TravelMoneySouthAmerica300

Travel Money Guide: South America

Hola or Olá? Cash or card? Find the right way to get travel money for your South America trip.

South America is made up of 12 different countries, each with different currencies, and carrying around a dozen types of cash isn't for everyone.

We look at the cards which have the lowest fees to use over the counter and to withdraw from ATMs on your South American getaway.

Compare travel money options for South America

Rates last updated December 19th, 2018
Name Product Foreign Currency Conversion Fee Overseas ATM Withdrawal Fee Overseas Cash Advance Fee Annual fee Product Description
Bankwest Zero Platinum Mastercard
0% of transaction value
$0
2% of transaction amount or $4 (whichever is greater)
$0 p.a.
Offers a $0 annual fee, 0% foreign transaction fees, complimentary international travel insurance and a balance transfer offer.
Skye Mastercard
0% of transaction value
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($99 p.a. thereafter)
Get 90 days interest-free, $0 foreign transaction fees and a $0 annual fee for the first year.
28 Degrees Platinum Mastercard
0% of transaction value
$0
3% of the cash advance or $4 (whichever is greater)
$0 p.a.
No foreign transaction fees on international purchases including international purchases online, together with a no annual fee.
Bankwest Breeze Platinum Mastercard
0% of transaction value
$0
2% of transaction amount or $4 (whichever is greater)
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($99 p.a. thereafter)
Pay 0% p.a. interest on purchases for the first 6 months and 0% p.a. on balance transfers for 26 months. Plus, a $0 first year annual fee.
ANZ Rewards Travel Adventures card
0% of transaction value
$5
$0
$225 p.a.
Receive 40,000 bonus Velocity Points, 2 yearly Virgin Australia lounge passes, plus enjoy $0 overseas purchase transaction fees.

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Rates last updated December 19th, 2018
$
Name Product Product Description Debit Card Access ATM Withdrawal Fee Monthly Account Fee Overseas ATM Withdrawal Fee Overseas Eftpos Fee
ING Orange Everyday Account
Receive a rebate on any international transaction fees and international ATM fees when you deposit at least $1,000 a month and make at least 5 card purchases.
Visa
$0
$2.50
2.5%
NAB Classic Banking with Platinum Visa Debit Card
$10 cashback on contactless purchases, $0 foreign transaction fee and complimentary travel insurance.
$10 monthly account fee.
Receive $10 cashback when you spend $1000 on contactless purchases. Complimentary travel insurance, transport accident insurance, purchase protection insurance and more when you meet eligibility criteria.
Visa
$0
$5
0%
HSBC Everyday Global Account
No foreign ATM or transaction fees.
$0 monthly account fee.
Enjoy no minimum ongoing balance or transaction requirements and the flexibility to hold up to 10 currencies. Apple Pay and Google Pay available.
Visa
$0
$0
$0
Citi Global Currency Account
Hold up to 10 currencies.
$0 monthly account fee.
Enjoy one linked debit card to hold up to 10 currencies and receive foreign currencies for free. Earn up to 2.25% p.a. interest on your AUD balance.
Mastercard
$0
$0
$0

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Updated December 19th, 2018
Name Product Available Currencies ATM Withdrawal Fee Reload Fee Initial Load Fee
AUD, USD, CAD, EUR, GBP, HKD, JPY, NZD, SGD, THB
AUD: $3.50, USD: $2.50, GBP: £2.00, EUR: €2.20, NZD: $4.50, CAD: $3.00, HKD: $20.00, SGD: $4.00, THB: ฿95, JPY: ¥260
0%
$0
Hold up to 10 currencies and lock in your exchange rate. No load, reload or transaction fees on purchases and part of a worldwide ATM alliance.
AUD, USD, CAD, EUR, GBP, HKD, JPY, NZD, SGD, THB, AED
USD: $2.50, EUR: €2.50, GBP: £2.00, NZD: $3.50, THB: ฿80.00, CAD: $3.50, HKD: $18.00, JPY: ¥260.00, SGD: $3.50, AUD: $3.50, AED: 10.00
0%
$0
Get discounted rates on USD in Cash Passport's rates sale. Plus free global Wi-Fi and more. Offer ends on 13 December 2018.
AUD, USD, CAD, EUR, GBP, HKD, JPY, NZD, SGD, THB, AED
AUD: $1.95, CAD: $2.00, EUR: €1.50, GBP: £1.25, HKD: $15.00, JPY: ¥160, NZD: $2.50, SGD: $2.50, USD: $1.95, THB: ฿70.00, AED: 6.50
1%
$0
Get the chance to win a share of 1 million Qantas Points for every $100 in foreign currency you load onto your Qantas Travel Money card plus earn up to 5000 bonus points.

