I couldn’t use my debit card in Bolivia

… but here’s what I learned.

I always wanted to visit Bolivia. It just seemed cool and so different from Argentina. I got to hang out there for 17 days but as a digital nomad, it doesn’t mean everything was 100% fun.

For one, I worked super-hard and barely got to see La Paz. But at least I have work, right?

Once I got over my small border snafu, I then had to figure out how to withdraw money. Because I had arrived from Chile and also took an extra $50 US with me, it took a while to realize my debit card was never going to work in Bolivia.

On my 4th or 5th day I was finally down to about 20 bolivianos and decided it’s time to withdraw some cash. So I went to one ATM and it kept saying my card was blocked. Okay, no biggie. I even went to the BCP, a Peruvian bank I used often in Cusco and nothing. 

So I took the nuclear option and decided to send myself some money. This came with its own set of complications. For one, I used Xoom and it said there were two banks I could choose from in order to wire myself some cash.

One of the banks didn’t work. Then I went to at least five banks until one of them said I’d need a photocopy of my passport, and Xoom didn’t mention this on its website.

Finally, I got somewhere I picked up some USD. I wasn’t broke anymore. Just to make sure, I even went on a Facebook group and asked other travelers if they’d had this problem and they said yes.

But then came the worst (or maybe best) part. I had to fly out of La Paz today at the ungodly hour of 4.25 AM.

I only had about 40 bolivianos after I paid my taxi, hostel, and other places. I thought that if my debit card would work anywhere it would be at the airport. But that didn’t work either.

The woman at LATAM was very kind and suggested I try a few ATMs, but those didn’t work either and I needed to pay US$69 for my bag.

I saw a business that had PayPal and I worked up the guts to tell the guy behind the counter about what was happening. I asked if I could send him $89 to include a tip for what I needed in order to pay for my bag and pay for any fees.

The guy behind the counter said he doesn’t own the business and he’d text the owner. Obviously, my offer didn’t help.

Then I went for the next option. I tried to ask fellow travelers if I could send them $100 and they could put my bag on their card. One guy was nice but said he doesn’t have PayPal. Another guy accused me of being a scam artist and brushed me off.

I went back to the counter explaining what happened and I offered to leave my stuff behind. My backpack had nothing but my dirty clothes, toothbrush, stuff I could replace in Brazil.

The staff ended up letting me go for free and I was so grateful I wanted to give them my extra bolivianos, but they’re not allowed to receive tips. So yeah, I had a good time in Bolivia and things were a bit murky with cash, but traveling is about figuring stuff out.

On the next blog post: I got ripped off by a taxi in Rio, but then again there were mudslides everywhere and there’s a chance I had to pay a ton more because some of the usual routes were blocked.

Gotta watch my budget for the rest of the trip.

Photo by Leonie.

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