South America is perfect for budget travelers and luxury lovers alike – here, you can get by with as little as $30 a day, or splurge on comfy hotels, beautiful jungle lodges and steak dinners and live like royalty. Whichever way you go, managing money on the road can be a little tricky sometimes, so here’s what you need to know about money in South America before you go.
ATMs in South America accept all major cards, and you can pay by card in most supermarkets, shops, and gas stations. You do not need to have a large amount of cash on you – ATMs are plentiful everywhere, even in smaller Andean and Amazonian towns.
You do need to have a little cash in your pocket, however: something like $100-150 is usually more than enough for all those times when you need to pay for food, coffee or fuel in small villages.
You should check exchange rate fees and ATM charges abroad with your bank before you go – everything adds up, so see if you can leverage currencies and avoid steep fees. You can order cards like Revolut or TransferWise where you get a certain fee-free allowance per month and where you don’t lose as much on the exchange rate, regardless of where you are in the world.
Haggling and tipping
Generally, you are not expected to haggle for prices anywhere except markets in South America. This can be fun, especially if your Spanish is more or less passable! Everywhere else – supermarkets, coffee shops, hotels, etc – the price is usually set and non-negotiable. You can always try and ask for things like group discounts at hotels or tour and travel agencies, but it’s not a given.
Tipping isn’t really a thing in South America. Waiters at high-end restaurants might expect a tip, but hair dressers, taxi drivers, and small family restaurant owners are usually puzzled when you tip them. Of course, do tip if you feel like it – everyone appreciates a little gratitude!