At which bank does a traveler get the best Colombian pesos out of the wall? How do you pay for excursions, airline tickets or other services in Colombia with a foreign bank card? What do you do with the money you’ve withdrawn and how do you safely withdraw? How do you transfer euros or dollars to a Colombian bank account? As a foreigner in Colombia, how can you open a bank account, do Internet banking and what about transferring money to another Colombian bank? These and many more questions answered in this article about money in Colombia. I also tell you how I pay for the gym (a little different than in the Netherlands) and how this time of crisis has saved me from having to pay my water, gas and electricity bills outside on the street.
Currency Colombia: the Colombian peso (COP)
Since the year 1810, the Colombian peso has been the currency of Colombia. The following coins are used: 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1,000 pesos. Paper money is available in bills of 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000 and 100,000 pesos. Although I hardly see bills of 100,000 pesos.
In addition to this official money, there is also a lot of fake money in circulation in Colombia. Even so much that Colombians always check the money they get in their hands on authenticity. Me too, by the way. In particular, bills starting at 20,000 pesos are checked. You can do the same by feeling at the hairs on the bill, holding it in the light to see the watermark and simply by feeling if it doesn’t feel like paper.
Inside the Money Museum, Casa de Moneda in Bogotá, you will find everything about money. Nice museum to visit!
Exchange rate euro – COP
I have been living in Colombia since 2014 and the euro – COP exchange rate is constantly changing. In my early years, I still got 2,500 pesos for 1 euro. Over the years, the value of the peso dropped considerably. And now I have to pay 4400 pesos for 1 euro (June 2023). Or in other words, I get 4400 pesos for 1 euro. For me it’s beneficial, since I earn in euros from my own business and I get much more Colombian pesos for a euro now than I did a few years ago.
Travelers in Colombia also now get more pesos out of the wall than before. However, if you earn in pesos and go on vacation to Europe or USA, it will be more expensive.
So the value of the Colombian peso fluctuates quite a bit. If you are going to travel in Colombia you can see the current exchange rate here. By the way, you’ll never get that much out of the wall when you go to withdrawals. If the exchange rate shows 1 euro = 4500 pesos, you might get 4200 pesos for a euro out of the wall when you go to withdraw.
Traveling in Colombia: which bank to withdraw cash from, how to pay for excursions and hotels and more money tips
Where to get Colombian pesos when you arrive in Colombia?
Better not exchange euros for pesos at airport exchange offices. There are ATMs everywhere, and although you usually pay a small extra fee, it will be cheaper with an ATM.
Where do you withdraw cash with your foreign bank card in Colombia?
You can use your debit card to withdraw cash almost anywhere. In that regard, it doesn’t matter so much where you get your pesos out of the wall. However, the amount you pay to withdraw with your foreign bank card does differ. Like the amount of money you can withdraw.
I myself always took money out of the wall at Davivienda with my Rabobank card. In fact, there you can withdraw 2 million pesos in one go. Although this does not count for any Davivienda ATM. You have to be lucky. While at other banks that often goes up to a maximum of 600,000 pesos. So even if you have to pay a small amount to withdraw, this is a good option. Since you then only pay once for a much larger amount. By the way, those 2 million pesos do not come out of every Davivienda ATM. That is a matter of trial and error.
At many other banks, you can often only withdraw between 100 and 300 euros at one time.
Can you pay in stores, hotels and restaurants with your foreign debit card?
Sometimes you can and sometimes you can’t. It always remains to be seen if it works. So this is something you have to try out for yourself. It is better to always carry cash with you as well.
Can you pay with a card everywhere, or do you always need cash?
You always need cash. Even at many hotels, you can only pay in cash. You also need coins and bills in small stores, restaurants, cabs and buses.
How do you pay for excursions, airline tickets or other services with a foreign bank card?
You can’t do it over the Internet unless you have a credit card (although a foreign credit card isn’t always accepted either), so it has to be done differently.
If you are already in Colombia and want to book a domestic flight or an excursion, it can be quite tricky. But fortunately, there are fairly simple solutions:
- Paying airline tickets in Colombia. Withdraw cash, go to an office of the respective airline with it and pay in cash. Are you in a village somewhere and there is no office there? Then you can also pay at the bank the company is affiliated with or at an Effecty. And Effecty is everywhere. In the case of Avianca, read how that works here.
- Excursion and hotel pay. Excursions and hotels can be paid at an Effecty or at the respective bank the company is affiliated with. You get the bank, account number and name from the excursion or hotel, you go to the respective bank or Effecty and you pay. You do that at the counter. Of the invoice you receive, take a picture and then send it to the company as confirmation. It sounds a bit dodgy, but as long as it’s a reliable hotel or excursion it’s fine. Even I myself often do this when paying via the Internet is not possible or inconvenient.
Where can you find an Effecty?
Now that you know you can do quite a lot with an Effecty, it’s helpful to know where to find one. As mentioned, these are everywhere, so there is always one nearby. Here you can find the nearest Effecty based on your location.
What do the “cuotas” mean when you pay by credit card?
