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. If a business accepts credit cards, you should be able to use a Visa or Mastercard branded card without problems.
ATMs in the Dominican Republic
ATMs 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 American credit and debit cards. If you plan to travel to remote areas, carry adequate cash because ATMs can be hard or near impossible to find. Remember that ATMs in the Dominican Republic usually have daily withdrawal limits of 5,000 or 10,000 pesos.
A few credit card fees to avoid
Most American 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 US can also attract currency conversion fees.
Foreign transaction fees
Depending on the card you use, you’ll typically pay 2% to 3% of every international transaction as fees. You can avoid this fee easily by getting a card with no overseas transaction fees. Some of your options include the Venture® from Capital One®, the USAA® Rewards(TM) Visa Signature® Card, and the Barclaycard Ring™ Mastercard®.
Currency conversion fees
If a local business gives you the choice of getting your card swiped in pesos or US dollars, it is best that you opt for the latter. When you’re out of the US and pay for a purchase in US dollars, the transaction becomes subject to dynamic currency conversion. If this happens, you might end up with a less-than-favorable exchange rate and also a currency conversion fee.
Should I use my card to get cash?
Using a credit card to get cash is best left for emergencies. While you’ll need to pay a cash advance fee, the APR you’ll pay for a cash advance will, in all likelihood, be higher than your card’s purchase APR. Besides, you’ll need to start paying interest from the date of the transaction. The corresponding table will give you some indication of the costs associated with an overseas cash advance.
Compare credit cards that waive foreign transaction fees
Magstripe and chip credit cards
Several businesses in the Dominican Republic have moved to using chip card readers. Fortunately, you can still use your magstripe card 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.
Can I use my chip-and-signature card in the Dominican Republic?
Yes, 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.
What if I don’t have a chip card at all?
Using a magstripe card will present no problems other than those that involve security. Chip cards offer enhanced safety when compared to their magstripe counterparts, so consider upgrading if you haven’t already.
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 travelers 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 ATMs 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 ATMs. If you feel the card slot or the keypad is faulty, cancel your transaction and look for another ATM.
Keeping your credit card (physically) safe
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.
Pricing in the Dominican Republic
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. 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. Since businesses have to pay their banks fees for every transaction, some businesses encourage customers to pay in cash. This may work in your favor as making payments in cash gives you the opportunity to bargain just about everywhere.
Prevalence of US dollars around tourist resorts and zones is common, although the exchange rate you get can leave considerable room for improvement. Consider traveling with US cash broken up in small denominations such as $1 and $5 as you’ll find it convenient when making small purchases and tipping.
How to prepare before traveling 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. While you’ll find some takers for your American Express card, taking a Diners Club or Discover card will do you no good.
- 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. Using a local ATM to withdraw money through your American debit card is one way to go about it, although some might suggest that you refrain from using debit cards in the Dominican Republic. This is because debit cards don’t offer the same level of protection against fraud as credit cards. Exchanging US dollars for Dominican pesos is easy and you may do this at a bank or a currency exchange office, locally referred to as a casas de cambio. 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.
- Which cards will I take? Visa and Mastercard branded cards are the obvious choices. An American Express card might serve your purpose in a few places. Ideally, carry at least two cards.
- Does my card provider know? If you don’t want to deal with a temporarily suspended card, let you bank know you’ll be traveling overseas.
- How will I get cash? You’ll need cash in different circumstances, so make sure you know where you’ll get it from before you leave.Consider carrying some US dollars, given the currency’s widespread acceptance.
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.