Changing Money on Venezuela’s Black Market.

The Broke Backpacker not so broke in Venezuela
$100 on the black market gets you literal wads of cash...

I needed to change money in Venezuela. My driver knew a guy who knew a guy who knew someone who would change my cash at a rate of 210 bolivars to the dollar. With a beer costing just 25 bolivars and a bed starting at 300 bolivars this seemed like a pretty good deal to me.

I waited in a local shop, bored, watching the ceiling fan go round and round in a pathetic attempt to banish to heat. I had just 500 bolivars, approximately $2, left in my wallet so ideally I needed to change money today. If I couldn’t, it was hardly a disaster, with just one dollar I could buy four beers, jump in a taxi, snack on half a dozen empanadas and still have change for an ice cream. Venezuela was budget backpacking at it’s best, I could live like a king for under $50 a week. Even an internal flight would only set me back around $6.

A man in a dark suit appeared, hurriedly walked towards the store, a grocery bag clutched firmly under one arm. He rushed in and bade the proprietor close the door. A rent-a-thug stood nearby with what looked like a metal chair leg in one hand, watching me carefully. The harassed-looking money changer emptied the grocery bag onto the tabletop. Coloured bills spilled across the table towards me, I had nearly one thousand bills to count. I handed over a single hundred dollar bill I had hidden in a photo album months before and began the laborious task of tying up the notes with elastic bands, I needed over a dozen. Nobody had told me it would be this complicated to change money in Venezuela…

The Broke Backpacker Rich in Venezuela

Officially, backpacking in Venezuela should be unbelievably expensive.  At the oft-cited rate of 6 bolivars to the dollar, a basic meal would cost around $15. Just three weeks ago, the black-market rate for a single dollar bill was around 17o bolivars. In a bid to end the insane inflation rates, the government decided to raise the official rate of exchange for USD from 6 bolivars to 150.

 

The government hoped that foreigners would stop exchanging dollars on the black market due to the more realistic rate now available at the banks and that Venezuelans would stop buying up dollars due to a decreased profit margin on the black market. The plan had backfired drastically and civil unrest had risen sharply. Within a week the black market rate for dollars had risen from 170 to nearly 300. Venezuelans were just as keen to buy dollars as ever and, at nearly twice the official rate, the handful of backpackers in the country were more than happy to keep on exchanging dollar bills for fat wads of cash which could be made into comfortable beds to sleep on (I actually did this, I may have had a few too many 10 cent beers!)

 

Currency Exchange Venezuela Cheapest Country to Travel

 

 

With spiralling inflation making the bolivar more and more worthless, Venezuelans are desperate to change their bolivars at almost any rate, with dollars and euros being a much safer way to hold savings. Many Venezuelans are keen to leave the country, hoping to find work abroad, but with the government only allowing it’s citizens to purchase a measly $500 a year, after mountains of paperwork, from the bank more and more people are turning to the black market as a means to cash out and get out; Venezuela has some of the highest outgoing emigration numbers in the world.

 

If you’re in Venezuela and keen to change money yourself, be sure to check out dolartoday.com which gives you an idea of the black market rate for dollars and euros; you will never get the rate portrayed here but should aim for around 20-30 bolivars less than this. The rate changes drastically, in just one month in Venezuela I changed dollars for between 170 and 230 bolivars a pop. With rates like these, the country is unbelievably cheap so try not to be too much of a hard-ass on the people your changing with; exchanging bolivars for dollars is one of the few ways Venezuelans can protect their savings.

 

It is important to note that if you try and arrange things from outside of Venezuela, you will be asked to pay in USD at the official rate. A much better plan is to bring your USD to Venezuela and then change them on the black market. To find someone willing to exchange USD with you, simply ask at your guesthouse or hostel, or ask other backpackers in the country. I do not have the phone number of any money exchangers – I literally just took to the street and tracked people down.

 

When carrying dollars in Venezuela, be extremely careful to conceal them properly. There have been many reports of foreigners being shaken down by the police, especially at road-blocks and border crossings. For this trip; I carried $200 hidden in a fold in my belt as well as more dollars concealed between two laminated photographs (which had to be cut open) in my ‘photo book’ from home to show to curious folks I may meet on the road.  In the end, I barely even spent $300 in a month in Venezuela even though I had to hire a guide for trekking on two occasions!

As a wise man once said, if you can’t afford travel insurance, you shouldn’t be travelling – so be sure to get your backpacker insurance sorted before you head off on a backpacking trip to Venezuela! Travelling to Venezuela without insurance would be fucking stupid. I highly recommend World Nomads.

UPDATE: The Bolivar to Dollar rate has now hit 900 – May 2016)

 

Backpacking tips to hide your money in Venezuela

Hide your money well folks!