When you pay for something with your credit card, the person at the counter will ask you “¿cuantas cuotas?”. That means: in how many installments do you want to pay? Just as in the Netherlands you can buy big things, such as a car or kitchen, on installments, in Colombia you can do so even if you eat in a restaurant for 10 euros.
Colombians eagerly take advantage of this opportunity, but as a tourist, you usually answer this question with “una” (1).
How do you pay for a Colombian phone card?
Colombian phone cards from Claro or Tigo, for example, can be bought in just about any phone store. And there pay for it. Buy a certain number of minutes or MBs for Internet and pay at the store. Is your card empty? Then you go to any phone store to upgrade your card. You just pay cash.
Safety Colombia: what to do with the money you withdraw + other safety tips
In the Netherlands it may not be a logical question, but in Colombia it is. With an exchange rate of 1 euro = 4400 COP, you can imagine what huge sums of cash come out of the ATM. You literally walk down the street with millions. If you consider that the minimum wage is less than 1 million pesos per month, you can imagine being a wanted prey if you have just taken more than double out of the wall. For you, 300 euros or dollars may not be that much, but for many Colombians that is the amount they have to live with for the whole month.
So, especially in big cities, tourists with “lots of money” are a popular target.
8 Tips for handling money safely in Colombia
- Put the money in a safe place after a cash withdrawal. So not in your pocket, but for example in a bag under your coat or for the women in your bra. I do the same in Bogotá. I know tourists, including in Cartagena, who were momentarily distracted by someone on the left and another on the right stole hundreds of euros from a fanny pack or pocket without mercy.
- Withdraw cash in a safe place. In the big city, that certainly does NOT mean in an ATM on the street. Go to a large mall or supermarket and withdraw cash in there. It is different in villages, where you can get cash on the street.
- Choose a safe moment. Going into the streets at 10 PM in Bogotá, Medellín or any other major city to withdraw cash is asking for trouble. Withdraw cash during the day.
- Wipe the keys “clean” after a withdrawal. Run your fingers over it so criminals can’t figure out what you just typed in. So does every Colombian by the way.
- Don’t show how much you have. Or in other words, don’t give papaya, as the Colombians say. Suppose you put 600,000 pesos in your wallet and you have to pay 30,000 pesos somewhere. It is not a good idea to show your wallet open and exposed and search among all that money if you just have to pay 30,000 pesos. Make sure no one sees how much you have with you. For example, put 50,000 pesos in an easily accessible place, separate from your wallet, and pay with that.
- Take only what you need out into the street. Why go out all day with a million pesos when you only need 200,000? This is an unnecessary risk. Store your money in a safe in your hotel or another safe place. Like your passport and debit card (if you don’t need them).
- Don’t run out of money. Too little money is also possible, of course. In case you get mugged in Bogotá or anywhere else, because they want money and you have nothing on you, it can get very nasty. If you give 50,000 or 100,000 pesos they will be satisfied faster. I always try to have a 50,000 pesos bill in my pocket, the rest under my clothes. Just in case.
- Learn about money and learn to count in Spanish. Tourists in Colombia are very often ripped off because, for example, the cab driver will exchange your 50,000 pesos bill for a 20,000 bill and say it is not enough. Without you seeing it. In this way, you can easily spend tens of euros extra on a 7 euro ride. If you don’t speak Spanish and don’t actually know what the individual bills look like, you can do nothing. It helps a lot if you understand how much money someone wants and know in advance what that money looks like.
How do you transfer euros or dollars to a Colombian account?
Transferring euros to a Colombian account is easy and fast. There are several options for that, which I list below. This can be useful for foreigners living in Colombia, or if, for example, you have family or friends in Colombia that you want to support financially.
Transferring euros or dollars to a Colombian account: the possibilities
There are several ways you can transfer money to Colombia.
Through your bank account
You can transfer the money from a foreign bank account directly to a Colombian bank account. I have never done this, but you will need the correct IBAN and SWIFT/BIC code for it.
Withdraw pesos in Colombia and deposit them in your bank account
If you are in Colombia yourself, you can use your debit or credit card to withdraw pesos and then deposit that money into your Colombian bank account. This does take more time and it could also be slightly more expensive.
Through an online tool
There are several online tools that allow you to transfer money abroad. Not every tool is affiliated with all Colombian banks, but anyway, Bancolombia is always available. I myself use Xoom. That’s a service provided by PayPal. Each transaction costs €2.99 and the money is in my Davivienda account in Colombia in less than 12 minutes. I am also satisfied with the exchange rate. A super easy way. Other well-known tools for transferring euros to a Colombian bank account are:
If you want to transfer money to someone in Colombia who does not have a bank account, you can choose the option to withdraw the money at a bank or payment point.
Living in Colombia | Banking
1. Internet banking & paying fixed expenses in Colombia
Internet banking is still in development in Colombia. Especially outside the big cities. The Corona crisis did have a positive effect on this, by the way. I will tell you exactly what paying rent, water, gas, light and everything else is like in my case in Colombia.
