My girlfriend and I are going to be in South America for 4.5 months from September. We're flying in and out of Beunos Aires. Provincially we'll visit Argentina, Chile, Peru, Bolivia, perhaps Paraguay, Southern Brazil and back to BA in a sort of loop.
We're from the UK.
Regarding money, would we be fine taking just our bank cards (visa)? Of course we can't take a big bag of cash with us!
Also, do people tend to use the local currency everywhere they go or do you stick with USD? I'd have thought the local currency was best?
Do ATMs dispense local currency or USD or both in some cases?
Also, does anyone have any experience of losing thier bank card while away? I'll plan to take spares but in the worst case is it usually possible for your bank to get a new card out to you?
Atms dispense local cash. A very few do also spit out American. The machines are ubiquitous even in smaller towns. You'll be fine just taking your cards.
Local currency is the best. Without question. When crossing the border, know the official exhange rate between your currency, your current country's currency and the new country's currency before you get there. Do the research the night before.
Always use local currency; to the extent that USD is accepted at all (this is increasingly becoming popular myth), the rates are very poor. Try not having to exchange one local currency for another, but just pick up some of the new country's money right after you've entered. On most routes tourists are likely to travel, that should not be a problem.
General money tip: have two accounts. One to use while travelling with a minimal amount of money in it, and another one in which the major part of your money sits. Leave all cards and passwords for the second one at home, and have someone you trust wire money to your travelling account whenever you run out. If your cards get stolen or you get mugged or worse, at least the damage will be limited.
You may want to open an account that doesn't charge for withdrawls, it may add up to a substantial amount of money over a long period.
ATM's are available everywhere, ensure that your bank is aware that you're travelling because they may well stop your card, thinking that someone is taking money from your account fraudulently. Also (and it may seem trivial) be careful that in Peru and some other countries the ATM's give your card back AFTER you've taken your money and not the other way round. This may save you a painful few weeks without a card. Hope this helps!
Just to add: I left my card in an ATM after a gruelling 11 hour bus ride in Peru. It took me 2 months to get a new card (UPS lost a parcel etc etc) and caused me no end of problems. I do know that HSBC send a new card directly to any of their branches in the world, but unfortunately Barclays don't!! It would be wise to take a replacement imo.
[ Edit: Edited on 01-Jun-2010, at 14:00 by Huella ]