BEST WAYS TO Cash $US DOLLARS for Cordobas
(Additional note for Canadians at the end of this post)
Please note that this a thread about how to cash $US dollar bills for cordobas. It is not intended to be a thread about how to transfer money from overseas into Nicaragua. Also, it is based on my personal experience. I am open to correction and hope that people will weigh in with their own observations.
In order of preference ….
Large casinos in Managua such as the Phoenix give you the best rate by far for changing US dollars to cordobas. You don´t have to gamble or buy anything there – it is a straight-up cash exchange and they will change large amounts of cash, e.g., $500 or more.
If you want to change dollars in a smaller city, it might make sense to see how much you would get from the local casinos and tragamonedas.
PS continues to give an outstanding rate but you have to pay for a membership and of course buy something there whether you need it or not. It will not exchange US cash for cordobas straight up. PS accepts $50 and $100 bills.
#3 Large national retail chains and some independents
Chains such as La Colonia, Simans and Pali give you quite a good rate but as with PS you have to buy something. Pali used to give a terrible rate but now it is much closer to par with other groceries.
Most but not all of these retail outlets accept $50 and $100 bills. They’ll let you use a $20 to buy a candy bar or something cheap like that but don´t count on them to let you do it with a $50 and $100 bill.
Some stand-alone retail stores such as independent supermarkets that cater to expats will also give you a good rate if you buy something. However, many of them are reluctant to change a $50 and $100 bills.
Also, be aware that many retailers will not accept US bills unless they are crisp and clean. They will reject bills that are crumpled, marked or only slightly torn.
Note that I have never changed money at the On The Go chain and would be interested to know what sort of rate you get there.
Moneychanging on the street in Nicaragua is legal but you do need to be on your toes. A few moneychangers are sleazy and will give foreigners a poor rate, or cheat you on the count, or use you to fob off counterfeit bills.
If you are a regular customer it pays to find a good local guy or gal and do all your moneychanging with him or her. If you change dollars only occasionally, perhaps it would be a good idea to ask a local acquaintance for a reference.
When changing a large amount of dollars such as $400 or more, it is ok to ask for a slightly higher rate. It will only add up to a few cordobas or so but a buck is a buck.
As with some retailers, several moneychangers are reluctant to accept bills unless they are crisp and clean.
Have your wits about you when changing money on the street. If you are carrying large amounts of cash or valuables while changing money, or are changing money in a place that is out of the way, plan on leaving the place as quickly and securely as possible.
There is a professional association of moneychangers but I don´t think it makes a difference if your changer is a member.
One warning: the moneychangers who work the gates at the central Immigration office in Managua are terrible and give bad rates. Change dollars to cordobas before going there.
In Managua there is a cluster of street changers who work the strip mall across the street from the Intercontinental Hotel just west of the Metrocentro shopping mall. I´ve found them to be honest.
Uno, Puma and Petronic gas stations give mediocre rates.
#5 Bank tellers
Nicaraguan banks have traditionally given a very unfavourable rate for changing dollars into cordobas but lately the spread between banks and street changers has narrowed greatly. Today the difference between some banks and street changers is almost negligible when you are only changing a small amount of $US currency.
Banks are often the only place to go if you want to get rid of bills that are torn, scuffed or marked, or if you very concerned about receiving counterfeit bills.
#6 Managua airport
There used to be a window at MGA where you could cash $US for cordobas. The rate was poor. There are now ATMs at MGA and I am not sure if the window is there anymore.
In very general terms, you will get a very unfavourable rate if you use plastic to withdraw cordobas at a Nicaraguan ATM from a bank account wherein you hold the money in US or Canadian dollars. This is regardless of any fees which your home bank or the Nicaraguan bank network might charge.
As a rule of thumb, when withdrawing cash at an ATM from a bank account which is denominated in US or Canadian dollars, withdraw it as US dollars and use moneychangers to change the dollars to cordobas. All Nicaraguan ATMs will now spit out US dollars if you press the right button.
#8 Credit card advances
As per using ATMs
#9 Western Union and Moneygram
If you send money in US dollars to yourself or someone else and they withdraw it as cordobas rather than as US dollars, you will get murdered on the exchange rate. Have them withdraw it as US dollars if you must use these services.
Special Note for Canadians
Re Canadian bills: Don´t plan on cashing Canadian bills here. Leave them at home.
Re Canadian ATMs:
Review the section above on ATMs and check with your bank before coming. Some Canadian banks will give you a very favourable exchange rate when withdrawing US dollars from a Canadian dollar account when using an overseas ATM under certain circumstances and might also waive their fees.
In seeking this information, I have found that it serves me better to consult a Canadian bank branch that serves a neighbourhood with a large population of new Canadians. The people who work there are often more knowledgeable about this sort of thing than the folks who work at the big branches.