Off to Peru? Lucky you. Take care, though: whenever you travel abroad, getting hold of your money can become a costly affair. Here’s a guide to how to use ATMs in Peru without breaking the bank.
If you’re in Lima or another big Peruvian city, you should find ATMs - cajeros automáticos in Spanish - in the normal places: inside bank branches, the city’s central square, and scattered elsewhere at shopping centres and so on. You might find them in pharmacies too. However, leaving the city makes it harder to find places to take out cash, so if you’re heading to a smaller town or further out, makes sure to bring enough cash out before you go. That includes Machupicchu, otherwise known as Aguas Calientes - a popular spot, but not well served by the banks.
To properly organize yourself, check out an ATM locator before you venture into town. Here are the locators for some of Peru’s biggest banks:
- Banco de Credito del Peru ATM locator
- BBVA Continental ATM locator
- Interbank (Banco Internacional de Peru) ATM locator
- Scotiabank Peru ATM locator
The major card networks often work absolutely fine in Peru, with Visa being the most widespread. Check out their ATM locator to confirm at which machines you can use your card:
- Maestro ATM locator
- Mastercard and Cirrus ATM locator
- Visa, Plus, and Plus Alliance ATM locator
- Discover ATM locator
- American Express ATM locator
If you can, it’s best to go for a 4-digit PIN when travelling in Peru. Longer PINs are not always accepted around the world, and 4 is the norm in Peru. If you need to change it from a 6-digit PIN, it might be best to talk the decision through with your bank.
It’s always useful to have cash in Peru, although at larger establishments cards are frequently fine to use. Whether you usually use chip-and-PIN or signature at home, it’s worth checking with your bank about using it in Peru.
There do tend to be withdrawal limits at Peruvian ATMs - sometimes quite low ones. Around 700 soles is common, so it might be worth looking around if you encounter a lower limit than that.
The limit might be per transaction or per day, so it might be worth trying again later on if you need more cash.
Your home bank might set a limit as well, so you’ll need to check with them too. It might be different from the maximum withdrawal limit you have in your home country.
If you don’t tell your bank you’re travelling to Peru, there’s always a chance they’ll think your card’s been stolen or cloned, in which case they’ll probably block it. So let them know what you’re up to before you go.
ATMs are often convenient ways to get money out when you’re travelling, but that doesn’t mean they’re always a good value. Here are some tips on what fees to look out for when you use a Peruvian ATM.
First of all, a rule that applies in whatever foreign country you visit. If the ATM asks you whether you want to see the transaction in your home currency or the local currency - in Peru, soles - you should always choose the local currency.
That’s because if you choose to be charged in your home currency, the machine will convert your money into soles at an exchange rate it sets itself, via something called Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC). This rate is likely to be significantly worse for you than the exchange rate you get if you choose to be charged directly in soles because banks don’t tend to care about keeping you happy as you aren’t their customer. Some reports have found that exchange rates with DCC can be as much as 18% worse.
Choose to be charged in soles to take advantage of the superior exchange rate you’ll get. It probably still won’t be the mid-market rate, but it’ll be far better than the alternative.
These vary a lot, but many bank accounts charge their customers when they use an ATM abroad. There might be a fixed fee per transaction, as well as a percentage of the withdrawal amount that you have to pay. Check the details carefully before you set off.
Some ATMs in Peru will charge you too, each time you make a withdrawal. If it’s part of the big GlobalNet network then you’ll face a withdrawal fee equivalent to several dollars.
Scotiabank is one prominent bank in Peru whose ATMs don’t charge you. Don’t forget, though, that even at Scotiabank ATMs you might be charged by your home bank.
Almost… in some cases. Another handy thing to know about Scotiabank is that its part of the Global ATM Alliance, which is an international group of banks that has an agreement to limit foreign ATM fees for its customers. So, depending on your card or account type, if you bank with Scotiabank, Bank of America or Westpac then you might be able to get money out of a Scotiabank ATM in Peru without having to pay some of the fees.
That’s still not free, though. You may well still have to pay some fees, and don’t forget about the exchange rate. Unless you’re charged the mid-market rate, you can’t really call the transaction free.
Even if you can’t get money out for free, you should aim to pay as little as possible for your ATM withdrawal. Here are some ways to try and do that.
- Check if your bank is part of the Global ATM Alliance mentioned above, or if your bank has any similar partnerships in Peru.
- Choose your card wisely. If you have multiple cards, check which one will charge you the least, and avoid using your credit card at foreign ATMs, because this can be very costly.
- Make fewer, larger withdrawals so that you don’t have to pay so many transaction fees.
- Avoid ATMs around the airport or hotels: exchange rates are often worse there.
- Always choose to pay in soles the local currency. Don’t fall for DCC.
One of the key reasons international cash withdrawals are such hard work is the exchange rate. As well as all the extra costs, banks make money out of you by offering exchange rates that work in their own interests, rather than yours.
TransferWise only ever uses the mid-market rate, the only exchange rate that’s truly fair to use. So if you’re sending money to Peru, this could be the perfect way to do it, and far cheaper than transferring money using a bank.
With a borderless multi-currency account from TransferWise, you can even hold money in Peruvian sol - and dozens of other currencies. You can also send money internationally to over 50 countries, without worrying about unfair or fluctuating exchange rates. There’s no monthly fee, either.
Good luck using ATMs in Peru, and don’t get stuck paying more than you have to for your withdrawals.
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