Regardless of the fact that an ATM withdrawal is an automated process with nearly no cost for the banks, taking the cash out with a foreign card in another continent is often an unreasonably expensive activity. In this article, we’ll talk about ATM withdrawal fees in Latin America using various ATMs in 10 countries around the continent. Furthermore, expect also a few tips and tricks on how to minimise the charges and the best ways how to use your cards.
To be perfectly honest, I did not fancy conducting research into such a boring and loveless subject. However, fuelled by my own frustration about the same issue of the ATM withdrawal fees in Latin America as well as the fact that I keep seeing many people asking the same questions about those bloody fees all over the Internet, I went for an “ATM charges in South America research Lite” and combined it with my own experience, using my European UniCredit bank’s Visa and Master cards.
Please note that this post doesn’t cover the countries about which I can’t say I’ve visited properly or countries. Those are Brazil, French Guiana, Suriname, Guyana, Venezuela, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Belize and Mexico. I hope to be able to travel again soon and include these countries in this post asap. If you however felt like helping me with updating this post yourself using your experience, please do let me know – I’d happily oblige 🙂
Your options in a nutshell
- You can either try finding the card from a suitable bank for the region prior to your departure to Latin Americas. Some of the High Street banks might have a good deal for a particular country or two. Furthermore, there are the emerging online banks such as N26 or Revolut that appear to be a popular choice but that’s due to the no fees and their decent exchange rates policies;
- You can also go for one of those pre-paid debit cards that are rather limited but generally good for security reasons;
- You can try finding the cheaper ATMs upon your arrivals using the card you have now;
- You can also carry cash and exchange it at local cambios, which is still the cheapest option in most cases but it’s also the least safe method, because who wants to walk around with large sums of cash around? In certain music videos, it appears like that some rappers and gangsters do like that but I’m sure that you know what I mean 😉 One way or another, it’s still good to carry some cash, especially in countries with very high fees but we’ll get to that later.
Option 1 – Finding the cheaper bank
Well, there are several rules that are nearly universal, however, the charges mostly depend on the deals particular banks have between each other. My advice would be first to contact your bank if they offer a product or a card that is suitable for Latin America or simply Googling your country’s banks for the best possible card for the region. Such cards do occur if you ask about them.
It however varies from country to country, often regardless if you’re a customer of the same bank in your own country so I won’t be listing all of them here. For example, there are cases of waived fees within the conglomerate, for instance, ING currently refunds you these fees in the US and don’t have any fees of their own. However, if you are a customer of Spanish Santander, the Mexican Santander will charge the hell out of you for your withdrawals without any hesitation.
Option 2: Finding the cheaper ATM
The other major option is just taking your regular card and find the best ATMs in the locations, which is what I did. I personally took Master Card as well as Visa (it’s always a good idea to travel with two cards stored separately from each other for obvious reasons). When I needed cash, I’ve researched which bank had the smallest fee and if the ATM wasn’t miles away, I headed there to take some cash out.
The important thing with this method is to think ahead. Generally, in the big cities, there are obviously better options, while in smaller towns, the choice of ATMs was often rather limited, plus not all of them would give you money so at the end of the day you were sometimes lucky to get some cash, even with nearly 10% charges.
FYI, the worst offender when it comes to ATM withdrawal fees in Latin America currently is the recession-hit Argentina. They have very low withdrawal limits and the highest fees which made you paying more fortune to get your own money. The recession however made the exchange rather favourable for the outsider so it worked out 50:50. I’ll come back to this later on.
Option 3: Country-by-county list of ATM withdrawal fees in Latin America
Bellow, there’s the list of countries, mentioning the number of charges, the banks that haven’t charged me any fees as well as some tips that could be useful in case you were there.
- ATM charges: up to 2500,-CLP (€3.10) per transaction
- Free of charge ATMs: Scotia Bank (only to be found in big cities) and I’ve also heard that Banco Internacional doesn’t charge any fees but they have charged me
- Withdrawal limits: max 200 000,-CLP per withdrawal
- More details here by Sarah and Nigel on their Asocialnomad blog
- ATM charges: a rather painful equivalent of €5.40 – €9 per transaction
- Free of charge ATMs: Some travellers told me that they have managed to withdrawn cash Scotia Bank free of charge, but speaking for myself – they have mercilessly charged me
- Withdrawal limits: about 2000-6000,-ARS (€30 – €90)
- Note that not all ATMs would give you cash. The card just comes out and you have no idea what happened standing there like an idiot. Then you take a picture of that ATM to have “a proof” 🙂
- My advice is to take a lot of cash with you to Argentina and change it in official cambios, rather than on the street where you can end up with counterfeit money. Argentina has been suffering from a recession for a while now and they do limit withdrawals a lot. To illustrate the scale of the recession, I’ll mention the situation how I was the only one selling the USD in an exchange place, while there were 20 other customers buying USD with their large stashes of Argentinian pesos to keep the value of their savings): I mean, it’s quite horrible. See how their currency evolved in the last 10 yrs to understand this economical problem. For you, the exchange will be rather favourable, which makes your stay in this otherwise expensive country cheap. If you however speak to the locals who must have multiple jobs to survive because the prices for the basic goods keep climbing every week, it becomes a sad eye-opener ):
- FYI: there’s apparently an app called Azimo, you can use it in Argentina. You can send money, to yourself and then pick up the money in an office called Arpenger. More here by Faria on her blog.
