As you well know if you come here to Medellín and Colombia you will need to have Colombian Pesos (COP) to use. These Colombian pesos are different than other countries’ pesos, like Mexico’s pesos. There are few places in Colombia that will accept American dollars or other foreign currencies. U.S. dollars appear to be the easiest currency to use when exchanging money while you are here in Colombia.
I recommend using the XE Currency mobile app or their website when exchanging money. They have the most current exchange rate. There are other currency exchange sites and apps as well. I like the XE app because it is easy to look at current exchange rates for any country. It updates frequently also. This will give you an idea what your currency is worth.
Remember when converting or exchanging money there is always a fee for the service. In addition, there is the exchange rate that they offer to give you. This offered exchange rate is going to be less than the current XE rate or Bank rate.
This is where they have hidden fees (i.e. the current XE rate is 3,000 COP but they offer 2,600 COP). That is why knowing the current exchange rate helps you to shop for the best deal.
First of all, currency exchanges at the airport can be one of the easiest ways to exchange money. You can do this in your country or in Colombia, when you get off the plane. I suggest exchanging as little as possible in an airport because the fees can be horrible as well as the actual exchange rate they offer won’t be great.
But it is good to have at least 100,000 pesos to cover getting you from airport to where you are going with some left over. This will cover your cab fees and if you want a cart to help tote your luggage around.
But a better option in an airport is normally using ATM machine, if available. At Medellín’s José María Córdova international airport there are several ATM machines located upstairs where the airline check-in desks are located.
A second way to exchange money, which is slightly better than the currency exchanges at the airport, is to use the currency exchange centers found in Medellín or any big city in Colombia. They have several different names for them, Casa de Cambio, Valores Y Servicios, etc.
You will find these money exchange places in most major malls and there are a few locations you can find on the street. I feel safer at the ones inside the mall. They also have fees and will offer you a lower exchange rate than the current rate but it will normally be a better rate than at the airport.
Another way that I know of for exchanging money and that I have used with success is Zeepod. This is a mobile app you can download from Google Play Store or Apple’s App Store. It was actually created by a Colombian here in Medellín. What this app does for you is let you know who is close by and what currency they have to trade. For example, COP for USD. It will also provide you with the current bank rate.
With this Zeepod app, you choose the person who has the currency you need, then negotiate the exchange rate. No other fees are involved. I personally loved it since originally I had several thousand U.S. dollars to exchange. Usually you won’t get the current rate unless someone is trying to get rid of their COP before they leave. The other people using this app are trying to make money.
But you can get pretty close to the XE exchange rate and it’s the best deal I have found for exchanging money. I usually received close to the actual XE exchange rate.
And finally, some bank branches in Colombia will also exchange money but you may get a better rate at a casa de cambio. The casa de cambio locations will also normally be open later than the bank branches.
Receiving and Sending Money
It is possible to receive and send money using money transfer services like Western Union, Moneygram or at a large store chain here in Colombia called Exito. The costs involved depend on the institution used to send the money. In addition, the cost can depend on what locations they are contracted with.
Western Union and Moneygram are normally the most expensive services. And they have their own locations here in Colombia. Some of the less expensive services are Small World, TransferWise, WorldRemit, Xoom, and Ria.
Most of these businesses also have mobile apps you can download from the Google Play Store and set up for sending or receiving money. With these sites, there is a low fee and the exchange rate offered can differ between each app or website as well.
You can shop these for the best deal as well. I found that Small World has the best overall pricing to send and receive money with several locations in Medellín where you pick your money up. When you pick your money up there are no other fees.
TransferWise and Ria are good as well but slightly higher priced overall to use in my experience. In addition, you can link these apps or if you use websites to your checking account for larger transfers.
ATM Withdraws and Credit Cards
Just using your ATM card here in Colombia at the ATM machines of local banks is another way you can receive and exchange your money. When you withdraw the money in pesos, you will be charged fees from your bank for using ATM machines as well as exchange fees.
ATM machines are plentiful in Colombia. There are normally several found in each mall. They are also found in many locations on the streets. But we don’t recommend using ATM machines on the street in Colombia. It’s safer to use ATM machines located in malls.
The exchange rate ATM machines provide is usually very close to the actual exchange rate on XE. So even after fees it still works out to be a better deal than most of the ways you can use to exchange your money for Colombian pesos.
If you look on the back of your ATM card, you will usually see an ATM network logo. PLUS is a large ATM network owned by VISA that is used with VISA credit and debit cards. And it has a network of over 1.8 million ATM machines in over 200 countries.
Cirrus is another large ATM network owned by MasterCard. The Cirrus network is used by MasterCard credit and debit cards with a similar number of ATM machines worldwide.
ATM machines in Colombia will normallly have a limit of how much you can withdraw per transaction. For example, Bancolombia’s limit is normally 600,000 pesos and ServiBanca’s limit is normally 780,000 pesos. In addition, if you use an ATM debit card you will typically be limited to whatever the card’s daily withdraw limit is. Often that is about $500.
Also, we recommend providing a travel notification to your bank before traveling to Colombia. If not, your ATM card or credit card most likely not work in Colombia.
In addition, look for banks that don’t charge foreign transaction fees and some don’t charge ATM fees. For example, Charles Schwab offers reimbursements of all ATM fees and TD Bank has no foreign transaction fees and a $2.50 flat fee for ATM withdrawals.
Credit card fees really depend on the company you have. Some really rape you with fees every time you use it while in a foreign country. Others are a little less painful.
They do accept VISA and MasterCard at many stores here in Colombia. American Express is also accepted many places. Most of the credit card companies all charge exchange fees and per-use fees. But not all stores and restaurants will accept credit cards, particularly the small ones that will be cash-only.
If you have decided to live here in Colombia and receive a visa, you will be able to get a cedula (local Colombian ID). And once you have a cedula you will be able to set up a local bank account in Colombia. With a bank acount you can use several of the above apps to transfer money directly into your Colombian account as well. I have not yet found a bank in Colombia that will allow you to open an account without a cedula.
Once you are established in Colombia with a local bank account you will also have the option for doing wire transfers from your bank account in another country directly to your bank account in Colombia. The exchange rate for wire transfers is normally pretty close to the XE rate.
Finally, if you need to do a money transfer of a large amount to Colombia for a property purchase or major investment, another option popular with foreigners is a brokerage account at Alianza Valores that permits wire transfers.
However, keep in mind that money transferred for a a property purchase or major investment must be properly registered with the Banco de la República.
The Bottom Line: Exchanging Money, Receiving and Transferring Money
The bottom line is that the best way for exchanging money with a rate as close as possible to the XE rate is to use ATM machines or the Zeepod mobile app. And if you have a local Colombian bank account you can use a wire transfer.
The other exchanging money options like using a casa de cambio, currency exchange at the airport or bank branch will typically offer a worse exchange rate than the other methods.
For sending and receiving money, Small World normally offers the best overall pricing in my experience.
Also, “What is the best way to exchange money in Colombia?” is a common question asked by expats visiting Medellín and other cities in Colombia. So, we included this question in our list of Medellín frequently asked questions (FAQ).
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