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Updated December 19th, 2018
Name Product Minimum Order Amount Maximum Order Amount Delivery/Pickup Method Commission Fee
$500
$10,000
In Store, At Airport
$0
Order over 60 currencies online at the best price against the Australian dollar and collect at one of over 130 locations across Australia.
$500
$5,000
In Store, At Airport
$0
Get better rates for new travel money cards and travel money card reloads when you use our exclusive code: FINDER
$0
$9,999
In Store, Home Delivery
$0
Order multiple currencies in one transaction and have it delivered directly to your door anywhere in Australia.

Compare up to 4 providers

Some of the major South American currencies include:

  • Argentine peso
  • Bolivian boliviano
  • Brazilian real
  • Chilean peso
  • Colombian peso
  • Peruvian nuevo sol
  • Uruguayan peso
  • Venezuelan bolivar

What should I take, a travel card, debit card, or credit card?

Visa and Mastercard branded credit cards, debit cards and travel cards enjoy wide acceptance throughout the continent of South America. Merchants which have the facilities to accept card payments will accept both these card scheme brands, American Express is accepted in few places besides high-end businesses. Stick to a Visa or Mastercard product so you can make withdrawals and card payments in a variety of places.

Travel money options for South America at a glance

Travel money option Pros Considerations
Debit cards for travel
  • No currency conversion and international ATM fees
  • Free global transfers between Australian and American Citibank accounts
  • Citibank Plus Transaction Account, a debit account currently offered on the US market, which waived the additional charge for international ATM withdrawals
Prepaid travel money cards
  • Locked-in exchange rates
  • No currency conversion fee
  • International ATM withdrawal fee waiver on some cards
  • Fees to consider such as local ATM, initial load, reload and inactivity fees
  • Does not support the currencies of South American countries
  • Acceptance is limited
  • Need to pay to convert funds
Credit cards for travel
  • Accepted everywhere
  • Contactless payment terminals are common
  • Features such as complimentary travel insurance and reward points earning
  • International ATM withdrawal fees are waived for Bankwest Platinum cards
  • Overseas ATM fees and currency conversion fees
Cash
  • Greater payment flexibility
  • Convenience
  • More difficult to manage expenses
  • Higher risk of theft

This table is a general summary of the travel money products in the market. Features and benefits can vary between cards.

How each travel money option works in South America

Credit cards

Credit cards provide a line of credit with limited interest free terms which can be used all over the world (American Express and Diners Club Cards in fewer places than Mastercard and Visa). Choose a credit card which doesn't charge for currency conversion to save money on international transaction fees when travelling through South America. Bankwest Platinum cards won't charge for international withdrawals as well as currency conversion. ATM withdrawals using your credit card are not advised if you're concerned with saving money, as you'll be charged high cash advance fees. But you can sometimes load a credit card with a positive balance to cut out cash advance fees and charges when used at an ATM. The card scheme anti-fraud guarantees don't apply when you withdraw from an ATM using a credit card with a positive balance.

Debit cards

A travel friendly transaction account is a better travel money option for a trip to South America. By choosing a debit card which lets you transact in a foreign currency without paying for currency conversion, you can use the account over the counter in South America as you would in Australia for no extra cost. Most debit card providers apply a $5 charge for international ATM withdrawals. As well as no currency conversion fees, the Citibank Plus Transaction Account also waives the additional charge for international ATM withdrawals.

