ATMs in Guatemala – Cash Costs [2019 Update]   Recently updated !


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When we travel we tend to pay for as much as possible in cash.  We carry an ATM card that has no foreign transaction fees and a credit card that has no foreign transaction fees.  Plus, because we’re cautious, we have spares.  One of the items on our list for each country we visit is how to obtain cash.  Here’s what we’re learning about Cash and ATMs in Guatemala.

We endeavour to keep this post up to date with current fees and rates – if you have further information please drop us a line in the comments and we’ll update the costs!

Guatemalan Currency – The Quetzal

The currency of Guatemala is the Quetzal. (GTQ)    It’s named after the national bird – the quetzal (ket-zal).  It used to be that in ancient Mayan culture, the tail feathers from the bird were used as currency.  The Quetzal is divided into 100 centavos.  (you might hear lenes, which is the local slang for centavos).

ATMS in Guatemala Quetzal (1)

The largest note you’ll get is the 100 Quetzal Note.  There are also 50Q, 20Q, 10Q, 5Q and 1Q notes.  Coins include the 1Q coin, 50 centavos, 25 centavos, 10, 5 and 1 centavos.

Why we Use Cash

That’s usually because most of the places we eat at, the buses and transport options we catch operate in a cash society.  Most of our purchases (food, bus tickets, occasionally water, etc) are small ticket items.  Whipping out a credit card to pay for a US$1.50 bill for two coffees just doesn’t feel right.  It also makes sense to us not to use a credit card for a number of reasons.

Why We Try to Not use Credit Cards

  1. Most of our spending is small  A couple of cups of coffee or a few tacos.
  2. We buy from small shops (tiendas), or market stalls, or street food vendors. Don’t even begin to think that they accept credit cards
  3. In most countries, there will be a credit card fee. It may be laid out as an additional charge or built into the pricing.  We found this (as a shock to the system) in Australia and New Zealand.    Here in Guatemala, it looks to be around 8%.    You read that right.  EIGHT PERCENT.
  4. The more I get out my credit card and have someone wander off with it, or it put into paper or electronic swipes, the more chance I have of getting it cloned, stolen or misused. Trying to get a new credit sent to us while we’re on the move isn’t something I really want to contemplate.
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Finding ATMs in Guatemala

Just because you see a map entry for a bank in Guatemala doesn’t mean that there’s an ATM there.  ATM’s and banks don’t necessarily co-locate.   ATM in Guatemala are called “Cajero Automatico”.  Or Cajero.  You might see signs for Cajera too.    If you’re asking for directions, then this phrase will help you.

¿Donde esta un cajero automatico?”

ATM Withdrawal Costs in Guatemala

The first thing that you’ll find about ATM’s is that they’re temperamental.  Sometimes you’ll need to put your card in (and pull it out) several times.  Depending on the ATM you need to leave your card in.  Or take it out.  While making the transaction.  As always follow the instructions on the screen.  And if it’s not accepting your card, give it another go.  Or five.

Charges from Your Bank

When we first set off travelling we were somewhat wet behind the ears and didn’t contemplate how many times we would visit an ATM.  So we travelled for the first 9 months with a regular debit card account.  We moved money into it when we needed it.  (We ensured that we hooked up our VPN before we did ANYTHING like this. – FIND OUR WHY you should use a VPN in our guide to VPNS).  The best VPN for Guatemala is ExpressVPN, click the link to find out more! Get a time limited special offer of THREE FREE MONTHS VPN here!

The fees from our bank soon mounted up, especially when we hit India and our maximum withdrawal per transaction was only around GBP100 for the ATM’s there.  (In the UK a usual daily amount is between GBP250 and GBP300).  With a fee for each transaction, it got pretty expensive.

Save money while travelling by using a Transferwise Borderless Account – keep currency in more than 40 currencies and use the Transferwise Debit card to get your cash out with low conversion fees and zero transaction fees! Sign up now!

We moved our account to one which gives us free foreign currency withdrawals.    It’s worth looking into!  We have since moved to a different account that has no fees.  If you’re a UK traveller, check out Starling Bank – so far we LOVE them. We are also Transferwise debit card holders too for their borderless account.

ATM Guatemala Airport

The Guatemala City Airport ATMs are on the third floor (departures) and it is a 5B ATM.  If getting cash at the airport is a requirement, then it’s going to cost you!

Guatemala ATM fees from the ATM provider

As well as the charge from your financial services or card provider there’s often a cost from the ATM provider too.  This varies IMMENSELY and can add up to a significant amount.  Here are the costs we’ve found for Guatemala ATMs.

ATMs in Guatemala – The Providers

5B ATM Guatemala (The Yellow ATM’s)

You’ll find more of these ATM’s than any other in Guatemala.  They can be found at petrol/gas stations, Despensa Familiars and shopping centres.  They are however EXPENSIVE when it comes to fees.

2,500 Quetzales (around US$267, GBP215) costs 45 Quetzales as a fee.  That’s a HUGE percentage just to get access to your cash.  The maximum amount per transaction from a 5B ATM is 2,500 Quetzales.

