Using a credit card in the Dominican Republic
Among the most geographically diverse countries in the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic relies considerably on tourism. Despite this, using a credit card in the Dominican Republic might present some roadblocks, and cash remains king in the everyday functioning of the country’s economy.
You’ll be able to use your credit cards in large hotels, shops, and restaurants across more populated cities such as Santiago de los Caballeros and Santo Domingo Oeste as well as around popular tourist resorts. You may have problems using your card when you travel to remote areas of the country.
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Which credit cards are accepted in Dominican Republic?
Credit cards are widely accepted across the Dominican Republic in main tourists areas and cities. If a business accepts credit cards, you should be able to use a Visa or Mastercard branded card without problems. Some large hotels and shops accept American Express cards.
Be aware that some (but not all) businesses add a surcharge for purchases on a credit card (around 16%). This is due to a federal sales tax policy on credit card transactions, so it means merchants may add the cost directly to your bill.
It’s worth being aware that the Dominican Republican businesses require big tips – expect most restaurants to add around 28% to every bill (ITBIS of 18% and an automatic 10% service charge).
Cash in the Dominican Republic
Cash is still widely accepted across the island. The island’s currency is the Dominican peso (RD$), although US dollars are widely accepted in hotels and tourist areas.
Don’t be surprised if you come by hotels and businesses that quote prices only in US dollars because tourists are their primary source of revenue. However, the exchange rate you get can leave considerable room for improvement. Consider travelling with US dollars in cash broken up in small denominations such as $1 and $5 as you’ll find it convenient when making small purchases and tipping.
Almost all hotels in the country list their prices in US dollars, and you’ll find that most shops, restaurants, and cab drivers accept Dominican pesos as well as US dollars. Since businesses have to pay their banks fees for every transaction, some businesses encourage customers to pay in cash. This may work in your favour as making payments in cash gives you the opportunity to bargain just about everywhere.
Avoid moneychangers, who may approach you in the city centres. They can be aggressive and give unfavourable rates.
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Cash machines in the Dominican Republic
Cash machines are easy to find in Santo Domingo and around tourist resorts in towns such as Punta Cana, La Romana, and Puerto Plata. Most banks in the Dominican Republic are members of the Cirrus, PLUS, and Maestro networks, so you’ll be able to use your UK credit and debit cards. If you plan to travel to remote areas, carry adequate cash because cash machines can be hard or near impossible to find.
Most cash machines tend to be located in a small booth on the street, rather than in a bank branch. It’s important to know that cash machines in the Dominican Republic usually have low daily withdrawal limits of between 2,000 to 10,000 pesos.
Can I use chip and PIN card in the Dominican Republic?
Several businesses in the Dominican Republic have moved to using chip and PIN card readers. If a clerk is unsure about what to do with your card, suggest pressing the Enter button if it requests a PIN.
If you have a magstripe card, you should be able to still use it because chip card readers come with the capability to process both types of cards. Besides, your chip card comes with a magstripe, so you can use it at older terminals as well. Several businesses follow extra precautions to avoid fraudulent transactions. For instance, you may need to show some form of identification and you might need to sign a receipt even if you’ve entered your PIN.
Alternatively, you can use your chip-and-signature card in the Dominican Republic. If the person handling the card reader does not know how to use your card, mention that hitting the ‘enter’ button when the machine asks for the PIN generally processes the payment. Once the payment goes through, you’ll need to sign a receipt.
If you travel often – whether to the Dominican Republic or elsewhere – consider applying for a travel credit card that comes with no foreign transaction fees.
Potential credit card fees in the Dominican Republic?
Most UK credit cards come with overseas transaction fees that you need to pay every time you use your card outside of the country. Transactions made outside of the UK can also attract currency conversion 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 less-than-favourable exchange rate, and you might also end up paying currency conversion fees. Whenever you’re presented with an option, choose to pay in pesos.
Cash advance fees
Using your credit card to withdraw money from a cash machine 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 often 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 in the Dominican Republic.
Additionally, you can get an idea of costs by using these online currency conversion tools from Mastercard and Visa.
What is a cash advance fee?A cash advance fee is assessed 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”.
Is it safe to use my credit card in the Dominican Republic?
You need to be extra careful when using your credit or debit card in the Dominican Republic. Several travellers prefer using cash over cards only because of this aspect.
- Keep your PIN protected. Enter the PIN on your own and don’t hand your card to a clerk or a waiter where it leaves your sight. When you enter the PIN, use one hand to shield it from prying eyes and concealed cameras.
- Select cash machines carefully. Stick to using ATMs found in banks and shopping complexes. Avoid ones in deserted areas completely.
- Watch out for card skimmers. Instances of credit card cloning are common in the Dominican Republic, so exercise caution when using cash machines. If you feel the card slot or the keypad is faulty, cancel your transaction and look for another ATM.
Tips on keeping safe in general
Crime levels in the Dominican Republic are high, with instances of pickpocketing, bag snatching and violence fairly common. There have been several reports of tourists being robbed at gunpoint in Santo Domingo’s residential areas, even during daytime. Remain extra vigilant if you’re in a remote area, especially after dark. Don’t leave your wallet, bag, or any other possession unattended in a restaurant or a bar.
How to prepare before travelling to Dominican Republic
Follow a few simple measures so you can use your credit cards in the Dominican Republic when possible.
- Use cards with no foreign transaction fees. If you don’t have a card that comes with no foreign transaction fees, consider getting one before you leave.
- Think Visa or Mastercard. Visa and Mastercard are the most commonly accepted cards in the Dominican Republic. You may find some takers for your American Express card, but it won’t be as widely accepted.
- Inform your card provider. If your card provider detects an unusual transaction, such as an unexpected overseas transaction from the Dominican Republic, it’ll have good reason to temporarily block your card on account of suspicious activity. This situation is easy to avoid by informing your card provider of your travel plans before you depart.
- Know which numbers to call. You may end up losing or misplacing your cards, in which case you’ll need to make phone calls to cancel them and request for replacements. Keep the required numbers at hand at all times.
- Identify your source of cash. You can use your debit card to withdraw money from a cash machine or convert UK sterling at any number of banks or a currency exchange office, locally referred to as a casas de cambio. Research a few near your hotel for easy cash when you need it. While several resorts and hotels let you exchange cash, they usually offer poor exchange rates.
Answer these simple questions and you’ll avoid the most commonly associated problems with using credit cards in the Dominican Republic.
After you’ve taken the required measures, there’s no reason why you can’t handle your monetary dealing in the Dominican Republic without problems.
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