Table of Contents

Travel Money Guide: South America

Peso, sol or real? Compare your travel money options so you can switch off and enjoy your next adventure.

In this guide
Types
Travel Money Cards
Locations

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With the Galapagos tempting you offshore, Machu Picchu nestled in the slopes of the Andes and the Amazon rainforest just waiting to be explored, it’s easy to forget that South America is made up of 12 different countries with 12 separate currencies.

Our top tip for paying your way through? Make sure to have an emergency supply of cash, especially when travelling to rural locations like the Amazon where some towns have no ATM at all.

Compare travel money options for South America

With so many currencies to contend with, it’s important to have a combination of travel money options including credit and debit cards, local currency and US dollars as a backup, which are accepted in multiple South American countries.

We update our data regularly, but information can change between updates. Confirm details with the provider you’re interested in before making a decision.

We update our data regularly, but information can change between updates. Confirm details with the provider you’re interested in before making a decision.

We update our data regularly, but information can change between updates. Confirm details with the provider you’re interested in before making a decision.

We update our data regularly, but information can change between updates. Confirm details with the provider you’re interested in before making a decision.

What should I know about money for South America?

Some of the major South American currencies include:

  • Argentine peso
  • Bolivian boliviano
  • Brazilian real
  • Chilean peso
  • Colombian peso
  • Peruvian nuevo sol
  • Uruguayan peso
  • Venezuelan bolivar

What should I take, a travel card, debit card, or credit card?

Visa and Mastercard branded credit cards, debit cards and travel cards enjoy wide acceptance throughout the continent of South America. Merchants which have the facilities to accept card payments will accept both these card scheme brands, American Express is accepted in few places besides high-end businesses. Stick to a Visa or Mastercard product so you can make withdrawals and card payments in a variety of places.

Travel money options for South America at a glance

This table is a general summary of the travel money products in the market. Features and benefits can vary between cards.

How each travel money option works in South America

Credit cards

Credit cards provide a line of credit with limited interest free terms which can be used all over the world (American Express and Diners Club Cards in fewer places than Mastercard and Visa). Choose a credit card which doesn’t charge for currency conversion to save money on international transaction fees when travelling through South America. Bankwest Platinum cards won’t charge for international withdrawals as well as currency conversion. ATM withdrawals using your credit card are not advised if you’re concerned with saving money, as you’ll be charged high cash advance fees. But you can sometimes load a credit card with a positive balance to cut out cash advance fees and charges when used at an ATM. The card scheme anti-fraud guarantees don’t apply when you withdraw from an ATM using a credit card with a positive balance.

Debit cards

A travel friendly transaction account is a better travel money option for a trip to South America. By choosing a debit card which lets you transact in a foreign currency without paying for currency conversion, you can use the account over the counter in South America as you would in Australia for no extra cost. Most debit card providers apply a $5 charge for international ATM withdrawals. As well as no currency conversion fees, the Citibank Plus Transaction Account also waives the additional charge for international ATM withdrawals.

  • Tip: Westpac cardholders (including St.George, BankSA and Bank of Melbourne cardholders) can avoid the international ATM withdrawal fee using ScotiaBank ATMs in Chile and Peru thanks to the Westpac Global Alliance.

Travel prepaid cards

No prepaid travel cards support the currencies of the South American countries, so these products shouldn’t be considered for a trip to the continent unless it doesn’t charge a currency conversion fee. Although you can load US Dollars onto these travel money products, acceptance is limited and you’ll pay to convert funds twice. Travel card providers apply a margin to the exchange rate when you convert funds and then a currency conversion fee applies when you spend in a currency not loaded on the card. While there are products which will waive the currency conversion fee, other fees apply when you withdraw cash or reload the card for example. Consider one of the other forms of travel money compared on this page for a trip to South America.

  • Tip: The South American regions of French Guiana off the coast of Brazil and the Falkland Islands adjacent to Argentina use the euro and pound respectively. A travel card is suited to spend in these overseas departments of France and United Kingdom.

Traveller’s cheques

Don’t bother taking traveller’s cheques to South America. They’re difficult to cash and expensive, and no more secure than using a debit card (ATMs in South America are everywhere), credit card or prepaid travel card.