Blue Dollar (unofficial rate)
- Following the 2019 election and the new policies to protect the value of the Peso, the so-called “blue dollar” back. That means that banks and their ATMs are by law charging you the official exchange rates, while the actual rate could sometimes be higher. It might come up to nearly 25% of the value, according to some sources. So if you know of a safe place where to exchange yr USD, it could be the better option. Casinos are being often mentioned as favourite places to exchange your cash.
- Other people however say that right now there’s just one rate and the whole blue dollar thing is obsolete. I believe that it depends on the freshest policies the government imposes on the exchange market to preserve the value of the peso. I haven’t had the balls to exchange the money with the rather dodgy street touts to find out how it would improve my exchange rates because I simply didn’t trust them.
- ATM charges: up to an equivalent of €5.40 per transaction
- Free of charge ATMs: I haven’t found one. There are two large banking networks, RedBROU and Banred. RedBROU appeared to be cheaper and easier to use. Best to ask in your hotel which ATM will issue cash with a foreign card as it wasn’t easy to find one to get cash even in Montevideo
- Note that like in Argentina, not all ATMs would give you cash. Again, the card just comes out without the cash and you have no idea what had just happened. I was however never charged for those transactions in South America. It just feels stupid because besides taking a picture of that ATM, there’s not much you can do. And if you need cash and this happens in two ATMs in a row, it becomes rather funny 😀
- Withdrawal limits: up to a rough equivalent of €270,-
- FYI: it’s best to pay with a card since you get an automatic VAT refund for all tourism-related stuff. Furthermore, paying with a credit card in a restaurant, you save 22% VAT – 3% foreign exchange fee
- ATM charges: up to 4 Bolivianos (€0.50)
- Free of charge ATMs: Banco Nacional and Banco Mercantil de Bolivia
- Withdrawal limits: 3500 Bolivianos
- ATM charges: up to an equivalent of €9 per transaction (:0
- Free of charge ATMs: BCP and Multired and Interbank apparently as well
- Withdrawal limits: up to 700,- Soles (€170)
- FYI: Ecuador uses USD as their currency
- ATM charges: up to $4USD per transaction
- Free of charge ATMs: it depends who you ask or upon yr card issuer. The banks mentioned in relation to free cash withdrawals were Banco Pichincha and Banco del Austro and Banco Internacional
- Withdrawal limits: up to $500USD
- ATM charges: as far as I know, the fees go up to 13 200,-COP (€3.50)
- Free of charge ATMs: Banco de Bogotá has not charged me but my mates were charged 13 200,-COP. I’ve also heard that BBVA, Davivienda don’t charge withdrawal fees but I haven’t tested that myself
- Withdrawal limits: 600 000 – 750 000,-COP per withdrawal, up to 3 000 000,-COP per day
- FYI: In Panama you can use USD, which is 1:1 to their Balboa currency
- ATM charges: $4.50 – $5.25
- Free of charge ATMs: I haven’t found one
- Withdrawal limits: $500 – $600
- FYI: you can withdraw both, USD and Córdobas in Nicaragua
- ATM charges: $1.50 – $4 USD
- Free of charge ATMs: Banpro only charged me the $1.50
- Withdrawal limits:
- Note that not all ATMs would give you cash. It’s the same story as in Argentina or Uruguay. The card just comes out without any cash and you have no idea what had just happened. Unlike in South America, in Nicaragua, I was even charged for such withdrawals (I had another go ‘cos I needed cash) but they have returned the money with me only losing on the exchange rate twice (buy and sell) for their own administrative error 😀
- Note: there are yellow (5B) and the rarer red&white (BAC) ATMs and silver-black (BI) in Guatemala
- ATM charges and withdrawal limits: 5B will give you up to 2,500 Quetzales for 45 Quetzales. BAC will give you up to 2,500 Quetzales for a 22 Quetzales charge. BI would give you up to 2000 for $4
- Note that like in the few cases above, you will not be always able to withdrawn cash from Guatemalan ATMs. The BI (silver/black) and BAC (red/white) were more efficient than the most common yellow (5B) but sometimes you have to try 2-3 cash-points to get money. Again, your only possible proof is to take a picture of that ATM and hope that they will not charge your account. You really do hope that, because deep inside you know that showing that picture of some ATM would certainly come across as reliable proof of some alleged ATM error, the same way as if you were showing a picture of Natalie Portman to your mates as proof that she was once your girlfriend. Well, let’s be honest. You’ll be less likely to be believed than Moby was when making such a claim 🙂
As you can see, there are not that many universal deals when it comes to ATM withdrawal fees in Latin America or in the whole world for that matter. The cases I’ve described above might be altered tomorrow because those people know that if you will need cash and you’re left with no other option, you’ll pay the fee.