ATMS in Guatemala 5B

 

BAC Guatemala (Usually Red and White)

These will give up to 3,000 Quetzales per day (and per transaction).  There’s one under the colonnade around the edges of the Central Park in Antigua.  The fee for 2,500 Quetzales is 22 Quetzales.   In 2018 many people were reporting that BAC could not make a connection to foreign cards and therefore withdrawals were not possible.

You can also find a BAC ATM in Xela (Quetzaltenango) on the opposite side of the central park (in Zone 1) to the Xela Pan bakery.

BI Guatemala (Silver/Black)

We used BI more than any other ATMs because we were not charged ANY FEES for using these machines.  (Yep.  NO FEES But from 2017 that has changed.).

The maximum withdrawal is 2,000 Quetzales per transaction.  The fee to withdraw is now USD$4 in December 2018.

There’s a BI ATM inside the Despensa Familiar near the central park in Xela.  It’s right next to the 5B ATM in the same location.

ATMS in Guatemala BI

 Advice on Cash in Guatemala

  1. Don’t carry all your money with you all the time. Or in one place.
  2. Smaller shops, buses and restaurants will struggle to break a 100 quetzales note for you. Split larger notes and keep change with you.
  3. Be sure to get your change when on a bus – “sencillo, por favour”

 

We’ll keep updating this as the situation changes.  In the meantime, what’s your advice on cash while away from home?

Resources

  • We’re studying at the Sol Latino School and staying in a homestay with them
  • We’re using Duolingo to supplement our learning
  • We’re also using the following Spanish books to enhance our learning

 

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About Sarah Carter

Sarah Carter is an avid reader, writer and traveller. She loves hiking, sailing, skiing and exploring the world through food. She left a successful career in IT security and compliance in both the UK and US to travel the world with husband and partner in adventure, Nigel.


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16 thoughts on “ATMs in Guatemala – Cash Costs [2019 Update]

  • Sebastian

    Thank you for sharing the information, but we have experienced something different in Antigua.
    BAC: Did not work with our german Credit Card.
    5B: The Fee is 45Q and the maxmium 2500Q.
    BI: Max 2000Q and 32Q fee per transaction.

    So, sadly, no free cash for us.

    So far,
    Sebastian

  • Courtney

    This was very helpful! I went to Guatemala in April and found this out the hard way. I am returning in 48 hours to Guatemala and will be in some rural areas, so I will need to hoard a bit of cash (stashed into different areas of my bag) to last me several days without an ATM. Do you know if it is possible that I could pull the maximum from a 5B, a BAC, and a Bi in one day? Luckily, I have a zero fees card (thank you Charles Schwab), so the fees won’t be an issue, but the maximum withdrawal is certainly an issue.

    Thanks!

  • Nathan

    Hi guys, in Xela at the moment and can confirm that Bi now charge $4USD per (2,000 max) transaction. B5 charge 31.2Q per (2,000 max) transaction on Mastercard or 41.2Q for Visa. Couldn’t get BAC to “make a connection to your card issuer” with Starling (or Caxton).

    We’ll try to post useful similar advice on mindfulwings.wordpress.com when we’ve a bit more time, but know I was going off the well-written advice above.

    • ASocialNomad Post author

      Ack. Sorry to hear that I’ll try and get this updated too – thanks for the update. Seems like “free money” is getting harder and harder to find around the world! But isn’t Starling Bank fabulous?

    • Matt

      Hola, traveling to Guatemala in 2 days and have been reading about ATM scams that take your card information. Are 5b and Bi reliable sources to get cash out from or does the company not matter?

      • ASocialNomad Post author

        5b and BI are godd sources, you will see them everywhere. The best ones are those attached to banks, but mostly you will only see the 5b ones (they’re quite distinctive). Always check to see if there are any attachments, for skimming, but we didnt see any in our 2.5 months in Guatemala.

  • William

    Hello. Thank you for the great information. I will be traveling to Guatemala City for a 2 month stay in the next few weeks. I am fluent in Spanish. Is it really as dangerous as I read ? I don t drink, party or go out at night. Any advice besides the common sense stuff will be greatly appreciated. Thank you

    • ASocialNomad Post author

      Hi William! Wow that sounds fabulous. Most of the problems in Guatemala are gang on gang – we met people who also lived in Guatemala City as gringos for several months, took local buses and had a great time. All the usual cautions apply – be aware of your surroundings, if you;re advised not to walk in a certain area, don’t, and if your host, or locals say take a taxi rather than a bus, then do that also. We never once, in our 2.5 months in Guatemala felt unsafe and the only folks we met who had problems was an English guy who got bitten by a dog at 0200 stumbling back to his room from a bar in Quetzeltenango!

  • Joe

    I’ve used my (no foreign transaction fee) credit card all over Guatemala City and I have yet to see any additional fee added from the store/vendor. I was actually surprised how many places I could use my credit card, it seems to be normalizing here. Obviously, street food and very small mom and pop restaurants would be cash-only.

    With 1% cash-back on my card and getting the raw exchange rate, it seems like a good deal to use your credit card wherever possible.

    Are you still seeing the ~ 8% fee being added in Xela? Are they hiding it or is it transparent when using your card?