Traveling to a foreign country is always an exciting experience; visiting Peru is no exception. So many new impressions should be taken in that it’s easy to get distracted and probably not to pay the necessary attention to an important issue such as money.
Since 1991 the Peruvian currency is the Nuevo Sol, short only Sol or plural Soles. While travel agencies and hotels might charge you in Dollars, and some supermarkets and restaurants especially in Lima accept Dollars, make sure you have some local currency on hand as soon as possible.
Most visitors haven’t ever seen the Peruvian currency before coming to the country. Getting used to the foreign and strange bills in your pocket and especially getting a feeling of the worth of it, isn’t easy. Good indicators to estimate the value of a currency are for example a comparison of the minimum wage in your home country with the one in Peru or a comparison of the average wages.
As of May 2016 the minimum wage in Peru is 850 Soles, so just a little over US$ 250 per month and the average income of an employee in Lima is around 1600 Soles to 1800 Soles (something around more or less US$ 500). A few people earn (much) more, many others must live on significantly less. Just think about what it means to an average local if you have US$ 300 or US$ 400 on you (not to mention the fact that you can afford a trip to Peru). Would you walk around with a monthly salary in your pocket to go shopping or sightseeing back home? Certainly, not.
This extreme difference on a few occasions unfortunately result in crimes such as pick pocketing, cheating, theft and robbery. To avoid uncomfortable situations and stay safe, here some advice and useful tips on money matters:
- Always make sure to have enough change (coins) and small notes in your pocket. Taxi drivers can't or don't want to change. Already a 10 Soles note (about US$ 3) can be a problem and often smaller shops, kiosk or street vendors just don't have enough change.
- Only take the amount of cash with you that you need for the day, the city tour, excursion, or shopping. Don’t only use one purse or one belt bag popular with many travelers; rather split your money and carry small amounts in different inside and pants pockets. The advantage is that you don’t have to open your purse with possibly lots of notes in it when paying somewhere and, while searching for the right amount, attract possible thieves. In the unlikely event of being pick-pocketed or robbed you might be lucky and only loose a few Dollars or Soles from one pocket instead of your complete travel budget.
- Please only withdraw money at guarded ATM's preferable inside a building / bank! Try to avoid using an ATM at night and consider the universally known precautions when using an ATM! At most ATM's in Peru you can withdraw Soles and Dollars and change the language from Spanish to English, German or even French. There is no need for help from other people. To avoid unpleasant surprises, be aware that for security reasons ATMs often have a withdrawal limit of about S/. 1500 to S/. 2000 (usually more or less US$ 500), when taking out cash after banking hours sometimes even less. We as well have been informed that when using a foreign credit card some ATMs only cough up US$ 200 or the equivalent in Soles per withdrawal.
- Exchange your money at official exchange offices. Avoid money changers on the street (you might be ripped off with the exchange rate or end up with faked bills and coins), banks (usually low exchange rates) and the airport exchange offices (ridiculously low exchange rate).
- When paying with your credit card, have a very close eye on who handles it and what is done. A simple, sometimes inconvenient rule: where your credit card goes, you do! In restaurants, bars and cafés it’s common that the POS device is brought to your table, so you can follow the transaction.
- Foreigners, who understandably aren’t familiar with the security features of Peruvian banknotes and coins, are sometimes taken advantage of. It is recommended to check out the security features of Peruvian notes before your travel. Don’t exchange larger notes for smaller ones or coins out of courtesy. And never accept torn or taped notes.
- And finally: Please be extremely cautious when someone is asking for money! In such cases, usually a heartbreaking, but entirely fabricated story is told with the intention of making you feel sorry and squeezing money out of you. Although the story sounds true and of course extremely sad, please don’t fall for it. Numerous foreigners before you were ripped-off this way only because they wanted to help.