Colombian currency is called the Colombian Peso (COP), symbolized by the “$” sign followed by the amount without any decimal points for thousands (e.g., $10,000). It’s the only currency you’ll see in daily transactions, so forget about paying in dollars or euros unless you love the perplexed stares from locals.
Overview of the Peso
The peso has been Colombia’s currency since 1837 and has seen more zeros come and go than a mathematician’s daydream. It’s not uncommon to deal with millions in your wallet, which can make you feel like a millionaire, at least until you buy a soda.
Currency Denominations and Coins
Banknotes come in denominations of $2,000, $5,000, $10,000, $20,000, $50,000, and the elusive $100,000. As for coins, you’ll find $50, $100, $200, $500, and $1,000 jingling in your pockets. These coins can be a lifesaver for small purchases where cash is king, like bus fares or street snacks.
Best Places to Exchange Money
For the best exchange rates, avoid airports and hotels due to their typically unfavorable terms. Opt for a friendly “hello” at reputable downtown exchange bureaus, particularly in major cities.
Exchange Rates and Fees
To secure the best offer, it’s important to note that exchange rates can differ significantly from one bureau to another. Therefore, comparing the rates across various bureaus is a crucial step in ensuring you get the most favorable deal.
Withdrawal Limits and Fees
Withdrawal limits can make you feel like you’re on a financial diet, typically between $300,000 and $600,000. Fees can vary, so it’s wise to have a chat with your bank before leaving home to avoid unpleasant surprises.
If the amount you wish to withdraw is not possible, you may make a second or even a third withdrawal one after the other. There is no 24-hour waiting period. However, be aware that you will be charged an average of 7€ / USD per withdrawal.
The ATM with the highest limit and the lowest fees in Colombia are “Servibanca” allowing you to withdraw up to 2.000.000 Cop at once.
When you insert your card into the ATM, you will need to choose “Savings” or “Credit.” The term “Savings” applies to “Debit” cards.
Safety Tips for ATM Use
When using ATMs, practice your ninja skills: be aware of your surroundings and keep your PIN a secret. Choose ATMs in well-lit, populated areas.
Understanding the Cost of Living
Daily Expenses for Travelers
Your wallet will stretch further than you might be used to – a decent meal can cost less than an overpriced latte back home. Budget travelers can get by on around $50 per day, while more luxurious travelers might spend $150 or more.
Price Comparison: Colombia vs. Home Country
Colombia is generally more affordable in terms of goods and services compared to North America or Europe. However, electronics and imported items may be more expensive.
It’s a good idea to gather small bills and coins. Currency can be scarce in Colombia. If you have to cover a 7,000 peso bill with a 50,000 peso note, you might be met with frowns.
ATMs dispense 100,000 and 50,000 peso notes, so try to break down the large denominations whenever you can at major restaurants and stores, and keep smaller bills readily available.
Credit and Debit Card Acceptance
Credit and debit cards get a warm welcome in larger establishments, but always have cash as a backup, especially off the beaten path. Visa and MasterCard are like the popular kids, while American Express sits at the alternative table.
Wherever possible, it is advisable to pay merchants with your credit card, as the fees are lower than those incurred by making withdrawals.
Mobile Payments and Apps
Mobile payments are the new kids on the block, gaining popularity. Apps like DaviPlata and Nequi are paving the way, but they haven’t quite taken the throne from cash and cards yet.
It all depends on you! Tipping in Colombia has become the norm only in tourist areas, and it is now expected from those who assist you for a few hours or more.
A reasonable “tipping” budget should range from $60 to $120 per person, depending on the length of the trip and the participant’s satisfaction.
Giving “too little” may be frowned upon by your hosts, and giving “too much” can skew the relationship to this “tip” and may create expectations that will not be met by every group.
How much should you tip?
This is a discretionary expense, but it is expected and should remain reasonable. It’s up to you to strike the right balance.
Unless a team member delivers an exceptional performance that you wish to reward, the hierarchy of roles must be observed.
The largest tip should go to the local guide ($3 to $15 per day per person – 10,000 COP to 50,000 COP), followed by the logistics team: assistants, cooks, porters, muleteers, etc. ($2 to $3 per day per person – 6,000 COP), and finally to the drivers ($1 to $2 per day per person – 2,000 COP to 5,000 COP).
Hotel staff look forward to tips like kids on Christmas morning. A few thousand pesos can go a long way in showing your gratitude for their hard work.
Restaurants & Bars
In restaurants and bars in Colombia, tipping (“propinas”) is not mandatory. However, there is a system known as “la propina voluntaria,” which represents 10% of the total amount of your bill.
Before you pay, the server typically asks if you’d like to contribute to this voluntary tip.
But rest assured, restaurant tips are included in the price of our tours.
If haggling over prices is normal and expected, try not to take it too far. Everyone deserves to make a decent living. Try to learn about fair prices before you start to bargain.
Avoiding Common Money Scams
Typical Scams Targeting Travelers
Scams are as diverse as Colombian landscapes. Fake taxis, shortchanging, and the infamous “mustard scam” (where a substance is spilled on you and your pockets are picked during the clean-up) are classics.
How to Stay Safe
Keep your wits about you, use official taxis, count your change, and if a stranger is overly interested in cleaning your clothes, politely decline.
Be discreet with your cash. Remember that Colombian wages are much lower than in the United States and Canada. Don’t tempt fate by flashing a wad of bills when you’re counting your money.
The ideal is to keep a few pesos in your wallet, some in a secret pocket, and leave the rest safely in your room.