Colombians have a saying: “No dar papaya”, translated as “don’t let anyone take advantage of you.” Whether you’re walking the street of Bogota or exploring the Colombian Caribbean, know the best ways to use your travel money. Read our guide to save on fees and avoid getting taken for a ride by your bank when you travel to Colombia.
What's in this guide?
- Who much should I budget to travel to Colombia?
- What is the best way to take money to Colombia?
- How different travel money products work in Colombia
- Compare travel credit cards
- A guide to Colombian pesos
- Foreign exchange and changing cash
- Don’t be a papaya!
- Cash pickup services in Colombia
- Find cheap travel insurance options for your next trip to Colombia
- Frequently asked questions
Who 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 just a few dollars a day. Even the most luxurious vacation can be done for under $100 a day.
|Budget (Cheap)||Mid-range||Luxury (High-end)|
|Hostel dorm beds per night|
|Hotel rooms per night|
|Hostel private rooms per night (based on double occupancy)|
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)
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.
Travel money options for Colombia at a glance
|Travel money option||Pros||Cons|
|Travel prepaid cards|
This table is a general summary of the travel money products in the market. Features and benefits can vary between cards.
How different travel money products work in Colombia
Using a travel money 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.
Using a debit card in Colombia
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.
- Tip: A debit card can be used to shop over the counter, online and for ATM withdrawals 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. 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.
Credit cards to consider
Using cash in Colombia
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), and tiendas baratera (discount shops) and cafeterias don’t take cards.
Using an ATM
In the big cities such as Bogota, Medellin (pronounced Med-e-jin), 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 be long.
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–$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.
Compare travel credit cards
Case study: David's experience
An expat in Medellin
Which cards did you take with you?
David says he took the Simmons Visa® and the Bank of America debit card to Colombia. As part of his contract, he was issued a debit card with Bancolombia debit card.
Why did you take these cards?
He says the Simmons Visa® gave him the benefit of no annual fee. The thing he liked the most is that it offers a low APR. He knew on his small salary, he wouldn’t be able to pay off his card in full each month if he had to pay for any emergencies. His Bank of America debit card was the bank he had at home. He was able to use this card in Colombia, but he had to pay fees each time he withdrew money. It was good to have access to his bank back home and to transfer money to his Bancolombia debit card once he started work.
Where could you use your cards?
David says he used his Simmons Visa® and never had a problem. When he bought beers from the local corner shop, he had to pay cash. He also had to pay cash when he purchased his bus ticket to Laguna de Guatape, Santa Fe and Turbo. The tickets were $10–$30 for each.
What about ATM withdrawals?
He used his Bank of America card to withdraw from ATMs. He paid the ATM operator fee of a couple of dollars each time he made a withdrawal and was pulling out about $200 per transaction. He stuck to ATMs attached to banks and never had a problem.
What’s your travel money recommendation?
Don’t cary 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 card in your hotel room safe just in case.
- Load your card with your choice of 6 available currencies: Euros, British pounds, Australian dollars, Japanese yen, Canadian dollars, and Mexican pesos
- Lock in your exchange rate
- Use your card abroad at millions of locations
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.
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?
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.
Cash pickup services in Colombia
Find cheap travel insurance options for your next trip to Colombia
Frequently asked questions
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