Suspension bridge in Costa Rica

You are here

Travel Hacks: Using your Currency Pass in Central America

5th March 2019
Crystal clear waters? Check. 
White sand beaches? Check.
Unexplored jungle? Check. 
Active volcanoes? Check.
Unreal local flavours? Check.
Dos cerveza por favor? Si!  
Central America is one of those upcoming tourist destinations for young, hip and happening Aussies that you've probably seen plastered on your Insta feed. Us intrepid folk navigate our way on a seemingly endless air journey to arrive in one of the most wonderfully diverse habitats in the world. The vibe is unreal and the locals feel like family, however, dealing in a billion different countries currencies can be quite daunting. As you're currently reading this post on the Travel Money website, I can safely assume you are likely to be a tad confused and/or concerned and have asked yourselves questions such as:
"Is cash really king? "
"Will I be hit with ridiculous exchange rates and ATM fees?"
"Do I dare get one of those weird currency cards? "
To be fair, basic English is common in developed areas however if you only speak a little bit of Spanish (un poquito) steering your way through transactions can be difficult to do. The good news is I've accepted the highly coveted role of 'guinea pig' to not only experience everything first-hand, but also help guide you on arguably the best trip you will ever experience. 
Exploring Guatemala's Tikal Temple with @thomsparks and @cole.ectibles

Is cash really king?

The 60/40 rule is golden within finance and it's a tactic used frequently throughout peoples travels. Cash is cool for those little purchases along the way and it's also a great way to watch the amount of coin you're actually spending. 
There are the obvious personal security risks associated and Central America definitely amplifies those risks so be sure to abide by the unwritten laws: 
  • Only carry what you are comfortable to lose
  • Don't withdraw money unless you're inside a bank 
  • Don't go to an ATM after dark
Pretty simple stuff really.
View of Guatemala's captial, Antigua, and Volcan de agua. @thomsparks

Will I be hit with ridiculous exchange rates and ATM fees?

How demoralising is it when you withdraw cash overseas and you're charged a bank fee and then an additional 44% of the money you were wanting to withdraw? Central America has seven different currencies, which generally goes through the conversion process of AUD-USD-local currencies. This equates to a lot of conversions at the ATM, so keeping yourself topped up with the correct notes can be a very costly exercise. 
Use USD with the local merchants and they will generally give you change in their local bills which will save on ridiculous fees and maximise your margaritas! You can stock up on USD before you leave and be all ready to go when you arrive. 

Should I get a currency card?

Enjoyng a Daiquiri and authentic meal in Costa Rica with the Travel Money Oz Currency Pass. @cole.ectibles
Before using a Travel Money Oz Currency Pass I would have told you absolutely not. I was treated to a complimentary Currency Pass (they're free anyway) and asked to test the cards abilities in this uncertain part of the world. 
The Currency Pass was my first foray into a non-personal credit or debit card whilst overseas and whilst it didn't score a perfect 10/10, it got pretty bloody close. Here's why. 
One of the cool features of the card is it can be accessed from an app on your phone which is super convenient when you are clinging from wifi hotspot to wifi hotspot at a Caribbean beachside bar or the middle of the jungle. You can check your balance, view your transactions, see how much money you've spent in the last 7 days, and also add money to your card through three payment options, credit/debit card, direct deposit and BPay. 
Technically I am a millennial which means I need instant results. This makes card top up super convenient for me. There is one major hurdle if you are reluctant to use your global roaming though. As you are making an international purchase, your Aussie bank will send your phone a text to verify the transaction, which can be troublesome if you are actually in the middle of nowhere or worried about Telcos charging your first born child to use data overseas. No Bueno. Throughout my frustration, I did find a workaround though! 
  1. Switch your mobile data off
  2. Make sure aeroplane mode is off so your phone can access the cell network. 
  3. Receive a text message.
Long story short, your phone can't access data buuut it can receive text messages which will allow you to instantaneously top up your card. Que bueno! (This worked for me, but might not work for you. We recommend checking with your phone provider before you leave or ensuring your card is topped up with enough funds to avoid you getting into sticky situations). 
Sloth's love each other and the Currency Pass in Costa Rica? @thom.sparks
During times when I was chillin' in a sleepy town at the base of a Guatemalan volcano, or hundreds of kilometres upstream in a Costa Rican national park, I would need to plan ahead and direct deposit. 
Travel Money Oz states that it takes 24-48 hours for the money to register onto your card through a direct deposit, however, I don't actually think I waited more than 5 hours. 
Another groovy thing about the Currency Pass is that when you direct deposit, it shoots you an email when the funds are loaded and ready to go. Super handy when dodgy wifi couldn't display the balance through the app.
It's easy to get overwhelmed when considering how you're supposed to pay for your street casada, a day tour to Chichen Itza or beers on a secluded beach. You can use your Currency Pass to withdraw cash at ATMs displaying the Mastercard logo, which is essentially almost everywhere in the world. 
If you are wanting local notes, the Currency Pass has the ability to deduct from your pre-loaded AUD to ensure you have the flexibility to be covered for whatever your splurging needs.
I've made the Currency Pass sound quite easy to manage (cos it is) however if you're still confused, drop into your local Travel Money Oz and speak to the currency wizz kids today.
This blog is provided for information only and does not take into consideration your objectives, financial situation or needs.  You should consider whether the information and suggestions contained in any blog entry are appropriate for you, having regard to your own objectives, financial situation and needs.  While we take reasonable care in providing the blog, we give no warranties or representations that it is complete or accurate, or is appropriate for you.  We are not liable for any loss caused, whether due to negligence or otherwise, arising from use of, or reliance on, the information and/or suggestions contained in this blog.