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Travel money guide: Colombia

The insider’s guide to travel money for Colombia

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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.

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-rangeLuxury (High-end)
to-sleepHostel dorm beds per night

$1–$5

Hotel rooms per night

$8

Hostel private rooms per night (based on double occupancy)

$8–$34

street food

Arepa 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
bus

City 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
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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.

Travel money options for Colombia at a glance

Travel money optionProsCons
Travel prepaid cards
  • Protected by PIN & chip
  • Multiple supported currencies
  • Emergency card replacement and backup cards
  • Accepted worldwide
  • Ideal for managing your travel budget
  • 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
Debit cards
  • 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
  • No American card holds the Colombian peso
  • Currency conversion and international ATM fees
Credit cards
  • Some credit cards waive overseas ATM fee
  • Protected by PIN & chip
  • Accepted worldwide
  • Features such as complimentary travel insurance and reward points earning
  • Cash advance fees
  • Higher spending limit
Travelers Checks
  • Acceptance
  • Security
  • Can be costly with initial purchase charges
  • Not all merchants accept travelers checks
Cash
  • Greater payment flexibility
  • Convenience
  • Difficult to manage expenses
  • Higher risk of theft

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.

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

Name Product Welcome offer Rewards Annual fee Filter values
American Express® Gold Card
60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
3x points on directly-booked flights; 4x at restaurants; 4x at US supermarkets on up to $25,000 annually (then 1x points)
$250
Earn up to 4x points on select purchases, a bevy of travel perks, and a welcome offer worth up to $600 with this upper-mid tier travel card. Rates & fees
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
80,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months, a value of up to $1,000 through Chase Ultimate Rewards
5x points on Lyft, 2x points on travel and dining and 1x points on all other purchases
$95
Earn a huge signup bonus worth $1,000 with this popular travel card. Combine with other Chase Ultimate Rewards cards for even greater value.
Citi Premier® Card
60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
3x points at restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, flights and hotels and 1x points on everything else
$95
Earn 60,000 bonus points after making $4,000 in purchases with your card within the first 3 months of account opening.
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
50,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
10x points on Lyft rides, 3x points on dining and travel after earning your $300 travel credit and 1x points on all other purchases
$550
Get a generous $300 in annual travel credits, 3x points on travel and dining, and a 50% bonus on point redemptions with Chase's premier card.
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card
100,000 points after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months, plus earn 25,000 after the first anniversary of card membership (offer expires 1/13/2021)
6x points at Marriott Bonvoy hotels, 3x at US restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines and 2x for all other purchases
$450
Earn 100,000 bonus points when you spend $5,000 or more within your first 3 months, plus earn 25,000 after the first anniversary of card membership (offer expires 1/13/2021). Rates & fees
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Case study: David's experience

David profile photo
David

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.

Our pick for a prepaid travel card
Travelex Money Card

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.

colombian peso

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

Min. Transfer Amount Transfer Speed Online Transfer Fee Rate Amount Received Description CTA Details
$1 Within an hour USD 3.99 3840.318 COP 3,824,996 Use promo code 3FREE to send your first 3 transfers with no fee. Send to 110+ countries for bank-to-bank deposit, cash pickup or mobile top-up. Go to site Show details
$0 1 - 2 days USD 1.99 3782.424 COP 3,774,897 Special offers like free transfers and better exchange rates available for new customers.
Quick, affordable transfers around the world with both express and economy options.
Go to site Show details
$1 3 - 5 days USD 20.00 3763.126 COP 3,687,864 The biggest name in money transfers can get your funds to friends, family, or businesses in almost every corner of the globe. Show details

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Disclaimer: Exchange rates change often. Confirm the total cost with the provider before transferring money.

Find cheap travel insurance options for your next trip to Colombia

Name Product Trip Cancellation Emergency Medical Expenses Baggage Coverage Trip delay
Allianz Travel OneTrip Emergency Medical Plan
$50,000
$2,000
$1,000
Budget-friendly policy designed for international and domestic travelers who want medical protection. Trip cancellation and trip interruption not included.
Allianz Travel AllTrips Basic Plan
$20,000
$1,000
$600
Annual policy that offers affordable protection, but doesn't include trip cancellation or trip interruption.
Travelex Travel Basic
100%
$15,000
$500
$500
Essential travel coverage — with the option to customize — that can protect the cost of your trip.
Travelex Flight Insure
$10,000
$1,000
$100
Protect the cost of your flight and choose the coverage amount that meets your needs — trip delay protection included.
RoamRight Essential Travel Insurance Plan
100%
$15,000
$750
$500
Basic policy with coverage that includes trip cancellation insurance, tourist health insurance and baggage insurance.
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4 Responses

  1. Default Gravatar
    NetteOctober 9, 2018

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

    • Avatarfinder Customer Care
      nikkiangcoOctober 10, 2018Staff

      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.

      As per our page, it says, “The price in US dollars will be dependent on the exchange rate offered by the provider, so it is important to shop around to ensure you’re getting the best deal. These 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.”

      Here is a helpful page about buying foreign currency. You can find more ways to spend in Colombia aside from cash.

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

      Cheers,
      Nikki

  2. Default Gravatar
    ZahavaApril 2, 2018

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

    • Avatarfinder Customer Care
      JoshuaApril 2, 2018Staff

      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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