South America is one destination where you’re going to need to have a supply of cash for emergencies. Although you can use your card in more places now more than ever, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to access cash at any given moment, especially outside of major cities. Card payment facilities vary greatly depending on the location. You won’t have a problem with card acceptance and ATM withdrawals in the capital cities, especially in countries like Chile, Brazil, Colombia and Argentina for example. However, there are major tourist attractions, like the Amazon, where you’re going to need enough cash to last you for the entire leg of your trip.

Using ATMs in South America

Visa and Mastercard should work at all ATMs where you can see a Maestro, Cirrus, Mastercard or Visa logo on the front of the machine.

  • Tip: Anecdotal evidence suggests that ATMs in the Amazon region of Brazil, some parts of Venezuela and Bolivia will not accept foreign debit cards. Ensure you have enough cash to last you the duration of your stay if you’re visiting these regions.
  • Tip: Smaller towns in rural areas may not provide ATM facilities. Research your destination for advice from other travellers before you arrive. Always try to use ATMs attached to the side of a bank.
  • Tip: ATMs will give you your money before your card, which can lead to instances of people leaving their card in the machine.

Exchanging cash in South America

ATM withdrawals are by far the most efficient way to get local currency in cash on your holiday. ATMs are located all throughout the continent. If you want to carry cash as an emergency backup, US Dollars are widely accepted and the choice of money if you can’t pay in the local currency. While the major exchange offices in shopping centres and in tourist locations will exchange Australian Dollars, but US Dollars are preferred.

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Exchange rate history

YearExchange Australian Dollar (AUD) to US Dollar (USD) ($1 AUD=)
20121.02
20131.04
2014.89
2015.82
2016.73
2017.72
2018.78

*Exchange rates are accurate as of 1 January of each year

Some of the major South American currencies include:

  • Argentine peso
  • Bolivian boliviano
  • Brazilian real
  • Chilean peso
  • Colombian peso
  • Peruvian nuevo sol
  • Uruguayan peso
  • Venezuelan bolivar

How much money do I need to bring to South America?

From country to country and region to region, prices in Brazil are more expensive than Ecuador, Ibague (the 7th largest city in Colombia) is cheaper than Medellin (the 2nd biggest city in Colombia). You’ll find prices are varied in South America. Wherever your travel, the continent can be as expensive as you make it. Below you can find some budget prices for different countries in South America.

Bogotá (Colombia)Brasília (Brazil)Lima (Peru)Santiago (Chile)
Hostel dorm bed$10 per nightHostel dorm bed$20 per nightHostel dorm bed$10 per nightHostel dorm$12 per night
Arepa con queso on the street$1.50El Negro Food Truck. El Matanza (hot dog)$4.50Ceviche pescado in a cheap restaurant$2 -$3Empanada on the street$1
Bogota graffiti tour Free (donation based on satisfaction)See the city from the top of the television tower FreeSee the changing of the guards at the Presidential PalaceFreeMuseo Histórico NacionalFree on Sundays and holidays

*Prices are approximate and are subject to change.

Buying currency in Australia

It will be cheaper if you wait to exchange your money when you arrive. Rates on offer in Australia for South American currencies are worse than what you get get from local banks and money changers. If you do want to get money changed in Australia, it’s a good idea to get US Dollars if you can’t purchase specific South American currencies. Colombian Pesos, Bolivian Bolivianos and Venezuelan Bolívars may be hard to get in Australia. Consider these institutions if you want to purchase foreign cash:

BankCurrencies
Brazil RealsChilean PesosUS DollarsColombian PesosArgentine Pesos
American ExpressYesYesYesNoNo
ANZYesYesYesYesNo
Australia PostNoNoYesNoNo
Commonwealth BankYesYesYesNoYes
NABYesYesYesNoYes
TravelexYesYesYesYesNo
WestpacNoNoYesNoNo

Back to top

How much money do I need to bring to South America?

From country to country and region to region, prices in Brazil are more expensive than Ecuador, Ibague (the 7th largest city in Colombia) is cheaper than Medellin (the 2nd biggest city in Colombia). You’ll find prices are varied in South America. Wherever your travel, the continent can be as expensive as you make it. Below you can find some budget prices for different countries in South America.