Paying monthly charges on the street
Believe it or not, but most Colombians simply pay their gas, light and phone bills at a pay counter on the street. Like the Effecty. And yes still in 2023. After all, many Colombians don’t have bank accounts or debit cards, so how are you going to transfer the money over the Internet. In addition, Internet banking is still so new here that confidence in it has yet to grow. Many people think you can lose all your money if you pay over the Internet.
So there are still long lines in front of that payment counter every month when the monthly charges are due.
A row I used to stand in myself. Until the Coronavirus made landfall and brought Colombia into total lockdown. Then it becomes a lot harder to pay your bills on the street on the last day you have to pay them (because everything is last minute) and you are not allowed to go out on that exact day because of the lockdown.
Then many companies thought it would be convenient to make it possible to pay the bill over the Internet. So it was already possible in the big cities, but is not possible or not common in many villages.
Paying the gym
Paying the gym online, however, I don’t see it happening yet. In the big cities you can, but here in Sopó it goes like this. I first have to stand in line for half an hour at the Banco Agrario (no other bank is possible), then say I want to pay for the gym and then pay. Cash, in other words.
With the invoice that I receive neatly, I have to go to a counter in the town hall, where they register my payment. Then I am given another piece of paper, the proof of payment. With that piece of paper I have to go to the gym, where my card is neatly stamped. And that every month.
Modernization: paying via the Internet in Colombia
In the gym, unfortunately, they have not modernized anything, but fortunately, many other local businesses have kept up with the times. So now to pay my gas, electricity, water and internet subscription, I don’t have to go down the street. This can now be done over the Internet, with the PSE feature. Saves a lot of time. I have been paying my health insurance, phone plan and pension online for years, though.
I still pay the rent in “regular” cash, by the way. The landlord lives a street away, so just ask if she is home and deliver the money. I always get a receipt. Works fine.
2. Withdraw or transfer money to another Colombian bank account
As a tourist in Colombia, you often pay for your withdrawals, but did you know that if you have a Colombian bank account, everything costs money too? In the Netherlands, it doesn’t matter which bank account you have and where you withdraw cash with your card. Transferring money on the Internet to another bank account is also a piece of cake.
In Colombia, things are a little different.
Withdraw money costs money
Do you have a Davivienda debit card and you’re going to withdraw at Bancolombia? Then you pay extra, about 5,000 pesos. And that applies to almost any bank that is not your bank. Want to withdraw for free? Then you must do so at your own bank.
By the way, you don’t get that much money out of the wall with one withdrawal. Only at Davivienda, but at most other banks you can often withdraw a maximum of 100 to 300 euros.
Transferring money to another bank account via the Internet
That Internet banking is not yet so common in Colombia is also evidenced by the fact that it is quite difficult to transfer money from one bank to another. To do so, you must first register the relevant account number and then you can transfer money. That may take quite a day. Once the bank account number is known, it’s pretty easy.
When I was still employed, I first had to open a bank account with Bancolombia, because that was my employer’s bank. When my employer changed and it was affiliated with Davivienda, my colleagues and I must to open a new bank account again. At Davivienda.
Many Colombians transfer money to another account through a counter on the street. For example, if you want to pay for a field trip and the relevant bank account number is from another bank, you go to that bank and deposit the money into the account number over there. Bit of Holland years… 90? I can’t even remember.
3. In which Colombian bank can you open a bank account as a foreigner?
I’m not sure if the rules have changed, but when I started opening my bank accounts, it was not without controversy. My first bank account was at Bancolombia, my second at Davivienda. And by now I have only the second one. For both, I needed a cédula (the Colombian ID card, here you read how to obtain it) and proof of income. My paycheck. At Bancolombia, I did not yet have a paycheck and then a copy of my work contract for which I needed the bank account was sufficient.
4. What if you lose your debit card?
That happened to me once. My parents were on vacation in Colombia and I accidentally left my debit card in the ATM at work. As in the Netherlands, you then have your pass blocked. How it then proceeds, however, is a bit different from what you are used to.
- You go to your bank, ask which counter to go to if you need a new debit card, draw a number and sit down.
- In my case, I was helped after literally 2 minutes.
- In the closet of the lady helping me was a stack of debit cards. She grabbed the top one off.
- After entering some data, I had to enter a new online banking code.
- An ATM PIN was given to me, but I had to change it immediately.
- After 10 minutes, I was outside again, with my new debit card.
- Now I had to go to the ATM to change the PIN there.
- And ready. In 15 minutes, a new debit card with PIN.
5. Useful debit card facts
There is a row of numbers on the debit card, but this is not your bank account number. It’s just the card number, but you don’t have to do anything with it.
You have to change your PIN every few months, when and how you will find out automatically when you go to withdraw. The ATM tells you it’s time to change and you do so directly in the machine.
For online banking, you need a separate code. You also have to change this code every few months, and that too is automatically indicated when you log into your bank account via the Internet.
What are the costs of living in Colombia?
Want to know what your monthly costs in Colombia might be if you are going to live in Colombia temporarily or for a long time? Read all about the cost of living in Colombia here.
What do you run into when you want to withdraw money on the other side of the world?
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