  • Tip: Westpac cardholders (including St.George, BankSA and Bank of Melbourne cardholders) can avoid the international ATM withdrawal fee using ScotiaBank ATMs in Chile and Peru thanks to the Westpac Global Alliance.

Travel prepaid cards

No prepaid travel cards support the currencies of the South American countries, so these products shouldn't be considered for a trip to the continent unless it doesn't charge a currency conversion fee. Although you can load US Dollars onto these travel money products, acceptance is limited and you'll pay to convert funds twice. Travel card providers apply a margin to the exchange rate when you convert funds and then a currency conversion fee applies when you spend in a currency not loaded on the card. While there are products which will waive the currency conversion fee, other fees apply when you withdraw cash or reload the card for example. Consider one of the other forms of travel money compared on this page for a trip to South America.

  • Tip: The South American regions of French Guiana off the coast of Brazil and the Falkland Islands adjacent to Argentina use the euro and pound respectively. A travel card is suited to spend in these overseas departments of France and United Kingdom.

Traveller's cheques

Don't bother taking traveller's cheques to South America. They're difficult to cash and expensive, and no more secure than using a debit card (ATMs in South America are everywhere), credit card or prepaid travel card.

Cash

South America is one destination where you're going to need to have a supply of cash for emergencies. Although you can use your card in more places now more than ever, there's no guarantee that you'll be able to access cash at any given moment, especially outside of major cities. Card payment facilities vary greatly depending on the location. You won't have a problem with card acceptance and ATM withdrawals in the capital cities, especially in countries like Chile, Brazil, Colombia and Argentina for example. However, there are major tourist attractions, like the Amazon, where you're going to need enough cash to last you for the entire leg of your trip.

Using ATMs in South America

Visa and Mastercard should work at all ATMs where you can see a Maestro, Cirrus, Mastercard or Visa logo on the front of the machine.

  • Tip: Anecdotal evidence suggests that ATMs in the Amazon region of Brazil, some parts of Venezuela and Bolivia will not accept foreign debit cards. Ensure you have enough cash to last you the duration of your stay if you're visiting these regions.
  • Tip: Smaller towns in rural areas may not provide ATM facilities. Research your destination for advice from other travellers before you arrive. Always try to use ATMs attached to the side of a bank.
  • Tip: ATMs will give you your money before your card, which can lead to instances of people leaving their card in the machine.

Exchanging cash in South America

ATM withdrawals are by far the most efficient way to get local currency in cash on your holiday. ATMs are located all throughout the continent. If you want to carry cash as an emergency backup, US Dollars are widely accepted and the choice of money if you can't pay in the local currency. While the major exchange offices in shopping centres and in tourist locations will exchange Australian Dollars, but US Dollars are preferred.

Exchange rate history

Year Exchange Australian Dollar (AUD) to US Dollar (USD) ($1 AUD=)
2012 1.02
2013 1.04
2014 .89
2015 .82
2016 .73
2017 .72
2018 .78

*Exchange rates are accurate as of 1 January of each year

Some of the major South American currencies include:

  • Argentine peso
  • Bolivian boliviano
  • Brazilian real
  • Chilean peso
  • Colombian peso
  • Peruvian nuevo sol
  • Uruguayan peso
  • Venezuelan bolivar
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How much money do I need to bring to South America?

From country to country and region to region, prices in Brazil are more expensive than Ecuador, Ibague (the 7th largest city in Colombia) is cheaper than Medellin (the 2nd biggest city in Colombia). You'll find prices are varied in South America. Wherever your travel, the continent can be as expensive as you make it. Below you can find some budget prices for different countries in South America.

Bogotá (Colombia) Brasília (Brazil) Lima (Peru) Santiago (Chile)
to-sleep Hostel dorm bed$10 per night Hostel dorm bed$20 per night Hostel dorm bed$10 per night Hostel dorm$12 per night
street food Arepa con queso on the street$1.50 El Negro Food Truck. El Matanza (hot dog)$4.50 Ceviche pescado in a cheap restaurant$2 -$3 Empanada on the street$1
camera Bogota graffiti tour Free (donation based on satisfaction) See the city from the top of the television tower Free See the changing of the guards at the Presidential PalaceFree Museo Histórico NacionalFree on Sundays and holidays

*Prices are approximate and are subject to change.

