Using U.S. Dollars in Peru

Peru souvenirs
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If you dig around for information about taking U.S. dollars to Peru, you’ll probably come across conflicting advice. Some recommend bringing a large stash of dollars, stating that most businesses will happily accept U.S. currency. Others, meanwhile, suggest relying almost entirely on Peruvian currency, the sol (formerly the nuevo sol). But the real answer is that you can usually use both currencies across the country, but it really depends on where exactly you're going to Peru and what kind of establishments you plan on visiting.

Who Accepts U.S. Dollars in Peru

Many businesses in Peru do accept U.S. dollars, especially within the tourism industry. Most hostels and hotels, restaurants, and tour agencies will happily take your dollars (some even list their prices in U.S. dollars), while also accepting the local currency. You can also use dollars in large department stores, supermarkets, and travel agencies (for bus tickets, flights, etc.).

For day-to-day use, however, it’s best to carry Peruvian soles rather than American dollars. Although you can pay for all your big travel needs—food, accommodation, and transport—using American currency, you may have problems paying for small items in many shops, markets, and food stands, for example, as well as in basic, family-run restaurants unless you have Peruvian soles.

Furthermore, the exchange rate can be very poor when you pay for items or services in dollars, especially when the business concerned isn’t accustomed to accepting U.S. dollars.

How Much Money Should You Bring to Peru

If you’re coming from the United States, carrying a small reserve of USD is a good idea, even if just for emergencies. You can exchange your dollars for soles when you arrive in Peru (avoiding possible ATM withdrawal fees), or use them to pay for hotels and tours.

However, if you’re coming from the U.K. or Germany, for example, there’s no point changing your home currency for dollars just to use in Peru. It’s better to use your card to take out soles from a Peruvian ATM (most ATMs also hold U.S. dollars, should you need them for any reason). New arrivals will find ATMs in Lima airport; if you don't want to rely on the airport ATMs, you could take enough dollars to get you to your hotel (or reserve a hotel that offers a free airport pickup). If you prefer to use a credit card, Visa is the most recognized and accepted credit card in Peru.

The amount of USD you take also depends on your travel plans. If you are going backpacking in Peru on a reasonably low budget, it's simply easier to travel with soles rather than U.S. dollars. If you’re planning on staying in high-end hotels, eating in upscale restaurants, and flying from place to place (or if you're heading to Peru on a package tour), you might find that dollars are just as useful as soles. Major cities in Peru, such as Lima, Cusco, and Arequipa, are also more likely places to accept U.S. currency compared to smaller, rural towns that may only use Peruvian soles.

Things to Know About Peru Currency

As you plan your trip to Peru, there are some special things you should take note of regarding the local currency.

  • If you decide to take dollars to Peru, make sure you keep up with the latest exchange rate. If you don’t, you run the risk of being ripped off every time you make a purchase or exchange your dollars for soles.
  • Make sure any dollars you take to Peru are in good condition. Many businesses won’t accept notes with slight rips or other minor defects. If you have a damaged note, you can try to change it in a major branch of any Peruvian bank.
  • Small dollar bills are better than large, as some businesses won’t have enough change for larger denominations. Finally, be prepared to receive your change in Peruvian soles rather than dollars.
  • Fake money can be an issue in Peru, as counterfeit banknotes and coins are common. Always check the money you receive to make sure it has a legit watermark, security thread, and color-shifting ink, which turns green and purple when the note is rotated.