Planning how to pay for stuff is one of the most important things to research before you travel to a foreign country. It’s easy for travelers to overlook the little details of everyday life like using money. How much do things cost in a foreign country? What is the exchange rate? Where do I take out money? Can I use my credit card? These are all important questions to consider when planning your trip to Peru.
The Peruvian Sol: how much is it worth?
The Sol is the national currency of Peru, and the currency code is PEN. In most shops, you will see prices abbreviated as S/. (amount).
When determining how much the Sol is worth, be sure to check exchange rates before you depart. The exchange rates don’t fluctuate drastically, but it’s a good idea to check weekly (especially for longer trips).
A good thing to know about Peru is that food and services are significantly less expensive than you might expect in developed countries around the world. While there are fancy restaurants, cafes, spas, and hotels that cost more or less what you might expect at home, a good meal can be had for less than $4, and taxi ride to anywhere in Lima for no more than $15. However, there are some things that are significantly more expensive, like bath and beauty products (i.e., lotions, shampoos and conditioners, toiletries, sunscreen, insect repellant, etc.) High end hotels will usually provide complimentary bath and shower products, but it would be a good idea to bring your own sunscreen and insect repellant, since those things are comparatively more expensive in Peru.
Most people will do just find on about $50 to $100 for food, transportation, and recreation (i.e., souvenirs, entrance fees to museums and historical sights, alcoholic beverages, etc.). But of course that depends on what kind of vacation you are planning.
Exchanging Money in Peru
Changing money in Peru is very easy – you will be able to change money at the airport, hotels banks, and exchange offices (casas de cambio). It is also possible to change money with cambistas, or money changers. Cambistas wear brightly colored vests displaying a dollar sign and a euro symbol and usually stand in front of or very close to banks.
Upon arriving in Peru, it is a good idea to change a little bit of money at the airport, despite the lower exchange rate. You probably only need to exchange $100 or less, just so you have money for a taxi ride to your hotel, a meal or some coffee if you like, and tipping whenever necessary (i.e., the bellboy who carries your bags, the waiter who attends to you during your dinner, etc.). Once you get settled or make your first debut in the city, you will easily find a place to change more money if necessary.
When changing money, it is very important that the bills you are exchanging are not torn, ripped, or marked in any way. Most bank tellers, cambistas, or exchangers at the casas de cambio will not accept foreign currency that is in less than perfect condition for fear the bills are counterfeit. It is also a good idea to only change about $100 to $200 at a time, unless you plan on making a large purchase in cash that day. Exchanging no more than $200 at a time is safer than exchanging your whole travel budget at once and carrying it around with you on your person.
If you find that you need more money during your trip, you can always withdraw money from a bank or ATM. There are 4 major banking companies throughout Peru: BCP, Scotia Bank, BBVA Continental, and Inter Bank. These banks usually have ATMs, called cajeros automaticos in Spanish, at their branches, or large supermarkets, shopping centers, and gas stations. ATMs will dispense both American dollars and Nuevo Soles, but always bear in mind there are transaction charges every time you use the ATM. Consult with your bank prior to your departure to become aware of these fees as well as any specific instructions for using your debit card in Peru.
Using American Dollars in Peru
Believe it or not, lots of fine dining restaurants, big shopping malls, hotels, and large grocery stores in major cities will accept American dollars, but sometimes it is at a lower exchange rate. Also, it is not always guaranteed that the cashier will have enough bills to give you change, especially if paying with larger bills. The best practice is to use soles whenever possible and save American dollars for exchanging and emergencies. Make sure you have have plenty of smaller bills in soles, like 10s, 20s, and coins. These bills are easier to handle, especially for small businesses and taxi drivers.
Credit cards and Travelers’ Cheques in Peru
Lots of restaurants, hotels, and large shopping malls accept credit cards, usually Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover. Visa credit cards are the most widely accepted. Most establishments that accept credit cards will have a sign displaying which types of cards they accept, but it is always a good idea to ask beforehand.
No one uses Travelers’ Cheques in Peru. Chances are the cashiers won’t even accept them. Try to use cash whenever possible, then your credit card as a back up.
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