Venezuela's currency is the Bolivar Fuerte (BsF), which replaced the old bolivar on January 1, 2008 at the rate of 1 BsF to 1000 old Bs.
Due to strict currency controls in place since 2003 bolivars are not easily convertible either in or outside the country. Currently, the official rate (offered by banks and the few bureaux de change) give 6.3 BsF per US dollar, but there is a thriving Parallel Market that trades for higher rates. These unofficial rates fluctuate depending on general demand for foreign exchange, inflation and political instability. Within the "Parallel Market" there are various exchange rates: the tourist, the black market (a bit higher but dangerous and uncomfortable), and the bonds brokerage one (high amounts in government bonds, when on sale). That highest one, which appears as reference on certain internet pages, is the government dollar bonds rate, inaccessible unless you buy thousands of dollars in government bonds through a Venezuelan brokerage firm. This last one determines the rate of the black market one and the tourist one.
The black market should be avoided unless you are sure of the honesty of the people changing currency for you. They may be scammers, thieves or even police disguised as traders. The safest parallel exchange is the Tourist Rate which is normally provided by higher-level people in the tourism industry (Hotel managers, posada owners, etc). The rates vary around Venezuela and from week to week. The tourist rate rarely varies in time. Once you change you cannot change back to euros or dollars unless the tourist operator that exchanged for you is nice enough to take it back. The tourist rate is around 9 to the dollar and 12 for euro.
Websites such as lechugaverde will allow you to review the black market price.
Green lettuce (Dollar) = Lechuga verde European lettuce (Euro) = LEchuga Europea
The strange use of words (green lettuce, european lettuce, etc) comes from the government forbidding any talk of the black market or parallel market.
Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted, American Express and Diners Club are usually accepted at upscale restaurants, hotels and shopping centers. Merchants always ask for ID before making a credit card transaction (a passport will suffice). ATMs exist all over the country. They hand out only Bolivars and at the official exchange rate of 6.3. Maestro Debit Cards are the most accepted but Visa Debit Cards are often not accepted, and some ATMs also ask for the last two digits of Venezuelans' ID numbers as an added security precaution, causing problems for foreigners with no ID number tied to their bank account.
It is best to carry small change rather than large bills as many traders, in particular taxi drivers, rarely have change. Tipping taxi drivers is not customary and can appear strange. Be a little wary of cab drivers. There have been reports of cab drivers exploiting tourists, particularly from the airport to Caracas. Use only the official airport taxis (black Ford Explorers) going up to Caracas or get airport pick-up (mostly luxury hotels). At restaurants, tipping is usually minimal. If a 10% service charge is included then some extra small change can be left on top of the total, or if not included then a tip of only about 5% is customary.
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