environments. It will be fairly easy to find machines that are connected to the Visa Plus, Cirrus and Link networks and many will dispense either in dollars or the local currency. Depending on your own bank's charges this may be the most cost-effective way to travel in Latin America. Exercise caution when using an ATM: be sure no one is looking over your shoulder and try to avoid using ATMs if alone at night.
Credit/Debit cards are widely accepted across the continent, with the most predominant network being Visa, closely followed by MasterCard. Amex, Diners and other smaller networks are less frequently accepted.
Rather than use your card to pay for meals, souvenirs, etc, it may be more advisable to withdraw cash from ATMs to benefit from the better exchange rate, although this depends on your own bank's tariffs.
Some establishments, especially hotels, independent tour operators and some restaurants will charge hefty (sometimes up to 10%) fees for credit card payments. Check the final cost carefully before agreeing to purchase.
Traveler's checks remain popular for visitors, largely due to the added security they offer in the event of being lost or stolen. Checks issued in US dollars are preferred and most easily cashed in banks across the entire continent.
The commission on cashing traveler's checks varies from country to country. In Brazil, it may be high as $20 per check, while on a Costa Rica vacation, banks tend to charge a fixed rate of 1-3%. Meanwhile in Argentina you might be in for a long wait at the bank, and in Peru cashing checks in remote, jungle regions can be tricky.
In the event that your checks are lost or stolen, it is worth getting a police report to support your claim.
And most importantly of all, enjoy your trip! Buen Viaje!
About the author
This Central and South America travel guide was written by a travel-loving South America vacation expert at Latin America For Less, a member of the Latin America For Less family.
Latin America For Less, a US travel agency established in 1998, offers a complete South America travel service to destinations across Latin America, including Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Chile and Bolivia.
The company is unique in its ability to offer a price match guarantee as well as the highest standards in quality and customer service.
Fully customized itineraries coupled with personal and friendly service are the hallmarks of a Latin America For Less vacation.