Money in South America
Each country in South America has its own currency except Ecuador which uses the US Dollar. The easiest currency to exchange is the US Dollar. Euros can also often be changed. Other currencies can sometimes be exchanged but it is best not to rely on it and rates may be poor. Familiarize yourself with exchange rates before you travel – e.g. by using xe.com. Traveler’s checks are best avoided. Currency can usually be exchanged on arrival at airports or at land borders, it is also possible elsewhere in major cities, though it can be time consuming at banks, ask your guide for advice if needed. By using ATMs for most of your needs, you can minimize the need to exchange money.
Everyone has their own preferences, but we find the following combination works well:
- Take a modest amount of US dollars cash with you in perfect condition, even small marks or tears can mean your bills won’t be accepted. Take a mixture of large and small bills.
- Use credit and debit cards to withdraw cash in local currency from ATMs for the majority of your needs.
- Use credit or debit cards for larger purchases. Notes on cards
- Tell your bank where you are traveling to reduce the chance of them blocking your card
- Check the fees that will be charged by your bank for using your cards in South America Mastercard and Visa are most widely accepted.
- Take two or more different cards so that you have a backup if one is lost or blocked by your bank – e.g. take one debit card and one credit card.
How much money do I need to bring?
As everyone’s spending is different, this is difficult to estimate. By following our recommendations above you will not need to travel with large amounts of cash, so there is less need to accurately estimate your spending in advance. The main expenses you should consider are:
- Meals not included in your itinerary (see country specific guidance below for estimates)
- Small purchases such as snacks and water
- Tips for your guides and drivers (see below)
- Personal expenditure, gifts, etc.