When you first arrive in Peru, you’ll need to adapt to the financial side of things: The currency, the shopping culture, and money-related customs. If you’re not familiar with Peruvian currency or handling money in Peru, read on for some frequently asked questions.
The currency of Peru is the nuevo sol (symbol: S/.). Nuevo sol banknotes come in denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200. One nuevo sol (S/.1) is subdivided into 100 céntimos. Coins are available in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 20 and 50 céntimos, as well as larger denominations of 1, 2 and 5 nuevos soles.
During the last decade, the nuevo sol has been one of the most stable currencies in the Latin American region. As of October 2018, the Peruvian nuevo sol was trading at 3.33 per US dollar.
The Best Way to Carry Money
How you decide to carry your money in Peru depends on factors such as the duration of your trip and your style of travel. It’s not a great idea to carry large amounts of cash in Peru (dollars or nuevos soles), but it’s certainly a viable option for short visits (up to a week). Otherwise, you can simply withdraw money when needed from ATMs all over Peru. Visa is the most widely accepted debit or credit card in Peru; there will be fees associated with each withdrawal. Traveler’s checks are also an option (ideally in US dollars or Euros) but may be hard to cash in small towns and villages, and the exchange rate can be poor.
Where to Exchange
There are four options for exchanging money in Peru: Banks, street moneychangers, casas de cambio (“exchange houses”), and hotels. Banks often have incredibly long queues, making any exchange a protracted process. Street changers are handy and offer comparatively fair exchange rates, but changing money in the street comes with its own problems. You need to guard against potentially shady deals and the risk of street theft following the exchange. Overall, casas de cambio tend to be the best option, with good exchange rates, short queues, and a secure environment.
Many South American nations have a change shortage. In Peru, for example, a storekeeper may not accept a S/.100 note as payment for an item priced at S/.2, due to the fact that he doesn’t have enough small change (or he’d be handing over all the small change in the till creating problems for future customers). It’s a good idea to create change when possible so that you have a healthy supply of S/.10 and S/.20 notes.
Fake money is a problem in Peru -- both nuevos soles and dollars. The problem tends to be worse in certain parts of the country, especially in Peru’s major cities. Spotting a counterfeit banknote can be difficult, so the sooner you become familiar with the local currency, the sooner you’ll be able to spot a fake. You also need to watch out for money scams, such as deliberate short-changing and swindles involving sleight of hand.
Tipping isn’t particularly common in Peru, but there are certain situations in which a tip is appropriate. Waiters in higher-end restaurants, tour guides and staff in top-end hotels often expect a tip, whereas taxi drivers and staff in small family-run restaurants do not.
Haggling is common in Peru, especially in situations where a price is not clearly labeled. This includes items for sale in traditional markets and taxi fares. Always bear in mind that prices quoted to foreign tourists tend to be inflated (often jokingly referred to as “gringo prices” or the “gringo tax”), so don’t be afraid to negotiate for what you believe to be a reasonable price. At the same time, don’t haggle to the extent that you strip a poor artisan of all her profits.