Bolivia Currency and Money Exchange

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BOLIVIAN CURRENCY Bolivia is not a fully “dollarized” country, but since the value of Bolivian money (the Bolivian boliviano) fluctuates up and down depending on the strength of the U.S. Dollar, it has become customary to use dollars and bolivianos interchangeably in upscales hotels, stores and banking institutions.

This means that the U.S. Dollar is accepted almost anywhere the boliviano is, as long as someone has change for the denomination you give them. The Bolivian exchange rate is published daily in the newspapers and this tells you how many bolivianos are in ONE dollar – you have to do the rest of the math.

Bolivianos come in 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200 bills and 1, 2 and 5 boliviano coins. There are also 10, 20, and 50 "centavo" (cent) coins. See photos here of Bolivian money.

If you ever make a purchase with dollars or exchange bolivianos for dollars (or any other national currency that is not a boliviano), never accept a torn bill, as it will never be accepted at any establishment in Bolivia. It is always safer to exchange your bolivianos for dollars at a bank because counterfeit dollars often circulate on the streets. Always re-count the Bolivian money before you leave.

Of course, you can only pay with dollars if the person you are paying has enough cash in either dollars or bolivianos to give you change. As the buyer, and a foreigner and visitor in this country, it’s up to you to be sensitive to this when shopping because it is impolite to make your differences in income obvious and more so, to expect someone far beneath your income level to work with you on the same level.

EXAMPLE If you go to the local market and purchase a kilo of oranges for Bs. 5 and you pay with a $10 bill, you have to calculate the exchange rate to know how much change you will get. Let’s say the dollar is worth roughly 7.00 bolivianos today. $10 would be Bs. 70. If you purchased Bs. 5 of oranges, your change would be Bs. 65. Now, if you were in a supermarket, whose owners sell hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of groceries each day, you could request your change be given you in bolivianos OR in dollars and they would probably have the change available in either currency. In fact, at large businesses they usually ask you – “do you want change in dollars or bolivianos today?” However, at a small open market, where individual sellers may not earn even those $10 in one day, they may not have change for $10 either in dollars OR in bolivian currency.

Assuming you didn’t make the effort to exchange your dollars at a money exchange house or bank (which should be one of the first things you do when you arrive), if you are in a large business or store, you should ask before you buy, if it would be OK to pay in dollars (you can say “Puedo pagar en dólares?”) not because they will be unwilling to accept dollars, but because they may not have dollars on hand at any given moment. It is not their obligation to have dollars on hand. If they have them and are willing to accept your dollars and give you change in dollars, they are doing this as a courtesy to you. So although dollars and bolivianos are interchangeable here, it is not an obligation.

On that note, a word of warning: many times at the moment you are paying, if the cashier does not have enough to give you change, they will offer to have an errand runner from their store run out to the nearest exchange house while you wait at the register. USUALLY this is OK, after all, their interest is in selling their product, and since you are standing at their register waiting, it is very unlikely that person is going to speed off with your money. However, just to be on the safe side, offer to put the products to one side while YOU leave to a money exchange house. Why take the risk at all!

HOW BOLIVIA CURRENCY AFFECTS BANK SERVICES As explained above, Bolivian banks offer accounts in Dollars, Euros or bolivianos. This is to their advantage because the dollar is a “stronger” currency than the boliviano and it’s value, although it fluctuates some, is more stable than that of the boliviano. As a result, you are free to choose which currency you want your account in. And by the way, because maintaining a bank account in Bolivia is slightly more risky due to the unstable environment for investments, the interest rates paid on accounts higher than in the U.S. and other countries. This does not mean opening a checking or savings account in Bolivia is that risky at this time. What it means is that the banks and credit unions must be more careful about the way they invest (since they use your money to make those investments) as any bank anywhere in the world does. On the other hand, the opposite is also true: the interest charge on loans to you is usually quite a bit higher than elsewhere.

This is also the reason exchange rates vary if you are “buying” dollars or “selling” dollars. If you go to a currency exchange house and wish to convert your dollars to bolivianos, the exchange rate will be slightly lower than if you enter with bolivianos and ask for dollars in exchange. Why? Because your dollars are more valuable than the boliviano.

BOLIVIA CURRENCY EXCHANGE You can, of course, exchange dollars for bolivianos at any Bolivian bank or credit union. However, money exchange houses (called casas de cambio) often have currencies from other countries that banks do not and are useful for exchanging your bolivianos back to your national currency before you head back home. Exchange houses can be found in most airports so you can change your national currency into bolivianos as you arrive. However, if you wait until you are in town, you will also find several exchange houses near the central plaza. Click here to return to our Travel Planner, and here to return to our Live in Bolivia section.

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