Changing Currency in Venezuela
Need help changing currency in Venezuelan? Tips and advice on how to exchange your money for an incredible Caribbean vacation. This is a must-read for those who want to travel to Margarita Island!
The official currency of Venezuela is the bolívar (named after political & military leader Simón Bolívar), represented as Bs. As of writing (September 2015) the official exchange rate is 6.3 bolivars to 1 US dollar. Venezuela has super strict currency controls in place where US dollars or Euros are not accepted for use within its territory, so changing currency can be difficult.
There are NO currency exchange services in ALL of Venezuela. So changing the greenback for the Venezuelan currency (bolivar) can be a real challenge. The only two currencies which Venezuelans will buy from you are the US dollar and the Euro, so don´t bother bringing any other currency!
Let´s say you had US$100 in cash and wanted to buy bolivars. Officially you would only receive 630 bolivars. Due to Venezuela´s massive inflation problem, the 630 bolivars would not even buy you a Big Mac Combo Deal. You would need more than $100 to buy a Big Mac Combo Deal if you changed your US dollars at the official rate. Completely outrageous!
In regards to the Venezuelan currency, you may have heard about a black market. It´s a parallel money market where you can unofficially buy and sell dollars and/or bolivars. Currently the black market rate is valued at just over 700 bolivars to 1 US dollar. So you could trade a $1 bank note and receive around 700 bolivars of Venezuelan currency. That Big Mac Combo Deal isn´t so expensive now. Changing currency in this manner can literally put 100 times more local currency in your pocket!
The government see the trading of currency on the black market as an illegal practise. However, you can bet your bottom dollar that EVERYONE in Venezuela is changing currency like this.
Besides physically exchanging money, your other option is the use of plastic (debit/credit card) at the ATMs and stores, however the exchange rate is NOT favorable for any tourist! By using the services of ATMs during your stay on Margarita Island, you will lose a small fortune due to the official currency exchange rate.
So how does a tourist go about exchanging US dollars or Euros for bolivars?
The best option is changing currency with someone you know and trust on Margarita Island. If you are a complete stranger to the island and have no friends or family members there, then you can choose one of the options below.
The first opportunity (which I do NOT recommend) is at the airport/s. Please AVOID changing money at the airport/s!
Consider anyone offering to sell you the Venezuelan currency either inside or outside the airport/s as suspicious. These guys will offer you horrible exchange rates, knowing that you are a tourist and have just arrived in Venezuela. They will probably tell you that you won´t get a better offer from anybody else. Changing currency at the airport is a big mistake. Best to say ¨no thanks¨ (no gracias) and keep walking. Sometimes they´ll be annoyed, but don´t worry, just keep walking!
If you´re keen on changing currency at the airport, ONLY do it inside. Never exchange money outside the airport!! Make sure the guy is at least well dressed and is preferably alone. Do NOT accompany him to an isolated part of the airport. Confirm an exchange rate with the guy before you reveal any of your cash, then calculate how much you should receive for your US dollars. Quickly count the bolivars and confirm the money you have received is the correct amount.
If you opt to change money at the airport, do NOT exchange ALL your money. You should be able to change more money at your hotel. There´s a real chance that people wanting to sell you the Venezuelan currency at the airport/s are using COUNTERFEIT bills, so beware! Lastly, numerous muggings have been reported in regards to foreign tourists at both Venezuela´s international and domestic airports, so please be vigilant. Again, changing currency at the airport is a mistake in my opinion.
One of the safest places and preferred methods is to change money at your hotel. Being wary of eaves-droppers, ask the receptionist at your hotel if they are able to sell you some Venezuelan currency. If they can, great! Ask them for the exchange rate before you go ahead and change money. Sometimes they will offer far less than the current rate (eg. with the current rate of 700 bolivars to 1 dollar, they may only offer you 550 or 600). Remember that the chance of being mugged or cheated with fake bills from a hotel is extremely unlikely, so best to accept the offer and enjoy your vacation!
If they are unable to change money for you at the hotel front desk, ask other hotel staff members if they are interested in selling you some Venezuelan currency. Many Venezuelans are hungry for US dollars, so there´s always somebody willing to trade. Keep in mind, although the hotel staff may seem innocent enough, take great care when and where you exchange your money. I would only exchange money with a hotel staff member WITHIN hotel grounds. If they invite you elsewhere for the exchange, simply refuse. Trust me, you can never be too careful.
Special Note : Before I wrap up the currency topic, just wanted to advise you of a currency exchange system which the government has recently put in place. It goes by the name of SIMADI and offers foreign tourists the ability to change their US dollars or Euros for bolivars. SIMADI´s official exchange rate is around 200 bolivars to 1 US dollar ($100 = 20,000 bolivars). When you compare SIMADI´s rate of 200:1 to that of the black market rate 700:1 (where $100 = 70,000 bolivars), I know where I would be changing currency!