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Travel money guide: Colombia

The insider’s guide to travel money for Colombia

Whether you’re walking the street of Bogota or exploring the Colombian Caribbean, cash is king, with credit cards and debit cards less widely accepted than in the US. Read our guide to save on fees and avoid getting taken for a ride by your bank when you travel to Colombia.

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What is the best way to take money to Colombia?

If you’re planning a trip to Colombia, it pays to do your research before you leave. Colombian pesos (COP) are the currency of the Republic of Colombia and the only currency accepted in Colombian towns and cities.

Credit, debit and travel money cards are accepted in fewer places than the US and ATMs are expensive to use, so compare travel money options and apply for the product that’s going to let you withdraw cash for less.

These are your options for spending money in Colombia

Using a credit card

Visa, Mastercard and American Express are widely accepted in Colombia, though you’ll find it difficult to make any online payments for reservations. Save money by finding a credit card that waives the foreign exchange fee, like the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card (Terms apply, see rates & fees). For added savings, take advantage of the interest-free period by paying your balance in full each month.

Cash advance fees, interest charges, ATM charges and foreign currency conversion charges all apply when you withdraw cash on credit. As a general rule, credit cards should only be used for over-the-counter purchases.

A couple of things to remember when you’re traveling in Colombia:

  • Número de cuotas. When the teller asks you “numero de cuotas?” they want to know how many months it will take to pay off the credit card transaction. For example if you make a $300 purchase and you ask for 10 months, you’re charged $30 a month in addition to any interest charges the credit card transaction accrues each month. One is always your answer.
  • Identification. It’s likely that you need to show photo identification, such as your passport, when you make an over-the-counter credit card payment. In most cases anything with your picture and your name will be enough to prove you’re the cardholder.
  • Tip: It’s worth researching credit cards that offer travel benefit and rewards for things you’ll buy anyways like flights and hotel stays.
Pros
  • Some credit cards waive overseas ATM fee
  • Protected by PIN and chip
  • Accepted worldwide
  • Features such as complimentary travel insurance and reward points earning
Cons
  • Cash advance fees
  • Higher spending limit

Compare travel credit cards

Explore top debit cards with no foreign transaction fees and travel credit cards by using the tabs to narrow down your options. Select Compare for up to four products to see their benefits side by side.

1 - 5 of 9
Name Product Fee Minimum deposit to open Annual Percentage Yield (APY) Offer
SoFi Checking and Savings
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SoFi Checking and Savings
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Chime® Checking Account
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HSBC Premier Checking
Finder Score: 3.5 / 5: ★★★★★
HSBC Premier Checking
$50 per month
(can be waived)
$0
0.01% on balances of $5+
Acorns Checking
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Acorns Checking
From $3 per month
$0
N/A
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1 - 5 of 21
Name Product Welcome Offer Rewards Annual fee Filter values
Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card
20,000 miles once you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $200 in travel
Up to 5x miles
$0
Earn 20,000 bonus miles once you spend $500 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening. See rates & fees
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
Up to 5x miles
$95
Earn 75,000 bonus miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months ​from account opening. See rates & fees
Bilt World Elite Mastercard® Credit Card
Bilt World Elite Mastercard® Credit Card
Bilt does not have a welcome offer. However, they have a unique bonus offer of double points on the first of each month – that’s 6x points on dining, 4x points on travel, and 2x points on other purchases (except rent). Use the card 5 times each statement period to earn points.
Up to 3x points
$0
Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card
$200 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
Up to 1.5% cash back
$0
More than an unlimited 1.5% cash back card: you'll also earn 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel (terms apply). See rates & fees
Capital One VentureOne Rewards for Good Credit
Capital One VentureOne Rewards for Good Credit
N/A
Up to 5x miles
$0
The same rewards and $0 annual fee as the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card, but for those with good credit. See rates & fees
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Using a debit card

It’s good to have cash when you’re traveling in Colombia. Keeping a debit card is handy because you’ll have access to your cash each time you come across an ATM. Compare debit cards based on if it waives the currency conversion fee and international ATM withdrawal fees, like cards from Betterment Checking.