 


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47 Comments

  • Tine says:

    $300 in a month? Wow, that is so cheap!! I have heard that one should be careful exchanging money in Venezuela, so I am glad it went alright for you :)

    • Will Hatton says:

      It’s actually cheaper than that really; you can live like a king for $50 a week but if you budget a little extra; wow – good times indeed can be had!

    • Alejandro says:

      You can rent an appartment with pool and private security for 150 dollars more or less plus 40 dollars to buy food with 200 per month you will live very comfortable

    • Actually, it is $300 per year. Yeah, you can’t even buy a ‘good’ telephone with that…

    • Mirko Buiza says:

      300 bucks here in Venezuela, can make you rich, popular, and more…
      and it0s true with 50 usd you can have a very decent and confortable life here… yeah, the exchanges rates are crazy…

  • Ruby says:

    This is such a good tip! I am planning to visit South America including Venezuela this year..Hope it will materialize…safe and happy travels to you Will!

  • pero si saben que tienes dolares te pueden matar como ya ha pasado :(

    • Jhonny says:

      Thats true, Wilmary, she say ” but if they know that you have dollars, they can kill you, how already happened” if you travel to Venezuela be carefull to speak with one and all, that prevents recognize your nacionality

  • Osmar Rodriguez says:

    I’m Venezuelan and I can swear that everyday our currency loss its value, so you can come here and live very well just for a few dollars. If you have dollars, life in Venezuela can be cheaper tomorrow than today. Bad and terrible economic policies destroyed this country.

  • This is such a comical and yet sad set of affairs. Little did I realise how cheap Venezuela can be for a westerner yet it all comes at a cost. That cost being the lives of the local people.

    When exchange rates get out of control and you keep adding zeros to notes it can become unmanageable. Only last week I was in Chile and struggled a little converting things in my head (the exchange rate was over 900 to the £).

    Whilst it is far from a country to take inspiration from I find the story of Zimbabwe fascinating. They had outrageous inflation for years which really punished the people there. Eventually they ditched the local currency and officially priced everything in US dollars. It has now brought a lot of economic stability (relatively speaking compared to before).

    it is always sad when you hear of countries with runaway inflation. I feel fortunate to be in an economically stable country where the price tomorrow is not a concern of mine.

    • Will Hatton says:

      I’ve kind of always wanted one of those ridiculous Zimbabwean notes… Venezuela is indeed kind of the ‘new Zimbabwe’ – its an amazing country with a huge amount to offer but a truly depressing state of affairs at the moment, I hope it improves, I would love to spend more time getting to grips with the region…

  • daniel says:

    Its cheap, but people here dont make much money. Minimun wage is aprox 20/month. If someone goes to the movies with his girlfriend and after takes her to a good restaurant, those 20$ are gone. So maybe you could live like a king with 50$/week, but only if you still living at your parents house.

  • Luis Torrealba says:

    Actually, Will, You’ve no idea how lucky you were. Given the huge difference between official and black market rate, you’re up for a variety of tricks that include fake money, kidnapping and even murder. Please, anyone coming here always be aware of this risks, an make sure to exchange money with people you already know. I tell you this for your own safety. Other than that, enjoy our country. People is warm and places are second-to-none in beauty.

    • Will Hatton says:

      Hey Luis, maybe I was lucky; I think part of it came from planning properly so I didn’t end up being in the middle of nowhere in the dark :) I think if you plan properly and rely on decent people, often through CS, helping you out then most of the time all shall be well :)

  • Lucy says:

    I WANT TO GO TO VENEZUELA SIMPLY TO MAKE A BED OF MONEY! I can’t decide if this is the best or worst reason to go to a country.
    Rad post Will! xx

    • Will Hatton says:

      Thanks Lucy! Making a bed of money was a kind of awesome yet terrible thing to do… :P

    • Mirko Buiza says:

      Hello Lucy, wellcome to Venezuela Anytime you want, and yes, you can make a thounsand things here.. and yes a BED OF MONEY is weird and awesome…

    • jesus says:

      jajaja la verdad me ha hecho reir mucho tu comentario, es cierto ahorita la tasa de cambio esta a 290bs por 1$ con 5000$ puedes comprar una casa un carro y vivir tranquila por unos 5 años si los inviertes mas todavia, aqui en venezuela el que tiene dolares es el que prospera eso es realidad, el resto estamos fregados

      jajaja truth has laugh made me much your comment, it’s true right now the exchange rate is at 290bs by $ 1 with $ 5,000 can buy a house a car and live in peace for about 5 years if you invest more yet, here in Venezuela the having dollars is the one that is actually thriving, the rest we are scrubbed

