Peru is home to the treasures of South America, and tons of Australians heading to Machu Picchu, surfing the coast and navigating the Inca Trail. A cheaper destination than it's neighbours Ecuador and Colombia, in Peru they use the nuevo sol (PEN). One sol is worth about 40 Aussie cents.
Like other destinations in South America, Peru is a cash based economy. You may find places where you can use your Visa or Mastercard but you shouldn't rely on using plastic to pay for purchases outside major shops and hotels. Most restaurants, hostels, ticket offices and tourist attractions are cash only, and you definitely can't use your card in Agua Calientes (Machu Picchu). You'll need to find a card you can use to withdraw soles for cheap.
The sol is cheaper than Australian dollars and the cost of living in Peru is cheaper than Colombia and Ecuador.
Hostel dorm bed:$8 per night
2 star hotel:$50 per night
5 star hotel (Marriott Hotel Lima):$220 per night
Plate of the day:$4
Main dish at world class restaurant:$40
Watch the changing of the guards at the Palacio de Gobierno:Free
Lima bar crawl (plus drinks):$45 per person
8 day tour of the Amazon and Machu Picchu from Lima:$2,100 per person
*Prices are approximate and subject to change
Exchange rate history
The AUD has been steadily gaining on the PEN for the past two years to the value of about two cents. You can lock in an exchange rate when loading currency onto a travel card or when you purchase traveller's cheques.
Average exchange rate
*Exchange rates are accurate as of 5 September 2017
Travel card, debit card or credit card?
You will need to make ATM withdrawals to cover your day-to-day expenses while travelling in Peru. Visa is accepted by all merchants set up to handle card payments, though fewer vendors accept Mastercard or American Express.
ATMs are common in the cities; Banco de Credito del Peru (BCP) operates ATMs throughout the country and Citi has a small presence in Lima and Cusco. The maximum you can withdraw in one transaction is 700 soles, or about $300 Australian dollars, and there is a charge of 7 soles from the local ATM operator each time you make a withdrawal.
Travel money options for Peru at a glance
Travel money options
Prepaid travel cards
No currency conversion fees
Loadable with Australian dollars
No international ATM withdrawal fees
Cannot load nuevo soles
Can be used at all ATM and merchants in Peru
Charge less or $0 fee for ATM withdrawals
No currency conversion fee
ATM operator fees
Access to airport lounges
ATM withdrawal fees can be waived
up to 3% currency conversion fee may apply
Can be converted to cash in most banks within Peru
A commission fee applies
Useful for small purchases and payments
Foreign exchange fee may apply
How each travel money option works
Prepaid travel cards
There are no prepaid travel cards that let you load nuevo soles. Consider a travel card with no currency conversion fees if you're going to take one of these products to Peru. There are a couple to choose from including the:
These products don't charge for currency conversion, so you can load them with Australian dollars and withdraw soles without paying the additional fees. However, these cards do charge for international ATM withdrawals. You can avoid both the currency conversion fee and international ATM withdrawal fee by using debit or credit cards.
A Visa or Mastercard debit card can be used at all ATMs and merchants throughout Peru. Compared to Australia, you'll find that there are far fewer places where you can use your card for over-the-counter purchases. Consider debit cards that charge less, or even nothing, for international ATM withdrawals and try to avoid cards with currency conversion fees too.
One product on the market that fits this description is the Citibank Plus Everyday Transaction Account. This account doesn't charge for currency conversion, waives the fee for international ATM withdrawals and has no annual fee. It's good to note that most third-party bank operators will charge a fee to use their ATMs, so if you can find a Citi ATM, you'll avoid ATM withdrawals fees altogether.
Credit cards are a must for any overseas holiday. As well as providing emergency access to a line of credit, you can use a credit card for deposits and online bookings. Credit cards even have some handy travel features such as complimentary insurance and airport lounge access, though most credit cards charge a fee of about 3% of the transaction value for currency conversion.
Our comparison of credit cards includes a handful of products suited for an overseas trip. Among these products are the Latitude 28° Global Platinum Mastercard and the Bankwest Platinum credit cards. It is possible to preload these cards with your own money, which makes credit card withdrawals significantly cheaper. The cash advance fee may still apply; however, you can avoid the cash advance rate of interest.
Once, travellers cheques were a popular way to take foreign currency overseas. Today, this type of travel money has been replaced by plastic. Travel cards, debit cards and credit cards offer the same security features and are more convenient. In Peru, traveller's cheques can be cashed at most banks, but be aware that you may pay a commission when you do this.
Cash is king in Peru. You will need to make ATM withdrawals so that you can use cash to pay for your travels throughout Peru. You can make an ATM withdrawal or exchange foreign cash at one of the many money changers located throughout the towns and cities.
In the Miraflores region of Lima, look for the men wearing blue jackets standing in the street. They're legitimate and there are a lot of them so they offer a decent rate and don't charge a commission on currency exchange. Make sure you have good US dollar bills if you need to exchange money. Licenced (and even unlicensed) money changers won't take torn or damaged notes. Many travellers put in the extra work to find quality notes in Ecuador before heading to Peru.
Tip: ATMs dispense $100 notes and it can be very difficult to find a place to get them broken. Pay for your big ticket purchases using your $100 notes.
Amy shopped like a local in Peru
Amy spent six months in South America, she started her trip in Colombia and finished in Peru after seeing Machu Picchu and walking the Inca trail. In Peru she visited Chimbote, Lima, Cusco and Agua Calientes.
What cards did you take with you to Peru?
Amy took her NAB Traveller Card, St.George Visa Debit Card and St.George Vertigo Platinum. She used the NAB Traveller Card for ATM withdrawals as it doesn't charge international withdrawal fees. She transferred money from her St.George transaction account to her NAB Travel Card when she needed travel funds and she used her St.George credit card for big ticket purchases.
Where were you able to use your cards?
Amy didn't use her cards for over the counter purchases at all; she used cash the entire time she was in Peru, and almost the entire time she was in South America. She found that high-end retailers, expensive restaurants and hotels were the only places where she could use her cards.
What about ATM withdrawals?
Amy made withdrawals every week-and-a-half or so. She was able to get 700 soles from the machine at a time and she paid 7 soles for each withdrawal. The NAB Traveller Card does not charge for international ATM withdrawals so the local ATM operator fee was the only charge.
Do you have any travel money tips?
Always try and get lower denominations from ATMs as it can be hard to break large notes. Also, in Agua Calientes, make sure you have enough cash for your trip to Machu Picchu as banks and ATMs are hard to find.
Buying currency in Australia
Soles are an exotic currency and you may find it difficult to find a bank or exchange office that can sell you PEN. You will get a far better deal if you wait till you arrive in Peru to purchase soles.
Find bank, cash and ATM in Peru
Why you'll need a combination of travel money options
You will be using cash in Peru. Take a travel card, debit card or credit card that lets you withdraw your money for less from an ATM. Spread your travel budget across a couple of cards so you have access to money in the event of the unexpected. If you have a question about taking and using travel money in Peru, get in touch with us using the form below.
Find cheap travel insurance options for your next trip to Peru
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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