You’ll find plenty of ATMs in Peru, especially in larger towns and cities. So if you rely on withdrawing money from ATMs (cash machines) to fund your day-to-day travels, you should be fine — although you’ll sometimes need to plan ahead so you don’t get stuck penniless in the middle of nowhere…
Where Can I Find ATMs in Peru?
It’s normally easy to find an ATM in any large city in Peru, especially if you’re in the city center. The city’s main square, or Plaza de Armas, is normally a good place to start. If you don’t find an ATM around the square itself, then there should be one on an adjacent street. Also keep an eye out for any banks, as most have ATMs inside (such as shown in the main image above). If your Spanish is up to it, then of course you can always ask a local for directions to the nearest cajero automático.
While most mid-sized towns will have an ATM or two, some smaller towns — and especially villages — might not have any at all. Before heading out to any village or rural community, always make sure you’ve got enough cash on you for the trip (and some extra for emergencies).
Large shopping malls and some pharmacies also contain ATMs. If you’re flying into Lima, you’ll find ATMs inside Lima Airport.
Most ATMs are open 24 hours a day.
What Cards do Peruvian ATMs Accept?
ATMs in Peru typically accept Visa, MasterCard and American Express. Visa, however, still seems to be the most common in Peru.
Make sure you clear your card(s) for use abroad or you may find they don’t work or quickly become blocked due to anti-fraud measures or other protective services used by your bank. If your card does become blocked, you should be able to unblock it fairly quickly by calling your bank back home.
Some ATMs will refuse to give you money for other reasons, so don’t panic if your withdrawal is refused. The machine might be out of money or the local network could be down temporarily. Try again later; if the problem persists, call your bank.
Is There a Daily or Monthly Withdrawal Limit?
Peruvian ATMs place a limit on the amount of cash you can withdraw in one go. This limit is sometimes frustratingly low, at around S/ 400, while other ATMs will let you take out S/ 1,000 or more (but these seem increasingly rare). These limits also apply when withdrawing dollars. Some banks decrease the withdrawal amount at night, typically from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Daily total withdrawal limits are also in place, so while you should be able to withdraw S/ 700 a few times in one day, for example, don’t be surprised if you hit a wall eventually. Scotiabank has a daily limit of $800 or its equivalent in soles, while BCP has a daily limit of S/ 2,000 or $800.
Update: As of September 2017 (and perhaps earlier), BCP is restricting foreign cards to only one ATM withdrawal (in soles) per month. I contacted the bank and asked for some explanation for this, but they were unwilling to give me more information, apart from saying that the restriction will be in place for six months. It seems totally crazy, but that’s the deal.
Other daily withdrawal limits might be in place with your bank back home, so check with them before traveling.
Are There ATM Fees in Peru?
I’m still not 100% sure about this issue, partly because getting a straight answer from a bank is like getting blood from a stone. If you’re using Visa — and I assume MasterCard, too — then most ATMs in Peru, in theory, will charge you a minimal fee at most for withdrawing money (and you’ll lose out a little on the exchange rate).
As far as I know, BCP, Banco de la Nación and Scotiabank supposedly have no fees (BBVA might have a withdrawal fee, so keep an eye on that), but people do tell me that they’re being charged for withdrawing money using their foreign debit cards in Peru.
You also need to take your own bank into consideration, as it might well charge you for using an ATM abroad, and this can be in excess of $10 for each withdrawal. For example, my bank in the UK, Barclays, does charge a fee for withdrawing money abroad:
“You can use your debit card abroad to buy things or withdraw cash from ATMs wherever you see the VISA sign. There are fees for withdrawing cash abroad but there is no cash withdrawal fee for withdrawing funds from cash machines belonging to one of our Global ATM Alliance partners.”
So if you are being charged withdrawal fees in Peru, they might be coming from your bank and not the bank in Peru. Check this with your bank before you travel, and double check the fees after your first withdrawal. It’s always handy to have online banking set up so you can easily check your balance, and any fees you may be incurring, from Peru.
You might want to avoid some ATMs that are not linked directly with one particular bank. These include GlobalNet ATMs — often found in pharmacies and inside Lima Airport — which do have a surcharge of $2 or more for each withdrawal.
Note: I’m still trying to find more conclusive information about withdrawal fees in Peru. If you have solid info to share regarding these fees, please let me know in the comments section below.
What Currencies Can I Withdraw and in What Denominations?
Some ATMs will let you withdraw both Peruvian soles and US dollars. If they are capable of dispensing dollars, it should say so somewhere on the machine.
When you withdraw Peruvian soles, you’ll normally received S/ 100 notes, which can be annoying considering the occasional problems with using large notes in Peru. If you’re lucky, the machine will sometimes give you S/ 50 notes, sometimes even a few S/ 20 notes.
When you withdraw US$, you’ll typically receive $20 notes.
Are Peruvian ATMs Hard to Use if I Don’t Speak Spanish?
In a word: no. As far as I’m aware, every ATM in Peru — or at least the vast majority — has an English-language option. This option should appear once you’ve entered your card and pin.
Is it Safe to Use ATMs in Peru?
Whenever possible, use an ATM located inside a bank to greatly reduce the risk of snatch theft. You should be fine withdrawing money from an ATM outside on the street, but you do need to be more cautious, especially at night. It’s always best to withdraw money during the day when there are a few people around (not too many, ideally, but neither should you be totally alone).
Once you’ve received your money, make sure to place it in a secure pocket with a zip or other fastener — somewhere that pickpockets won’t easily invade.
As is now common across the globe, you also need to watch out for any suspicious-looking devices placed on or around the ATM, especially on the card slot. If you see anything dubious, it’s always best to use a different machine.
The ATM Gave Me Fake Money! What the Hell??
I’ve heard stories of people receiving fake money from legitimate ATMs in Peru. Whether this is true, and whether it still happens, I cannot say for sure. But I’ve withdraw money from ATMs all across the country over the last eight or so years, and I’ve never received a fake note. The likelihood of receiving counterfeit money from a Peruvian ATM is therefore very, very low — if even possible.
All photos by Tony Dunnell.