Can I Pay with US Dollars in Cartagena? Ensure You Check This Info!
As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases made on our website. If you make a purchase through links from this website, we may get a small share of the sale from Amazon and other similar affiliate programs. You can read our complete legal information for more details. By using this site, you agree the information contained here is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, consult your doctor. NO information on this site should be used to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease or condition.
If you are an avid traveler, you know that the US dollar (USD) is the best currency to have on hand.
With the widespread use of USD worldwide, you may wonder, does Cartagena accept US dollars? The short answer is yes in most tourist places, but it is essential to understand the local currency and the exchange rate first.
Understanding the Currency in Colombia
The official currency in Colombia is the Colombian Peso (COP); the symbol for COP is the dollar sign or $.
Due to decades of devaluation, the COP uses thousands and tens of thousands. To give you an idea, the minimum monthly salary in Colombia is just over COP $1.1 million in 2023. The majority of people in Colombia are millionaires!
Regarding pricing, you may hear the word “mil” a lot in Cartagena. Mil means “thousand” in Spanish; please note that mil is not short for million, so don’t be confused.
With a basic vocabulary of numbers in Spanish and knowing the word mil, you can usually figure out prices in Cartagena. I drop some local Spanish language knowledge, Do I Need to Speak Spanish In Cartagena, to help you out.
The value of each currency fluctuates daily. If you want to use USD in Cartagena, Colombia, know that $1 USD is worth about $4,000-$5,000COP when we wrote this article.
Colombia, like other countries, has an inflation problem, and at the time of this article, inflation was around 13%.
Most prices are listed in the local currency, so you need to understand the conversion, even if you want to use USD to pay for your expenses.
Check the exchange rate closer to your trip date. Be prepared to make simple calculations in your head to understand the price of things.
Will USD be accepted in Cartagena?
US dollars are widely accepted in Cartagena because tourism is a significant part of the city’s economy.
Many tourists come from the United States, and businesses in Cartagena want to make it easy for visitors to spend money.
Most hotels, restaurants, and shops in Cartagena will accept USD for payment; some even list prices in US dollars and Colombian pesos side by side.
Locals are also thrilled to receive tips in USD because they understand the US dollar is a powerful currency to have.
You should know, though, that if you plan to visit other Colombian locations, chances are that dollars will not be accepted, especially in the other Colombian Travel Hotspot, Medellin. Check out: Cartagena vs. Medellin: Which is the better travel destination?
Should I use USD or COP?
It is a good idea to have some Colombian pesos on hand even though paying with US dollars in Cartagena is possible.
Having pesos is helpful for smaller purchases and transactions, such as markets, street vendors, or smaller businesses that may not accept US dollars.
Having local currency can help you avoid being taken advantage of by vendors who may offer a less favorable exchange rate.
Prices listed in USD are set at the vendor’s discretion; these don’t fluctuate with currency rates, and there’s always a markup.
You can use USD as your main spending currency if you are okay with paying a little more for things.
If you travel on a budget, you will probably save money when paying in COP. Confirming the exchange rate and any fees with the vendor before purchasing is always a good idea.
Side note: I keep a currency conversion on my phone and use it daily to check the fluctuation in currency. It’s called “My Currency Converter.”
Can I Use a Credit Card For Payments?
The chances that you can pay with cards in Cartagena are about 50/50. Some establishments accept cards, and some don’t.
Large stores, sit-down restaurants, chain stores, and hotels certainly have a machine to process card payments.
Smaller shops, street vendors, and transportation services only accept cash payments.
Cash is king in Cartagena, as in most of Colombia, so whatever currency you decide to use, always carry some cash with you.
When you pay with credit or debit cards, the machines allow you to pay in your bank’s currency (USD or other foreign currencies) or the local currency (COP).
In this instance, always choose to pay in COP. When you choose to pay in your bank’s currency, you incur an additional currency conversion on the spot, which is less favorable for you.
Side Note: Colombia is known for amazing jewelry, which you may want to purchase while here. Check out: Colombian Jewelry Guide: What Are They Known For?
Where To Exchange Money
Currency Exchange Offices
Exchanging US dollars for Colombian pesos is relatively easy in Cartagena. Many currency exchange offices are located throughout the city, particularly in tourist areas.
Exchange offices allow you to bring in your US dollars (or other currencies) and exchange them for Colombian pesos.
Generally, the exchange rate is more favorable at currency exchange offices than hotels or airports. Always compare rates at several currency exchange offices before exchanging money to get the best rate possible.
Also, be sure to bring your passport, as most require it before they will convert your currency.
You can also exchange USD for COP at a bank by speaking to a teller. Keep in mind that banks may have limited hours of operation, long wait times, and may charge additional fees for currency exchange.
I need to stress about long wait times. I have a Bancolmbia bank account, and I’ve never spent less than 1.5 hours completing a transaction at one of their branches.
A third option is to use your debit card at an international ATM. I do not recommend using ATMs to get cash in COP, except as a last resort.
Aside from the terrible exchange rates the bank offers, ATMs charge high fees for withdrawing money from international banks. Also, each bank has a different exchange rate.
With ATMs, you are losing the exchange rate and also pay fees for using the machine.
The ATMs also set low limits on the amount you can withdraw daily. You end up paying high fees to withdraw small amounts of money.
Is It Safe To Carry Cash Around?
Be aware of any travel advisories or safety concerns when traveling to Cartagena. Cartagena is generally considered safe for tourists; exercising caution in crowded areas and at night is still a good idea.
Additionally, it’s a good idea to keep your valuables secure and avoid carrying large amounts of cash, whether in COP or USD. For more information about safety in Cartagena, see Is Getsemani, Cartagena Safe?
Overall, while paying with US dollars in Cartagena is possible, it’s still a good idea to have some Colombian pesos on hand for smaller purchases and transactions.
Local currency can help you avoid unfavorable exchange rates and make shopping and dining at smaller establishments easier.
Please don’t rely on the use of credit cards, as they are not widely accepted in Cartagena. With a bit of preparation and knowledge, you can enjoy your time in Cartagena without any currency-related worries.
Other top-notch articles to check out prior to your trip: