Coping with the Small Change Shortage in Peru

Small change in Peru
••• Peruvian sol coins. Tony Dunnell

Many Peruvian businesses, especially market stalls, small stores and basic restaurants, often have a shortage of small change. This can pose a few minor problems when you're handling money in Peru, but it’s not too hard to adapt to the situation once you develop some helpful habits.

Get to Know Peruvian Money

Become familiar with Peruvian currency as soon as possible, as you’ll feel much more confident and in control when you start shopping in Peru.

You'll also soon realize that walking around with only S/.100 notes can be problematic when you want to buy low-cost items.

Withdrawing Money

Most ATMs in Peru dispense 50 and 100 sol (S/.) banknotes, with 100 being the most common. On very rare occasions, you might receive a S/.200 note, which is annoying but quite a novelty, as these notes are hardly ever seen in Peru.

If you don’t have any smaller notes or a decent stash of coins, one option is to go into the bank itself and ask for change. I've done this successfully a few times, including in Cusco and in Lima. Ask to break down a S/.100 note into a wad of S/.10s and maybe some S/.20s.

Use Large Bills When Possible

Problems normally arise when you try to use a S/.50 or especially a S/.100 note in a small establishment. Small stores, market stalls and street vendors rarely have enough change to deal with a large bill, so don't be surprised if they roll their eyes upon seeing S/.100.

On many occasions, the vendor will simply refuse to sell you what you want because they don't have enough change (or don't want to hand over all the change that they do have).

If you do want to break a large note and the bank isn't an option, try a supermarket, busy pharmacy or maybe an upscale restaurants.

These larger businesses often have no problem coming up with change, so always try to use your larger banknotes in establishments such as these.

Keep a Pocket Full of Coins

Having a handy stash of S/.1, S/.2 and S/.5 coins is always a good idea. If you’re trying to buy something that costs S/.22 but you only have a S/.50 or S/.20 note, that extra loose change will help you avoid any problems.

Small change is also invaluable for paying for taxis and especially mototaxis, whose drivers often don't carry sufficient amounts of change for larger bills. Tipping in Peru is also problematic when you don't have small coins.

Let the Seller Run Off With Your Money

Yes, you read that correctly: let the seller run off with your money! In some stores, an employee will take your large banknote and scurry off in search of change. It’s unsettling to see your cash fly out the door before you’ve bought anything, but it is a common practice -- just make sure you're actually handing your cash over to a genuine employee or store owner.

If you'd rather avoid this situation, just tell them that you'll go looking for change yourself.