Show Me the Money: Using Local Currency in the Americas
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Show Me the Money: Using Local Currency in the Americas

Figuring out how to use the currency of another country can be fun but also perplexing. Exchange rates are not always easy to figure out in your head. Still students often enjoy having some colorful currency in hand to buy a souvenir.

In addition to local currency, a number of students also carry an international prepaid credit or debit card to handle other expenses or unexpected needs. That can help avoid some card fees and other hassles.

To prepare for money needs, you can visit your bank before heading out of town. Sometimes you can order currencies online or via a phone call with your financial institution. In the country itself, you also may be able to get the local currency via an ATM. You should be familiar with fees before doing this so you don’t get unexpected charges. There also are airport options for exchanges, though the rate will likely not be as favorable.

Here are some details on the currency you may want for travels in the Americas:

Costa Rica

Costa Ricans’ official currency is the colón. It’s named after Christopher Columbus, who is Cristóbal Colón in Spanish. The currency’s bills are colorful, featuring deer, sharks, monkeys, sloths, hummingbirds, and butterflies.

Different denominations of the bills come in different sizes to help those with visual impairments. The options are ¢1,000, ¢2,000, ¢5,000, ¢10,000, and ¢20,000, ¢50,000, though some small vendors don’t appreciate being given the bills with larger denominations since it’s hard to make change.

There also are coins of 5, 10, 25, 50, 100 and 500 colones. One U.S, dollar is approximately 500 colones, though exchange rates always vary. U.S. dollars also are accepted in many parts of the country, as are debit and credit cards.

When buying items, keep in mind that haggling is not the norm in Costa Rica. Therefore, a price listed is usually the actual price.

Dominican Republic

This country uses the Dominican Peso (RD$), which was introduced when the nation became independent from Haiti in the 1800s. Some places also accept U.S. dollars. 55 RD$ is equal to about one U.S. dollar, though it may be easier to think of 100 pesos as being almost equal to two dollars.

Like the U.S. dollar, one Dominican peso includes 100 centavos. The peso comes in bills of 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000 and 2000. There also are coins worth 1, 5, 10, and 25 pesos. This is one currency that you generally need to get while in the country rather than beforehand if you want to use it.

With many purchases in the Dominican Republic, haggling is common. Exceptions include  supermarkets. To haggle it’s best to have pesos and to be friendly while negotiating a price that is a happy medium between what the vendor wants and what you will pay.


The official currency of Peru is the nuevo sol (S/). Like the Dominican peso, one nuevo sol is divided into 100 céntimos. One U.S. dollar will get you about 3.75 Peruvian nuevo soles. With that exchange rate, you may benefit from using an exchange calculator for quick calculations.

In the country, paper bills have denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100 or 200 soles. Coins come in values of 1, 2 and 5 soles, along with 10, 20 and 50 céntimos. Like a number of other countries in the Americas, U.S. dollars are accepted at a number of places.

Like Costa Rica, giving vendors larger denominations may not work since they may not have enough change. Therefore, it’s better to carry smaller denominations.

Counterfeiting is a large problem in Peru. Therefore, you may need to study the currency appearance so you could possibly spot fake money. There also are scams such as short changing. These problems are all the more reason why you want to use smaller denominations.

Haggling is also common in Peru. Prices for tourists can be inflated, so that is when negotiating can come into play. However, it’s also good not to take it too far and to respect artisans by giving them a fair price.


Many people are surprised to learn that Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar as its currency. The country adopted it as an official currency after their former national currency – the sucre – tumbled during a financial crisis.

Like other countries, Ecuadorian merchants may lack small change, so smaller denominations are again helpful.

Here haggling occurs in some scenarios but not others. It may be considered rude to haggle in some stores and restaurants. Negotiations are more common with street vendors. For that case, you can compare prices between merchants to see if the price listed is reasonable.

For all countries, it’s often nice for teens to keep a bill or coin to take home to show off at school or use in a scrapbook. A small amount of currency can be a souvenir in and of itself. Therefore, getting a hand on some local currency may be something to add to the to-do list for a trip.

Coming up, we’ll have another blog on currencies in other countries where Rustic Pathways travels. Stay tuned.

About the Author

Mary Rogelstad

Content Writer