  • Ernesto says:

    Hello , my name is Ernesto Rojas , I ‘m Venezuelan and I am 26 years old.
    The reality in Venezuela goes far beyond what you have probably seen on TV. the average person working 46hrs a week to earn 5,622 bolivars ( $ 22) that’s my salary after five years of studying to be a lawyer , I still live in my grandmother’s house .
    Here we have to make a long line to buy the most basic , from a bar soap or shampoo to a razor . a pair of shoes nike costs 15,000 bolivars ($ 59 ) three months’ salary , but basic things like a kilogram of meat $ 1.5 a kilo of milk powder 3 US dollars on the black market and stop counting .. feel shame with people visit my beautiful country because here there is no quality of life and take pesima impression .. hope you have taken a minute to read this. tw @ErnestoTrue

    • Will Hatton says:

      Hey Ernesto, Thanks so much for helping to clear up the situation with more information; it really helps me get my head around the current situation! I actually smuggled several kilos of powdered milk into Venezuela from Colombia for a friend, I had no idea it was worth so much in Venezuela!

    • muneer says:

      I want to talk with you about your country

  • Zascha Friis says:

    I admire how you always manage to live so cheaply!
    And I love your ongoing adventures. They’re so entertaining! :D

  • Carlos says:

    Hey Will! i’m also planning to visit Venezuela this summer. Angel falls, Roraima and Merida are on my list. Could you please share the contact or name of the tour guide(s) you hired for your trekking trips?

    Thanks in advance!

  • Alex says:

    I am a gringo currently living in Venezuela while earning dollars. It is indeed a great place to save money if you make dollars. I advise you, however, to not boast about your dollars to Venezuelans. To put it in perspective: Last month I made about Bs 700,000 on the black market if you converted my salary, while a local Venezuelan with the exact same job as me makes about Bs 15,000. The level of difference is so extreme that I even feel very guilty at times. Maduro is destroying this country and it’s people. It is incredible how little money that doctors, lawyers, etc. are currently making here. This unfairness of wages gives me a lot of negative connotations and animosity by the local people. Just please be very respectful at all times and never say things like “That’s so cheap!” or “This cost me only $1!” because it is a slap in the face to the great people of Venezuela. Oh, and, go to Los Roques!

    • Jessica says:

      This is the best comment I’ve read here. Carlos was very lucky not to find any danger being a foreigner in Venezuela (cause it is true you have to plan and be careful, but that’s not nearly enough to not get screwed). I’m a venezuelan currently living in Costa Rica and I agree with you, when I read things like “That’s so cheap!” or “This cost me only $1!” it feels like a slap in my face, and just make me sad for my family and friends that are still living there not knowing if they will survive to the daily inflation, basics shortages and violence.
      Every week i have some of my facebook contacts living there being robbed, knowing someone who has been kidnapped or killed. So go visit on your own risk cause it really is worth it, but don’t take Venezuela lightly.

    • Erick Perez says:

      how easy is for you to change your money in the black market?

  • carlos rosales says:

    am I the only one here that feels unconfortable seeing a guy sitting in a table with lots of notes ? When a country has a big difference between the rates , you can be rich if you earn in usd or euro, but this also means that local people gets poorer everythat and in the same rate: the richer you are the poorer they are.

    • Will Hatton says:

      What would you have us backpackers do? Not visit because it’s hard for the locals? – By visiting at least we are putting some money in local hands, boycotting it because it’s so cheap would be silly. And yes; it’s a lot of money, because when changing on the black market it can take hours so you don’t just change $5 at a time – you tend to go for $100 really, it lasts at least a week! :)

  • Jhosep says:

    $ 500,000 in Venezuela and you become a billionaire! I’m Venezuelan!

  • john says:

    I need a trustful person in carcas.

  • Kristina says:

    Hi, you don’t have a name on a person who is willing to exchange USD to bolivar? I’m going to Venezuela in 2 weeks

  • an says:

    this guy is soo funny!! …”i had way too many 10cent beers.. LOL!! man i would of not even of drunk that much even if the price was 10cents

  • Earvin says:

    Thank god for this article! I am going to Venezuela in November and my bank doesn’t do exchanges to Bolivars and a simple google search explained why. Also found out about couchsurfing because of this. You’re awesom, Will! Keep up the good work bud!

  • Kate says:

    thanks for the info. i’m planning go to venezuela, in november, if anyone has the same plans, we can go together

  • Kate says:

    i’m plannig go to venezuela, if anyone is in the same road, we can meet contact me

  • Joel Nelson Dsouza says:

    Hi Kate! I am looking to go to Venezuela in November. Currently in Dubai. Please get in touch with me on : joel.emcee1982@gmail.com

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