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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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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.
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. 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:
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.
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.
There are some restrictions to use travel cards in Colombia, including:
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.
You’ll have a tough time using your credit card off the beaten track so make sure you have cash if you plan on visiting small towns. For example taxis, tiendas esquina (corner shops), tiendas barratera (discount shops) and cafeterias don’t take cards.
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.
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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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.
Avoid being an easy target for thieves by showing some common sense and keeping your valuables on hand at all times.
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.
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-range||Luxury (High-end)|
|Accommodation||Hostel dorm beds per night|
|Hotel rooms per night|
|Hostel private rooms per night (based on double occupancy)|
|Meals||Arepa con queso, boiled/salted potatoes, fresh sliced mango street food|
|Full meals including a meat (chicken) with small side (potatoes, french fries), hot dogs, hamburgers|
|City taxi (metered, average distance)|
Prices are approximate and are subject to change.
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.
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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