Editor’s note: This article was updated on September 5, 2017.
Before you travel to Nicaragua or abroad, it is a good idea to know what the money situation is like before you get there. What is the local currency? What is the exchange rate? Can I get money in my home currency? We have several tips in this blog post that will help you save money, and will also give you tips on things you can do before you leave your home country.
One of the biggest things that surprised me when we first came to Nicaragua was how easy it was to get US Dollars. But before we get started with all of that, lets paint a picture for you of what it is like in Nicaragua to get money.
Nicaragua uses the Cordoba, and is technically referred to on market as the NIO. Over the years, there has been a steady increase in the value of the US Dollar in Nicaragua, making it quite desirable. Many businesses will gladly accept US Dollars as payment, but you need to make sure you are getting a good exchange rate. For example, it would be better to pay for your groceries with local currency, as the business may not give you the best exchange rate. Exchange rates can vary from time to time, so it is a good idea to keep yourself informed on websites like XE Currency Converter.
So, you step off the plane in Managua, and one of the first things staring you in the face is the Currency Exchange Booth. A lot of people, including myself, have used these in the past. They usually don’t give you the best exchange rate, and there are ATM’s behind them on the other side of the room. At the ATM’s, you can get your instructions in English or ‘Ingles’ and you can take out both US Dollars and Local Currency, Cordobas.
The next question is how much to take out. When my wife, son, and I were backpacking around the country, I usually didn’t carry around huge sums of money. The downside to this is that your home bank will charge you once, maybe twice (An international fee, and an exchange rate fee.) every time you use the ATM. So as you can see, it is a balancing act between having enough money and carrying around too much. Now that I am comfortable with my surroundings, I take out the maximum daily amount in dollars and exchange them with Cambista’s in the town where we live, Leon. We will talk a little bit about that in a moment.
Another very important thing to do is check with your bank, and ask in advance what their policy is for withdrawing money in Nicaragua or overseas. I used to have a bank that charged me $5.00 every time I took out money from an ATM. I would also recommend getting a credit card that has no foreign transaction fees. There are several to choose from, you can check some of them out on websites here, like Forbes. That way, if you are making everyday purchases at the supermarket, or coffee shop, you can just use your credit card with no penalty to you. You will still need local currency for things like taxis, the central market, street food vendors (fritangas), and your yoga class.
Something else to consider when choosing banks and credit cards is that in Nicaragua, Visa is the preferred credit card. If you have a Mastercard, you cannot take out money in all ATM’s. For example, if you have a Mastercard and you are in Leon, or Granada, you can only take out money at one bank, the BAC, and nowhere else, drastically limiting where you can get money. There are a great deal of options for you if you are a Visa card holder, with virtually no limitations.
Another great thing about Nicaragua is that usually outside of every bank, there are “Cambista’s” or licensed people who exchange money. Cambista in Spanish literally means ‘change.’ First off, you need to make sure that you are dealing with a legit guy. If the cambista is wearing ID on a lanyard that says cambista, then he is legit. Some people do not, and they will charge you a percentage of what you want exchanged, similar to the currency exchange at the airport. These guys are called coyote’s, and are not the official cambista’s. The reason I use the Cambista’s is that if I need local currency, I just take out dollars from the ATM, and exchange them with cordoba’s from the cambista, and I avoid paying the conversion rate that the bank would charge me.
Another thing to consider is that it is possible for foreigners to open a savings account, and get a debit card to get your money out. You will need two references, and your personal information, like your passport. You may or may not have to fill out a form declaring your money to the government of your home country. If you are from the US, you will fill out a form for the IRS. This is nice for people who plan on coming long term.
Nicaragua is a beautiful country, that is very cost effective as well. In this article we discussed how to save you money on the road. For more first hand information on traveling and living in Nicaragua, please check out our blog at https://nicaraguatefl.com/itan-blog/