Heading for the sunny Caribbean sea? Here’s how to get the best out of your plastic and your cash on holiday in Barbados.
As well as shipping rum and sugar around the world, Barbados hosts visitors from just about everywhere, and depends on tourism as a major source of revenue. It’s especially popular with visitors from Canada, the US and the UK.
The local currency is the Barbadian dollar (BBD), and since 1975, it’s been “pegged” to the US dollar at US$1 = Bds$2. That means that you’ll typically be given the choice of paying in US dollars or Barbadian dollars. For example, a bottle of wine in a supermarket might set you back US$15 or Bds$30 (most food has to be shipped from the mainland, and as a result is not cheap).
Many of the local small businesses are still primarily cash-based, so you’ll need to carry dollars as well as a card. However, hotels, car hire companies, the majority of restaurants plus the ever-popular boat trip companies will all happily accept card payments. Visa and Mastercard credit cards are widely accepted and you might be able to use your American Express card in some places, too.
Some businesses, including the majority of supermarkets, require you to show a valid photo ID when you use your credit or debit card, and some might insist on looking at your passport. In many locations you’ll be asked to sign for the transaction, either on paper on on the card reader, so don’t forget to sign your card before you go.
Cash machines in Barbados
You’ll find ATMs linked to the Plus or Cirrus systems, so using your Visa or Mastercard card will be easy. There are plenty of cash machines in Bridgetown, and in larger towns around the island. You’ll also find them at many petrol stations.
Unlike those in the UK, almost all the local ATMs are in small enclosed rooms that you access one user at a time. Sunglasses or hats are not allowed in these rooms.
Some local bank-affiliated ATMs impose additional fees to those your bank may levy. They will also ask you which account (savings or credit, say) you wish to withdraw your funds from.
Additionally you’ll be given the choice of who should exchange the funds to the local currency – the bank that owns the ATM or your own bank. Normally, if you’ve bagged a card with favourable terms for spending abroad, it’ll make sense to use your own bank to exchange the funds.
Since the official language of Barbados is English, that’s the default for cash machines.
Cash in Barbados
Cash is king in Barbados, and it’s easy to burn through it quickly. Goods and services don’t come cheap, and as a result, coins are largely redundant. Bank notes start at $2 and run up to $100, and whereas if you whipped out a £50 note in the UK a shopkeeper might be annoyed with you, you’ll get no objections when you hand over a $100 bill in Barbados.
Keep around $200 on you in cash to pay for flying fish “cutters”, snacks, drinks, souvenirs, busses and so on, and don’t be surprised if you’re flatly refused when you ask to pay by card. You may also encounter shopkeepers who aren’t particularly comfortable using the card machines they have.
Chip and PIN, chip and signature or magnetic strip and signature
You may find any of these in Barbados. Contactless payments are not prevalent yet, however. Don’t forget that you may be asked for photo ID when you use your card at a shop, and don’t forget to sign your card before you travel.
You’ll need to know your PIN in any case, to use cash machines.
Is it safe to use my card in Barbados?
By exercising some caution when using your credit card in Barbados, you’ll have a relatively trouble-free experience.
- Keep your PIN safe. Use one hand to enter the PIN and the other to shield it from prying eyes and hidden cameras.
- Select ATMs with care. Try and stick to ATMs in banks and avoid using ones in the street.
- Watch out for “skimmers”. When installed in an ATM, a card skimmer works by stealing information from credit and debit cards. If you feel the card slot is not as smooth as it should be or if there’s a problem with the keypad, cancel your transaction and look for another ATM.
Keeping your credit card (physically) safe
Remain alert to street crime, especially where two or more people work in distracting victims before decamping with their valuables. There have been numerous instances of thefts from hired cars so don’t leave your wallet or purse in a parked car. In some cases, thieves pose as police and ask to see wallets for identification purposes. In such a scenario, make sure you’re speaking with genuine police officers. It is very unlikely that a real officer will want to sift through your wallet.
Potential credit card fees
Credit card fees can leave a noticeable dent in your pocket when you’re travelling overseas, so know what you’re up against well in advance and choose a card with no or low fees.
Foreign transaction fees
British credit card issuers typically charge a fee equivalent to 1% to 3% of your transaction, so carefully review your card’s fine print to avoid statement surprises. Some cards designed for travel come with no foreign transaction fees, so this could be a good time to switch.
Currency conversion fees
If a retailer offers to bill your credit card in sterling, dynamic currency conversion comes into play. While this might sound like a good deal, you’ll actually end up getting a worse exchange rate, and you might also end up paying currency conversion fees. Whenever you’re presented with an option, choose to pay in the local currency.
Cash advance fees
Using your credit card to withdraw money from an ATM may not make sense unless it’s a bona fide emergency. Each time you withdraw funds from an ATM, you’re likely to pay a cash advance fee. Your APR for cash advances is typically higher than your purchase APR, and you’ll typically get no grace period on interest — instead, you start paying interest immediately. Again, some cards designed for overseas spending will waive this fee.
The table below serves as an example of how much extra you may pay to use your credit card for in Barbados.
What is a cash advance fee?A cash advance fee is calculated (and charged) when you withdraw cash from your credit card. It’s usually the greater of a flat fee or a percentage of the transaction. For example, “2.5% of the transaction, minimum £3.00”.
Compare cards with fee-free currency conversion in Barbados
How to prepare before travelling to Barbados
- Go with Visa or Mastercard. Carry at least two cards on your trip, preferably connected with Visa or Mastercard. If you just take an American Express card, you won’t get to use it in many places.
- Think no foreign transaction fees. When there are cards that come with no foreign transaction fees, using ones that charge 2% or 3% of each overseas transaction does not make sense. Some of these cards don’t charge an annual fee, either.
- Keep your bank posted. Banks, in their efforts to thwart fraudulent transactions, block credit cards if they detect suspicious activity such as unexpected overseas transactions. To make sure this does not happen to your card, let your bank know about your travel plans before you leave the UK.
- Keep the emergency number handy. Know which numbers you’ll need to call if you end up losing your card or if you need an emergency replacement.
- Know where you’ll get cash from. Consider using your debit card to withdraw cash from ATMs. If you need to exchange money, stick to banks or official money-exchange offices because possessing counterfeit money in Barbados is a serious crime. Try to avoid exchanging money at airports and popular tourist destinations because of typically poor exchange rates.
Ask yourself these simple questions before you leave so your spending in Barbados does not hit any roadblocks.
When you’re in Barbados, you own’t be able to use your credit card everywhere, and so you’ll also need to carry cash.
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Enjoy fee-free foreign spending and fee-free international money transfers. Exchange pounds for dollars at the interbank rate.
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