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Buying currency in Australia

It will be cheaper if you wait to exchange your money when you arrive. Rates on offer in Australia for South American currencies are worse than what you get get from local banks and money changers. If you do want to get money changed in Australia, it's a good idea to get US Dollars if you can't purchase specific South American currencies. Colombian Pesos, Bolivian Bolivianos and Venezuelan Bolívars may be hard to get in Australia. Consider these institutions if you want to purchase foreign cash:

Bank Currencies
Brazil Reals Chilean Pesos US Dollars Colombian Pesos Argentine Pesos
American Express Yes Yes Yes No No
ANZ Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Australia Post No No Yes No No
Commonwealth Bank Yes Yes Yes No Yes
NAB Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Travelex Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Westpac No No Yes No No
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How much money do I need to bring to South America?

From country to country and region to region, prices in Brazil are more expensive than Ecuador, Ibague (the 7th largest city in Colombia) is cheaper than Medellin (the 2nd biggest city in Colombia). You'll find prices are varied in South America. Wherever your travel, the continent can be as expensive as you make it. Below you can find some budget prices for different countries in South America.

Bogotá (Colombia) Brasília (Brazil) Lima (Peru) Santiago (Chile)
to-sleep Hostel dorm bed$10 per night Hostel dorm bed$20 per night Hostel dorm bed$10 per night Hostel dorm$12 per night
street food Arepa con queso on the street$1.50 El Negro Food Truck. El Matanza (hot dog)$4.50 Ceviche pescado in a cheap restaurant$2 -$3 Empanada on the street$1
camera Bogota graffiti tour Free (donation based on satisfaction) See the city from the top of the television tower Free See the changing of the guards at the Presidential PalaceFree Museo Histórico NacionalFree on Sundays and holidays

*Prices are approximate and are subject to change.

A quick guide to the Brazilian Real

Did you know?

The Brazilian word for the national currency, 'real' means both real and royal and all Brazilian coins feature the Southern Cross!
south-america-banknotes

Why you'll need a combination of travel money options

It's important to take a combination of travel money options wherever you go in the world, but this is especially true for a trip to South America. As we've seen with Will and his trouble with card acceptance in Cuba (not technically South America but his anecdote is still relevant), it's important to have a combination of cards and cash to use a backup. Have US Dollars on hand to use in emergencies and a travel card or debit card and credit card combination to use when necessary.

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20 Responses

  1. Default Gravatar
    PaulineSeptember 6, 2015

    Like many others , I am quite confused.
    I have a CBA travel card with GBP still on it, and was going to convert it to USD. Now I am wondering if there is any point , if my USD s have to be converted to the local currency , would I lose less money by leaving the GBP on it ? I would be taking some cash out in the local currency, and also using the card as a credit/debit card .
    I also need to load more money onto the card, and for the same reason above, would it be better to just load AUD ?
    I am travelling mostly to Peru, Ecuador ,Argentina ,and Brazil on an organised trip, so will just have to pay for food and souvenirs. I will be taking some small denominations in USD .
    Thank you

    • finder Customer Care
      SallySeptember 7, 2015Staff

      Hi Pauline,

      Thank you for your questions.

      As a financial comparison service, we’re unable to recommend any specific product, service or strategy to our users as the best option will always depend on the user and their individual financial needs.

      As there aren’t many prepaid travel money options for Australians travelling in South America, you would find that when you load any funds on the card (whether it be AUD, GBP or USD or any other supported currency) and make a transaction in a local currency, that you would incur a currency conversion fee.

      However, as we mention on our South America Travel Money Guide, US currency is widely accepted in South America. As such, you may find that loading your card with USD could result in the least amount of currency conversion or foreign transaction fees.

      You may wish to consider the fees, rates and exchange rates involved to determine which option poses the most value for you.

      I hope this has helped answer your question.

