Short and simple. The question was posed to us, what do you do for banking and getting cash in the Caribbean?
Traveling the Caribbean and having access to your own money is not as complicated as it once was, and it doesn’t have to be a scary thing. Forget about travelers’ cheques or having to hide a wad of cash in your fanny pack. I was a child of the 80’s!
During our years of traveling we have kept our Canadian bank accounts, and have Visa credit cards through our bank. (We are factual residents of Canada and so have this benefit.) We also have a Paypal account for any online transactions that need to be done.
There are a couple of things you want to be aware of before taking off though, that are pretty card/bank specific. So you may want to give your bank’s/credit card company’s customer service a call to make sure you are in the know.
First, one thing to check for is if your card has one of the fancy “plus” symbols on it. Most any large bank and credit card company will. It looks like this:
What that symbol means is that your card is part of an interbank network that can be used at over one million ATMs in 170 countries worldwide. Both our debit and visa have this.
A second thing to keep in mind is depending on your plan, when you withdraw money from a debit card at an international ATM you will be charged a service fee from the ATM and a second fee from your bank. These can add up quick, so instead of making many smaller withdrawals, like we would if we were in Canada, we chose to make only a few larger ones, giving us enough cash to not have to constantly revisiting that costly machine. If you are doing cash advances on your credit card make sure you talk to them first and clearly understand the fine print, so that you don’t end up paying some major interest fees. We try really hard to always keep our credit card paid off, and usually even pay off a little extra so we’re in the positive. As soon as we use our card, for a purchase or cash advance we jump online and pay it off immediately. So our credit card almost serves us like a bank debit card, but it gives us extra travel points when we use it, builds our credit, and is a nice back up to have in case the ATM doesn’t accept our debit card for any reason.
Our Paypal we use for some online shopping as well as when we want to make personal money transfers to friends from other countries (like our bank is Canadian, our friend’s bank is in the US, it is just easier to transfer money to him via our Paypal).
–Bahamas: We were mostly in Georgetown, Bahamas and from what I recall it is the only place we withdrew money. There are 2 ATMS in town that are part of the “Plus” system. You can also go in to the Scotia Bank teller if you need larger amounts than what the ATM will dispense.
–Dominican Republic: In Luperon the ATM is broken or out of cash on a very regular basis. You need to wait in line at the one and only bank in town to get money. Make sure you have 2 forms of ID and plenty of time to wait in line. When you get to the teller, it felt like it depended on their mood if they were going to give you money that day or not. We ran into a lot of “our Visa machine is broken”, or “We can’t take your VISA if it has a pin number”, but any other day they could help. It was 50/50. In the bigger North coast towns (Puerto Plata, Sosua, and Cabarete) have several banks and are used to dealing with foreign bank/visa cards. You will have no problem getting money here. Ask around in Cabarete because there is one ATM that has been fraudulent on several occasions.
–Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands: You are back in the US, where pretty much ALL ATMs and banks can help you withdraw money. You can also use your credit card at stores, restaurants, etc (just like back home) to pay for your purchases.
–BVIs: Don’t be worried, they work with the US dollar as well. All the ATMs and banks will give you US cash, and all the stores will accept your cards.
That is as far as we have made it on our boat. But all this to say that you don’t have to stress about how you are going to get your hands on your money, there will be a way. And it most likely will be a pretty easy one.