The official currency of Colombia is the Colombian Peso which may be abbreviated to “COP”. The Colombian bills are denoted as: 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000 Pesos. Coins are denoted as follows: 50, 100, 200, 500, 1,000 Pesos. Recently a 100,000 bill was introduced although you'll rarely see it in circulation.
It’s important to carry small change with you as much as possible. Many small businesses will refuse to take your 50,000 COP note simply because they don’t have the cash to change it. Try to break your 50,000 COP notes at bigger establishments such as Exito. Try not to accept torn or badly worn notes, you might find it hard to get rid of them as well.
Colombia like many South American cities has a counterfeit note problem. It won’t cripple your trip but as long as you’re mindful of the quality of the cash you receive, you should be fine. When paying for anything with a 50,000 COP note, shop and restaurant employees will always check that the note is legitimate. Don’t take it personally - it’s a standard procedure and something you should look into doing as well.
How to check if a note is counterfeit: There are quite a few security measures taken to deter counterfeiting - check that the note has a watermark, look for the metallic strip, and scratch the hair of the historic person on the note, it should feel a little bit rougher than normal paper. Lastly, fold the note in half and rub it together, it should feel waxy with raised print scratching together and not like regular printing paper.
One of the most common occurrence of counterfeit notes is with unscrupulous taxi drivers. The majority of taxi drivers refuse to accept more than a 20,000 COP note. If you do get a driver who’s all-to-happy to give you change for a large note, be careful of a “bait and switch”. In other words, when you give them a perfectly good 20,000 or 50,000 COP note, watch a switch to a fake note and then giving it back to you under the pretense that they can no longer change the note for you. A common way to avoid this is making it obvious to you’re checking the note yourself before you give it to the driver and make a note of the number.
Banks, Credit Cards & ATM’s
The most common bank in Colombia is Bancolombia, you'll see their branches and ATM's everywhere. Being the largest doesn't necessarily mean they are the best, you'll be expected to wait 15-30 minutes minimum to see a teller. Some other banks you may see in Medellin are Citibank, Davivienda, Banco de Bogotá, Servibanca and Banco Caja Social.
ATM’s can be found throughout Medellin and especially in El Poblado. At most banks, you can usually withdraw between 600,000 to 800,000 COP. Some banks may allow you to do this up to three times. If you are having trouble withdrawing money sometimes it's your own bank that put limits on what you can withdraw. However Bancolombia ATM's are notorious for not allowing 1 in 4 international card withdrawals, for absolutely no reason. If you experience problems simply try a different bank. If you have trouble withdrawing money from any ATM you can always withdraw money at the counter of the bank, but remember to take your passport.
To check withdrawal limits and fees check the ATM Hero phone app.
When using an ATM, please observe normal safety precautions. If possible, go with another person, during the day, and check that there isn’t a “card skimmer” on the machine. Also, don’t use taxis waiting outside of ATMs or banks.
When paying for goods with your credit card, you will be required to give some form of government photo identification such as your passport or driver's licence. Additionally when paying with a credit card, you will almost always be asked the question “A cuántas cuotas?”. This slightly odd question is asking how many months you’d like to spread the credit card payment over. Simply say, “Una por favor,” so as not to incur interest.
Map: ATM’s in Poblado
Before leaving home, we strongly recommend that you ask your bank regarding what fees they charge for international transactions. Remember, when you withdraw money from the ATM you may be hit with a fee from both the Colombian bank and your own. Some US banks like Charles Schwab don’t charge for international transactions and may even reimburse you for ATM fees.
You should always advise your bank, before your trip, that you are travelling to Colombia to avoid a “blocked” card.
Money Exchange in Medellin
The best way to acquire cash in Medellin is to withdraw it from an ATM. However if you must bring dollars, or any other currency, there are plenty of money exchange facilities around town.
There are also three or four small money exchange offices within a few minutes walk of Parque Lleras as shown on the map below. You’ll also find currency exchange offices in all the larger shopping malls such as Santa Fe, Oviedo and El Tesoro.
A well known and recommended option is Unicambios, located at both Oviedo and Sante Fe malls. You can check their website for the up-to-date daily exchange rate. There is another option called Rescambios located in office 311 of Dann Carlton Torre Empresarial which we've heard has good rates. We recommend you don't exchange much money in the airport as it tends to be one of the worst rates available.
A popular site for checking the exchange rate is www.xe.com.
Map: Money Exchange in Poblado
If you don't have money to exchange but need money in a hurry, you can receive money from overseas by using Western Union. You can arrange payment via their website using a visa card, and then collect it from any of the Western Union office here in Medellin. You will only need the reference number of the transaction and your passport.
In El Poblado, there are Western Union branches inside:
- Homecenter, Poblado,
- Exito, Poblado
- Carulla - Oviedo location.