Bogotá (Colombia)Brasília (Brazil)Lima (Peru)Santiago (Chile)
Hostel dorm bed$10 per nightHostel dorm bed$20 per nightHostel dorm bed$10 per nightHostel dorm$12 per night
Arepa con queso on the street$1.50El Negro Food Truck. El Matanza (hot dog)$4.50Ceviche pescado in a cheap restaurant$2 -$3Empanada on the street$1
Bogota graffiti tour Free (donation based on satisfaction)See the city from the top of the television tower FreeSee the changing of the guards at the Presidential PalaceFreeMuseo Histórico NacionalFree on Sundays and holidays

*Prices are approximate and are subject to change.

A quick guide to the Brazilian Real

Did you know?

The Brazilian word for the national currency, ‘real’ means both real and royal and all Brazilian coins feature the Southern Cross!

south-america-banknotes

Why you’ll need a combination of travel money options

It’s important to take a combination of travel money options wherever you go in the world, but this is especially true for a trip to South America. As we’ve seen with Will and his trouble with card acceptance in Cuba (not technically South America but his anecdote is still relevant), it’s important to have a combination of cards and cash to use a backup. Have US Dollars on hand to use in emergencies and a travel card or debit card and credit card combination to use when necessary.

Jeremy Cabral

Jeremy Cabral is the chief operating officer and global head of publishing for Finder. He has written hundreds of comparisons covering everything from credit cards to travel money to Netflix TV shows. Jeremy has a Bachelor of Business (Marketing) from the University of Western Sydney.

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Ask an Expert

20 Responses

Like many others , I am quite confused.
I have a CBA travel card with GBP still on it, and was going to convert it to USD. Now I am wondering if there is any point , if my USD s have to be converted to the local currency , would I lose less money by leaving the GBP on it ? I would be taking some cash out in the local currency, and also using the card as a credit/debit card .
I also need to load more money onto the card, and for the same reason above, would it be better to just load AUD ?
I am travelling mostly to Peru, Ecuador ,Argentina ,and Brazil on an organised trip, so will just have to pay for food and souvenirs. I will be taking some small denominations in USD .
Thank you

Thank you for your questions.

As a financial comparison service, we’re unable to recommend any specific product, service or strategy to our users as the best option will always depend on the user and their individual financial needs.

As there aren’t many prepaid travel money options for Australians travelling in South America, you would find that when you load any funds on the card (whether it be AUD, GBP or USD or any other supported currency) and make a transaction in a local currency, that you would incur a currency conversion fee.

However, as we mention on our South America Travel Money Guide, US currency is widely accepted in South America. As such, you may find that loading your card with USD could result in the least amount of currency conversion or foreign transaction fees.

You may wish to consider the fees, rates and exchange rates involved to determine which option poses the most value for you.

I hope this has helped answer your question.

I have an ANZ Platinum Visa but am curious about being able to withdraw cash for spending money. Am I best to have a travel card for my spending money and just use the Platinum Visa for my big items??

Thank you for your question.

Travel cards can be used to make direct EFTPOS payments or for ATM withdrawals. An advantage of the travel card is that, unlike a credit card, you are using your own funds that you have loaded onto the card and can manage your budget while spending overseas. Some travel cards can support several currencies and offer the benefit of no currency conversion fees. However, the features available to you will largely depend on which travel card you use.

To compare your travel card options, please view our Travel Money Card Finder.

I hope this has answered your question.

Hi! We were wondering if Aussie dollars are accepted in Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Eucador?

Exchanged for local currency in these countries

Thanks for your question.

In South America you can generally pay with the USD everywhere. You can choose to change your AUD into USD, or if the local exchanges let you, you can directly exchange your AUD into the local currency.

I am in Colonia Uragauy site seeing ,,I can’t use my citibank Visa card in any of the ATMs because they won’t accept the data chip on the card this is also the case with all my other Australian cards ,,same issue in Montevideo,,please advise

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Thanks for your question.

Unfortunately it could be an acceptance issue with the card. If you have other travel money options like cash, it’s advisable to use that instead.

It might be best to get in touch with Citibank as well to see if they have offer any replacement options.

Last week paed for 2 CBA travel money cards.
This week rang their travel centre and the woman said that mastercard is not accepted in South Ameerica !

Help so do I also get maybe an NAB Visa or Debit card??

So confusing, please help esp anyone who has just returned.

I’m going for 5 weeks to 4 countries.

Thanks for your question.

You can take a look at this page to read about your South America travel money options.

I hope this will help.

