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Using a credit card in the Dominican Republic
With crystal clear waters and stunning beaches, the Dominican Republic relies considerably on tourism – but are Canadian credit cards widely accepted?
Using a credit card in the Dominican Republic might present some roadblocks – cash remains king in the everyday functioning of the country’s economy. That said, you’ll be able to use your credit cards in large hotels, shops and restaurants across populated cities and popular tourist resorts.
However, you may have problems using your card if you travel to remote areas of the country. If a business accepts credit cards, you should be able to use a Visa or Mastercard branded card without problems.
Before embarking on your vacation to the Dominican Republic, consider applying for a credit card that charges no foreign transaction fees. While these fees are typically around 2.5% of the total amount of the transaction, these fees can add up quickly.
Using your credit card overseas can attract different fees. Here are some to watch out for:
- Foreign transaction fees. When you pay for something overseas, most credit card providers typically charge a foreign transaction fee of 2.5% to 3% of the total transaction cost. You can easily avoid this fee by getting a credit card that charges no foreign transaction fees.
- Currency conversion fees. If a merchant gives you the choice of charging your card in pesos or Canadian dollars, always choose the local currency. When you’re charged in Canadian dollars outside of Canada, the transaction becomes subject to a dynamic currency conversion. If this happens, you can end up paying a double exchange rate and a currency conversion fee.
- Cash advance fees. Using your credit card to withdraw cash from an ATM is considered a cash advance transaction. Not only will you face a cash advance fee, you’ll also be charged an interest rate from the day you withdraw the funds – there is usually no grace period for a cash advance transaction. You can avoid this fee by using your debit card to withdraw cash.
- ATM fees. Even using your debit card to withdraw cash from an ATM could land you with an ATM fee. Typically around $3.50 for each withdrawal, you can avoid this fee by choosing a debit card provider who has an international ATM alliance, such as Scotiabank.
ATMs are easy to find in Santo Domingo and tourist resort towns such as Punta Cana, La Romana and Puerto Plata. Most banks in the Dominican Republic are members of the Cirrus, PLUS and Maestro networks, so you’ll be able to use your Canadian credit and debit cards. If you plan to travel to remote areas, carry adequate cash because ATMs can be hard or near impossible to find. In addition, ATMs in the Dominican Republic usually have daily withdrawal limits of around 5,000 or 10,000 pesos.
Using a credit card to get cash should be avoided unless it’s an emergency. Aside from paying a cash advance fee, the APR you’ll pay for a cash advance will likely be higher than your card’s purchase APR. In addition, you’ll start paying interest from the date of the transaction, as there is usually no grace period for cash advance transactions.
So, how should I get cash?
Use your debit card to get cash from ATMs. Remember to use ATMs in safe locations such as inside shopping malls, hotels or airports. To avoid ATM fees, choose a debit card that has an international ATM partnership, such as the Global ATM Alliance that Scotiabank is a member of.
Cash in the Dominican Republic
Almost all hotels in the country list their prices in US dollars, and you’ll find that most shops, restaurants and taxi drivers accept Dominican pesos as well as US dollars. Some merchants may even accept your Canadian dollars. Don’t be surprised if you come by hotels and businesses that quote prices only in US dollars because tourists are their primary source of revenue. Since businesses have to pay their bank a fee for every transaction, some businesses encourage customers to pay in cash. This can work in your favour since making payments in cash gives you the opportunity to bargain with a merchant.
While the use of US dollars around tourist resorts and zones is common, the exchange rate you get can leave considerable room for improvement. Consider travelling with some US cash broken up into small denominations such as $1 and $5 bills – as you’ll find it convenient when making smaller purchases and tipping.
You need to be extra careful when using your credit or debit card in the Dominican Republic. Follow these tips to help keep your finances safe:
- Keep your PIN protected. When you enter your PIN, use the other hand to shield the screen from prying eyes and concealed cameras. In addition, avoid letting your credit card leave your sight when at restaurants and shops.
- Select ATMs carefully. Stick to using ATMs found in banks, hotels and shopping complexes. Avoid ATMs in deserted areas.
- Watch out for card skimmers. Instances of credit card skimming are common in the Dominican Republic, so exercise caution when using ATMs. If you feel the card slot or the keypad is faulty, cancel your transaction and look for another ATM.
- Keep your credit card physically safe. Crime levels in the Dominican Republic are high, with instances of pickpocketing, bag snatching and violence. There have been several reports of tourists being robbed at gunpoint in Santo Domingo’s residential areas, even during the daytime. Remain extra vigilant if you’re in a remote area, especially after dark. Don’t leave your wallet, bag or any other possession unattended in a restaurant or a bar.
Before travelling to the Dominican, take the following precautions in order to ensure your credit card works overseas.
- Use cards with no foreign transaction fees. If you don’t have a credit card that comes with no foreign transaction fees, consider getting one before you leave. It can save you a lot of money, especially if you use your card a lot.
- Think Visa or Mastercard. Visa and Mastercard are the most commonly accepted credit cards in the Dominican Republic. While you’ll find some takers for your American Express card, have a Visa or Mastercard on you as well.
- Inform your card provider. If your card provider detects an unusual transaction, such as an unexpected overseas transaction from the Dominican Republic, it’ll have good reason to temporarily block your card for suspicious activity. This situation is easy to avoid by informing your card provider of your travel plans before you depart.
- Know which numbers to call. You may end up losing or misplacing your cards, in which case you’ll need to make phone calls to cancel them and request replacements. Keep emergency numbers on hand at all times.
- Identify where to get cash. Using a local ATM to withdraw money using your debit card is one way to get cash – although some people might suggest that you refrain from using debit cards in the Dominican Republic. This is because debit cards don’t offer the same level of protection against fraud as credit cards. You can exchange Canadian or US dollars for Dominican pesos at a bank or a currency exchange office – locally referred to as Casas de Cambio. While several resorts and hotels let you exchange cash, they usually offer poor exchange rates.
Avoid the most commonly associated problems with using credit cards in the Dominican Republic by asking yourself these questions:
- Which cards will I take? Visa and Mastercard branded cards are the best choices. An American Express card might be accepted in a few places. Ideally, carry at least two credit cards in case one isn’t accepted.
- Does my card provider know? If you don’t want to deal with a temporarily blocked card, let your bank or credit card provider know you’ll be travelling overseas.
- How will I get cash? You’ll need cash in different circumstances, so make sure you know where you’ll get it from before you leave. Consider carrying some US dollars, given the currency’s widespread acceptance.
Using a credit card in …
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