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ATMs in South America

Is it OK to just rely on debit cards for money?
13 years ago, August 19th 2008 No: 1 Msg: #46006  
I was wondering if ATMs accepting all types of cards are easily found in South America or is it best to stock up in the big cities.
I will be travelling South America for four and a half month relying on a Maestro debit card and a cash card from the Cirrus and Link circuits. Will I be OK or should I think of some other ways to carry money? Obviously I don't expect to find an ATM in the Bolivian jungle and I am equally sure that I won't have any problem in big cities, but what about smaller towns, such as Salta, in Argentina for example, or Sucre, Bolivia etc?

Many thanks Reply to this

13 years ago, August 19th 2008 No: 2 Msg: #46027  
Hi Lapamela,

Cirrus, Maestro and/or LInk are widespread in South America, so don't worry about it.
Not sure about Sucre, but in Salta you're set.

In your place, I would carry a couple of hundreds in cash to cover my back, for the unexpected.

Happy travels,


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13 years ago, August 19th 2008 No: 3 Msg: #46036  

13 years ago, August 19th 2008 No: 4 Msg: #46077  
B Posts: 50
I relied on ATM's all around South America and had no problems. There are some towns that don't have ATM's so do watch for this....but Salta that you mentioned is a big city! (yes i was surprised too....) so there are plenty of banks there (Sucre is a bigger city as well). The places that come to mind for me that did not have ATMs was Copacabana, Bolivia, and El Chalten, Argentina. For those places (and of course jungles, etc) you need to take a wad of cash with you. Reply to this

13 years ago, August 20th 2008 No: 5 Msg: #46138  
Thanks. I feel relieved. Reply to this

13 years ago, August 27th 2008 No: 6 Msg: #46972  
B Posts: 43
It can be hit and miss. I was recently in Puerto Ayacucho, Ven., and could not get any of my three cards to work in any ATM in town. When I got into Brazil (strictly in the Amazon region) I could use my debit card at Bradesco and Visa card at HSBC, but none of my cards worked at other banks I tried, including Banco do Brasil. I had to leave one town (Monte Alegre, Para) earlier than I had planned as it had neither of those banks.

Amazon travel blog at mytb.org/KST

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13 years ago, August 28th 2008 No: 7 Msg: #47045  
Thanks. I'll try to stock up in the bigger cities. Reply to this

13 years ago, August 30th 2008 No: 8 Msg: #47316  
We've been to Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia and used 1 debit card everywhere. In Sucre there are plently of ATMs (see details in Lonely Planet as I remember reading about them before protests stuffed up our plans to go there). We go to Venezuela next week and it is different there from what we've read and you can have problems with ATMS there. Reply to this

13 years ago, August 31st 2008 No: 9 Msg: #47385  

13 years ago, August 31st 2008 No: 10 Msg: #47444  
when using your debit or cash card what are the charges that you are incurring? Reply to this

13 years ago, September 1st 2008 No: 11 Msg: #47451  
Hi Bruce,

Depend on your bank, we've not had an ATM in South America charge us but our own banks do (but then NZ banks charge for everything) I just called my bank before I came away and asked what charges I'd incur and they explained it all to me really clearly. I also told them where I was going as sometimes transactions in other countries get flagged for potential fraud and they block your card until they can confirm its you (this is particularly so if you travel to Colombia) my bank just put a note on my account saying that the cardholder is traveling to X, Y, Z countries between these dates and its been fine. Reply to this

13 years ago, September 6th 2008 No: 12 Msg: #48063  
Update to my earlier info, we hit Venezuela yesterday and using cash we changed at the border got to Merida where today we have discovered not a single ATM will accept a foreign card, even the big banks like Banco de Venezuela. We had to spent 2 hours in a queue in the 1 bank in town that will give a credit card advance. This afternoon we have ben able to top up our funds changing some US dollars on the black market. So if you´re coming to Venezuela bring Bolivanos with you if you can and if not US dollars (best black market rate we found today was 3 Bs F for 1 US, apparently at the end of last year you could get double that...) Reply to this

13 years ago, September 6th 2008 No: 13 Msg: #48068  
I'm not planning to go to Venezuela but it's good to know. Best of luck with that! Reply to this

13 years ago, September 6th 2008 No: 14 Msg: #48113  
B Posts: 43
And I thought my difficulties in Venezuela were due to being in the remote state of Amazonas. Good luck on finding Bolivares outside of Venezuela -- I had tried to get some at the exchange at the Houston airport, but even with a couple of flights a day to Caracas they would not handle them.

Forunately when in Amazonas, Ven., I was able to exchange some Brazilian Reais after running through my stock of US currency, although not at a particularly good rate. Also fortunate that when I entered Brazil at the rather remote town of Sao Gabriel da Cachoeira one of the two banks in town was a Bradesco and I was able to draw from my ATM card.

In spite of the difficulties of travel there -- including some that are due to the government like the constant stopping at military checkpoints -- the upper Orinico and other parts of Amazonas, Venezuela, are places of stunning beauty and worth the effort needed to travel through the region. If going there again, however, I would plan on as short a stay in Puerto Ayacucho as necessary.

Amazon travel blog at mytb.org/KST
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13 years ago, September 8th 2008 No: 15 Msg: #48232  
Yes, money is easy enough to get in South America from ATMs (I think Visa is the easiest) and I agree with carrying a stash of US dollars on you. A few other things to watch out for:
- on weekends ATMs are often out of cash - this happened to me in Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina (so if you can, make sure you are cashed up before the weekend - or at least at the start of the weekend)
- Fake banknotes are often dispensed from proper bank ATMs - again this most often happens on weekends when you can't go into the bank directly to complain. This is fairly common in Bolivia and Argentina. So check all notes are genuine when you get them - especially in bars!
- ATMs give you your money before your card (instead of the other way around), so heaps of people accidentally leave their card in the machine.

Anyway, hope this helps Pamela. Happy travels, E Reply to this

13 years ago, September 10th 2008 No: 16 Msg: #48318  
Thanks. I'm in Argentina now. I will keep an eye on the notes. Reply to this

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