Exchanging Your Dollars for the Local Currency

Each country has its own currency, so when you travel in Spanish-speaking countries, you need to use the local currency to make your transactions. Don’t use your dollars to buy Spanish goods or services because the exchange won’t be advantageous.

When you want to exchange your dollars for the local currency, take a look at the signs telling you how much you’ll get for your dollar. At stores, restaurants, and such, the amount of local money you get for your dollar is less than what exchange bureaus or banks give you. So your purchase may be more expensive than if you pay in local money.

Banks and exchange bureaus charge a fee for their services; the fee is reflected in the way they chart their prices. Check those charts first. In some areas, the banks might be more expensive than the exchange bureaus because they charge some extra amount or commission; in other areas, this situation might be reversed. In any case you will see signs stating, for example:

Dollar USA — Buy 9.70 — Sell 9.80

What this means is that the company or bank buys your U.S. Dollars for 9.70 of the local currency. And if you want to buy dollars, they’ll charge you 9.80. So they are making ten cents of their currency on every dollar they handle.

The exchange bureaus give you formal receipts, just as banks do; these receipts are the proofs of purchase that you need when you discover that something is amiss with your money. So instead of exchanging your money on the street, look for the sign that says cambio (kahm-bveeoh) (exchange).

These phrases come in handy when exchanging money:

  • ¿Dónde puedo cambiar dólares? (dohn-deh pooeh-doh kahm-bveeahr doh-lah-rehs) (Where can I exchange dollars?)

  • Una cuadra a la derecha hay una agencia. (oo-nah kooah-drah ah lah deh-reh-chah ahy oo-nah ah-Hehn-seeah) (One block to the right, there’s an exchange bureau.)

  • Dónde encuentro una casa de cambio? (dohn-deh ehn-kooehn-troh oo-nah kah-sah deh kahm-bveeoh) (Where can I find a place to exchange money?)

In this conversation, José Manuel exchanges some currency:

José Manuel:

¿A cuánto está el dólar americano?
ah kooahn-toh ehs-tah ehl doh-lahr ah-meh-ree-kah-noh
What’s the exchange for the U.S. dollar?

Bureau attendant:

¿A la compra o a la venta?
ah lah kohm-prah oh ah lah bvehn-tah
Buying or selling?

José Manuel:

A la venta.
ah lah bvehn-tah
Selling.

Bureau attendant:

A nueve ochenta.
ah nooeh-bveh oh-chehn-tah
At nine eighty.

José Manuel:

¿Y a la compra?
ee ah lah kohm-prah
And buying?

Bureau attendant:

A nueve setenta.
ah nooeh-bveh seh-tehn-tah
At nine seventy.

José Manuel:

¿Me cambia cien, por favor?
meh kahm-bveeah seeehn poh fah-bvohr
Will you exchange me one hundred, please?

Bureau attendant:

Cómo no, aquí tiene el recibo, aquí el dinero.
koh-moh noh, ah-kee-teeeh-neh ehl reh-see-bvoh ah-kee ehl dee-neh-roh
Sure, here’s the receipt, here’s the money.
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