ATMs are widely available. Credit cards are common.
- Almost all major banks have ATMs, and they usually work fine with cards issued outside Colombia (Bancolombia being the ornery exception for some folks). Cash machines affiliated with Banco de Bogotá/ATH and BBVA are good bets.
- Most banks have a maximum cash withdrawal limit of COP$300,000 per transaction, but it varies. Bancolombia, Davivienda and Citibank allow double that from most branches. If you need more, just pull out twice, and be quick about it. The machines have very little tolerance for those that take their time navigating the menu – a second of hesitation and it cancels the transaction!
- If you must use an ATM after dark, always use one inside a gas station or shopping mall. Some ATMs can be fussy if you do not have a chip-and-pin ATM card.
- The Colombian peso (COP$) is the unit of currency in Colombia.
- There are paper notes of COP$1000, $2000, $5000, $10,000, $20,000 and $50,000. The coins you will use are primarily the COP$100, $200, $500 and $1000; the $50 is rarely seen outside of supermarkets, and some people may refuse to accept it.
- Counterfeit pesos are a major problem in Colombia and you'll notice cashiers everywhere vigorously checking notes before completing transactions. While it is difficult for visitors to identify dud bills, if you are given one that is old, battered or just doesn't seem right, hand it back and ask for another.
- Credit cards are common in Colombia and used extensively in the major cities and larger towns. When paying with a credit card, you will be asked, '¿En cuantas cuotas?' (How many payments?). Colombian customers can choose to divide the payment over one to 24 months. Foreign cardholders should just say 'one.'
- The most useful card for cash advances is Visa, as it's accepted by most banks. MasterCard is less common but still processed by many banks. Other cards are of limited use.
- You can get advance payments on cards from the cashier in the bank or from the bank's ATM. In either case you'll need your PIN.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
- If you need money sent to you quickly, MoneyGram and Western Union are your two principal options. MoneyGram is usually cheaper, and is what most overseas Colombians use to send remittances home to their families.
- Your sender pays the money, along with a fee, at their nearest MoneyGram or Western Union branch, and gives the details on who is to receive it and where. You can have the money within 15 minutes. When you pick it up, take along photo identification and the numbered password they'll give the sender.
- Both services have offices in all the major cities and most smaller towns.
- You are better off using your ATM card in Colombia, as you will get a much better exchange rate.
- The US dollar is the only foreign currency worth trying to change in Colombia; expect dismal rates for euros, pounds sterling, Australian dollars etc.
- Many but not all banks change money; in major cities and in border regions there are usually several casas de cambio (currency exchanges).
- Avoid changing money on the street; some informal changers have fast fingers and often dodgy calculators.
- Colombia is considered a leader in producing counterfeit banknotes, including US currenc,y which is worth noting if you are changing your pesos back at the end of a trip.
- Your passport is required for any banking transaction. You'll also have to provide a thumbprint.
- There's a fair amount of paperwork involved in changing money (to prevent money laundering).
- Restaurants A government regulation dictates that in midrange and top-end restaurants (anywhere there is a service charge), your waiter must ask you if they can add the 10% service charge to the bill.
- Taxis Tipping in taxis is not commonplace but rounding up to the nearest 500 or 1000 pesos is quite normal.
In midrange restaurants it's acceptable to decline to pay the service charge with a polite 'sin servicio, por favor' if you are dissatisfied. In top-end restaurants refusing the pay the service charge is likely to bring a manager to your table to inquire what was wrong with your meal.
- Traveler's checks are neither well known nor understood in Colombia. You're better off bringing your bank card and getting cash from the ATM.
- If you must travel with traveler's checks, make sure they are in US dollars, as you will get the best exchange rate. Do not bring checks in euros, pounds sterling etc.
- Banks in major cities often change US dollar traveler's checks at rates slightly higher than the cash rate (though still not as good as just using your ATM card).
- Exchange rates vary from bank to bank, so shop around. Some banks charge a commission for changing checks.