      Thanks,

      Sally

  2. Default Gravatar
    ShahneJune 9, 2015

    I have an ANZ Platinum Visa but am curious about being able to withdraw cash for spending money. Am I best to have a travel card for my spending money and just use the Platinum Visa for my big items??

    • finder Customer Care
      SallyJune 9, 2015Staff

      Hi Shahne,

      Thank you for your question.

      As a financial comparison site, we can’t actually make specific recommendations.

      Travel cards can be used to make direct EFTPOS payments or for ATM withdrawals. An advantage of the travel card is that, unlike a credit card, you’re using your own funds that you’ve loaded onto the card and can, therefore, manage your budget while spending overseas. Some travel cards can support several currencies and offer the benefit of no currency conversion fees. However, the features available to you will largely depend on which travel card you use.

      To compare your travel card options, please view our Travel Money Card Finder page .

      I hope this has answered your question.

      Thanks,

      Sally

  3. Default Gravatar
    TonyJanuary 23, 2015

    Hi! We were wondering if Aussie dollars are accepted in Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Eucador?

    Exchanged for local currency in these countries

    Cheers

    • finder Customer Care
      ShirleyJanuary 27, 2015Staff

      Hi Tony,

      Thanks for your question.

      In South America you can generally pay with the USD everywhere. You can choose to change your AUD into USD, or if the local exchanges let you, you can directly exchange your AUD into the local currency.

      Cheers,
      Shirley

  4. Default Gravatar
    JohanNovember 26, 2014

    I am in Colonia Uragauy site seeing ,,I can’t use my citibank Visa card in any of the ATMs because they won’t accept the data chip on the card this is also the case with all my other Australian cards ,,same issue in Montevideo,,please advise

    • finder Customer Care
      ShirleyNovember 26, 2014Staff

      Hi Johan,

      Thanks for your question.

      Unfortunately it could be an acceptance issue with the card. If you have other travel money options like cash, it’s advisable to use that instead.

      It might be best to get in touch with Citibank as well to see if they have offer any replacement options.

      Cheers,
      Shirley

  5. Default Gravatar
    AmandaNovember 11, 2014

    Hi there,

    Last week paed for 2 CBA travel money cards.
    This week rang their travel centre and the woman said that mastercard is not accepted in South Ameerica !

    Help so do I also get maybe an NAB Visa or Debit card??

    So confusing, please help esp anyone who has just returned.

    I’m going for 5 weeks to 4 countries.

    Thx Amanda

    • finder Customer Care
      ElizabethNovember 12, 2014Staff

      Hi Amanda,

      Thanks for your question.

      You can take a look at this page to read about your travel money options in South America.

      I hope this will help.

      Thanks,

      Elizabeth

  6. Default Gravatar
    RobertOctober 24, 2014

    My application page has disappeared before I had a chance to print it, can you resend it to me?

    • finder Customer Care
      ShirleyOctober 27, 2014Staff

      Hi Robert,

      Thanks for your question.

      Could you please let me know which product you’re referring to?

      Please also note that if you decide to apply for a product or service through our website ,you will be dealing directly with the provider of that product or service and not with us so it may be better to get in touch with the provider directly.

      Cheers,
      Shirley

  7. Default Gravatar
    PaulAugust 20, 2014

    First I want to say thanks for a great article. I’ve been trawling the net for ages trying to find the sort of information on here! Really top stuff.

    I’ll shortly be travelling to South America for around 6 months and so plan on visiting most countries. There is a lot of talk in your article and in the comments here about getting a travel money card and loading it up with USD.

    I was wondering, however, whether it is a stupid idea to get a travel money card and load it up with AUD. For example, the CBA travel money card has no currency conversion fees for certain currencies, so I would load the card up with AUD and be able to withdraw local currency from ATMs, with the only applicable fees being the ATM withdrawal fees (and any establishment fees of the card itself).

    Does this make sense or have I totally lost it?

    Thanks heaps!

    • finder Customer Care
      ShirleyAugust 20, 2014Staff

      Hi Paul,

      Thanks for your question, we’re glad we’ve helped you out!