  • Tip: A debit card can be used to shop over the counter, online and for ATM withdrawals in Colombia.
Pros
  • Security with chip and PIN
  • Direct access to money
  • Save on overseas ATM fee when you withdraw
  • $0 account keeping fees if you deposit the minimum requirement
  • Unlimited free withdrawals at selected banks
Cons
  • No American card holds the Colombian peso
  • Currency conversion and international ATM fees

Using a prepaid travel card

There are some restrictions to use travel cards in Colombia, including:

  • Currency conversion fees. There are no prepaid travel money cards that let you load and spend COP. This means you’ll be charged a currency conversion of 3% every time you use the card to make a purchase in Colombia.

Travel card foreign currency exchange rates are also often worse than Mastercard and Visa debit and credit card rates. You’ll also incur an ATM withdrawal fee as well as the local ATM operator fee when you withdraw COP from a Colombian ATM.

Pros
  • Protected by PIN and chip
  • Multiple supported currencies
  • Emergency card replacement and backup cards
  • Accepted worldwide
  • Ideal for managing your travel budget
Cons
  • No prepaid travel money cards that let you load and spend COP
  • May charge currency conversion fees, ATM withdrawal fees and local ATM operator fee

Using traveler’s checks

Pros
  • Acceptance
  • Security
Cons
  • Can be costly with initial purchase charges
  • Not all merchants accept travelers checks

A guide to Colombian pesos

Colombian pesos come in 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000 and 50,000 banknotes. Battered and worn 1,000 pesos notes are accepted by vendors within reason.

5000 Colombian Pesos Banknote10000 Colombian Pesos Banknote20000 Colombian Pesos Banknote
50000 Colombian Pesos Banknote100000 Colombian Pesos Banknote

Foreign exchange and changing cash

COP is the national currency of the Republic of Colombia, though Colombian pesos are not the same as Mexican pesos. COP is a volatile currency and exchange rates may change marginally during your trip.

You can get your money changed at a bank or at a dedicated money changer. Banks are everywhere and money changers are found in a shopping centers in all Colombian capital cities.

Foreign exchange offices have a cap on the amount of money you can change at a time. Brush up on some basic Spanish to ask about how much money you can change in one go.

¿Cuál es el máximo?: What is the maximum?

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The main banks in Colombia are:

  • Banco de Bogota
  • Bancolombia
  • Banco Davivienda
  • Banco de Occident
  • BBVA Colombia
  • Banco GNB Sudameris
  • Banco Popular Colombia
  • Citibank Colombia
  • Scotiabank Colombia

Using an ATM

In the big cities such as Bogota, Medellín (pronounced Meh-de-YEEN), Cali, Ibague, Cartagena and Barranquilla, ATMs and banks are everywhere. Keep in mind that if you need to see a teller, the lines can get long. It helps to bring a debit card from a provider that doesn’t charge international ATM fees, like Betterment Checking.

Here’s what to know about using an ATM in Colombia.

  • Security. ATMs are usually inside a small room behind a locked door adjacent to the street. If the ATM is attached to a bank, security guards stand right outside during business hours and your hotel may even be able to arrange an armed escort if you plan on withdrawing a large amount of cash.
  • ATM limits. The maximum withdrawal is lower for foreign cards — most Colombian banks let you withdraw up to 600,000 pesos at a time (about $200). Banks vary their limits foreign cards, usually displayed on the ATM welcome screen. Citi has the highest ATM withdrawal limit — but also with the highest fees.
  • Fees. You’ll pay international ATM fees for mostccash withdrawal in Colombia. Some ATMs tell you how much they charge, but some claim it’s not available. They vary between 6,000 and 9,000 pesos ($2 to $3) per withdrawal.
  • Language. Banco de Bogotá, BanColombia and Banco de Occidente ATMs are Spanish only. Davivienda gives you the option of selecting English after you insert your card.
  • Donations. You’re given the option of making a donation to Colombian charities when you make an ATM withdrawal. You have a couple of options for how much you’d like to donate. Press No if philanthropy isn’t your thing.

Don’t be a papaya!

