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Money in South America

Travel Forums Central/South America & The Caribbean Money in South America


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1. Posted by lucylui83 (Budding Member 4 posts) 7y


I am travelling with a friend around S. America for 2 months in July and August. Does anybody have any advice on the best way to carry money e.g. travellers cheques etc? We are visiting Peru, Boliva, Argentina and Brazil.

Thanks for any advice


2. Posted by HillBilly (Budding Member 6 posts) 7y

Hey Lucy,
I'm heading that way in a couple weeks myself, hope you have a great time. Looking through he guide books, they tend to lean a bit towards ATM's (no problems w/Visa or MasterCard). One may be concerned with ATM fees, but there is always a fee with exchange whether it’s from cash or travelers checks. Travelers checks are often not widely accepted, at least not at as good of rates as cash. I'm not sure where you are coming from, but US dollars are often accepted for commerce in Bolivia & Argentina.
A problem I once incurred while traveling in Russia was that my bank thought there was fraudulent activity occurring & suspended my accounts, not a pleasant feeling far from home. You may want to inquire with your local bank as to fees on their end of any transaction made while abroad as well.
Additionally, keep your Credit & Debit transactions limited to reputable establishments.
Hope this helps.


3. Posted by bentivogli (Travel Guru 2398 posts) 7y

ATMs are the way to go. TCs are utterly useless, as hardly any bank accepts them anymore. Carrying cash is both unwise and unnecessary. ATM fees is an issue that continental Europeans usually don't have to bother with, but even then the pros (safety, good rates) outweigh the cons.

When travelling to really out-of-the-way places, make inquiries in advance as to the availability of ATMs. If necessary, make a larger withdrawal before leaving civilisation. In general however, you should be fine as the ATM networks in South America are fine-grained and wide-spread. Master and Visa offer ATM locators on their websites that you can use in planning your trip.

For added safety, consider opening a secondary account, to which you have a trusted person back home wire smaller sums of money from your regular account. That way, if your card gets stolen or your account gets abused in another way, the damage will be limited. Whatever you do, never use online banking on a public computer or open internet connection.

Final comment: banking regulations in SA can change quickly and unpredictably. For instance, Argentina quite suddenly limited the maximal withdrawal that you can make per transaction, inconveniencing many tourists. Still, these limitations are never such that they will get you in serious monetary trouble.

4. Posted by SamSalmon (Respected Member 626 posts) 7y

TCs are utterly useless, as hardly any bank accepts them anymore

Not at all true.

Have some TCs as backup and also duplicate bank and credit cards in case your card gets eaten.

5. Posted by Piecar (Travel Guru 894 posts) 7y

I disagree wholeheartedly with Sam. Traveller's Cheques are mostly useless. Bring them if you feel you need a backup, I guess...Or you could just bring your debit card which is recognized in far more places than traveller's cheques. Costs a little bit to use the card, though.


6. Posted by SamSalmon (Respected Member 626 posts) 7y

If you're in a place where there's an ATM you haven't gone far enough, you're still in 'Tourist Country'.

Seriously what if you want 7 or 8 hundred dollars-what are you going to do-wait around living on air for a few days because the limit in the country you happen to be visiting is $200?

Been there/done that No Thanks a person needs backup.

7. Posted by Piecar (Travel Guru 894 posts) 7y

I knew you'd bite, Sam. You hate when people disagree with you.

ATMs are more ubiquitous and more useful now because it's how the locals do their banking too. Guess you haven't been travelling for a while. If a place takes traveller's cheques, it's because the place is set up for....what? Take a guess....riiigghhht!!! Travellers. But San Andres Guatemala has an ATM in a grocery store...and nobody really goes there but locals. And there's a bank in the middle of Honduras where everybody shows up with a gun or rifle and hands the gun to the guard outside who ends up looking like a B-Movie Pistolero. Only cowboys and farmers and local merchants in that town really...and they have an international ATM

And people would do well to have a hidden cash reserve on them anyway, and it's a noobie trick to run down to your last dime before you start looking around for cash, And in rougher areas, it's not a good idea to be carrying around seven hundred dollars in hard currency, AND what remote area are you thinking about that a backpacker would go where he would need to chew up 700 hundred dollars before he saw another ATM? The wilds of Monte Carlo?

But opinions are like limbs, everybody's got more than one.


[ Edit: Edited on 18-May-2009, at 17:09 by Piecar ]

8. Posted by SamSalmon (Respected Member 626 posts) 7y

AND what remote area are you thinking about that a backpacker would go where he would need to chew up 700 hundred dollars before he saw another ATM?

Pacific Choco-staying at one of the cabanas for a couple weeks/paying for fishing every day-they only take cash and even if there is an ATM in Nuqui now it's too far to come/go even every few days

I guess it's been a while since you stayed in a place that didn't have electricity-like rural Vanuatu or Kadavu Island in southern Fiji or the Niua's in Tonga-all 'cash only' locales.

Of course people hate it when someone like me mentions that they are chained to the grid when they travel but it's true.

9. Posted by bentivogli (Travel Guru 2398 posts) 7y

Sam, while you may be right about Vanuatu, Fiji, and probably a load of other places, this really doesn't apply to South America (anymore).

Of course when you want to, you can find a place where there is no ATM at hand, but the OP is a first-time traveller to South America. S/he will hardly get off the beaten path, let alone so far that your advice applies - because in SA, that would be very far indeed. And, final comment, in those little places that you mention, Travellers Cheques will hardly make a good replacement for a debit card anyway. When you're that far from 'civilisation', only hard cash is helpful.

10. Posted by Piecar (Travel Guru 894 posts) 7y

Sam, we can have your "I'm a mountain man/you're a tenderfoot" argument off this girl's thread.

Lucy, best of luck. I stand by my debit card scenario. It also saves you having to stand in a line to speak to someone if your Spanish is lousy. You know how an ATM works, so it's easy. If you're going with a machete and a fishing pole to some place that only takes Traveller's Cheques, because they don't have electricity, choose that option.

Remember to keep a cash reserve. Don't run your funds dry before you go looking around for an ATM or some secluded TC only kiosk.


[ Edit: Edited on 19-May-2009, at 08:40 by Piecar ]