Money

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Money

The cost of a week's vacation in the Dominican Republic will vary widely. A package that includes airfare and an all-inclusive resort will usually be the best value, but this can vary from $4,000 per person for a week at a luxurious resort in Uvero Alto to less than $2,000 per person for a week at a less luxurious resort in Playa Dorada. It's also possible to do the trip for a much cheaper price if you go during the off-season (September to October) or lower your standards. But these days, the teaser offers of $1,000 usually have a lot of fine print (and are usually limited to three-night stays). You will not need any local currency if you're staying at an all-inclusive resort. But if you're traveling independently, cash is definitely king in the Dominican Republic; however, don't carry more than $100 on your person unless you're on your way to an upscale restaurant that does not take credit cards. Large hotels, upscale restaurants in major cities, and expensive stores take credit cards (though Amex is not accepted as often), but some local establishments will take credit cards only if you pay a 3% to 4% supplement.

Prices here are given for adults. Substantially reduced fees are almost always available for children, students, and senior citizens.

ATMs and Banks

ATMs are widely available in the capital and iin tourist towns like Cabarete. As you get out into the country, they become scarce. In the Southwest, for example, there are several in the main city of Barahona but none in the countryside, and barely any in the hill towns. Banco Popular has many locations throughout the country, as do BHT and Scotiabank. Most ATMs—called ATHs or cajeros automaticos in the Dominican Republic—are members of Cirrus, PLUS, or other international networks. They will give you pesos.

At nearly all ATMs you'll have a choice of language, so just choose English. For years, 10,000 pesos was the maximum you could take out at one time. ScotiaBank still uses that as its maximo. Now, due to ATM fraud, most banks only allow you to obtain RD$4,000 to RD$5,000 at a time. However, if you need more than this, you can do up to two separate transactions in one day.

The commands on the machine itself are self-explanatory, with the exception of "Valid" or Validate," which is the equivalent of hitting "Enter." Sometimes, however, ATMs may seem to have their own agenda. The buttons may not line up and you can become bewildered as to why your transaction cancelled. If your debit card normally draws from your checking account and does not process, you may be able to take funds from your savings account instead. Hit the button to get your card back; if you don't take your debit card immediately, the machine may take it back.

Always think safety. It's best to go to ATMs that are inside or just outside banks, during daylight hours only and when the bank is open. Avoid having to go on weekends. The safety reasons are obvious, but if the machine swallows your card, you immediately have some recourse other than to call the number for the bank the next day. Most banks do have security guards next to the outdoor ATMs at night, but always shield your PIN as you enter it.

Credit Cards

It's a good idea to inform your credit-card company before you travel, especially if you're going abroad and don't travel internationally very often. Otherwise, the credit-card company might put a hold on your card owing to unusual activity—not a good thing halfway through your trip. Record all your credit-card numbers—as well as the phone numbers to call if your cards are lost or stolen—in a safe place, so you're prepared should something go wrong. Both MasterCard and Visa have general numbers you can call (collect if you're abroad) if your card is lost, but you're better off calling the number of your issuing bank, since MasterCard and Visa usually just transfer you to your bank; your bank's number is usually printed on your card.

If you plan to use your credit card for cash advances, you'll need to apply for a PIN at least two weeks before your trip. Although it's usually cheaper (and safer) to use a credit card abroad for large purchases (so you can cancel payments or be reimbursed if there's a problem), note that some credit-card companies and the banks that issue them add substantial percentages to all foreign transactions, whether they're in a foreign currency or not. Check on these fees before leaving home, so there won't be any surprises when you get the bill.

Major credit cards (American Express not as often) are accepted at most hotels, large stores, and restaurants. Use them with care in the Dominican Republic. There have been reports that merchants are duplicating credit cards. If you are traveling, you may not find out about the fraud until you are back home. One American living in Santo Domingo has had his credit cards duplicated four different times Therefore, it makes sense to only use credit cards at well-known hotels and resign yourself to hitting ATMs more frequently.

Reporting Lost Cards

American Express (809/227–3190 in Santo Domingo; 336/393–1111 collect from abroad; 800/327–2177 Global Assist Hotline. www.americanexpress.com.)

Diners Club (800/234–6377 in U.S.; 303/799–1504 collect from abroad. www.dinersclub.com.)

Discover (800/347–2683 in U.S.; 801/902–3100 collect from abroad. www.discover.com.)

MasterCard (800/627–8372 in U.S.; 636/722–7111 collect from abroad. www.mastercard.com.)

Visa (800/847–2911 in U.S.; 410/581–9994 collect from abroad. www.visa.com.)

Currency and Exchange

You may need to change some money, particularly if you're not staying in an all-inclusive resort, where dollars are usually accepted. Prices quoted are in U.S. dollars unless noted otherwise. The coin of the realm is the Dominican peso (written RD$). At this writing, the exchange rate was approximately RD$36 to US$1.

Independent merchants willingly accept U.S. dollars, but because the peso can fluctuate, change will be in pesos. In recent years the Dominican peso has remained fairly stable, hovering between RD$32 and RD$36 to the dollar since 2006. Always make certain you know in which currency any transaction is taking place, and carry a pocket calculator.

You can find cambios (currency exchange offices) at the airports, as well as on the street, and in major shopping areas throughout the island. A passport is usually required to cash traveler's checks, if they're taken at all. Save some of the official receipts with the exchange transaction, so if you end up with too many pesos when you are ready to leave the country, you can turn them in for dollars. Do this before you leave, because in U.S. airports like Miami you may be charged as much as $7.50 a transaction, no matter how small, and then be given a bad rate of exchange for your trouble. Some hotels provide exchange services, but, as a rule, hotels and restaurants will not give you favorable rates—casino cages do.

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