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My first question about Colombia - definitely not last. I am going to Colombia at the beginning of April 2016 for (just) 16 days. I am just wondering what would be the best way of keeping my money safe. I don't want to take all in cash (us dollars probably), how does the cash machine system look like. I am going to use my UK debit/credit cards. I am not afraid of my bank charges as they are reasonable but should I expect any additional fees using local cash machines? is exchange rate any reasonable? or shall I exchange cash in a bank?

Obviously a have done some googling, but most up to date info will be appreciated.

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    Not an answer, but a tip which I think you will find useful: my experience with ATMs in Latin America is that they will ask you whether your card is from a checking or a saving account. A UK current account is a checking account for these purposes. That's also the option I chose with my UK credit card, and it worked fine. – Peter Taylor Jan 18 '16 at 22:36
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You're asking a bunch of questions, but, in short:

There are plenty of cash machines in Colombia. There is no real need to bring much cash if you've got a card that works. Whether you will be charged for withdrawing money from ATMs depends on your bank and the bank you withdraw money from. To avoid paying a 'convenience fee', typically, don't use ATMs inside malls, gas stations, etc., though not all of these will actually charge a convenience fee.

  • That's more or less what I expected. I have ask that general and broad question only because I am gonna spend that 16 days traveling from Bogota to Barranquilla without specific (yet) plans, means spending some time in towns and villages (I am not the great fan of big cities). – user3328469 Jan 18 '16 at 13:41
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    I would recommend the opposite. The fees in Colombia depend on your bank and the bank owning the ATM and not on the ATMs location. For security reasons it is always better to use ATMs on malls and places like that and not ATMs on the side of any street. I agree with the rest of the answer. – DGaleano Jan 20 '16 at 18:20
  • Are you sure about no ATMs in Colombia charging convenience fees? Elsewhere in South America (as well as some other countries) this most certainly is the case for some ATMs. In Brazil, for example, these are typically the ATMs called 'Banco 24 horas', which offer banking services for some 40 banks. – MastaBaba Jan 20 '16 at 22:57
  • Thanks for your replays. Just to add a little bit wood to fire.. what can you tell me about an exchange rate in atm's. Banks in some countries are ridiculous with they rates. – user3328469 Jan 21 '16 at 9:58
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    Thanks MastaBaba, I can accept your answer and all comments as an answer to my question! – user3328469 Jan 22 '16 at 15:11
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Just got back from three weeks in Colombia. Here are notes based off my travel in Jan 2016. I'll be comparing prices to US dollars.

Exchange rate

The exchange rate is approximately 1 USD = 3300 COP at the time of this writing. To estimate prices, you're better off just dividing any price you see by 3000 to get a fair estimate of its USD price after any fees you may incur.

ATMs (Cajeros)

You'll easily find a secure cash machine in Colombia. I had no trouble locating one in these destinations: Cartagena, Barranquilla, Santa Marta, Bogota, Pereira, Salento, Medellin.

Some machines had a max withdrawal of 300.000 COP, and the highest withdrawal limit I saw was 600.000 COP. You can perform consecutive withdrawals if necessary, but your bank's fees will stack. Bank of America charged me a 5 USD fee per withdrawal for most machines.

I recommend going with the maximum withdrawal amount, keeping a third of it on hand and tucking the remaining two thirds in a safe place. It is a withdrawal of 200 USD at most. This will get a single person by for several days to a week and will keep withdrawal fees few and far between. It will also save you time in repeatedly finding an ATM. You can then leave your ATM card safely locked up in your hostel.

Cash (Efectivos) vs Credit (tarjeta de credito)

You'll need cash on hand at all times. That said, don't bring too much of your home currency: 50 USD is fine to get you through the initial days. The rate at currency exchange vendors seemed to be about 1 USD = 2800 COP. That's a 15% charge! Awful.

Use an ATM soon after you land. If the max withdrawal is 300.000 COP and the fee is 5 USD, then that's about a 5.5% fee. Again, I recommend you go for the max withdrawal, but keep in mind that you do not need more than 100.000 COP on you for a full day's needs and then some. If you plan to shop, maybe twice this amount. If something is pricier, you probably can pay with credit card.

Credit card was the most effective option for me. Use this option whenever you can. My card had a 3% fee. Stick with Visa or Mastercard, as I doubt the support for Amex or Discover down there. The clerk may ask you for how many counts or cuotas you want... This is like a form of installments. Just say one count. The receipts include lines for you to write down info like your phone number but you can ignore it. Almost everyone was cool with only my signature.

Prices

A local meal will run you between 4000 to 10.000 COP. The fanciest meal will be 40.000 COP.

A taxi within a city will cost you between 5000 and 25.000 COP.

For more detailed info, check out this resource. It cites costs in Bogota, which will be one of the more expensive locations.

Other

Keep a color copy of your passport on you. Bring a student ID if you have one too. That's all you need on your person. The student ID really helps at some of the major tourist destinations.

  • Please check currency in the Cash against Credit section. – Willeke Jan 24 '16 at 19:36
  • @Willeke Thanks! Yes, $100,000 in USD would be a bit excessive to have on hand! Feel free to make edits. – zahbaz Jan 24 '16 at 19:39
  • If the writer of the answer is around, I rather leave edits to him. But if you had not corrected the fact, I would have. – Willeke Jan 24 '16 at 19:41
  • Sorry that I can not up vote you (one day I will), but this is a great answer. Many thanks for all info, I never thought about withdraw limits. – user3328469 Jan 25 '16 at 9:23
  • Just to confirm/update... all @zahbaz said is right, but withdraw limits are bit higher now, min I have found was 400k cop and max was 800k in BBVA bank. I have been charged about 1.5% for each withdraw, that is probably up to bank we use. Cash machines having much better exchange rate than exchange vendors! – user3328469 May 5 '16 at 10:40
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If you are concerned of your safety, DON'T use ATM outside malls in the street, in some places could be very dangerous, also don't carry more cash than needed, and when paying using your cards, never let the cashier go away with your card.

  • thanks for your advise, I will try to behave reasonably here. (8 weeks to go :) – user3328469 Feb 16 '16 at 8:51

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