Bolívar Fuerte (BsF)
- Budget lodging US$5
- Dinner mains US$2
- Salto Ángel three-day tour US$200
Venezuelan government currency controls peg the bolívar fuerte to the US dollar at a totally artificial rate. This has resulted in an absurd situation that forces all visitors to use the black market. In late 2015, the official exchange rate was, as it had been for years, fixed at BsF6.3 per dollar, but a dollar's street value was between BsF500 and 700. This means that anyone changing money at a bank, taking money out on a credit card or even paying by credit card will be getting a crippling poor rate. It's therefore essential to use the black market if you want to be able to afford to visit Venezuela. Prices are often quoted in US$ as the bolívar fuerte is too volatile. However, we convert using a conervative black market rate of 500BsF to the dollar, not the official rate. Therefore a bed that cost US$5, actually cost BsF2500 on the ground in 2015. To pay for the same bed using the official rate would make the bed cost US$397.
Therefore either bring cash US dollars to Venezuela and change them on the black market locally (it's best to ask your posada or travel agent about this in advance), or wire US dollars to a trusted travel agency or posada and they will bring you cash in bolivares on arrival. If you're coming overland, neither Brazilian nor Colombian currencies are subject to controls; therefore, it's a good strategy to withdraw money from ATMs in those countries and change it on the black market at the border or nearest town.
Venezuela has the highest rate of inflation in the world and prices are extremely vulnerable to change. Prices quoted should be used as a rough guide only.
Cajeros automáticos (ATMs) can be found everywhere, and often have lines in front of them. No visitor should use an ATM in the country, however, as it will mean getting the terrible official exchange rate.
The black market (mercado negro or dólar paralelo) is not nearly as sinister as it sounds, and is essential for all visitors to Venezuela, although always check the latest information with your hotel or travel agency. It's best to arrange currency exchange in advance, rather than attempt to do it at the airport, where your chance of getting ripped off is high. Websites such as www.dollar.nu list the current black-market exchange rates. Though changing money in this way is strictly speaking illegal, it's not something the government prosecutes except in the case of career currency traders. That said, be discreet and make the change in your hotel room or in a private office. Beware of counterfeit bills, especially at Maiquetía airport. As the highest banknote (BsF100) is worth just 20c, expect to be given a laundry bag full of money.
Though they don’t advertise it, most established posadas and tour operators will accept payment (or sometimes give you cash at the black-market rate) through online money transfers to international bank accounts.
Venezuela's ironically named bolívar fuerte (strong bolívar) is a tiresome currency to use. There are worthless coins and paper notes in denominations of 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100. Expect to carry around huge wads of cash, as the 100 note is worth just 20c. It's impossible to get Venezuelan currency before you enter the country.
Never use your credit card in Venezuela, as transactions will always be calculated using the ruinous official exchange rate.
While it is just about possible to change euros, Brazilian and Colombian money in Venezuela, US dollars will get you the best rate and will be simplest to change. Do not use the casas de cambio (authorized money-exchange offices), however, as you will get a terrible rate.
Use the black market to change money. Never use ATMs or official exchange offices.
- Most restaurants include a 10% service charge and list it clearly on the bill, and when it's not included, they usually tell you about it rather shamelessly!
- A small tip of around 5% to 10% beyond the service charge is standard in a nicer restaurant, but not required.
- Taxi drivers are not usually tipped unless they help carry bags.
- Tipping of hotel employees, dive masters, guides and so on is left to your discretion; it is rarely required but always appreciated, and let's face it, there are a lot of banknotes in your pocket due to the economic situation.