      Yes that’s definitely an option that you can consider. When spending in a currency that is not loaded on your card, the card doesn’t charge a fee.

      Please be mindful that there is a reload fee and a card issue fee with the CBA Travel Card.

      Cheers,
      Shirley

  8. Default Gravatar
    SamMay 7, 2014

    I will be travelling to Guatemala in a few months, then heading south through a number of central and south american countries.

    I plan on using cash for most day to day purchases (food/transport) which I will withdraw weekly from ATMs.

    I have never travelled overseas so I’m a little confused – when I withdraw money from ATMs in other countries, what currency will come out? Will it always be the local currency or do you get to choose? (USD or Local)

    What would be the best way for me to go about doing this? I think a travel card/global wallet with USD loaded on it would be the best to use to withdraw local currency from ATMs in multiple central/south american countries because of the low(ish) withdraw fees. Any advice appreciated.

    • finder Customer Care
      ShirleyMay 8, 2014Staff

      Hi Sam,

      Thanks for your question.

      Generally the local currency comes out of the ATM.

      Unfortunately we cannot advise on the ‘best way’, but you’d want to save on many fees as possible during your travels, such as currency conversion fees, ATM fees and international transaction fees. Some good ways to avoid these is to opt for cards that doesn’t charge many ATM fees, or allows you to preload a currency. If you refer to the cards above, these products can help you save on these fees.

      Cheers,
      Shirley

  9. Default Gravatar
    JackFebruary 16, 2014

    I am holidaying in South America soon, I have a CBA travel money card and can see they have waived their CCF. However, when I do the maths on CBA exchange rates they are approx. 19% worse then the MasterCard Exchange rate https://www.mastercard.com/global/currencyconversion/.
    Are you able to clarify if any other travel cards other than CBA use their own exchange rates? Would it be safe to use the above MasterCard rates for the other cards when calculating future spending?
    I’ve read some PDS documents and it appears most of them go directly off the MasterCard rate for their exchange rates, is this correct?

    • finder Customer Care
      MarcFebruary 17, 2014Staff

      Hi Jack,
      thanks for the question.

      Most issuers will add a margin onto whatever rate they use, whether it’s the interbank rate (the rate given between banks) or the MasterCard or Visa rate.

      Larger banks and institutions such as ANZ, CBA and NAB will use their own exchange rate, which is usually either the interbank rate with a margin on it, or the MasterCard/Visa rate with a margin on top of it.

      Some issuers will use the interbank rate with a margin on it, such as OzForex, and their rates can be quite competitive compared to other card issuers.

      Other cards such as the Multi-Currency or Single-Currency Cash Passport will use the Travelex foreign exchange rates.

      This can make it sometimes difficult to compare different cards, so don’t only take the exchange rate into account. Also take into account how you plan to use the card. For example, if you primarily wish to use cash, and therefore plan to make a number of withdrawals during your trip, sometimes a card with a lower ATM withdrawal fee is a good choice. Ultimately these kinds of factors, along with the rate, should help you work out which card will suit you.

      I hope this helps,
      Marc.

  10. Default Gravatar
    KateJanuary 23, 2014

    I’m travelling to south america, which do you think would be the best travel card? The reviews for the multi currency cah passport are not very good. Would the NAB card be better? We are going to big cities so would having us dollars be fine? It’s so confusing and i don’t want to get stuck over there with no money!

    • finder Customer Care
      MarcJanuary 23, 2014Staff

      Hello Kate,
      thanks for the comment!

      I’m not able to suggest one product over another, but I’d recommend getting an idea of how you plan to spend before choosing any one product. If you plan to withdraw most of your money from an ATM and spending in cash, as opposed to with your card, you’ll want a card with low or no ATM withdrawal fees. If you plan to spend using your card directly you’ll want a card with no or low foreign transaction fees. Generally speaking, taking more than one card is a good idea, as this means if you lose one card or it’s blocked or not accepted by a merchant, you have a back up. Anecdotal evidence suggests US dollars are readily accepted in most locations in South America, so this sounds like a good idea.

      I hope this helps,
      Marc.

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