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).
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
- Most of our spending is small A couple of cups of coffee or a few tacos.
- We buy from small shops (tiendas), or market stalls, or street food vendors. Don’t even begin to think that they accept credit cards
- 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.
- 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.
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!
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.
We moved our account to one which gives us free foreign currency withdrawals. We pay a monthly fee for this, but over the course of 12 months, this has saved us hundreds of pounds. 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.
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.
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.
Advice on Cash in Guatemala
- Don’t carry all your money with you all the time. Or in one place.
- Smaller shops, buses and restaurants will struggle to break a 100 quetzales note for you. Split larger notes and keep change with you.
- 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?
- 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