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Travel money guide: South America

Hola or Olá? Cash or card? Learn about the right travel money to use in South America.

In this guide
Travel money type
Compare
Locations
Compare more cards
Top picks of 2021

South America is made up of 12 different countries, each with different currencies. For example, Colombia has Colombian pesos, Argentina uses Argentinian pesos, Brazil the real and Peru the nuevo sol. As such, bringing a combination of cards and cash is essential. The Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card is a decent choice as far as travel cards go.

Here are the types of payment options available and other financial tips for navigating South America.

Our picks for traveling to South America

Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card logo

Travel card with no annual fee

Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

Wise Multi-currency logo

Send and receive 50+ currencies right from your phone

Revolut logo

28+ currencies and real exchange rates. Crypto deposits aren’t FDIC insured.

Travel card, debit card or credit card?

It’s important to take a combination of travel money options wherever you go in the world, but this is especially true for a trip to South America. Having a combination of cards and cash to use as a backup is necessary to ensure you won’t run into any spending roadblocks on your vacation.

Credit cards, debit cards and travel cards are widely accepted in South America. You’ll have no problem using your Visa or Mastercard at any business that can accept credit cards, however, American Express is typically only accepted at high-end businesses.

Stick to a Visa or Mastercard so you can make withdrawals and payments in a variety of places.

These are your options for spending money in South America

stack of credit cards

Compare credit cards for travel

Using a credit card

Look for a credit card designed for travel that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees to save money on international purchases when traveling through South America. The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is a good choice, but there are plenty of other options on the market as well.

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If you’re a frequent traveler, use a travel credit card that pays miles for each dollar you spend. This way you can maximize rewards and use those miles towards the purchase of your next flight.

  • Some credit cards waive overseas ATM fee
  • Protected by PIN and chip
  • Accepted worldwide
  • Features such as complimentary travel insurance and reward points earning
  • Cash advance fees
  • Higher spending limit that could make budgeting difficult

Compare travel credit cards

Narrow down top travel credit cards by welcome offers, rewards and annual fees to find the best for your budget and financial goals. Select Compare for up to four products to see their benefits side by side.

Debit card being swiped in a POS station

Best international debit cards

Using a debit card

A travel friendly debit card that waives international ATM fees or foreign transaction fees, like one from Betterment Checking , is a smart travel money option for a trip to South America. Look for a debit card provider that is part of the Global ATM Alliance because you’ll be able to avoid currency conversion fees — Barclay Bank and Bank of America are members.

If you’re planning on using a debit card that doesn’t waive ATM fees, take out the maximum amount of money so you don’t have to make as money withdrawals.

  • Security with chip and PIN
  • Direct access to money
  • Save on overseas ATM fee when you withdraw
  • $0 account keeping fees if you deposit the minimum requirement
  • Unlimited free withdrawals at selected banks
  • Currency conversion and international ATM fees

person at laptop with credit card and phone

Prepaid travel money cards

Using a prepaid travel card

No prepaid travel cards support South American currencies, so these products shouldn’t be considered for a trip to the continent. Although you can load US Dollars onto these travel money products, acceptance is limited and you’ll pay to convert funds twice.

  • Tip: The South American regions of French Guiana off the coast of Brazil and the Falkland Islands adjacent to Argentina use the euro and pound, so you could use a travel card to spend in either destination with no problem.
  • Protected by PIN & chip
  • Multiple supported currencies
  • Emergency card replacement and backup cards
  • Accepted worldwide
  • Ideal for managing your travel budget
  • Most prepaid travel money cards won’t let you load any South American currency
  • May charge currency conversion fees, ATM withdrawal fees and local ATM operator fee

Brazilian banknotes

Compare cash pickup services in South America

Paying with cash in South America

South America is one destination where you’re going to need to have cash in case of an emergencies. Although you can use your card in more places now more than ever, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to access cash at any given moment — especially outside of major cities.

Where debit and credit cards are accepted can vary greatly depending on the location. You won’t have a problem with a card in the capital cities, especially in countries like Chile, Brazil, Colombia and Argentina for example. However, there are major tourist attractions, like the Amazon, where you’re going to need enough cash to last you for the entire leg of your trip.