Furthermore, your own bank might apply some charges as well, so I better stress the point from the beginning of this piece: It is a good idea to speak to your bank in order to get the best information. Some banks are sometimes better than others and some banks’ ATMs are sometimes better than other banks’ ATMs.
Some financial institutions even came up with a sneaky trick with currency conversions, AKA Dynamic currency conversion (DCC) – and this is an important thing to know – always choose local currency – do not ever pick to be charged in your currency because it’s pretty much a bloody scam. If you know of a case when picking an option to be charged in your currency abroad is a good idea – please let me know because I literally can’t see any.
Please if you hear of any updates regarding those fees – let me know in the comments below and I’d update this article to keep it useful for any possible travelling readers.
Disclaimer: I do have a lot of pictures taken of various ATM. I have however decided to download some pics of banknotes instead because they are prettier. Very often there are just some old bearded men, however in Latin World, one also finds some ladies and nature.
As for the last picture, it’s a still from Wes Anderson‘s short Hotel Chevalier. It’s a kinda 10-minute prequel to his masterpiece: The Darjeeling Limited. FYI, both are brilliant films IMHO. A tip – watch Hotel Chevalier after the main film though 😉
Some more practical info about travelling in Latin America
- Budget: in case you were interested, here‘s an article listing the country-by-country basic expenses for a traveller in Latin America
- Safety: Few safety tips on how to secure your valuables, what to watch out for and more could be found here
- Border fees: How much are you going to pay to enter or exiting some countries in Latin America could be found here
- How to get around in Latin Americas: a text that talks about safety, comfort, how-to and prices when it comes to public transport in Latin Americas can be found here
- Pre-trip preparations: In case you were wondering if there’s anything you could do ahead of time before you’ll become frantically busy during the last weeks before your departure, here’s a piece that can potentially help you with that
- Packing list: What to take with you for an extended trip as well as some security tips could be found here
- Cheap Flights: few tips on how to score a cheap/er flight, better seat on a plane, where to get a nap at a particular airport and so on
Locations covered on Quaint Planet
Santiago de Chile ► Valparaíso ► Santiago de Chile ►Punta Arenas – Ushuaia – Punta Arenas ► Puerto Natales – Torres del Paine – Puerto Natales ► El Calafate (Perito Moreno Glacier, Arg) ► El Chaltén (Los Glaciares National Park) ► Chile Chico (Ch) – Puerto Rio Tranquillo (Marble Caves) ► Coyhaique – Puyuhuapi – (Carretera Austral) ► Puerto Chacabuco – Quellón/Castro ► Puerto Varas – San Carlos de Bariloche (Arg) ► Buenos Aires ► Colonia (Ur) ► Montevideo ► Punta del Diablo – Cabo Polonio ► Montevideo ► Salto ► Concordia (Arg) ► Puerto Iguazú (Iguazú Falls) ► Salta ► San Salvador de Jujuy ► Tilcara ► San Pedro de Atacama (Ch) ► Uyuni Salt Flats Tour (Bol) ► Uyuni ► Sucre – La Paz (Death Road Tour) ► Copacabana (Lake Titicaca) – Isla del Sol – Copacabana ► Cusco (Per) ► Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu) ► Cusco ► Lima ► Máncora – Montañita (Ecu) ► Puerto López ► Quito ► Ipiales (Col) – Pasto ► Tatacoa Desert ► Bogotá ► Medellín ► Villa de Lleyva ► Santa Marta – Cartagena – Rincón del Mar Necoclí ► Capurganá ► Puerto Obaldía (Pan) ► Panama City ► Las Lajas ► Cerro Punta ► David ► Bocas del Torro ► San José (Costa Rica) ► San Juan del Sur (Nic) – Ometepe ► Granada ► Managua – El Rama – Bluefields – Corn Islans ► Léon ► El Tunco (El Salvador) ► La Antigua Guatemala – Lake Atitlán ► Lanquín (Semuc Champey) – Flores (Tikal) ► Belize City ► Bacalar – Tulum – Playa del Carmen – Mérida – Valladolid – Cancún ✈️ .