Using Credit Cards in Colombia

I love using my credit card when I travel. I earn travel points and it reduces the need to walk around with a wad of cash in my pocket. When planning my trip to Colombia, I read a variety of accounts about credit cards not being widely accepted outside major centers and cash advances from ATM’s being difficult.

Our Colombia itinerary involved a lot of time outside of major centers, so I was concerned about how to fund our adventures. I was able to manage our trip finances with some careful forward planning of my peso needs.

In hopes of making your Colombian planning a little easier, here is how I was able to use credit cards in Colombia:

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Where You Can Use Credit Cards in Colombia

In any larger urban centers like Santa Marta or Cartagena, you will be able to use your credit card widely. Almost all hotels, hotels and shops will accept credit cards. If you find a place which doesn’t accept credit cards, it will take very little effort to walk a bit further to find a place which does.

Tourist restaurants in Cartagena often accept credit cards

Quite randomly, about 10% of shops or restaurants will add a 3-10% surcharge to cover their transaction costs.

Where You Can’t Use Credit Cards in Colombia

In general, the further you are from a city, the harder it will be to use a credit card. We spent time in Minca, Tayrona National Park and Isla Mucura and found it hard to find any places which accept cards.

When away from Colombian cities, be prepared to pay pesos for food and activities. It’s best to plan for over 75% of your expenses to be in pesos and load up at ATM’s in cities before you go.

In Minca, about half the restaurants accepted credit cards. We had to pay in Colombian Pesos for admission to a cocoa farm and a waterfall swimming hole.

On Isla Mucura I put my credit card away as I was unable to use it anywhere, even at my hotel (I had to carry over a million pesos in cash to pay my bill – which I wasn’t thrilled about). The few restaurants and stores on the island only accepted pesos. Likewise, our snorkeling and illuminated plankton swim tours were also paid in pesos.

Street vendors in Getsemani, Cartagena will not accept credit cards

How Much Cash Should I Bring to Colombia?

If you feel the need to bring cash with you to Colombia, I would only bring a small amount of US dollars for expenses you may incur upon landing, like taxi rides or tips for hotel porters. American dollars are the best currency to bring to Colombia as most other currencies won’t be easy to spend.

It’s so easy to get Colombian Pesos from ATM’s, that it’s really unnecessary to bring a large amount of any foreign currency, including USD.

ATM Cash Advances in Colombia

ATM’s are the best place to get Colombian Pesos. I had read in my Lonely Planet that many ATM’s in Colombia have a very small daily withdrawal limit of 300,000 COP (~$90USD). I ended up spending just over 5,000,000 Colombian Pesos in my 3.5 weeks in Colombia, so I was worried about the prospect of such a small daily withdrawal limit.

Tip: Your ATM may offer you an option to have your account charged in your home currency. Do not accept this option – always choose to be charged in pesos. Choosing payment in your home currency will result in a much worse exchange rate than simply withdrawing pesos and having your bank determine the exchange rate.

Merchants in Getsemani, Cartagena, Colombia typically accept credit cards

I wasn’t in Colombia long enough to try withdrawals from all the major banks, but here are the banks I had success with:

In my experience, the best bank for cash advances in Colombia is BBVA. I was able to withdrawal 2 million pesos in a single transaction with no extra surcharges.

I used also the Scotiabank ATM at the Bogota airport. This ATM had a single withdrawal limit of 900,000 COP. I withdrew 1,200,000 COP from this machine over two back-to-back transactions.

I had read BancoColombia was a tourist friendly bank, but I ended up cancelling my transaction at the ATM. The withdrawal limit was 600,000 COP and the transaction fee was huge. Sadly, I didn’t write down the details of the fee, but I clearly remember being so shocked at the fee that I hit “Cancel”.

A tropical beach in Tayrona National Park, Colombia

En Cuantas Cuotas?

Any article on managing money in Colombia wouldn’t be complete without mentioning this. Everytime you use your credit card in Colombia you’ll be asked, “En cuantas cuotas?”.

Google Translate tells me this means, “In how many installments?”. Basically, you have the option to pay for your purchases in up to 24 installments. Simply answer “uno”.

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Travel Tips for Using credit cards in Colombia