Avoid being an easy target for thieves by showing some common sense and keeping your valuables on hand at all times.

  • Don’t leave your cellphone on the table when you’re at a bar or restaurant.
  • Keep a sharp eye on your bags — thieves are crafty and can switch one of your bags with a dummy bag in half a second.
  • Only carry what you need when you leave your hotel or hostel.
  • Aguardente is the local spirit and one of the most popular drinks. Don’t drink too much, it can sneak up on you.
  • Carry identification with you at all times. Police will often stop locals and tourists randomly to check for weapons and drugs.

Colombia is safer than most people think it is. The civil war is all but finished and the dark days of Colombia’s history are just that: history.

How much should I budget to travel to Colombia?

In a country where it costs a couple of pesos for a bed, you’ll have plenty of money to travel around the country. Travel in Colombia is very cheap for Americans, and you could survive on only a few dollars a day. Even the most luxurious vacation can be done for under $100 daily.

All prices are in US dollars.

Budget (Cheap)Mid-rangeLuxury (High-end)
AccommodationHostel dorm beds per night

$1–$5

Hotel rooms per night

$8

Hostel private rooms per night (based on double occupancy)
$8–$34
MealsArepa con queso, boiled/salted potatoes, fresh sliced mango street food
$1
Full meals including a meat (chicken) with small side (potatoes, french fries), hot dogs, hamburgers
$2–$4
  • Typical set lunch (soup, meat, side of potatoes, rice or beans) with fresh fruit juice
    $2–$6
  • Dinner (appetizer, entree) at a restaurant in a touristy area (or Zona Rosa)
    $8–$13
TransportationCity buses
$.50–$.75
City taxi (metered, average distance)
$1.50–$4
  • Regional (inter-city) buses:
    $3–$15 for up to a few hours.
  • $30 to go 8–12 hours between major cities like Bogota, Cali, Medellin and Cartagena

Prices are approximate and are subject to change.

Case study: David's experience

David profile photo
David

An expat in Medellín

What’s your travel money recommendation?
Don’t carry too much cash around with you. Like anywhere else you travel, thieves look for tourists as targets. It’s best to have a variety of money options, and to leave some cards in your hotel room safe just in case.

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Frequently asked questions

How do I open a Colombian bank account?

You must show that you are a resident of Colombia before you can open a bank account. You’ll need to show residency papers or your cedula (Colombian national identification card) as well as provide a residential address.

How safe is Colombia?

Bogota, Medellín, Cali and Cartagena receive the majority of tourists to Colombia. These cities are safe to travel to and explore — but be smart and use common sense.

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4 Responses

    Default Gravatar
    NetteOctober 9, 2018

    Where in the US can I exchange US dollars for COP pesos?

      Default Gravatar
      nikkiangcoOctober 10, 2018

      Hi Nette,

      Thanks for your inquiry and for visiting Finder.

      You can buy Colombian Pesos from your local bank though you may not receive the best exchange rates. You can also opt to exchange your USD when you get to Colombia at the airport or from reputable foreign currency exchange stores.

      The price in US dollars will be dependent on the exchange rate offered by the provider, so when buying foreign currency, it is important to shop around to ensure you’re getting the best deal.

      The exchange rates change daily, so be sure to do a comparison on the day that you’re planning to buy the currency. It’s also important to check what if any, transaction fees the provider charges since this will greatly impact the price you pay.”

      Hope this helps! For any clarifications, feel free to message us again.

      Cheers,
      Nikki

    Default Gravatar
    ZahavaApril 2, 2018

    Can an I exchange US dollars for COP in any bank in Colmbia?

      AvatarFinder
      JoshuaApril 2, 2018Finder

      Hi Zahava,

      Thanks for getting in touch with finder.

      Yes, it is possible for you to exchange US dollars for COP in a bank in Colombia. However, you need to realize that it is not the primary function of a bank to exchange currencies. Thus, your transaction may be longer than you expect or you will be charged with higher fees.

      Other possible alternatives are going to a money changer or currency exchange office.

      I hope this helps. Should you have further questions, please don’t hesitate to reach us out again.

      Have a wonderful day!

      Cheers,
      Joshua

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