  • Greater payment flexibility
  • Convenience
  • Difficult to manage expenses
  • Higher risk of theft

Woman taking a check picture

Traveler’s checks guide

Using traveler’s checks

Don’t bother taking traveler’s checks to South America. They’re difficult to cash and can be expensive. Also, it is no more secure than using a debit card (ATMs in South America are everywhere), credit card or prepaid travel card.

  • Acceptance
  • Security
  • Can be costly with initial purchase charges
  • Not all merchants accept travelers checks

Exchanging cash in South America

ATM withdrawals are by far the most efficient way to get local currency in cash on your holiday. ATMs are located all throughout the continent. If you want to carry cash as an emergency backup, US Dollars are widely accepted if you can’t pay in the local currency.

Refreshing in: 60s | Tue, Nov 22, 10:38AM GMT

Buying currency for South America

It’ll be cheaper if you wait to exchange your money when you arrive compared to converting currency with banks in the US. However, you could always consider using an online money transfer service to send money to your destination and pick it up when you arrive. This option makes getting foreign currency extremely convenient for travelers.

A quick guide to the Brazilian Real

Did you know?

The Brazilian word for the national currency, “real” means both real and royal and all Brazilian coins feature the Southern Cross!

5 Brazilian real10 Brazilian real20 Brazilian real
50 Brazilian real100 Brazilian real

What are the major South American currencies?

  • Argentine peso
  • Bolivian boliviano
  • Brazilian real
  • Chilean peso
  • Colombian peso
  • Peruvian nuevo sol
  • Uruguayan peso
  • Venezuelan bolivar

The main banks in South America are:

  • Banco Do Brasil, Brazil
  • Itaú Unibanco Holding, Brazil
  • Caixa Economica Federal, Brazil
  • Banco Bradesco, Brazil
  • Banco Santander Brasil, Brazil
  • BBVA Bancomer, Mexico
  • Banco Santander Mexico, Mexico
  • Citibanamex, Mexico
  • Banorte, Mexico
  • Banco del Estado de Chile

ATMS in South America

Visa and Mastercard should work at all ATMs where you can see a Maestro, Cirrus, Mastercard or Visa logo on the front of the machine. Always try to use ATMs attached to the side of a bank. And if possible, bring a card from a bank that doesn’t charge international ATM fees, like Betterment Checking.

  • Tip: ATMs in the Amazon region of Brazil, some parts of Venezuela and Bolivia may not accept foreign debit cards. Make sure you have enough cash to last you the duration of your stay if you’re visiting these regions.

How much money do I need to bring to South America?

It depends on what country you travel to in South American. Prices in Brazil are more expensive than Ecuador, and Ibague (the 7th largest city in Colombia) is cheaper than Medellin (the 2nd biggest city in Colombia).

Wherever your travel, the continent can be as expensive or cheap as you make it. Below you can find some budget prices for different countries in South America. All prices are in US dollars.

Bogotá (Colombia)Brasília (Brazil)Lima (Peru)Santiago (Chile)
AccommodationHostel dorm bed
$10 per night
Hostel dorm bed
$20 per night
Hostel dorm bed
$10 per night
Hostel dorm
$12 per night
MealsArepa con queso on the street
$1.50
El Negro Food Truck. El Matanza (hot dog)
$4.50
Ceviche pescado in a cheap restaurant
$2 -$3
Empanada on the street
$1
ActivitiesBogota graffiti tour
Free (donation based on satisfaction)
See the city from the top of the television tower
Free
See the changing of the guards at the Presidential Palace
Free
Museo Histórico Nacional
Free on Sundays and holidays

Prices are approximate and are subject to change.

Case study: Will’s experience

Will profile photo

Case study: Interview with Will about travel money for South America

Will spent almost four months climbing volcanoes, diving and bussing around Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Brazil. He started his trip in Central America visiting Mexico and Cuba.

Do you have any travel money tips for South America?

  • ATM withdrawals. He says be careful when withdrawing at ATMs. Although nothing happened to Will, he’d heard many stories of other travelers being held up when withdrawing cash. And check your account balance regularly, cards get skimmed quite frequently.
  • Cash. Will says make sure you have cash to use in emergencies.

Jeremy Cabral

Jeremy is finder’s Global Head of Publishing & Editorial. Jeremy has been with finder since the very beginning and is part of the founding team working closely with Fred and Frank to build finder.com into the comparison network it is today.

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Source https://www.finder.com.au/travel-money/south-america

Source https://www.finder.com/travel-money/south-america

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