Dominican Republic up close
Cash, Costs and Money-saving Tips for Travel in the Dominican Republic
Coconut vendor in Puerto Plata
Photo: Carlos Karlos
Use these must-know tips to make your dollar stretch (even) further in the DR
Thanks to the lower cost of living here in the sunny DR, your dollar or euro will naturally stretch further. But on any holiday, whether you're backpacking or flying business class, your budget can dry up quicker than you'd like. Here are some tips to help you get the best out of your trip - written by a US expat.
Need to know before you go
Art paintings for sale, Santo Domingo
Photo: Mikkel Ulriksen
Cash in the DR
All taxis, public transport and many restaurants are cash only, and they'll expect to be paid in Dominican pesos. If you have a foreign currency they might take it (might) but won't give you change in the same currency, and might not give you change at all. So you'll need some pesos while you're here!
Pesos come in paper bills, and USD $1 will get you about 50 pesos*.
Here's a quick glance at the colors of bills in the Dominican Republic. Blue bills are 2000 pesos. Pinkish red bills are 1000 pesos. Bluish-green are 500 pesos. Pinkish purple are 200 pesos. Brown are 100 pesos.
Withdrawing money from cash machines with your card costs approximately $10 per withdrawal if your card is from the US. You can go into any bank and most grocery stores to withdraw money at an ATM and there will probably be an armed guard there for your protection. There is a limit of $10,000 pesos daily at ATMs.
Photo: Carlos Karlos
How to read price tags
The vast majority of costs across the DR are marked in pesos, which somewhat confusingly using the same dollar sign used in the US. In some tourist hotspots you'll also find USD prices listed - if you're not sure whether you're looking at a price tag in pesos or USD, just ask.
Haggling & tipping
Haggling is expected almost everywhere except supermarkets and banks. A good rule is to always negotiate a price before you jump in a cab or agree to buy something. To haggle successfully, locals recommend learning some essential Spanish, carrying pesos, not USD, carrying small change (including coins), being friendly and polite, and starting with around half of the first price a vendor offers you before negotiating toward a happy medium.
As for tipping, most of the sorts of places you’d normally tip in the US charge a 10% service fee that is split between serving staff. If you don’t see this extra charge added to your bill, tip 10-20% depending on food and service quality.
You might be asked for a “propina” - Spanish for tip - by people offering to do you favors, including giving you directions. Keep a handful of coins with you for these occasions, and give a couple of coins to express your gratitude. If you want to avoid tipping for these small favors, it’s best to say “no, gracias” politely and to refuse the help in the first place.
Photo: jaanall / Shutterstock.com
How and where to convert cash (and avoid a nasty surprise)
Find out up-to-date conversion rates by searching online for eg. "USD to DOP," "EUR to DOP" or "GBP to DOP." DOP stands for Dominican Peso. Keep in mind that fees are not included in Google's exchange rate, so the actual conversion will cost you a little more and vary by exchanger.
You can change money at a bank (best rate) or at any Vimenca shop. Vimenca deals in Western Union money transfers as well as money changing. You can find them in the ubiquitous La Sirena chain grocery stores.
Airports have the highest rates for changing money, but you should have at least 5000 pesos cash when you arrive in the country. This is for contingencies - just in case you miss the shuttle to your hotel, an Uber driver isn't available and you need to take a taxi from the airport. (It won't cost quite that much, but maybe you're hungry too.)
Wherever you convert currency or withdraw cash, ask for 500 peso bills to minimise the chance of hustlers jacking up prices when they see you reaching for your wallet.
Using credit and debit cards in the DR
Credit cards are widely accepted in main tourist areas and cities across the Dominican Republic. Visa or Mastercard cards are accepted wherever credit cards are accepted, and some of the larger hotels and shopping destinations accept American Express cards.
There are usually no extra fees for using your card at a point of sale. If there is a fee, it will be very, very low.
A quick note: you may want to notify your bank before leaving your home country that you'll be using your card in a foreign country. This way they won't suspect your card has been stolen and block it. (It's happened.)
Dominican pesos changing hands
Photo: Carlos Karlos
Average costs of traveling in the DR
Entrance to a museum: 150 pesos
Entrance to a national park or landmark of natural beauty: 100-200 pesos
A mojito at a ritzy bar: 339 pesos
A plate of tostadas from a street food vendor: 75-150 pesos
A nice meal at a down-to-earth restaurant: 690 pesos
A nice meal for two in a $$$ restaurant: 3000 pesos
A latte: 150 pesos
Three night weekend in a Santo Domingo Airbnb: 11,400 pesos
Three nights at a sustainable, all-inclusive eco-lodge: 22,350 pesos
A boat tour to watch the whales: US $64 for adults
Day trips (Scuba diving, snorkelling, caving, ziplining, boat trips): US $40 - $140
An umbrella and two chaise lounges under a palm-thatched umbrella on one of the top 10 most beautiful beaches in the world: US $20 a day
Watch out for these hidden costs
Sales tax in the DR is 18%, and many restaurants and hotels will charge you an additional 10% service charge to the bill. This means you should expect the bill to be almost 30% more than the stated cost.
If you're renting a place or are here on business and you don't want to carry large sums of money with you, remember the lawyers dealing with real estate here don't usually take cards. You can go to the lawyer's bank with them to complete the transaction, or do a bank transfer from your phone app. The fees for international bank transfers can be 2-5%, but check with your bank.
Money-saving tips to help you travel on the cheap
Taxis are the most expensive way to travel. If you're not comfortable squeezing into a guagua or clinging onto a motore, try Uber instead. If you take a cab, be sure to negotiate the fare before you get in.
If you're not staying in a hotel or resort, your lodging will be wonderfully affordable. Airbnb has plenty of listings in all the major destinations, brilliantly located and lovingly furnished. These start around USD $30 a night - cheaper than a bed in an eight-bedroom hostel dorm in most touristy cities. Staying here for longer? Visitors can rent directly for between $300-$600/month, depending on where you've settled.
Most Airbnbs and many lodges, hotels and resorts offer access to a kitchen, meaning you can save money by preparing some of your own meals at home, and splash out on restaurant meals when you want to, not because you have to. Self-catering solo travelers can expect to eat for as little as US $50 a week.
It's easy to keep track of what you're spending in real-time if your card or bank has an app you can use on your phone. This way whatever you've spent will show up right away in your own currency.
*accurate at the time of writing, January 2020
Written by G. Abdullah.
Published November 2020
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